Competitive video game team at SBU one of first in nation

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BOLIVAR, Mo. -- When you're thinking about athletics at Southwest Baptist University you're probably thinking about football, basketball or maybe even the successful tennis program.

But last year S.W. Baptist became one of the first 10 colleges in the nation to form an e-sports team, a 10-member squad who competes online from their home base in the student union playing a video game against other schools. That game is the popular battle arena competition League of Legends, where the goal is to destroy the enemy team's base.

As a charter member of the Collegiate E-sports Association, the SBU team limits itself to 25 hours per week practicing before five members are chosen to compete in the best-of-three –matches where the level of competition is very intense.

"Most competitive e-sports athletes are performing 250-300 actions per minute between clicking with the right hand, then working with the keyboard with individual commands on the left hand," explained Chris Allison, SBU's e-sports head coach. "At the same time they're doing mathematics to understand what kind of situation they're getting into. Most people won't even compare it to chess because the depth of strategy is so much greater than playing a chess game."

But it's not just a mind-related endeavor. The SBU program has its own physical therapist to oversee the team's health.

"You sit for hours and hours and hours on end and anything we binge in life is not a healthy behavior," said Steven Lesh, an SBU physical therapy professor. "We started talking about healthy eating behavior. We started talking about sleep. The repetitive injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, neck strain, upper back strain. Blood clots, believe it or not, is a potential problem."

In case you're scoffing at all this, be aware that competitive electronic sports are very popular among 18-to-34-year-olds, with over 226-million people worldwide watching events streaming on-line on platforms like Twitch-TV, which is owned by Amazon.

Professional e-sports competitions fill up 20-thousand-seat arenas.

And the SBU players come from as far away as Alaska and New Jersey. Xavier Mas had been out of high school for three years with no college plans until he heard about e-sports, and now he's majoring in computer business.

"I ended up running into a friend and he ended up asking me what do you like," Mas recalls. "What are you good at. I was just like I play this game on my free time when I'm not working. And he said you can go to school for this."

And with its increasing popularity among younger generations, look for college e-sports to continue to grow.

"I think it will be in every school," Allison predicts. "Because it hits a group of prospective students that sometimes traditional sports do not."

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