From ages 7-12, there was nothing I looked forward to more than summer camps. With camp, one spends time with friends, plays a variety of sports, and the biggest stress is what you are having for lunch or friend drama. For me, dodgeball was by far my most favorite activity. The camp experience was like no other part of my childhood and I will always cherish those memories.
When one thinks of the worst parts of this COVID pandemic, most people quickly and rightly think of the losses of life, hospitalizations, and pain people have gone through. There is so much to consider when one thinks of the widespread impact of this pandemic. Not too many people think of how this affects the current generation of children and teenagers. As a high school lacrosse coach, I was especially affected by the loss of the season, specifically for the class of 2020. Senior year is the culmination of four years of work and dedication. For me, my senior seasons in high school and college were two of the most influential years of my life. The bonds and community we built through intense team experiences are tough to simulate. The wins, the losses, the comradery, the support, even amongst players who rarely saw the field on gameday, were like none I have ever experienced.
The camp experience is a community experience as well. When the team at esportscamps.com made the inevitable shift from in person to virtual for our esports camps this summer, this was a huge component of the vision. This summer esportscamps.com has held camp for over 800 campers across 10 different video games. Personally, I ran our camps featuring the massively popular and culturally shifting game, Fortnite, with campers from ages 8-17. As we all know by now, virtual is just different. Body language and social cues are a tremendously important part of socializing. Real life doesn’t have a mute button, but there are ways to teach, calm a person down or to address situations that are much different through an online call. For our camps we used Discord, the ubiquitous video, audio, and chat service in gaming culture. There is nothing super special about Discord, but it is a consistent and well-integrated app for mobile and desktop that is used by almost every streamer and gamer. Each day at camp we had a learning portion, a playalong section, and a competition/play section where we would typically break it into small groups. With the learning portion, each day we had a theme based on 21st century skill such as teamwork, the psychological side of gaming, learning skills quickly, etc. For that and the playalong section I did my best to reach all skill levels and provided some bonus challenges for those willing and able. The last day of camp was focused on competition. We had a tournament with a prize and a couple surprise contests for fun to top it all off. One of the best parts of camp was hearing from parents after on how a camp got their child out of their loneliness or they met a new best friend. I often get in-game invites from campers who are playing a game with another camper and it warms my heart every time.
As we look forward, life and culture has changed and will continue to change. At Esportscamps.com we will continue to host small-group weekend clinics and individual training throughout the year. Who knows what percentage of our interactions over the next two years will be virtual calls and when we will be able to confidently shake hands and hug people again. A large percentage of the population has likely had significant mental health challenges from the isolating nature of this pandemic, rightfully so. We are social creatures and many of us derive our meaning in life from being a part of a community and families. I believe that forming communities and having group experiences have always been important but are more crucial than ever. I also am a big believer that gaming can play a role in shaping people for the better, just like school and traditional sports can.