Although Jaxon Strembitsky had an unhealthy balance between video games and life when he was younger, the 20-year-old has developed time management skills that enable him to attend college, hold down a full-time job, and play VR esports professionally.
“When I was about 10, I would wake up at 5 a.m. to play Animal Crossing on my Nintendo GameCube,” says Strembitsky, “but since that game operates on real time, none of the in-game stores would even be open yet so I’d literally just pick weeds (small clumps of in-game grass) for three hours until I could play the game.”
His parents instituted bans and restricted game time to Fridays and Saturdays only, but the bans came and went.
“It was pretty bad,” he admits. Of course he also had plenty of other activities like skateboarding, snowboarding, and riding quads, but sometimes the balance just wasn’t there.
As he reached his teen years, school became more challenging, in junior high he played on sports teams, and then he started working. As activities in his life increased, he “found that the healthy balance came naturally.”
These days Strembitsky is a junior in college, where he’s majoring in computer science with a minor in mathematics. During the summer he also works six days per week as a landscaper/construction worker. And he’s playing VR esports professionally.
Learning to seize the moment
“One of my biggest regrets was not continuing [sports] in high school and university,” says Strembitsky. He learned lessons from that decision.
In 2017, when a friend began telling him about his season 1 experiences in the VR League, Strembitsky says he watched some clips of the game (Echo Arena) and it immediately appealed to him. He opened his phone, purchased upgrades for his computer, and bought an Oculus Rift.
With the goal of playing professionally, Strembitsky immediately set out to learn how to play the game well. He took advice from veteran players (who had been playing all of 3 months at that point) and constantly tried to improve. Very soon he had reached level 50 (the highest level) and he joined a team near the end of the season. It didn’t take long for others to recognize his skill and he was approached by two respected veteran players to join their team for season 2.
In VR League Season 3, Strembitsky is playing with Kangorillaz, one of the best teams in Echo Arena and Echo Combat, both games from Ready At Dawn that are featured in VR League Season 3. One of his teammates is Sealablebag, the friend who had introduced him to the game in 2017.
Friends and physicality in VR esports
VR gaming enables Strembitsky to play with friends in a competitive environment that combines technology and athleticism.
“I like the physicality of VR esports,” he explains. “If you are tall, big, small, short, fast, slow… that all factors in to how you are as a player,” just like in non-VR sports like basketball, soccer, etc.
“With ‘pancake’ games, you just have to be good with a mouse – and obviously at the particular game,” says Strembitsky. “I find the physicality [of VR esports] way cooler.”
And despite the fact that he does spend a lot of time in virtual reality, he has discovered that some skills, such as aiming, have translated to better performance in games outside of VR. Most likely this can be credited to increased hand-eye coordination, which is essential in games like Echo Arena. There are other aspects of VR esports that cross over into real life as well, including teamwork, communication, and strong bonds that can form between teammates.
The intensity of friendships in virtual reality is intriguing. Consumer VR has reached the point that it allows the user to feel completely immersed in the environment so most players will tell you that it’s as if they’re really “in the game.” Thanks to the fact that you can hear others and see their body language simultaneously, there’s a distinct awareness that you’re talking with other real people so it’s natural to meet others and make friends.
“My entire life I’ve been making friendships online,” he states, “where it would start in one game and then translate to others. We would hang out in voice chat and just, you know, be friends. But they’ve all fizzled out over time.”
“I can say with confidence that my Echo Arena friendships have been the strongest of any before,” says Strembitsky.
Since it’s summer now and Strembitsky is working 12-hour days, he doesn’t have as much time to play. His Echo Arena and Echo Combat teams secured spots in the Online Closed Qualifiers so when he puts on the headset, his time is dedicated to team practice as they prepare for the event that could earn them a ticket to the grand finals in Leicester, UK in June.
As for that little boy who spent an “unhealthy” amount of time playing video games, it's obvious that he has finally discovered a healthy balance between life and video games.
About the Author: Sonya Haskins is better known among the gaming community by the username "hasko7." She lives with her husband and five children in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Northeast Tennessee.