RAYMOND – The second season of esports at Hinds Community College starts 2020-21 riding a wave of momentum after producing a national champion last year and burgeoning popularity on college campuses nationwide as COVID-19 limits in-person sports competition.

A team of 18 players will take the controllers in six games this fall season in a newly remodeled Esports Arena on the Raymond Campus. Appearing on the program’s gaming consoles this fall are:

  • Madden 21, the most recent version of the long-running, officially-licensed NFL video football game
  • NBA 2K21, the most recent version of the basketball simulation game based on the NBA
  • Fortnite, the uber-popular fighting and battle video game
  • Overwatch, a popular multiplayer shooting game
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the fifth installment of the crossover fighting game series
  • Valorant, a recently-released multiplayer tactical shooting game

Hinds is the lone community college in Mississippi competing in esports, which was recognized officially in 2019 by the National Junior College Athletic Association. In fall 2019, former Hinds student Joshua Brandon, of Vicksburg, won the national championship in esports after an undefeated season in Madden NFL 19.

Players must maintain a 2.0 GPA, the equivalent of passing 12 credit hours, to be eligible to play.

Esports players

From left, foreground to background, Rivers Burnette, Jonathan Washington and Iquez Common test the video games they’ll play this season as members of Hinds Esports. (Hinds Community College/April Garon)

The fall season is set to begin Oct. 5. The NJCAAE, the juco sports governing body’s esports arm, has registered 60 member colleges in electronic video sports for 2020-21, including 33 new programs.

At Hinds, a former storage room inside the McLendon Library on the Raymond Campus has been renovated to accommodate the student activity, complete with six HDTV monitors and gaming stations, plus a coach’s corner to quickly track player academics at any given time. It also has a Wall of Champions, one to which Hinds Esports head coach Tiki Broome hopes to add more names to go along with Brandon’s achievement.

“We’re growing the sports we play in esports in response to demand,” Broome said. “There are a lot of students here who want to play. And we’ve just moved into a new space on campus to do that.”

The NJCAA hasn’t issued rankings on any sport this fall. But, Broome said gaming-specific entities such as EA Sports have the esports team at Hinds ranked in the top 10 nationally.

One “returning starter” to this fledgling Eagle sport is Iquez Common, of Jackson, who advanced to the third round of tournament play in Super Smash Bros. last spring.

“I’ve loved playing video games – ever since I was a kid when I would play Sonic the Hedgehog,” said Common, who is pursuing a career in elementary education. “I Iove that I’m able to come to school, fine something I love to do and help my school out.”

Jonathan Washington, of Clinton, who is studying communications in hopes of becoming a sportscaster, and Rivers Burnette, of Flowood, the first female student to participate in esports at Hinds, see it as a way to have fun, make friends and help each other achieve their academic goals at the same time.

“I grew up playing sports video games like NCAA Football and Madden,” Washington said. “For gaming to be part of college, it’s really neat.”

Burnette grew up playing video games with her dad and is studying for a healthcare career, possibly in physical therapy, after battling illnesses as a child and spending a lot of time in hospitals. She sees gaming for Hinds as just another extension of the Hinds family spirit present in other competitive sports and student endeavors.

“The community of people is good to have here, because it’s harder to make friends in college – for me, at least,” she said. “Of course, you have to keep up with your grades like with other sports like football. It’s a lot of fun and the team here is like family.”

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