While all America East (AE) athletics events have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was an AE championship event held virtually over the weekend. The inaugural America East Esports Invitational, a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament open to students at all of the AE’s nine member schools, was held with competitors vying for a $1,500 scholarship prize. Ultimately, the conference’s first-ever esports event was won by a Bearcat, with Michael Ahr, a junior majoring in biology, emerging victorious.

Playing under the gamer tag Rawk, Ahr won his first five matches to advance to the grand finals, facing off against opponent Misha from UMBC in the best of five finals matchup. After winning two rounds and dropping one, Ahr entered the fourth and what would be the final matchup. The game was even, as both Ahr and Misha lost two stocks. The two traded blows, but with a critical sequence in the corner, Ahr took home the $1,500 and the first-ever AE esports title.

“I realized that he jumps from ledge a lot, so I had to punish that, and I waited until the moment where I could kill him for it instead of just getting a light punish,” Ahr said.

Ahr played as the character Dark Samus throughout the invitational. In both the first and third match of the grand finals, Ahr lost two stocks before Misha, who played using Little Mac. Ahr even lost a match, but he remained composed and ultimately won both rounds off of a whiffed knockout punch.

“I knew that his character was a lot faster than mine and has better ground move, so I had to stay in the air above him or just run away from him,” Ahr said. “I knew when I had him cornered on the sides that he liked to jump, so I would do a move that covers the jump and would kill him, and he kind of got caught by that several times where I was able to clutch out games. So by the time I got him to the corners I was ready for that opportunity and won because of that.”

Streaming on Twitch throughout the day, the invitational was open to all students whose schools belong to the AE conference. The original event was scheduled to take place on the campus of the University at Albany, but the invitational was moved online due to the pandemic. Typically, esports tournaments take place in person, and Ahr said that online tournaments have lag that make it more difficult to play.

“Basically when you’re inputting a move, there’s an innate amount of lag that happens,” Ahr said. “If I want to do something, because it’s Wi-Fi, it has to connect with someone else’s console and then there’s more lag to the time that the move actually comes out. So you can still react, but the move won’t come out in time despite you reacting to whatever the other person is doing.”

Smash tournaments are usually double elimination, but the AE Invitational utilized a single elimination bracket. Ahr said that because the Invitational was single elimination, he almost lost to UMBC’s Tae in the third round.

“I was stressed about it because it was single elimination brackets so if you lose, you’re out,” Ahr said. “Usually Smash tournaments are double elimination so you basically get a second chance.”

Although this is the first time that Ahr represented Binghamton in an individual bracket, he has represented BU before for crew battles. Ahr is the treasurer of the Binghamton Video Game Association and said that the club usually plays as a five-person team in tournaments. The team has previously traveled to Drexel and RIT for such competitions.

Several schools in the AE have formal esports programs, and with it gaining more traction, Ahr hopes that BU will develop a similar initiative.

“SUNY Canton has an esports program, and other schools do too, so it would be cool if [BU] had that,” Ahr said. “We have a big community with the Video Game Association club on campus and we don’t get a lot of funding even though we have a lot of interest.”

Even though Binghamton only had three players in the AE Esports Invitational, Ahr believes that all around BU has the best players in the state.

“[BU is] the strongest Smash school in New York,” Ahr said.