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Esports 101: Competitive gaming takes college campuses by storm

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The lights on the big stage are bright and hot. The tournament has winnowed down to two finalists, and the winner will leave the arena $500,000 richer. Thousands of live audience members look on with painted faces and signage. No, it isn’t a Pay-Per-View boxing match we’re talking about: this is esports.

The last decade witnessed a meteoric rise in professional video game culture alongside the explosion of streaming services like Twitch and YouTube. One of the most important aspects of this is the shift in how gaming is currently viewed: once considered a time-killing hobby or even detrimental, esports competitors are finally getting the respect and attention they’ve fought for.

Surprising to some is the fact that Ohio is one of the states leading this change. Not only is it home to a pair of universities (University of Akron and Miami of Ohio) offering athletic scholarships for esports, but the state is also making waves as its landmark schools and universities continue to embrace more and more aspects of serious video game culture.

Photos provided by OSU

Ohio State is part of this trend, leading the way for competitive gaming. While competitive gaming has been largely relegated to the likes of school clubs or groups in the past, OSU will unveil three university-sanctioned esports teams this semester, competing in League of Legends, Overwatch, and Rocket League. Tryouts were held in early February, and the teams are preparing for their first actual competition in a matter of weeks.

According to the school’s esports director Brandon Smith, Ohio State recognizes that a large percentage of its students are part of the gaming world. The university looks to cater to all of those students, not only the most elite esports athletes.

“We realize that a large percentage of our student body connects with esports culture, and we want to make sure we’re engaging as many students who game as we possibly can,” Smith said. “We’re hoping the arena is a place where we students can relax, a place where new people cross paths.”

The “arena” that Smith is referring to was opened in 2018 in Lincoln Tower. It features 80 gaming PCs outfitted with Alienware and high-definition monitors, consoles equipped with popular titles, a virtual reality headset, and even an esports broadcasting booth. With the majority of the computers dedicated to the general student population (18 machines are set aside for the school’s esports teams), Smith notes the response has been resoundingly positive.

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“We’ve had over 1,500 unique scans, meaning 1,500 different students have used the area. And that number is growing every time we look at it,” Smith said.

And while esports arenas at the collegiate level are appearing more and more, esports facilities at the high school are still relatively unheard of. Canal Winchester is one of the districts changing this.

“In terms of seeing competitive esports at the high school level, it’s really not an issue of if anymore,” said Canal Winchester Athletics Booster Club President Donnie Musick. “It’s a matter of when.”

Currently, the school, backed by an ambitious group of athletic boosters, is in the planning stages of constructing an esports training facility, which will be open to students and as a competitive venue. While many of the details are still in the works, Musick envisions an amphitheater-style construction for the space, complete with fiber internet connection. The facility would likely be part of the school’s Leadership Training Facility, a state-of-the-art on-campus site for athletics that is currently in the fundraising stage as well.

“The reality is, we see a correlation between student activities of any kind and academic success,” Musick said. “If sports are so often setting the culture in high schools, we want to be inclusive of all students, and make room in this for esports too.”

According to Musick, the project is still several years away, as the district and athletic boosters work to secure funding. In the meantime, the school will look to grow its esports contingency. Currently, Canal Winchester supports a competitive esports club, but Musick envisions this will eventually become a fully-sanctioned athletic team.

And while the Canal Winchester School District is itself taking a progressive stance on esports, Musick and the school’s Athletic Director, Patrick Durbin, envision the esports facility as a hub for training and competition that can be shared with nearby communities and school districts.

The move is not only supported by district officials, their constituents appear to back the project solidly as well. “Nearly everyone we’ve spoken to has been behind it,” Musick said.

Meanwhile, Columbus College of Art and Design is planning a broader program for students interested in entering the gaming arena. It’s planning to launch a Game Art & Design major for beginning in fall 2020. The new major, under the umbrella of the school’s animation program, allows students to learn every aspect of video game creation, from coding to storytelling.

According to CCAD Assistant Professor Liz Keegan, who will be teaching many of the school’s new game- related courses, the major is an extension of the school’s two current game design offerings: Game Art Projects and Game Art Pipeline.

