Pictured: The Valorant team after competing at a tournament in Philadelphia, Pa. From left: David Sotomay, Patric Gudel, Mohammed Alam, Hadi Khan, Ethan Yan
Esports—competitive online video games—has been around for decades (Atari ushered in competitive video gaming in 1980 with the Space Invaders Championship) and continues to grow in popularity. In this digital age, when more people than ever before have access to the Internet, video game enthusiasts, including about 80 New York Tech undergraduate and graduate students, can put their skills to the test with competitive online gaming against players around the globe.
New York Tech’s esports team, the Cybears, was founded in 2017 with just eight players. By 2018, the Cybears competed in the inaugural esports season of the East Coast Conference (a league of sports teams across colleges in the New York City metropolitan area) against other universities. The Cybears went on to win their first trophy as the 2018-2019 East Coast Conference League of Legends Champions.
This year, under the leadership of Eric Marinaccio, manager of esports operations, the Cybears’ spring 2023 season saw the Valorant team crowned winners of the National Esports Collegiate Conference, which includes more than 300 college teams. A critical win, the Cybears Valorant team is now eligible to move up the ranks to the Champions division for the fall 2023 season. Their Valorant, Overwatch, and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate teams also competed this spring at in-person finals for the East Coast Conference in Brooklyn, and the aforementioned, plus Rocket League, teams are practicing to qualify next year for the Collegiate Esports Commissioner’s Cup—a large in-person tournament to host the best teams in the United States and Canada.
Overwatch team competes in the East Coast Conference finals versus Southern New Hampshire University at esports lounge BrookLAN in Brooklyn, N.Y. From left: Daniel Kasymbekov, Afrid Choudhury, Mohammed Alam, Edgar Mendez, Levi Dong
Although the year is broken down into two three-month seasons in the fall and spring, many of the teams choose to stay in contact over breaks and during the summer to keep their skills sharp and team chemistry alive.
Competing in popular online games like Overwatch, Valorant, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, Fortnite, Rocket League, and League of Legends, the Cybears comprises 80 students in 15 teams across the Long Island and New York City campuses—a tenfold increase from their eight-person team in 2017.
With so many teams playing at different levels of competition, each team determines a practice schedule that works for them. The more competitive teams, like Valorant and League of Legends, might meet three or four times a week for any combination of matches, meetings, and practices. The two most common forms of practice are scrimmages, where the Cybears play against another college’s esports team in a practice match, and video on demand reviews, where the team reviews previous matches and discusses future strategies.
While a majority of the Cybears’ practices occur online, with each player joining from their own setup, as things return to “normalcy” after the COVID-19 pandemic, many teams have been setting up more in-person meetings in New York Tech’s esports rooms. Students game from the Wisser building on Long Island and in 26 W. 61st St.’s student lounge 013 on the New York City campus.
The Cybears’ spring 2023 season highlights include several team achievements:
- Overwatch team achieved second place in the East Coast Conference
- Valorant team achieved second place in the East Coast Conference
- Super Smash Brothers Ultimate team achieved second place in the East Coast Conference
- Fortnite team achieved second place in the Eastern College Athletic Conference
- Rocket League team achieved third place in the East Coast Conference
Commissioner of the East Coast Conference Robert Dranoff (right) presents Matthew Pinto with a trophy for winning the East Coast Conference Super Smash Brothers Singles tournament.
During the spring 2023 season the East Coast Conference seven Cybears team members were presented with awards:
- Anthony Russo, Rocket League Player of the Year
- Matthew Pinto, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate Singles Player of the Year, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate Singles Champion
- Brandon Hernandez, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate Crews Player of the Year
- Afrid Choudhury, Overwatch Tank of the Year
- Mohammed Alam, Overwatch DPS of the Year, Overwatch Player of the Year, Valorant Player of the Year
Looking ahead, Marinaccio feels strongly for all the teams’ success but says the Valorant and Rocket League teams have him on his toes. On a “warpath to win another East Coast Conference title,” the Valorant team’s combination of strong leadership and newer players finding their way make for an exciting team to watch. With a third-place conference win and a regular season win over the five-time defending champion College of Staten Island Dolphins, the Cybears’ Rocket League team is proving to be a force to be reckoned with.
“For the Cybears, our word of the season for 2023-2024 is ‘growth,’” Marinaccio says. “This upcoming season is about creating an environment that can foster the growth of our students both in game and out of game.”