Hicksville’s Ryan Harran, 20, attended Islanders games at Nassau Coliseum as a kid, never dreaming that someday he might be competing there in front of a roaring crowd.
Yet that will happen Dec. 2 when he and his New York Institute of Technology teammates battle Molloy College in collegiate esports — or video gaming — at the Uniondale arena, now called NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. They will be playing a best-of-five series of Overwatch, a first-person shooting game.
“Just to be able to say that I’m going to be doing something at the same place the Islanders played . . . and we’re going to be playing video games. It’s crazy,” said Harran, a junior majoring in information technology.
Esports has grown into a billion-dollar industry during the past few years. There are professional, collegiate and high school video gaming leagues with huge followings. More than 22,000 people packed Barclays Center in July to watch the Overwatch League Grand Finals, a two-day event in which the London Spitfire defeated the Philadelphia Fusion for the $1-million grand prize. An additional 300,000 watched online and on ESPN.
Harran was in the building for that event and was amazed by the atmosphere. “There was this energy among the crowd,” he said. “People were chanting. It was really fun.”
Molloy and NYIT are part of the new East Coast Conference League of Legends league that will begin play in February. Both programs are in their infancy.
Molloy, seeking to take its team to the next level, will hold tryouts in January for scholarship offers. The Rockville Centre school, in conjunction with NextGen Esports Productions, will be the host for four esports events each year at the Coliseum, the school said.
“I think a lot of people are realizing that some of these games, if played competitively, take as much time, dedication and practice as other physical sports,” said Molloy’s Shawn Martin, 21, from Sparta, New Jersey.
NYIT, which draws players from its Westbury and Manhattan campuses, morphed from an esports gaming club into a varsity team in January 2017.
NYIT will be unveiling its 700-square foot esports arena Dec. 4, the school said. It will include 14 “fully loaded” computers, with all the most up-to-date gaming technology as well as two 70-inch televisions for match play.
“NYIT is very supportive,” said Valley Stream’s Elieser Duran, a 2017 graduate who shepherded the program into varsity status. “[They are] really investing a lot in the team and are making sure we have everything to win our matches.”
The Dec. 2 event will follow the 3 p.m. Long Island Nets’ G League game against the Lakeland Magic, and will be broadcast live on Twitch, a streaming platform.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Kerry Bourgoine, Molloy’s esports consultant. “I’ve been waiting years for this. I’ve been part of esports for a very long time. I’m happy Molloy is able to be part of it.”
Harran said he is pretty happy about it, too. “I’m beyond hyped.”