The Projects course immerses students into the world of video game creation for a full semester, allowing them to work in everything from 2D platforms to virtual reality, and ends with them producing 60 seconds of gameplay. Pipeline, a spring offering, is generally seen as a continuation of Projects, where many students carry over their original work and concepts to streamline it.

“The course helps students see how their game actually works, and how it fits into a system. We help them take that next step toward actually understanding coding and platforms to see what works best,” Keegan said.

No matter where you’re studying, one thing is clear: esports aren’t just for basements anymore. Grab the sticks and get ready, people; it’s game time.

Learn more about esports at Ohio State at esports.osu.edu and CCAD’s programs at ccad.edu/academics/game-art-design.

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Lend A (Washed) Hand: 5 volunteering opportunities available this week

Mitch Hooper

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It's time like these that many folks are looking to help but unsure where to start. Luckily for Columbus, the Point App is here to help.

The Columbus-based Point App is a tool that both volunteers and nonprofits can use to connect and work together on projects. It's easy-to-use interface makes signing up as a volunteer a breeze, and with its connections throughout Central Ohio, many nonprofits are utilizing the app; especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We see the needs of nonprofits skyrocketing," said Madison Mikhail Bush, founder of the Point App.

The Human Service Chamber and The United Way gathered data to show what nonprofits are facing during the outbreak. The reported stats found that 24% of responding agencies have reported layoffs of employees, 41% of nonprofits are reporting financial losses of 10%, and 66% of nonprofits have canceled or postponed major fund raising events.

"Nonprofits rely on those events to function," Mikhail Bush said. "It's going to be very important that we meet the needs of nonprofits swiftly and efficiently. So when they post those needs on Point, it's because they really do need people to respond to them."

If you are healthy and able, consider donating your time, resources, or finances to one of the many nonprofits in Columbus. Point recently added a donate feature where users can donate money, rather than time, to promote social distancing. And if you are unsure if you are able to help, Point designed this handy flowchart to see if you are considered "low risk."

https://www.instagram.com/p/B91vzbngHJ-/

And to help you out, we put together five different ways you can get involved. As always, remember to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and keep a six foot distance between you and another person—even while volunteering.

1.) Drop Off Supplies For Family Care Kits to South Side Early Learning | All day | Wednesday to Friday

These supplies can include non-perishable food items, educational items, diapers, and cleaning supplies.

2.) Produce Give-A-Way with the Hilltop YMCA | 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. | Wednesday | *27 spots available

At the Hilltop YMCA, volunteers are needed for tasks such as sorting and bagging produce items, directing traffic, and assisting with clean up.

3.) Packing Food for Homebound Deliveries with the Worthington Resource Pantry | 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. | Thursday | *Only two spots available

Many folks during this shelter-in-place are unable to leave their homes. Here, you can help out by packing food to distribute to families in Worthington and North Columbus.

4.) Delivering Groceries to Homebound Families with the Worthington Resource Pantry | 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. | Thursday | *Only one spot left

If the 1 p.m. start time on Thursday doesn't fit your schedule, they will be delivering the groceries starting at 2 p.m.

5.) Donate For COVID-19 Relief For New Americans with Riverview International Center | Ends April 30

In addition to financial gifts to provide gift cards to affected new Americans in Columbus, you can donate working laptops and tablets, art supplies, and educational supplies.

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Columbus Does Good: The COVID-19 edition

Linda Lee Baird

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The people of Columbus are always finding ways to up their game when it comes to giving back. We’re a city that’s continually building a virtuous cycle: a non-profit with a new idea solves a problem; a business builds the concept of social responsibility into its mission; a neighborhood bands together to accomplish a task—and then others are inspired by these efforts. The question here, to paraphrase JFK, is not what Columbus can do for you, but what you can do for Columbus.

On second thought, maybe those aren’t the right questions. A city, afterall, is nothing but buildings without the people who live there. The question, then, is what can we do for each other? And during times like this, we’re finding out.  

