Pandemic increases esports interest in 4-State area

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NEOSHO, Mo. – Esports have been growing in popularity on a global level but the Coronavirus pandemic gave them a real shot in the arm.

According to safebettingsites.com, the global esports audience is set to reach 474 million viewers this year with the viewership growing by almost 20% since the COVID-19 outbreak began. And local teams saw a part of that growth.

“During the height of the pandemic here when real sports weren’t happening, esports provided an outlet for students to interact and cheer on students here at Fort Scott playing and competing when there wasn’t any other way to do that at the time. So we saw a huge increase in our Twitch viewership,” said Fort Scott Community College esports coach Ben Souza.

And many local players are welcoming newcomers with open arms.

Players from the Crowder College and Neosho High School esports teams spent their Thursday fighting for their schools by playing the latest Super Smash Brothers game, and they say thanks to esports, they’ve got a lot more friends.

“It’s absolutely a great way to make friends. I mean, already you’re signing up for a game that you already play with your friends so now you’ve got other people who are doing the same thing as you,” said Crowder College player Logan Downey.

“The team I currently play with now, I didn’t know any of them when I first started. But now every time we group up, we always laugh, we have something to joke about, we can always just talk to each other and play a game,” said Neosho High player Chase Laughlin.

The friends and good times are definite perks but these teams aren’t clubs for casual gaming.

These players are eligible for scholarships, and just like on-the-field college athletes that means regular practice and getting passing grades.

But another big draw of esports is that anyone who has the skills and puts in the work has a shot at the big leagues.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s all about how good you are. So in theory, anybody could really join an esports and I think that’s fantastic,” said Downey.