E-Sports are on the rise

VALORANT Gaming footage courtesy of Stephen Ma

VALORANT Gaming footage. Courtesy of: Stephen Ma

OSWEGO, N.Y. – Esports are the new sports. With the industry growing rapidly in the past few years, more teenagers and young adults are trying their hand in making it big by doing what they love, playing video games.

Contrary to popular belief, the rise of esports did not originate within the last two decades, but all the way back to 1972 in Stanford University when players competed for a year’s subscription for Rolling Stone.

“I think that since esports became more mainstream over the last decade, people think is super new,” Wayne Zhang said.

Wayne “Rain” Zhang is a competitive esports coach and founder of Team Forecast for the past four years. The team, founded in 2017, distinguishes itself by having each member named after different weathers. The team mainly competes in League of Legends, a massive online battle arena game that tests a player’s reflects and real time strategic abilities.

Team Forecast also competes in VALORANT, a first-person shooter (FPS) developed by RIOT Games that was released last June. RIOT Games also developed the popular game, League of Legends (LoL), which is played worldwide and features a large competitive scene.

“For the past few years, players have been able to make esports into an actual career. The money is really good if you make it up there,” Zhang said, factoring to the large payouts for winning teams. Professional players also tap into popular streaming platforms like Twitch where people can watch and support their favorite players.

“It pays really well if you’re talented, like TenZ, teams are constantly trying to attract new talents to their rosters, these contracts can go up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Tyson “TenZ” Ngo is a professional VALORANT player playing for the Los Angeles-based esports team, Sentinels. At the age of 20, he is the youngest and most successful proplayer of this generation.

Prior to his founding of Team Forecast, Zhang was in the League of Legends competitive scene, where during the Championship tournament included a prize pool as big as $6.45 million.

“You have to have an eye for talent, really. It’s like coaches for sports teams as well,” Zhang said, having gone to numerous tournaments to recruit talents to his team.

VALORANT features a ranking system where players are distinguishing themselves from each other. The top three ranks being Radiant, Immortal, and Diamond. Yet according to Zhang, ranking isn’t everything.

“The ability to work with a team is just as important as the aim and reflexes. If you have Radiant aim but can’t communicate and work in a team, then I don’t want you,” Zhang said.

“It’s unlikely any competitive team will take in a solo player if they can’t learn to work with others.” Zhang said.

Stephen “Fog” Ma is one of the first recruitments to Team Forecast’s VALORANT team. Ma, who has been playing FPS games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) since the age of 12, entered the VALORANT scene quite quickly.

“I’m just really grateful that he (Zhang) gave me a chance to prove myself in the competitive scene,” Ma said. Zhang had approached him with the offer back in 2020. So far, Team Forecast has entered numerous New York statewide Esports competitions where they have found success, their last tournament saw them place third in the roster.

“It’s a bit intimidating to see other teams, most of them are cool but there are a few that are way too toxic,” Ma said. Toxic is a terminology in the gaming community that is used to describe rude and disrespectful players. “But the feeling of walking into venue and the energy is just indescribable. The best way to say it is just that the vibes were on point.”

Other than their unique team theme and names, Team Forecast also stands out for their female players, which is rarely seen.

“I don’t see gender, I see talent. Are people still being sexist in 2021?” Zhang said, often getting backlash from other teams for having female players on his team.

Denise “Snow” Zhou is one of two content creators and members of Team Forecast, focuses her talents on streaming and editing videos on platforms such as Twitch and TikTok.

“Being a girl in Esports is hard, it’s a male dominated industry. If you look at the biggest teams, there are literally no girls,” Zhou said, referring to big name teams in the VALORANT competitive scene such as 100 Thieves, Sentinels, Team Solo Mid (TSM), SKT, Cloud 9, Team Liquid, and Team Fnatic. All of which features VALORANT teams. None of which has any female members as roster members. “Girls are casted aside just like real sports but that ain’t stopping me.”

Zhou does not let her gender define her skill but strives to prove that girls have a place in Esports. “I work twice as hard, esports players can be very sexist. I’ve been told to go back to the kitchen so many times, that or to make them a sandwich. It makes beating them just more satisfying in my opinion. Boys will be boys and they will always whine when a girl beats them, it’s funny.”

Team Forecast Logo. Courtesy of: Wayne Zhang