In the midst of a global pandemic, a new, invaluable relationship bloomed in Blacksburg between virtual gaming and sports journalism.
“It’s just really been a perfect marriage,” said Evan Hughes of the partnership between 3304 Sports, the online platform for students sports journalism at Virginia Tech, and Rec Sports’ esports program. “And I think the pandemic was a perfect time to get us involved together.”
Throughout the fall semester, 3304 Sports produced live broadcasts of Rec Sports’ virtual gaming leagues. The students called play-by-play for contests, created in-game graphics, and put together pre- and post-game shows, complete with analysis and interviews. Their work was broadcasted live on Twitch, a global live-streaming platform.
A senior studying multimedia journalism and the sports director for 3304 Sports, Hughes said the arrangement allowed him and other students to get much-needed broadcast experience during a time when going to games in-person was prohibited.
“Even though the fall semester looked different, we couldn’t just take a semester off, so this was an opportunity to partner with Rec Sports, get students some on-air reps, and to do so in the growing industry that is esports,” Hughes said. “And the coolest thing about all of this is these broadcasts can be used on a reel for you to show a potential employer.”
Hughes said the relationship began with a phone call from Will Trent, an alumnus of the School of Communication and interim associate director of administrative services for Virginia Tech Recreational Sports.
“I’ve seen the potential for a partnership between Rec Sports and 3304 Sports since coming back to work at Virginia Tech,” said Trent. “With in-person experiential learning opportunities being minimized due to COVID-19, having our esports broadcasted presented itself as a great opportunity for both parties.”
Rec Sports launched esports this past fall, offering a variety of games ranging from sports-theme contests, such as Madden NFL and FIFA, to more non-traditional games, such as Rocket League, which features playing soccer with vehicles. The games were broadcast across 10 nights by 3304 Sports, which provided an added level of both professionalism and engagement during a time when many on-campus activities were limited.
“Our esport matches are very well attended and have provided a much-needed sense of community where students may be struggling to find that in the pandemic era,” said Trent. “We averaged 80 viewers for our weekly broadcasts with a high of 171 views on one stream. Viewers are active in the Twitch chat, too, while engaging with broadcasters and the competition they’re viewing.”
3304 Sports is an offshoot of the Topics in Sports Communications course, which is part of the university’s newly established sports media and analytics major (SMA) and taught in part by the former Voice of the Hokies, Bill Roth.
“We talk about getting ‘reps,’ getting experience preparing for a broadcast, and executing a live show,” said Roth, now a professor of practice in the Department of Communication. “This partnership with Rec Sports allowed our students to do all of that on a weekly basis.” “Our students embraced the opportunity to call esports, and other events this semester. They adapted. Anchoring and hosting shows while wearing a mask was a challenge, but it didn’t slow their resolve or the momentum we are building in SMA.”