Foxx Harrington used to take part in traditional organized sports. Growing up in Boise, Idaho, Harrington played football, basketball and wrestling. He enjoyed the competition and camaraderie. But eventually, those sports felt like a chore.
When Harrington discovered the world of competitive esports, he uncovered similar benefits to traditional team sports. He experienced the thrill of victory, the disappointment of defeat and the camaraderie of being part of a team.
But there was a notable difference. Playing esports never felt like a chore.
“Everybody is here because they want to compete against the best,” said the senior political science major. “It’s one of the fairest places to find that [competitive] environment. Besides that, it’s fun as hell.”
Making a name on the national scene
Harrington is one of 35 students who compete for the Simpson College varsity esports program. Formed in the fall of 2021, the varsity program competes in five of the most popular titles as a member of the National Association of Collegiate Esports, the largest conference in the college esports system with 600 member schools.
Under the leadership of Director of Esports Hubert Whan Tong, the new program has already made a name for itself on the national scene.
In the fall, Simpson took third place at the NACE postseason tournament in Valorant, a tactical shooting game involving two teams of five players. In the winter, Harrington represented Simpson at the national tournament in Super Smash Bros., an individual crossover fighting game. As a national qualifier, Harrington was among the top 32 players in North America.
“There are programs that haven’t had nearly as much success as we have despite being around longer,” Whan Tong said. “There are programs in our backyard that have been around two to three years longer than us and haven’t experienced the type of long-term success we’ve had.”
More than an individual sport
Whan Tong – who competed collegiately at DeSales University before a carpal tunnel injury nudged him toward coaching – credits a strong team culture for the program’s success. While the gaming industry is often misrepresented as an individual sport, in reality, that’s rarely the case. Most of the titles Simpson plays are team games, where three or five players work together to achieve a goal.
“You learn teamwork because you have to,” said Seth Larson, a senior interactive media major who specializes in team games like League of Legends and Starcraft. “If you have any hope of winning, you have to communicate. If you’re silent, it won’t work out for you.”
Even players like Harrington, whose expertise lies in individual gameplay, feel the support of their team members. When Harrington took part in the qualifying rounds prior to the national tournament, Harrington said his teammates “came out in droves” to support him.
“Our student-athletes are very supportive of each other,” Wahn Tong said. “It’s much easier to improve when everyone is willing to buy into a team-first mentality.”
Creating the varsity program
Larson is a founding member of the esports club, which formed in 2018. When he found out there was momentum behind starting a varsity program, Larson immediately volunteered his time and expertise.
“Esports is like my baby,” Larson said. “I’ve been following esports for as long as I can remember. It’s always been at the forefront of my thoughts. Being able to help build this program has been a dream come true for me.”
Larson was also instrumental in the search committee tasked with hiring a director for the program. On paper, Whan Tong’s experience as a coach and competitor stood out to the committee. In the esports arena, Whan Tong’s passion has put Simpson esports on an upward trajectory.
“We couldn’t have hired a better director,” Larson said. “Hubert is the facilitator of a team environment that’s welcoming, inclusive and caring. It’s what sets us apart from anything else and it’s what will keep the program moving forward.”