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Concord Esports program turning into a national powerhouse

ATHENS, W.Va. — Concord University’s Esports team has picked up where it left off from the fall to spring semester, by competing in and winning some of the nation’s largest collegiate tournaments.

The program, established in fall 2019 in Athens under the National Association of Collegiate Esports , ended the fall semester in style by its Call of Duty Maroon Team taking down the Tespa Fall Collegiate Cold War 4v4 tournament against the likes of Penn State University and the University of Alabama.

It has already captured crowns in certain games in the early weeks of the current semester.

“We are hoping to carry this momentum forward as we compete in the spring season of the CCL (Collegiate Call of Duty League) and have a repeat of our success from last season of CCL,” The 22-year old Concord Esports head coach Austin Clay said in a release.

Austin Clay

Clay, a native of Kendall, New York, spoke with MetroNews about his team’s successes and where the program stands since he took over for the program’s first coach Jake Neerland.

The program has a roster of 43 students, playing in games such as Call of Duty, League of Legends, Overwatch, Valorant, and Smash. Clay said that is an average-sized roster for a university’s Esports program.

In the Call of Duty championship win on December 20, the team consisted of Captain Jamie ‘Megatron’ Nickell, a junior from Lewisburg, W.Va.; Bennett ‘ReDChase’ Daffron, a sophomore from McKenzie, Tenn.; Andrew ‘Crooked’ Thompson, a junior from Prince George, Va.; Zachary ‘Trauma’ Roney, a sophomore from Virginia Beach, Va.; and Niko ‘Paralyxsis’ Thibeault, a sophomore from Waterford, Conn.

Clay said Concord dropped only three maps in total during the tournament with a final score of 3-1. It was redemption following a loss to Texas A&M in the 2019 tournament.

The victory earned the team a total of $7,500 which will be split between five players. But Clay said much of the prize pool earnings go towards scholarships for the players. He said a player has to maintain a 2.5 GPA to earn a tournament scholarship, thus motivating everyone in the classroom.

Clay, 22, credits his youth for being able to connect with the players and help motivate them. He arrived on campus July 20 after graduating from Alfred State College in New York just two months earlier. He was previously in charge of the Esports club there for two years.

“I understand a lot of their stress and their concerns of college life. That makes it easier to get along,” Clay told MetroNews.

“I understand the terms, lingo with Esports because I know what they want.”

On January 30, the program began the spring semester by capturing its second straight College Call of Duty Kickoff tournament after being seeded as the favorite. The team has future Call of Duty matches scheduled against Cal State Long Beach, Penn State, Army, Liberty, Full Sail, Arizona, and more.

Clay said the program has built itself into a Call of Duty powerhouse and now wants to establish the same success in Valorant. He said they have the pieces on campus now and it’s time to get down to business.

“This semester all of our teams are competing. It’s going to be a busy, hectic season but that’s what we signed up for with Esports,” he told MetroNews.

Clay noted the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the team in multiple ways even though it was already online competition. 

Concord’s plans for an arena has been suspended and the team has not been able to travel to other institution’s arenas.

“Yes, we can play remotely but it still has an impact on us. Now more people are using the internet so the internet can be slow sometimes,” Clay said. 

“It hurts us because we have to play online and not at a land center, playing head to head. That’s easier because you wouldn’t have lag.”

Clay credited the help around him including Jamie Nickell for graphic design and Jordan ‘Azrael’ McCarthy as a Call of Duty coach.

Concord holds the distinction of being the first public college or university in West Virginia to offer varsity Esports to its students.