Durham E-Sports battle their way through pandemic


The rise in Fighting Games as an E-Sport has become ever more apparent in recent years, however the Covid-19 pandemic has left many players struggling.

In-person events have been scrapped since March 2020, with no options available until early June 2020. Despite being online events, bad online programming means that conditions are suboptimal for competitive play.

The Fighting Games division of Durham University E-Sports Society (DUES) mostly specialises in Super Smash Brothers. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch, but not everyone of our members own the console, a monitor and a copy of Smash Ultimate to participate in online tournaments.

As the Fighting Games Representative for DUES, this presented me with some challenges. How do I keep my group engaged when most of them abandon online tournaments?

My main focus throughout the year was keeping our members together to last through the pandemic. Gaming itself has many social benefits – despite media claims – as it brings people together who share common interests and loyalty, it gets people out of their rooms, and can boost communication, creativity and learning capabilities.

As with any other sport, there is a camaraderie towards our peers, yet we are still all friends at the end of the day. Since we have strong Smash roots, most of us share the same interests in Nintendo gaming and other Smash games such as Melee and Smash 4.

Thus I decided to run online friendlies sessions every week to keep those interested in growing their competitive careers. Although this has come with adjustments such as lag spikes and a change to a more defensive or “campy” metagame, a few members have stuck through and progressed well.

We were able to offer help and advice about our game plan, strategies and character matchups. We joined with Bath University’s Smash group to build our relationship with other universities and offer more character matchup experience to our members.

However, not everyone was interested in playing the game so social nights were run frequently throughout the term.

Gaming itself has many social benefits – despite media claims – as it brings people together who share common interests and loyalty, it gets people out of their rooms, and can boost communication, creativity and learning capabilities.

This included Among Us/Jackbox sessions, an online Chess tournament, a Fighting Games Quiz and our very own “Task-Jester” – featuring Smash-themed tasks inspired by the popular Channel 4 programme.

These events really kept our members in touch with each other and talked about other things outside of Smash. It also allowed people to blow off some steam and relax on a Saturday evening, when there was not much else to do due to lockdown.

Whilst I ran these events to keep our members together, it was also important to represent DUES on a university scale.

Therefore, we still entered UK university tournaments ran by the National Student E-Sports – both in Singles and Team brackets. We were still able to show our top skill as a university – placing 5th/30 teams and with frequent Top 5 placements in 50-man+ brackets.

We even still had some highlights, such as myself running to my team member’s house since their controller died before the tournament – it’s what a team captain is forced to do sometimes!

But as restrictions reduce, we are looking towards the future of the Fighting Games section now.

We run in-person offline sessions (called “Friendlies”) at Maiden Castle, where up to ten of us practise in more competitive conditions. Whilst this is better for some players, it also brings the social aspect where I have had long chats with players after each event as we walk back home.

Many of our members have expressed their gratitude to both myself and the university for letting us run these offline sessions in a Covid-secure manner. Players have missed the game but are also playing with other people.

The experience of a tournament is drastically different between in-person and offline settings. In-person events have your opponent sitting next to you, a crowd spectating your game, perhaps some refreshments, and tonnes of practise games before and after the tournament. Online events only really feature the bracket, with many players sitting alone in their rooms.

We do hope to run some small trips to in-person tournaments when they return in June, for people to show their skill and knowledge in front of other fans of the game.

This past year has not been easy for any society, but we are glad to have kept together for over a year despite being separated physically. We look forward to playing more Smash and representing the university in more NSE events!

Consequently for others, it means having to play against my Yoshi after a year-long break.

Image: Durham University E-Sports Society

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