WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — For Martinsburg, West Virginia’s Caitlyn Graulau, videogames have always been a part of her life.
The 18-year-old says she grew up playing on her parents’ various PlayStation consoles, and connected with many other teens through online gaming. She began playing the popular multiplayer game Overwatch about two years ago after a friend recommended it.
“I really appreciate the community that’s on these types of games,” Graulau said. “When I first started to play Overwatch is when they came out with the Overwatch League and they had all the teams around the world, internationally, playing games. I wanted to be a part of that.”
That sense of community brought her to Winchester, Virginia, where Shenandoah University hosted its inaugural esports summer camp this week. Campers ages 10 to 18 gathered to learn about the growing industry, the possible career fields available to them, and of course, to play lots of video games.
Esports coaches gave the dozen or so campers a taste of what competing on an esports team looks like, from team-building exercises to practice matches. Campers are playing games Rocket League, Super Smash Brothers, and Graulau’s favorite, Overwatch–all games the university’s varsity esports team will play during the academic year.
Coaches also want campers to focus on the management side of the rapidly growing industry as well.
“Obviously not everyone is going to be good enough to be a professional gamer and that’s not what we’re trying to do here,” said Zachary Harrington, who is the team’s head coach and the assistant director of the esports management program. “There is a large growing need for people to work within that billion-dollar industry. So people running events, people coaching, people managing teams, all the stuff that goes into traditional sports.”
Harrington also emphasized the importance of nutrition and exercise to non-traditional athletes.
“There are concerns about the risks of sitting for long periods of time and the detriments to your health because of gaming and in order to combat that kind of stuff, you need to be active, you need to be exercising,” he said. “The better shape you’re in, the better you feel, the better you’re going to perform.”
Graulau, who is attending Shenandoah in the fall, wanted to use the camp as a trial period for what the next four years of her education might look like.
“I’m going to be here both weeks and that’s when I’m really testing it out and seeing if I can really handle it,” she said, adding that she plans to double major in esports management and history. “While it’s not going to be my main career, it’s definitely something I want to do on the side because I don’t know if you’ve seen it on tv or not, but Overwatch League, they’re making beaucoups of money, off of playing, doing something they love. And if it’s something you love, and you’re making money off of it, I have to say it’s worth it.”
University officials hope the camp can help to bolster the school’s partner, Virginia High School League.