By Orrin Farries
With the announced cancellation of the winter season of Alberta College Athletics Conference (ACAC) sports, it would be reasonable to assume that that’s it, that’s all for collegiate competition this year. Not so!
A recent collaboration between the ACAC and the Alberta E-Sports Association (AESA) has resulted in renewed hope for a new kind of competition for the “new-normal” year of 2020.
The CEO of ACAC, Mark Kosak sees this as an opportunity to move the ACAC into new lands while traditional sports have to be shelved for the greater good of community health.
“Obviously it’s a bit of a combination of environmental factors,“ said Kosak, elaborating that an outcome-management committee had taken the inspiration from the burgeoning esports league in the Ontario universities scene.
“We’ve got time now, [given] we’re not playing sports,” said Kosak. “We thought, you know, there’s no point in waiting any longer, let’s give it a go.”
In a year unlike any other, the ACAC is working to find a balance between planning for the future of traditional sport, while also keeping savvy with the trends of competition. For Kosak, a traditionalist in sport, esports is brand new territory for not just the ACAC, but him as well.
“I’m learning a lot, and I’m learning about how serious [esports] is,” said Kosak.
“The more I learned, the more I realized that there are some parallels with traditional sports. These [competitors] are getting coaching, they’re practicing, they’re doing the same sort of preparation for a competition as traditional athletes.”
The introduction of esports to the fold of ACAC does provide some challenges from a top-down perspective.
“We need to contribute towards the campaign to legitimize eSports,” said Kosak. “There definitely is a perception that it’s a recreational activity, so part of the issue is to help change people’s perception of [esports].”
Having the backing of the well-established AESA and taking their lead from the well developed Ontario Post Secondary Esports league, the ACAC have the blueprint for getting esports off the ground as a legitimized competition for post-secondary students at NAIT and across Alberta.
“It’s going to take some time, the biases will come down in time, but if we are able to bring scholarships, scheduled ACAC competitions, and we develop teams with tryouts and coaching and all the other elements that go along with a traditional sport,” said Kosak. “I think people will over time start to see it as not just a past-time or recreational distraction.”
The ACAC has scheduled an esports trial event for Saturday, November 21 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., a Super Smash Bros Ultimate tournament. The competition will take place virtually and is open-invite to students at ACAC academic institutions.