Like a lot of kids, Josh Street started playing video games as a youngster.
Unlike a lot of kids, Street will suit up — and there is a uniform — this fall as a college eSports player.
On scholarship, too.
Even to Street, a Clifton Park native and 2015 Shenendehowa graduate, that is still tough to believe at times.
“This was a dream,” Street said, “but you didn’t expect anything like this could happen.”
But it did. The 21-year-old Street spent the last two school years at Hudson Valley Community College before heading to Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg University of Science and Technology a couple weeks ago to start preparation to compete for the school’s varsity team. Harrisburg’s 16-person team — The Storm — will compete in National Association of Collegiate eSports events, and its first competition takes place next month.
Street, a cyber security major, earned his scholarship at Harrisburg after rounds of tryouts that started with hundreds of players. The college junior will compete on The Storm’s team that competes in League of Legends, a multi-player online battle game.
Street’s scholarship covers his full tuition and includes a housing stipend. He is also eligible to win prize money.
The Storm is Harrisburg’s first-ever varsity sports team. Before Street heard it was being formed, his plan had been to head to the University at Albany to earn his undergraduate degree.
“But when I saw this opportunity was out there, I wanted to see what could happen,” Street said.
After graduating from high school, Street took a gap year before college to try to become a professional esports player. During that year, he came close. Once, he made it as far as the semifinals of a qualifying tournament.
“My parents were supportive of me,” said Street, who first started playing video games on an N64. “They were fully on board with it. Their graduation gift to me after high school was a computer, so they’ve always been supportive of it.”
And Street is good. Like, really good.
His ranking in League of Legends has moved into the 600-to-700 range as he has devoted more of his time to working with his new Harrisburg team. At one point, though, he was ranked as high as No. 250 in North America out of approximately 1,500,000 players.
Street had slowed his competitive gaming while studying computer science at HVCC, but sped back up last October when he started to prepare for his tryouts with The Storm. His new team includes players from nine different states and Canada. Street has known some of his teammates for years, but only through online gaming.
“So when I came down here, there were some players I had played frequently or had been on teams with, but I met them in person here and now we’re together on the team,” Street said. “This is a very different experience.”
Street paused after that thought.
“That’s really weird to describe,” Street said with a laugh.
College scholarships have been available in esports for several years and more schools offer teams each year. The National Association of Collegiate eSports’ website lists 79 colleges as sponsoring official esports programs.
“I think a lot of people are becoming more open-minded to eSports, in general,” Street said. “More people are opening up to it. Obviously, too, there are people who don’t think it’s a real sport.”
As one might imagine, Street does view eSports as a “real” sport.
“A lot of people have been wondering if you can call us athletes, but essentially we are athletes,” said Street, who played tennis at Shenendehowa. “It’s the same as football in a way. There’s a lot of practices, coaching, there’s [strategizing] that need to be done. Football isn’t just about hitting other players — and it’s the same with video games. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
Street spends up to eight hours a day working on his League of Legends skills, either through active playing or in going through strategy sessions with his teammates and coaches. When he isn’t practicing, it’s common for him to play other games — Super Smash Bros. is a popular pick — with his teammates, who will bounce back and forth between calling him by his first name and his gamer handle of “Moss,” a name he picked as an homage to a TV show character he likes.
“So they call me Josh or Moss,” Street said. “But, mostly, it’s Josh.”
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