December 17, 2018

Esports bring Webster students around the world

Danny Cohen used a Webster University student grant to help fund his trip to Japan for a video game tournament.

Cohen competed at the Japanese Evolution Championship Series, a fighting video game event in Tokyo. He lived in an Airbnb for one week with other players from around the world. They competed in Nintendo’s ARMS, a 2017 fighting game for the Nintendo Switch.

“I had a teammate from Pakistan. He is the best ARMS player in the Middle East and he’s only 15,” Cohen said.

Between sightseeing, training and eating Japanese food, Cohen said he made full use of the trip both as a competitor and tournament organizer.

Cohen said he sat down with a major figurehead of the Japanese ARMS community. He also connected with other Japanese players and got them to come to America for a tournament Cohen organized.

Cohen first started organizing tournaments at Webster. He said he wanted a Super Smash Bros. tournament for Wii, but there were none at the time.

“I had to be the guy to make that change,” Cohen said. “I had to step up and be like ‘Alright, if I want these tournaments to happen, I’m just going to do them myself.”

Alex Osei competes with Webster’s Fighting Video Game Community (WFVGC). He said Cohen inspired him to help develop the St. Louis competitive gaming scene.

“[Cohen has] been super adamant about growing the scene,” Osei said. “About keeping a healthy scene, about actually having conversations about the scene.”

Osei began competing at tournaments his freshman year at Webster. He placed second at the first tournament he competed in. He competed his freshman and sophomore year, but took time off during his junior year to focus on his animations major.

Although he stopped competing in tournaments, Osei said he used Fridays as a free day. He said he played for at least 10 hours on Fridays.

Osei said he felt that year off hurt him more than it helped.

“I felt like I was running in place basically,” Osei said. “Because I’m practicing Smash Bros. I’m sacrificing time I could be spending drawing, honing my skills as an animator. I’m spending my time honing my skills as a Smash player but I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to tournaments.”

Osei started competing again this past summer. He said his mom supports his gaming and always assumes Osei placed in the tournament’s top three.

Osei said he loves competing, but sees himself having a career in animation rather than competitive gaming.

“I want to see what else can happen, so I’m definitely keeping it as a hobby,” Osei said. “An expensive hobby that I pour money into often.”

Charles Whitehead helped start WFVGC. He started competing in tournaments as a teenager, but now focuses more on commentating the tournaments.

He commentated for the first time in 2016 during a community-run tournament. The organizers continued to book him for their tournaments and Whitehead’s commentating caught Nintendo’s attention.

Nintendo booked Whitehead to commentate at the Splatoon U.S./Canada Inkling Open. The winner of the Open represents North America in the World Championships.

“That was really rewarding,” Whitehead said. “I mean of course working with Nintendo is a dream come true, but knowing that something that you put a lot of work into, not necessarily expecting any reward, it’s good to know that people are watching and that they recognize your good work.”

Nintendo asked Whitehead to commentate another event for them over summer. Whitehead worked the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, CA., commentating Splatoon Two.

Whitehead said he poured a lot of time into studying the game to improve his observations during his broadcast. Whitehead said he commentated in front of 100,000 people at the Nintendo event.

“You’re kind of the translator,” Whitehead said. “If somebody is very new and watching it for the first time, you have to be able to make sure they understand what’s going on.”

Whitehead said people in the crowd at the Electronic Entertainment Expo chanted his name when he walked out on the stage for the first time. He said the Expo included games other than Splatoon, but the people in the crowd were Splatoon fans and knew who he was.

“After that day was done, getting to walk up and people just kind of storming the stage just to hug me and congratulate me, you can’t really write something like that,” Whitehead said. “It just feels so great and you just try to relish that moment as long as you can.”

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