OTTAWA -- The popularity of organized online gaming, or ‘esports’ has increased throughout the pandemic and it’s led to an Ontario-wide post-secondary league.

When you think of the sports rivalry between Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, the Panda Games probably come to mind but not every athlete who wears a Carleton Ravens jersey plays traditional sports.

Jack Meireles is on the Carleton Ravens Overwatch team, competing with other post-secondary school across Ontario in esports or ‘electronic sports.’

“I think it’s super cool,” says Meireles, who is also the team captain.

Different games are played online, and there are many similarities with traditional sports, says Meireles.

“For hockey, specifically, you’re playing with your team of five guys on the ice. It’s kind of similar, there's six guys playing Overwatch. You need to be friends, you need to work well together and you need to make plays together to win.”

Jean-Daniel Proulx is on the uOttawa Gee-Gees team, and competes in a game called Rocket League.

“Rocket League is soccer, except it’s done with cars, and basically you control your car to score as many goals as you can,” he explains.

Esports have been growing in popularity, says James Fitzgerald, League Commissioner of the new Ontario Post-Secondary Esports League (OPSE). 

“This is the inaugural season for OPSE. It started up probably end of March, early April when the world, for a better term - was collapsing.”

Fitzgerald says that as lockdowns and restrictions took place, esports took off.

“We came to the realization that this is not a short-term thing. In the inaugural season, there’s 16 different colleges and universities participating with over 250 different student athletes.”

In addition to Overwatch and Rocket League, OPSE also includes the popular League of Legends and Hearthstone games.

The league and team play brings a bit of normalcy to colleges and universities, he adds. 

“This is the first time ever that any of these schools have had students go out and represent them under their official school brands - the uOttawa Gee-Gees, the Carleton Ravens, and compete at the highest level in esports.”

And it’s not just players that get in on the gaming. It also builds school spirit, says Sheryl Hunt with Carleton University. 

“I really feel like attending sporting events and cheering for your school, cheering for the Ravens in our case, is an essential part of student experience.”

Fans cheer along, as games are live-streamed on Twitch for anyone to follow. 

Meireles says this could create the next variety of sports superstars. 

“I think in the five ten years down the line, we’re going to see esports stars as a mainstream thing.”