After an hour of play, the home team was deflated and reeling, wondering how they could perform so horribly under the bright lights at the Rutgers Athletic Center. The Scarlet Knights trailed two-games-to-none in a best-of-five matchup, a deficit almost no one ever comes back from. The Rutgers players felt tension building as they stared ahead grim-faced and tight-lipped. “Come on guys!” the team’s coach roared. “We all know we’re better!” Suddenly, they started moving through the game as if tethered telepathically, making all the right moves. They won their first game, then another, then one more. Rutgers had done the unthinkable — securing a heart-stopping, come-from-behind victory that ignited a wild celebration of high-fives and jubilant screams. Did we mention they were playing video games?
No, seriously. Video games. And in a legitimate college competition, no less. The dramatic victory came during the Scarlet Classic V, and at the end of a 16-team tournament for Overwatch, a wildly popular multiplayer, first-person shooter game that looks like a digital fantasy dream came alive on a computer screen. It netted the six Rutgers players $3,000 in prize money to split evenly, a financial boon for a bunch of undergrads, and an unheard of concept — at least until recently — when it comes to college and sports. “We played scared in the beginning,” said Steve Murset, a tall, shaggy-haired senior from the Rutgers team. “There was a lot of money on the line. We just weren’t being aggressive. We had to change it up.” Change is exactly what’s happening to the competitive college landscape with showcases like the one last month for eSports — essentially live competitive video games, either one-on-one or in a team format. That means everything from the smash-hit Fortnite game that recently took the world by storm and became a cultural phenomenon, to more classic games like Pokémon and Super Smash Bros.[…]