Local gamers see surge of players

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

JASPER — The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down many facets of life as we know it, but one activity seems to be benefiting from the sudden mass of people stuck inside their homes because of the state’s stay-at-home order: gaming.

You may remember local esports pro Braden Schenetzki. The Celestine native is one of the country’s top players in Rocket League — a video game which combines high-speed cars and soccer — and used to compete against other gamers in global tournaments. He currently dedicates most of his efforts to streaming Rocket League and Animal Crossing on Twitch, and he’s noticed quite an uptick in activity since the coronavirus forced people indoors.

“As far as Rocket League itself, the game usually averaged between 150,000 and 250,000 people online,” said Schenetzki, who goes by Pluto and has close to 16,000 Twitch followers. “In the last week or two, it’s been 350,000 and peaked at 500,000 [a few] days ago. That’s just in Rocket League. I’m sure that’s the same for other major games.”

With so many people working and learning from home, many need a distraction. Some have taken up streaming to pass the time. Schenetzki has found himself with more time to perform and interact with his audience since his hours at Heaven’s Best were reduced.

“The job [schedule] is cut in half,” said Schenetzki, who’s regular work schedule was between 25-30 hours a week. “Half my income is through it anyways, so I’ve been streaming a lot more.”

Then there are others like Josh Smith, a Dubois County Sheriff’s Office deputy. Smith has been reassigned from his normal duties as a resource officer for the Southeast Dubois County School Corporation, and the change has allowed him more time to watch gaming streams. And he’s not alone.

“The Rocket League Championship Series do a stream every weekend,” said Smith, who describes himself as more of a casual Rocket League player and enjoys playing with Schenetzki and other streamers. “I’ve never seen the kind of numbers watching a stream ... Normally, there are around 50,000-60,000 people watching, and it was upwards of 100,000-110,000 this past weekend watching the stream. I’m definitely seeing an uptick.”

Smith doesn’t have exact numbers, but he believes he’s seeing similar patterns across a wide range of games and streamers. It would seem that COVID-19 is a strange kind of tide that is lifting all boats in the world of streaming and esports.

“It does seem like every Twitch streamer I click on and follow seems to have higher numbers than what they had before,” Smith said. “More and more people are recommending other channels. They tweet out other new streamers, and it seems like a lot more new streamers are coming up as well.”

Smith has not only played and watched more Rocket League, but he’s also been inspired to pull out some of his older console systems to spend more quality time with his family during the pandemic.

“I have the original [Nintendo] Wii, and my son and I were playing that last week,” he said. “I got an original NES, got that out and hooked it up to an older TV. My wife and I were reliving some memories from our childhood playing those kind of games.”

Schenetzki thinks the surge will eventually fall back into a more consistent range when stay-at-home orders are lifted and people return to their regular routines. He thinks some people may keep playing, but not enough to maintain the current peaks.

“I think it’ll definitely normalize,” he said. “People have to go back to school and start working again.”

But Smith will keep on enjoying the silver lining that has come with the added gaming. It has helped his son cope with the fact that he doesn’t get to go to places like the library by giving him something new to explore and interact with. It also allows for family time that wouldn’t happen under normal circumstances.

“It’s been neat,” Smith said. “With this extra time at home, it’s created opportunities we wouldn’t normally have had together. I’ve been enjoying the retro of some of the older consoles as well. It’s a very pleasant distraction in an otherwise scary and unknown set of circumstances. It’s helped us out a lot.”




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