Hurricane City, UT Recreation Keeps Citizens Engaged During COVID-19 with Esports Program
Esports in the Era of Social Distancing
Esports are video game competitions. They are typically organized, multiplayer contests often between professional video game players individually or in teams. For Hurricane, the need to give citizens the ability to stay engaged with the recreation department and one another, while maintaining social distance, presented the ideal opportunity to implement an esports program into its recreation offerings.
“We were talking about COVID-19 with an area esports expert,” said King. “We knew that esports was growing in popularity and starting to trend in parks and recreation. We realized that now is the time to embrace it. We wanted to be ahead of the curve.”
King and his team needed to familiarize themselves with key aspects of the competitive game’s logistics before building its league. Such logistics include learning:
- About the games people play
- How teams and match-ups are formed
- How to validate people’s identities
- What rules and restrictions participants must follow.
“It’s not like a traditional soccer league where you sign up, have practices, and a weekly game,” said King. “Esports is evolving daily.”
Though evolving, electronic sports competitions are also skyrocketing in growth. The trend is booming with teens, tweens, and adults. Events like The North American League of Legends Championship Series have been known to draw in more viewers than the Super Bowl.
“We have players age eight and up,” said King. “We have kids, but we also have a strong adult division. It’s an activity that applies to everyone.”
In only a few months, Hurricane has seen significant interest and engagement in its esports league at a time when its established recreation programs have been suspended due to COVID-19. In addition to allowing participants to play on their own schedule, as of late April, the Recreation Department had successfully hosted two esports tournaments live in its new esports room. The community space allows participants to compete while maintaining social distance safely.
“In our first onsite tournament we had 16 participants, and then about ten in the second,” said King, who went on to say that Hurricane’s initial competitive offerings are centered around, appropriately, sports-themed video games.
“We felt like Madden NFL and NBA2K were the right fit,” he said.
To coordinate registrations, Hurricane is using its existing CivicRec® recreation management software, and it’s enabling the expansion and growth of the league outside of the City of Hurricane.”
“For games that don’t occur onsite, since it’s a virtual league, people can sign up to participate from all over the country, not just from here in Hurricane,” said King. “We set the schedule, players contact their opponents, set up a time to play, and then they text us their scores. We created a standings page on our website where people can see their screen name or team name and see where they rank in the standings. We plan to broadcast the final tournament live.”
Looking to the Future and Evolving Recreation Post COVID-19
King hopes that the development of Hurricane’s esports offering represents one bright opportunity in the chaos of COVID-19.
“Eventually, I would love to have tournaments where Hurricane competes against other parks and recreation departments from across the country,” said King. “Of course, when social distancing ends, we want our citizens to get back together in person, but I do think our esports league will continue. Esports is about watching other people play, and the interaction more than some may realize. People think video games are about being isolated, but it is very much about engagement, and I believe interest in both participating in and watching esports will continue.”
King predicts that eventually, parks and recreation departments will become part of the feeder system of highly competitive players who compete in esports at the collegiate and professional levels.
When asked what advice he would give to other recreation departments looking to build an esports program, whether it be to help keep citizens from feeling isolated during COVID-19, or simply to capitalize on the growing trend, King’s advice is not to be intimidated by the technology.
“People need to know that they can get started in esports simply,” said King. “It’s not as complex as it may seem. All you need is to put a couple of TVs and Xboxes in one of your recreation rooms and start from there.”
King adds that recreation leaders should plan to be flexible and accept the evolving nature of the growing and developing world of esports.
“You will want to have your best coordinator helping you launch your league and plan your competitions,” advises King, “And collaborate with an industry insider who knows the language and the lingo. It really is a unique industry.”