High school and college varsity programs across the country are picking up some major steam and making big headway in the esports industry. Some of those programs have scored big already—a few of which we highlighted in our list of the top 5 college esports programs in the United States—but the scoring comes from the players themselves. Typically, teams promote their full team, and at least at the varsity level, you don’t have many individual players getting a lot of limelight. But here are a few players who have . . .
Alex “Saltman” Carrell
Alex Carrell, a.k.a. “Saltman,” plays for Harrisburg University in Pennsylvania’s capital town. A couple of years ago, Carrell started receiving a lot of attention as a top-ranking Hearthstone player, which ultimately earned him an offer from Harrisburg that he couldn’t turn down: a full-ride scholarship to come to join their esports team. The fact that Harrisburg, a small private university with less than 1,000 students, was the first school to offer full scholarships to esports athletes really put the school on the map to begin with. Understandably, that got Carrell’s attention. To get the scholarship offer in the first place, Carrell had to first prove the legitimacy of his high Hearthstone scores, then do an online tournament tryout, then an in-person interview and scrimmage on Harrisburg’s campus. Leaving his previous school, Central Washington University, Carrell joined Harrisburg’s team, known as the Storm, starting in the 2018-2019 school year and helped earn them a 33-0 inaugural season. To top it all off, the season culminated in their winning the first ESPN Overwatch National Championship, beating out three top rivals in the process. In fact, the Storm is the subject of a new documentary, A Rising Storm, following the story of Harrisburg’s efforts to forge ahead and create a uniquely formidable name for themselves in the varsity esports space. A Rising Storm premiered on September 17 at the all-online 2020 PAX West Convention and soon be available to stream worldwide on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and Google Play. Get ready to see the Storm and the Saltman in action!
Considering Harrisburg’s track record, it’s no surprise that they’ve got another top player in the U.S. varsity roster. Titus Bang, who plays under his first name, is another member of the Storm, although he came by way of his laudable League of Legends background—throughout high school, he regularly reached Master ranks in the game. Like Carrell, Bang had been at a different school before coming to Harrisburg. He was formerly a musical theater major at the University of Central Florida but made the switch to Harrisburg after being offered a full ride to play esports. Bang is a player who errs on the more practical side of the going-pro debate. Given the strength of his esports chops and performance pre-college, he could have chosen to go pro right out the gate, but instead, he wanted to make sure he got his degree. The collegiate esports scene thanks him for it.
Jonathan “MyCrazyCat” Huffman (who also sometimes plays as “i99980xe”) is considered one of the best Overwatch players in the world—beyond even the world of varsity programs. In fact, he’s not yet in a varsity program, but we included him here because at 17, he’s already been courted by collegiate and pro teams for two years. In 2019, he was ranked the No. 1 Overwatch player in the U.S. and No. 18 in the world, and he has reached “Grandmaster” level multiple times. Working with a recruiting coach from National College Student Athlete (NCSA), Huffman has received offers from multiple schools, including Harrisburg, UC Irvine, Boise State, UC California – Berkeley, and the University of Missouri. But he’s also been courted by the professionals at Overwatch League. In 2019, when the Washington Post ran a feature on Huffman, the choice was nearly wide open. As Huffman reaches graduation age, the industry waits to see which route he will take.
The players at Hathaway Brown School
No, this is not highlighting one individual player, but it is highlighting one school that’s bringing up some amazing players and promoting the wider inclusion of girls in the varsity esports world: the all-girls Cleveland high school Hathaway Brown. In the 2018-2019 school year, Hathaway Brown became the first all-girls school to start a varsity esports program, launching a team of 10 players. The program came about because of J Collins, a transgender, pro-gaming former liaison in the U.S. Department of Education who now teaches at Hathaway Brown. They noticed that varsity gaming was overwhelmingly geared towards males, despite females making up 45% of gamers, and they wanted to create a program to start remedying that. So, Collins helped organize a league with 10 schools and libraries based around three games: Rocket League, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm. The program has seen tremendous success, and many of its players have said that they hope to play esports in college when they reach that point. (We hope they do, too.)