Following Fred Rogers’ advice to “look for the helpers,” we’ve been keeping our eyes out over the past weeks to see how the community is adapting. It turns out that even when we’re required by law to socially distance ourselves, the community is still there—maybe standing six feet away—but never far enough to forget what it means to be part of something larger. Here are just a few of the many awesome resources and examples of doing good that caught our eye. Remember, though, things are changing rapidly, so please reach out and confirm efforts are still underway before showing up to help! 

Food

One of the greatest concerns that came when Gov. DeWine closed schools was for the kids across the state who rely on daily free breakfast and lunch, including the 50,000 students in Columbus City Schools. Luckily, the school district continues to provide free breakfast and lunch to any child under the age of 18 who needs it—even those not enrolled in CCS—at 15 “grab and go” sites across the city. The Mid Ohio Foodbank and the Parks and Recreation department even teamed up with the schools one morning to offer free, pre-bagged produce at a Grab and Go site in addition to the meal. A list of the Grab and Go sites is available at ccsoh.us/Page/7560. 

Kids, of course, aren’t the only ones who need to eat. The Clintonville Beechwold Community Resources Center has partnered with the Clinton Heights Lutheran Church for a sack lunch drive offering food to all ages. The CRC has also assembled and distributed “necessity boxes” for older adults in Central Ohio. The CRC plans to keep giving, and is requesting monetary donations to support its work at this time. Visit clintonvillecrc.org/updated-crc-services-for-covid19 to learn more. 

COhatch has proven to be more than just a coworking space during this crisis. It partnered with Vaso and the Point App to make and deliver meals to those in need across the city. Reach out for help if you are in need of food or supplies to [email protected]; or contact [email protected] to support their efforts. 

Make-A-Day is seeking funding to send food trucks to low-income areas of Columbus in order to feed the homeless, children home from school, and other residents. Support their mission with a donation at makeaday.fun. 

Gear and supplies

A key ingredient in the hand sanitizer that you can’t find anywhere on shelves these days is good ol’ ethyl alcohol. Luckily, some local businesses including Middle West Spirits and Watershed Distillery have an abundance. They are making hand sanitizer to provide first responders, hospitals, and homeless shelters. The Columbus Foundation purchased the first $50,000 worth of product from Middle West, according to a report from The Dispatch

Meanwhile, Bespoke Salon Studio is collecting PPE to donate to area hospitals while the salon is closed. Send them a message on instagram at @bespoke_salon_studio_columbus to donate.

Caffeine Karma

The Roosevelt Coffeehouse is collecting donations of coffee for first responders, because, let’s face it, they’re going to need it in the coming weeks. The community can help in two ways: by purchasing $9 healthcare worker bags that the shop will give to first responders, or buy a bag of any coffee for yourself and they’ll donate another bag to a healthcare professional. You can also leave notes of encouragement on the bag. Grab your joe and help a hero at 300 E Long St.

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Arts & Culture

Virtual Experiences bring culture to our couch

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Now that we're all stuck at home for the foreseeable future, we could use some entertainment beyond hours of Netflix bingeing. And yes, Carole probably did it*

WOSU Public Media has come to the rescue by putting together a list of local, virtual experiences to enjoy from the safety and comfort of your bunker. Here's a list of just a few upcoming events ranging from music to the arts.

Sunday, March 29
Columbus Symphony’s Russian Winter Festival – The Columbus Symphony broadcasts its Russian Winter Festival ll concert, featuring masterpieces by Prokofiev, Borodin, Rimski-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky at 1 p.m. on Classical 101.

Columbus Goes Live – The Cyber Festival –  A virtual entertainment experience streaming across different pages to support local performers who are directly impacted by the critical shutdowns of venues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Join in and make history by supporting your favorite bands, comedians and performers in the Columbus area.

Why not a virtual bar?

Brewdog is even getting in on the act with its upcoming, Brewdog Online Bar. They plan to "open" for business at 6pm on Friday, March 27th. The bar plans to feature live beer tastings with our co-founders James and Martin and other beer experts, homebrew masterclasses, live music & comedy and more.

Brewdog will be sharing further details soon and a complete schedule of the events on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

*Carole, as in this Carole.

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