HAVERHILL — Walk the campus of Northern Essex Community College in the springtime and you'll usually hear the sounds of sports — the crack of a baseball bat hitting a ball, athletes' sneakers slapping against the running track as they train.
But not this year. The coronavirus crisis has left the campus silent.
Some students of the community college have found a way to leave their competitive mark on the spring semester, however, even though classes and athletics are canceled due to the pandemic.
Two teams of NECC students managed to compete against teams from other two-year colleges. The venue was virtual through esport tournaments, a form of sports competition that features video games.
The competitions were done in a safe environment — social distancing made easy because of the lack of physical contact between competitors.
When the tournaments were over, both NECC teams were champions.
One of the teams competed in what is known as the Rocket League computer game, and captured the National Junior College Athletic Association Esports Championship for the spring 2020 season with a 4-0 sweep over Snow College of Utah.
That NECC team consists of Christian Bova, who goes by the computer nickname "Unky,'' of Lawrence; his cousin Edwin Guzman, with the nickname "Kizek,'' of Lawrence; and Erik D’Attilio, aka "Emanc6,'' of Boxford. Esport games require participants to use nicknames, or also known as Gamertags.
"It feels great to be part of a championship team," Bova said after his team's victory April 29. "I’m not sure what this means for NECC's esports program, but hopefully it's going to grow."
On May 1, the other NECC team, which competed in the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate computer game, captured the NJCAA Esports Championship for the spring 2020 season against St. Clair County Community College of Port Huron, Michigan.
That NECC team has two members — Christopher Long, nicknamed "Sri,'' of Haverhill; and Adryan Espinal nicknamed "TDT,'' of Lawrence.
"This shows us what we're capable of doing and we will continue practicing and improving," Long said. "Hopefully, other students on campus will recognize our achievements and will be interested in trying out for the team."
Although both NECC teams have been unable to go into the college's esports room and use its gaming personal computers on the Haverhill campus, they connected with each other electronically from home to battle teams from other two-year colleges.
"We have two teams of extremely good players who had to play under less-than-ideal conditions," said NECC esports coach David Arivella.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a unique fighting game where players either alone or on a team attempt to knock each other off a stage until one side prevails.
In Rocket League, a fast-paced game similar to soccer, players navigate rocket-powered cars to push a ball into an opponent's net.
"Seeing both our Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate teams come out with their first NJCAA Esports championships was amazing and I truly respect and commend their accomplishments," Arivella said.
For more information about esports at NECC, contact Athletic Director Dan Blair at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a replay of NECC's Rocket League finals, visit online at neccknights.com/sports/esports/2019-20/schedule.
For a replay of NECC's Super Smash Bros. Ultimate finals, visit twitch.tv/videos/608517396?t=0h22m0s.