Long before he became a Buccaneer, Ryan O’Connor said ETSU always felt like home. As he grew up in Johnson City, where he graduated from Science Hill High School, the campus was just a few minutes away.
But it was the presence of ETSU’s highly respected computing program that inspired Ryan to make the university his own campus home.
“In computing, there are so many languages and processes and operations – it’s impossible to learn everything, and what I really love about ETSU’s program is that the faculty teach you how to find the information you need to solve the problems,” said Ryan, who is now a senior.
“So much of computing is learning how to solve the problems that are before you. I’m continuously amazed by how much our faculty know about the field, and I also appreciate how they go about teaching us. They give us a problem, and it is up to us to discover the solution. If you need help, they are there to walk us through it, but they do so in a way that does not infringe upon our learning,” Ryan added.
During his sophomore year came some news that transformed his journey at ETSU: the university was starting a varsity esports team.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Ryan said. “I’ve been gaming since I was 5 years old. My first game set was a Nintendo GameCube. I played it so much I broke the buttons and had to get a new one. Then I got a PlayStation®, then another PlayStation ®, then an Xbox, and then a computer. I love playing games as they come out, and it is how I connect with my friends.”
When Ryan learned about the upcoming Overwatch® varsity team, he was determined to earn a spot. He “played and played and played” to become as good as he could and then submitted a tryout video.
“In the beginning, there were a lot of people competing for a spot, and it was clear that Coach Shell wanted the very best players,” he said. “Coach asked me to play a different role in Overwatch®, and I jumped at the chance. I kept playing in different groups and teams as the tryouts continued still hoping I would make the team.”
Then, one day while he was at home, Ryan got the call from Coach Shell. He was in!
“My first reaction was, I was so excited and I could not believe it, and I think I started laughing,” recalls Ryan, who was part of the inaugural Overwatch® team that began competing in fall 2020 and finished its first season 8-1 in their group and earned a spot in the NACE playoffs, finishing in the final 16.
“I have so many great memories being part of the esports program, but I think the one that stands out the most was our first game that first year. Everyone stepped up and we came together as a team. I came away from that first game thinking, ‘Yeah, we can make this work. This is something special.’”
Ryan’s sentiments were spot-on.
“We spend a lot of time together, and I have built some great relationships. Much of that time is spent practicing, but every so often, Coach Shell will say, ‘Okay, we are going to take this weekend off and do something fun.’ I really appreciate that the focus is not just on the game, but also on the people. So, the first week when the new students arrived, we went and hiked Buffalo Mountain. It was a little rough – we’re video game players – but we got through it.
“It’s a great relationship that we have. It’s give-and-take at times; we expect the best out of each other, and we are not afraid to push each other to be better.”