MARICOPA — At this time of year, recreation officials with the City of Maricopa are usually in high gear putting on activities or planning for the summer.
Right now, those activities aren’t happening so everyone can keep their distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. That means no sports leagues or swim lessons until it is deemed safe.
The Community Services department, however, still wants to keep people, and especially kids, connected during these times. So they have gone virtual, conducting esports tournaments online for competitors ages 12 and older.
The department has held a few of these already, but now it wants to increase involvement by offering prizes to those who win the weekly tournaments. It costs $5 to register, and prizes are available with values contingent on the number of participants.
“Given the situation we’re in, with very limited social opportunities, esports has just been one that provides a very adaptable platform,” said Community Services Director Nathen Ullyot. “Esports was born from this, really. This was how esports started, with everyone just going online instead of competing in person.”
Despite those origins, the city did not intend for its esports program, which began last year, to be socially distant. The vision is to bring people together, like in the days of arcades, to have fun but also be social.
Online tournaments have been going well. People register on the “Maricopa Esports” Facebook group, and all communication is handled through Discord, a type of social media app for gamers to share information and photos. The Facebook group includes a video teaching people how to use Discord.
There are three weekly tournaments held on different days. On Wednesdays, PC players can compete in League of Legends from 6 to 9 p.m. On Saturday, a Rocket League tournament takes place across multiple platforms. Then on Saturday, there is Overwatch from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on PC, Xbox and Playstation 4.
Ullyot said there is no shortage of video game play in households during the stay-at-home order, but he hopes the structure of the tournaments will provide something to actually look forward to. Through Discord, it also becomes more of a social experience.
“I played in a tournament last week, and I was looking forward to Saturday because there was something to do,” Ullyot said. “That’s the different between just playing with friends. You can meet other people and go head-to-head as part of a big event.”
Once stay-at-home orders are lifted and outdoor organized recreation resumes, the department will know that online tournaments are an option. However, they plan to return to the original mission of bringing people together in one place, which is the city’s esports “arena.”
“We want to get back to interaction,” Ullyot said. “When we get back to what becomes normal, we want the kids to come together to share their passion for games, but also improve their social interaction and leadership skills.”