Indian River State College Esports Team Rockets to Impressive Heights in Inaugural Semester of Competition
Fort Pierce - Thursday December 15, 2022: Indian River State College (IRSC) Athletics entered into the Esports realm in August, and already the four-person team has made impressive strides in several major tournaments. In fact, the IRSC team is now ranked 1st in Florida and 3rd in North America in Rocket League play.
Short for electronic sports, Esports are team-based video game competitions that are watched online on the Twitch live streaming service or in person in arenas by spectators—sometimes numbering in the thousands—around the country and around the world. According to Fortune magazine, the global esports market has nearly 500 million fans worldwide, reaching a valuation of $1.44 billion this year and is projected to grow to more than $5 billion by 2029.
The IRSC Esports Team’s game of choice is called Rocket League. Think of it as an electronic version of soccer—but instead of animated people kicking a small ball around the field, souped-up racecars collide with a giant soccer ball and attempt to move it down the field and into the goal. It is in this game, the most popular among colleges and universities, that IRSC’s team excels.
In October, they won the Rocket League portion of the 2022 Battle for Florida Competition hosted by University of South Florida. Next, they competed in the Eastern Conference of the worldwide Collegiate Rocket League (CRL) tournament sponsored by Rocket League’s parent company, Psyonix, and tournament organizer the College Carball Association (CCA). They finished third out of 320 teams from colleges in the eastern U.S. and Canada. Then they moved on in November to the CRL National Championship and finished third out of all 534 college teams in the North American Conference, which includes the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
“Esports is a fast-growing industry, and with so many other colleges having established esports teams, IRSC wanted not only to enter the arena, but show we can hold our own against the big universities,” said Shaun Wightman, IRSC’s Head Coach of Esports. “Our players are not kids who play video games in their spare time. These are highly skilled, highly trained players who are valued as much as any other athlete at the College. Esports is going to bring a lot of attention to IRSC.”
IRSC Athletic Director Scott Kimmelman agrees: “We have been excited to launch the esports initiative and house it under the umbrella of intercollegiate athletics,” Kimmelman said. “From the onset, the coach and team members have proven to be a welcome addition to our department. Their immediate success in Florida competitions and nationally makes them top contenders. This recognition will help as the College re-brands locally, state-wide, nationally and internationally.”
Teams consist of three players and one alternate. The players are Sebastian Becerra, 22, from Los Angeles, California, who goes by the tag, “Sea-Bass”; Sean Downard, 18, from Auburndale, Florida, whose tag is “Tacostash84”; Blade Taylor, 19 and from Las Vegas, Nevada, whose tag is “SlaYeR”; and Haden Osteen, 22, from Vero Beach and who goes by the tag “Disrxptor,” is the team’s alternate.
Games are played at a frenzied pace with driving electronic music as a backdrop. Players, if they’re good enough, can earn money coaching other players. Cars can be customized, from body styles and wheel designs to paint jobs, stripes and decals. And selling music and design elements and effects provides additional revenue streams for Psyonix, the company that created Rocket League. The IRSC team jerseys feature the likeness of the College’s new Pioneer mascot.
Successful professional players can earn money by winning prizes in competitions, by coaching other players, and by becoming a good enough player to earn sponsorships from major corporations, such as sports drink companies and sportswear manufacturers. But by establishing teams at the collegiate level, esports offers players more value than money. Just like other sanctioned sports, if they play well enough, students can earn scholarships and use their involvement on the team as a pathway to fund part or all of their education at IRSC.
If not for esports, Haden Osteen could not have afforded to attend college. As a member of the team, Osteen qualifies for a scholarship to study criminal justice at IRSC. Players can go on to earn scholarships for Bachelor’s degrees at IRSC or other colleges. Osteen will graduate with an Associate Degree in Spring 2023 and plans to continue studying business administration at IRSC.
In order to compete in collegiate tournaments, CRL rules require players to maintain a 2.0 GPA, but to remain on the IRSC team, the standard is higher—players must maintain a 3.0 GPA, Wightman said. All four team members are meeting that standard. “Just like all other athletics programs at IRSC, the College takes education very seriously,” Wightman said.
To qualify for scholarships, players don’t necessarily need to study in a field related to gaming or sports—but some do. Before joining the IRSC team, Sebastian Becerra had been playing Rocket League professionally for years, earning more than $40,000 as a pro. “I want to be able to continue competing as long as possible, and this gives me the opportunity to get a free education while doing it,” he said.
“I love being able to turn a hobby that I’ve been doing for five years just sitting in my room into getting out in the world and getting an education,” said Sean Downard, who is studying for his A.A. Degree.
Blade Taylor, the team’s captain and statistician, is currently the coach for the Rocket League Championship Series team White Rabbit, located in South Africa. “I’m still making a path as a coach, but now as part of a college team, it opens up a path that I didn’t have before. I’m excited to be building a legacy for myself within the scene as much as I can as a collegiate player. It’s also very cool to build a nice backup plan for when my time in competition is done.” Taylor also is studying business administration.
The team’s crowning achievement came on Nov. 19 when they defeated the reigning champions, Northwood University Blue team, in front of an online audience of more than 22,000 people. “That was pretty amazing,” Wightman recalls. Blue ended up ranking second in the North American finals, with IRSC finishing in third place.
Next up for the team is Eastern Conference qualifying rounds in January. If they do well and move on to Nationals, and do well there, they may qualify for the World CRL Championship tournament next summer. In the meantime, Wightman said, they’ll be upgrading some hardware and making plans to move to a new location customized with their brand. “One day, I’d love to have a space where we can invite other colleges here to compete with us,” he said.
To follow the team’s progress, be sure to check the team’s social media. Their handle is @IRSCEsports on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.