By Jason Parker
March 25, 2020
Gray’s Creek High School is proud to announce that they are the home of the first Cumberland County esports scholarship recipient, Tyler Salanitro. With that in mind, the National Association of College Esports (NACE) has 175 member institutions. About four years ago, only seven colleges had esports teams at all. How’s that for growth?!
On March 11, Salanitro put on his new jersey and signed a national letter of intent to play at Marietta College in Ohio. But what will he be playing? It’s not football, basketball, or soccer! It’s video games! Specifically, his game of choice is Overwatch. It sounds like he’s an offtank, by how he talks.
“I could throw my D.Va bomb over their Reinhardt and when he turns to block the bomb, my main tank can shatter them with his ultimate,” he said. He also explained what makes Overwatch so exciting for him. “What makes competitive Overwatch better is that everyone is trying their absolute hardest and giving 100 percent and so passionate about it. That’s what makes it so much fun.”
He’s a kid with a 3.5 GPA, making straight As and Bs, and a deep fondness for esports. Twenty-five schools showed interest in Salanitro, and he narrowed it down to 10 when he applied. Five of these schools offered scholarships to boot.
Salanitro, who will turn 18 in August, enrolled in Gray’s Creek’s Academy of Information Technology (AOIT) as a freshman, earned an IT internship with Cumberland County Schools and by his senior year, he’d built his own computer. He definitely knows his stuff. Salanitro’s mother, Heavenly points out that “Tyler’s always been an overachiever,” she says. “If he sets his mind to something, he’s going to do it.”
Matthew Williamson, Marietta’s esports coach, also discussed Salanitro’s esports qualifications. “Tyler has a passion that we are looking for. We are looking for people who are motivated, who are driven, who have this desire to compete. From the moment when we first talked to Tyler, I could tell he has that desire. I see that drive from him.”
Coach Williamson also said that esports is really blowing up. It’s now a billion-dollar industry. It’s fascinating to see how far things have come. “I think Robert Morris around 2014 was the first school to announce that they were going to give scholarships for students to play esports and everyone was like, ‘Really?’ The gamer side of me thought that was awesome, the professor side of me thought, eh, I’m not so sure about this,” Williamson says. “But then everyone started doing it.”
“The original question was, ‘Why on earth are you giving a scholarship for esports?’ But now it’s turning into, ‘Why on earth are you not giving scholarships for esports.’ So, it seems like it’s almost every week or every month, we hear about another school that’s starting up an esports program, investing in their own program, hiring more staff. It’s turning out to be just as big as sports like football or basketball.”
College-level Overwatch is just as exciting as the professional teams, too. It sounds like he’s not a player who gets salty easily, which will definitely be to his advantage. It sounds like Salanitro had his choice of games, too. Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege, Fortnite, PUBG, and Smash Bros. are on the docket, but his game of choice was Overwatch.
It’s a game that’s not all about one player, but it’s about teamwork, communication, and strategy. Salanitro also used online gaming to keep up with his friends, as his father moved frequently with the Army. If this had been possible when we were kids, friendships would have been much easier.
Salanitro began this journey in his junior year when he transitioned from console to PC. He built his own computer, and got into Overwatch League Season 2, and pushed hard. He figured it could happen and put in the hard work to make it a reality.
He wasn’t just a video game kid though. He also played soccer at Gray’s Creek, and was a part of the school’s Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC), while also being a part of the Academy of Information Technology.
But what is Salanitro’s ultimate goal? Though he does seem to want to be a professional esports star if he can, his plans are to major in sports management. He wants to one-day help recruit others into the esports scene, which is a noble goal. It all starts with the Cumberland County esports scholarship.
Another positive for competitive esports at this level is the work that gets put in. If a student loves League of Legends, as an example, and wants to compete, they can’t just dive in. Most schools have a GPA requirement. That means students have no choice but to invest more time into their studies, get better grades, and could use that to find their future.
It’s so important for parents to help and support their children to pursue their dreams. It’s never been more plausible for students to get into esports. Salanitro as an example, is an exceptional student, a hard worker, and a positive, hard-working player. Being successful in school and learning values of hard work, teamwork, and communication early can lead to successful adult lives.
Whatever he decides on or wherever life takes him, we’re proud of Salanitro and his Cumberland County esports scholarship. We hope to see him succeed at Marietta College, as a part of their esports program.