The esports community is stronger than ever, and just getting started

Hawks Talon Gaming Club Head Coach Wesley Acuff shares how he made his way into the Hawks family. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

The whole world is wondering when life will return to normal. Jobs are scarce, along with any paper good in your local community’s grocery stores. But during the coronavirus pandemic, the world is doing what it can to stay strong. A community that continues to embody this is the family of esports and gamers.

Professional athletes and gamers are teaming up to fight the emotional times in which the coronavirus has put many individuals and their families. Along with them, members of the sports-media industry have joined in on what seems to be the current wave.

From the media…

Max Wildstein is a researcher for MLB Network and an avid New York Yankees fan. As a former Division III catcher for the Emerson Lions, his passion for the sport reigns supreme over many. 

“Honesty, there’s nothing that really distracts me from the thought of no baseball … or sports … This year is always on my mind,” Wildstein said. “Since it’s the industry I work in, it’s always a thought. I’m more just trying to occupy my time with something.”

Recently, he began playing MLB: The Show and streaming on Twitch. Something like this probably does not happen if the season started on time. But he took a chance. 

“I was bored and found a cheap capture card from Best Buy,” the former Division III catcher said in an email. “I kind of just thought to myself, ‘Why not?’”

But what began as a cure for his boredom soon turned into something more. People began to recognize him because of his Twitter, where he amassed a large following before streaming. He currently sits at 22,700 followers.

“There are many phenomenal streamers on Twitch that I’ve gotten the opportunity of getting to know … and with my platform, they already knew me,” he said. 

With his favorite game gone, Wildstein understands that the foreseeable future is a pivotal moment for the sport and esports in particular. A casual gamer, he appreciates everything the gaming community is doing.

“Life is all about creating connections and experiences, and I’ll never forget these times of these streamers trying to pick up the slack that ‘real’ baseball and ‘real’ sports can’t currently provide us,” he said.

… to the gaming community

On the other hand, some people play video games for a living and have for quite some time. Chris Denker, better known to the world as “DenkOps,” is sitting at 1.32 million YouTube subscribers. As a content creator, he continues to give his audience quality videos during stay-at-home orders. The response has been promising.

“I have definitely seen a bit of a boost in viewership these last few weeks, and I’m sure a lot of [other] creators have as well,” Denker said. 

Many families are living paycheck to paycheck and the newly moved-in Missouri resident understands this. For Denker, continuing to work from home, let alone work at all during this “insane time,” is a privilege. He uses it to spread positivity to his hundreds of thousands of fans.

“I feel a bit of a responsibility to provide people with an ‘escape’ of sorts, just get them to laugh for a few minutes and forget about their problems for a bit,” Denker said. Hopefully, I’m doing a good job of that.”

Those paying close attention to him know that his work in the gaming community speaks for itself. He talked about a live stream he planned to do in order to raise money for COVID-19.

He recently raised over $12,000 for charity during his live stream. In the coming weeks, however, who knows what he has in store for the world. The gaming community may have a reputation, but they are a family. 

“In times of need, I’ve seen creators, pro gamers [and] streamers all come together for good causes, whether it be fundraising [and] awareness raising,” Denker said.

… to Atlanta

Hawks Talon Gaming Club head coach Wesley Acuff was just a producer for NBA TV in late 2018. But he also loved playing NBA 2K. He tried out in 2018 for the NBA 2K League’s inaugural season.

While he missed out on being an athlete, the Detroit native still found his way into the league. Hawks Talon GC hired Acuff before the Atlanta Hawks esports inaugural season.

When Acuff spoke to The Signal earlier this month, he joked about people’s reactions after he tells them what he does for a living.

“‘Um, what? What does that mean?’” he said, impersonating in a cross-tone of confusion and sarcasm. “So, it’s a lot of explaining, especially when I’m talking to someone who’s older. So, constant conversation of repeating the same information over and over, but it never gets old.”

A few weeks ago, Hawks Talon GC was one of the many teams competing in the NBA 2K League’s Three For All Showdown. The teams featured athletes, celebrities and, best of all, players and audience members from diverse backgrounds.

Prior to their matchups in the second round, Acuff left a lasting impression and one to ponder when it comes to including everyone.

“We have one of the unique sports where any and everybody who can operate a controller to a video game can participate,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what gender, what age, however old you are or any of that stuff. It’s just about if you can play the game or not.”

During this time, remember that the gaming community is far more than just those looking to cause someone to rage quickly. They are a family, and now more than ever, they continue to unite during one of the harshest times in history.