While all sporting events were canceled this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several Binghamton students have been able to compete in esports events through online tournaments. This weekend, BU students playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate participated in the first of four Collegiate StarLeague (CSL) Northeast qualifiers. Of the 38 schools in the tournament, the Bearcats finished fourth, and were led by the efforts of Kevin Castro, a junior majoring in psychology.

“This tournament can be a way for the Smash team to show the school [Binghamton] that the funding for a varsity esports team is justifiable,” Castro said.

On Oct. 12, the University of Hartford, one of Binghamton’s athletics rivals in the America East Conference (AE), announced the addition of coed varsity esports to their athletics lineup, making them the 10th AE team to form an official esports program. With this new addition to the league, Binghamton will face further competition during the official AE tournament kicking off on Nov. 7.

“The evolution of esports in such a short period of time, coupled with the unlimited growth potential of the sport, makes Hartford’s commitment even more exciting,” said Maria Feeley, Hartford interim director of athletics, in a statement. “The addition of esports presents a great opportunity for our students, while contributing to the University’s recruitment, retention and graduation efforts. It provides an avenue for students to become engaged in many ways, as the program will attract not just gamers, but students who are interested in becoming team managers, student coaches, graphic designers, social media managers and much more.”

Adam Guarino, a senior majoring in psychology, is the president of Binghamton’s Video Game Association. He competed as part of the Smash team last weekend.

“The goal for the team is to place fourth or better in order to gain points to qualify for the regional tournament,” Guarino said.

Guarino, playing as his go-to character Lucas, likes to analyze his opponents’ moves before he attacks in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in order to pinpoint their weaknesses. However, going into a completely remote tournament, lag became an issue for many of the competitors, including the two Bearcats.

“The lag definitely changes the game and makes it less fun at times because it is hard to react to certain moves,” Guarino said.

Castro was part of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate team that won the 2020 SUNY Chancellor Esports Challenge last May, winning COVID-19 relief money for BU. An aggressive Bayonetta and Robin player, he specializes in quick reactivity, particularly on some of the Animal Crossing maps. The online lag conflicted with Castro’s sharp play style.

“The lag significantly helps certain characters such as Banjo and Kazooie,” Castro said. “They definitely have a move or two that gets significantly harder to react to because it has armor and is quick. It can also kill you really quickly. Despite the lag making it harder to block moves, it can also help me win some games, which cancels out.”

Along with Hartford adding esports as a varsity team, the AE has been adopting esports into its collegiate athletics model. Last season, it hosted the inaugural America East Esports Invitational, which was won by Binghamton’s Michael Ahr, a senior majoring in biology. The second annual event is just around the corner, and Ahr will be looking to defend his championship. Guarino and Castro are also looking to compete in the individual tournament, with the first place prize being a $1,500 scholarship, with $500 prizes for second, $300 for third and $200 for fourth.

However, similar to last spring, the tournament will be played online, and lag will continue to be an irritating factor going into the competition.

“Basically when you’re inputting a move, there’s an innate amount of lag that happens,” Ahr told Pipe Dream last April. “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.”

The second AE Esports Invitational will be virtually held on Nov. 7 and 8 and the championship bracket will be held on Twitch.TV.