As the high school year starts to wind down, seniors across the country continue their plan for their post-high school days. Some will go to college or begin a career working. Others will join the military.
One student preparing for college is Lansing’s Clay Brown. The senior will head to Catawba College to join the athletics and choir programs at the school located in Salisbury, North Carolina. But instead of football pads or track shoes, Brown will wear a headset to compete on the esports team.
Brown said he picked the school after knowing the esports coach, Gidd Sasser.
“I’ve known the coach for about two years now,” Brown said. “He’s pretty big in the esports scene. He’s worked professionally and as a coach. So he has a lot of opportunities there. I met him on the internet. He was working at Kansas Wesleyan at the time, which at the time was my first choice (for school). Then he got a better opportunity closer to family in North Carolina.”
Brown said the entire esports team at KWU transferred to Catawba College when Sasser left. He said he started looking there and really liked it.
As esports continues to grow across the country and world, Brown, who goes by “VibéZ” online, and others are able to receive scholarships for competitive video game play.
The Lansing senior said he has been in the competitive scene for about eight or nine years. Brown first got involved with the Halo series on the Xbox before starting to play more PC games. He started mainly with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends but after playing the beta for Overwatch, Brown knew it was the game for him.
“I liked the beta,” Brown said. “I really liked the diversity of characters and just all that stuff. I almost instantly knew that was the game for me.”
Overwatch is a first-person shooter released by Blizzard Entertainment in 2016. The “hero shooter” pits two teams of six. Players pick out of an expanding roster of “heroes” with their own unique styles of play and use their abilities to eliminate or repel their opponents while attacking, defending or competing for an objective.
Brown said that Overwatch is one of his favorite games. But he said his top game would be Halo since it is what got Brown hooked on the first-person shooter and competitive scene. He said he wanted to get into the competitive scene because he is a competitive person and liked the idea of competing in a video game over a traditional sport.
He said he has looked up to various esports teams and players. When Brown was into CS:GO, he loved Cloud9 Gaming and their players Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham and Michael “shroud” Grzesiek. Once Overwatch was released, Brown became a fan of FaZe Clan.
“I became a FaZe fanboy,” Brown said. “I loved ‘TwoEasy’ (Eric van Hoorn). I got to know him pretty well.”
Brown said the Overwatch competitive scene took a hit once Blizzard announced the new Overwatch League. The league was unlike other esports leagues when it was announced by using a set of permanent, city-based teams backed by separate ownership groups. Instead of Cloud9, there would be the London Spitfire. The season is also split into a regular season and playoffs rather than a promotion used in other esports leagues.
Players on the OWL rosters also have a salary and benefits. A portion of winnings and revenue sharing is based on team results. Due to something like this not being the norm in esports, Brown said a lot of players dropped off of the pro scene. One that stuck with it was Stefano “Verbo” Disalvo. Brown said he became one of his big idols. The Overwatch player just recently announced that he is retiring from esports. Brown said it is sad because he looked up to “Verbo” as a support player and in-game leader since that is a similar role to what Brown does in Overwatch.
Brown is also the founder of the esports club at Lansing. He said he started it due to his love of competing. He said he knew that esports would continue to get more and more popular.
“I want my friends and anyone that comes after me to be like ‘OK. This is a true option (to compete in gaming),’” Brown said.
The hardest part about the club is recruiting, according to Brown.
“(Recruiting) is definitely where the club is struggling at the moment,” Brown said. “But my sales pitches are ‘you don’t have to be good at the game’. The whole point is to get better and to just make it fun.”
The esports team practice schedule varies. Due to the cost of getting equipment in the school, Brown said the players practice at home with their equipment. The team sets up schedules on when they can practice. He said it can be an hour or two every other day or a couple of times a week. It just depends on how free everyone is.
The club currently does not do an Overwatch team due to not enough players. The game does not offer cross-platform play so PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC gamers cannot play with each other. The club does have a Rainbow Six team on Xbox and PlayStation. There are also teams on Fortnite, Apex Legends and a few also play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Nintendo Switch, including Brown’s best friend who has won local tournaments and is a ranked high on the national level. The team also used to have a League of Legends team but most of the players graduated last year.
Brown says that he spends time practicing for his esports teams outside of Lansing most nights.
He said he is looking forward to growing as a person and to meet all the new people when he goes to college and growing as an esports player.
Brown said he knows that he could not make it as a professional player so he is majoring in sports management. He hopes to use that to make it into the professional esports scene somewhere.
For the esports team, Brown will mainly focus on Overwatch. He also will help out with Apex Legends if the school does not recruit someone for that game. Brown said Sasser will allow him to take a step back at times and help look at the team like a manager or coach so he can get that experience as well.
Brown’s mother, Leigh Brown, said she is all for her son competing in gaming.
“He’s always been a very dedicated sportsman,” Leigh Brown said. “Like he said, he likes the competition. It’s kind of shocking because you spend your whole life saying ‘video games will get you nowhere. Get off those video games.’ And then I realized, he’s doing something he loves. He gets great grades, he stays physical in all other sports he has played. If he can get money to go to college and play something he loves and he is going to college to focus on a degree as well, I am all for it.”
She said it will be hard like any sport, but she thinks Clay is well rounded enough to get everything done with esports and school work.
“Like I said,” Leigh Brown said, “he is crazy about this esports thing and he is following his dream. The main thing is I wanted him to make sure he had a major and something to back himself up with. And he’s found a major where can pull what he loves in with having some kind of degree to get him somewhere. So I am happy for him. I’m just sad it is so far away.”