Finding a community through esports

By Eric Devlin

A student connects to her college and peers with esports.

Tasia Jones will be the first to admit she’s never been the world’s most social person. Yet that began to change, last fall, when she saw a flyer on Montgomery County Community College’s (MCCC’s) campus that offered her a chance to break out of her shell doing something she loved.

The flyer announced the newly formed Mustang eSports team was looking for athletes to join the squad. An avid gamer herself, Jones knew she’d found something right up her alley. Joining the team, it turns out, would be one of the best things to ever happen for her.

“Esports has been good for me. It allows me to be myself around the other players,” she said. “There’s no judgment. It’s a really positive thing. It brings people together.”

Before joining the team, Jones, 30, a criminal justice major, already achieved a platinum ranking in “Rocket League,” the vehicular soccer video game the team plays, at home, under the gamer tag “RedBrokenAngel.”

The single mom of four kids 10 and under said the last time she played a team sport was on her girls’ basketball team at Abraham Lincoln High School, in Philadelphia—an experience she really disliked.

This time, however, she was playing for her school doing something she already loved- and decided to take a chance.

“At first, it was a new thing. It was a new environment with a lot of people,” she said. Any worries she may have had going in though were quickly washed away once she picked up a controller and started playing the game. “It was cool when we started to play as a team. We got to know each other a lot better.”

Normally Mustang eSports practices begin, ironically enough, not on a computer screen, but in the gym for a 55-minute workout. When the team first began playing together at MCCC’s West Campus in Pottstown, the workouts included bodyweight exercises like squats, jumping jacks and pushups. When the team moved to the facilities on MCCC’s Central Campus in Blue Bell, it had access to all of the different machines in the fitness center, including the elliptical machine and treadmill.

The workouts, Jones said, were designed to combat a stereotype associated with gamers.

In National Junior College Athletic Association Esports (NJCAAE) league play, the team plays against other colleges across the country. The inaugural season has been educational so far for the players.

“It’s been rough. We’ve lost a lot of games, mainly because we didn’t know each other and had to get better as a team,” said Jones. “We’ve gotten better. Our communication has gotten a lot better and we’ve worked on a lot of stuff that we didn’t have earlier in the season.”

The season took a turn when MCCC’s facilities were closed to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The team was forced to play from home, which presented a new series of challenges Jones and her teammates would have to overcome together.

“It’s tougher,” said Jones. “I have kids but I still get to practice. I still have to do my regular schedule from 3-5 p.m., three days a week. The internet connection issues are different. At the college we were golden. At home it’s different, but we make it work.”

“Esports is allowing these athletes to stay connected to the college,” said Ryan Plummer, coordinator of Mustangs eSports. “Even though they can’t physically be together, they still practice three days a week for two hours a day and play a league game once a week. We are pushing initiatives forward that allow students to still be involved.”

Playing for a school team has been a positive experience for Jones, overall. She loves wearing her team jersey to classes and being recognized by others on campus. That’s added to an already positive experience at MCCC overall—a college experience she wished she had when she first graduated from high school in 2008.

Back then, she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. She enrolled at a local community college to find inspiration but didn’t last long.

“There was no guidance,” she said, “no one to show me anything.”

When she enrolled at MCCC as a part-time student in the fall of 2018, Jones said she chose criminal justice as a major because she wanted to become a detective.  “If I can make a difference in people’s lives, why not?” she said. “I’ve been through a lot in my life. I lost my best friend. If I can help someone find their loved one, that’s what’s inspired me to pursue it the most.”

There’s more to the story! Read the full article on MCCC’s website.

Eric Devlin

is the public relations and communications coordinator at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania.