Erasmus Esports’ home base is a bit out of the way, located in a corner of the Feijenoord district. Once in the vicinity, you need only follow the noise. There are around 25 members there on this rainy Wednesday evening. “Ordinarily we get about 40 people turning up, but I reckon it’s quieter today due to exams”, says the club’s chairman Paul Homrighausen (19, Erasmus University College).
Anyone who thinks that the e-sports student society is just about gaming has got another think coming. Although half of its members are sat at PCs gaming, the rest are playing board games at a large table. There’s also a large bar, pool table, climbing wall, special Formula 1 chair and a screen for the dance game Just Dance.
Cockroach poker is being played at the table (a variant of the game ‘Cheat’). A couple of fried snacks lie abandoned in a polystyrene tray. There’s a slight smell of sweat in the air. One of the players passes a card to the guy opposite him: “This is a rat. Goes with your personality,” he chuckles. Laughter breaks out. The card turns out to be a frog. Some confusion about the rules ensues. “Are you meant to play this game with only a tiny number of people?,” wonders someone. Another person echoes this: “It’s chaos!”
New board games are added to the club’s range fairly regularly. The cockroach poker is followed by Wavelength, a game that involves trying to guess someone’s opinion about a topic. It gives rise to spirited discussions on such things as the safety of zebra crossings.
Yanique (18, Economics and Business Economics) comes along every Wednesday. “I checked out a few sports clubs during the Eureka Week, but the people here were more my kind of people.” He was already a gamer (mostly single-player), but one of the three members who doesn’t have access to a gaming PC. “But there are always one or two tables playing board games.” A cheesecake is served up. “People are always ordering in food here.”
The atmosphere is good-natured and we like a laugh. Including about Yanique not being able to get on a PC, but it’s all in good humour. It’s only 21:00 when Maaike (20, Pedagogical Sciences) heads off. “It’s always fun here, but I’ve got to catch the bus to Vlaardingen.” A friend accompanies her to the bus stop, as she finds that a bit unnerving by herself.
Keith (18, International Business Administration) plays a game of pool with chairman Paul: “I generally play pool, which gives you a chance to chat.” Keith’s cue completely misses the ball, to which he swears and laughs. “This is the first time I’m playing. Paul’s teaching me.”
They both say that the biggest misconception about their club is that it’s really competitive. Paul: “In fact, it’s really laid-back and social – just hanging around, having a beer. I got to know many of my friends here. We play games, go out or visit theme parks.” There are also special events, such as the fancy dress murder mystery event that they did at Halloween.
Two of the club’s veterans are in the house this evening. Davy (29, Master’s in Fiscal Law) and Pepijn (24, employed). Davy: “Six years ago I wanted to take part in a student League of Legends competition, but Erasmus didn’t yet have a team. So I went scouting online and put a team together.”
It became such a tight-knit group that he decided to set up a club, which grew rapidly over the space of five years, from 10 to 140 members. Meanwhile, Pepijn was coaching the e-sports team of EUR students that ended up at the League of Legends World Cup in South Korea. Davy: “But the point of the club is to get to know people.” Pepijn: “In principle, gaming is a really social activity. It’s just that being together physically is taking things a step further. A lot of gamers sit at home alone. We’re trying to change that.”
For many members, Erasmus Esports is their most significant social connection. Davy: “All our friends met their girlfriends here. Most of the members wouldn’t have joined any other club if this one didn’t exist.” Unsurprisingly, then, there are a few members who don’t find social contact so straightforward. Pepijn: “It’s not always easy to start a conversation with someone.” Being with like-minded people helps the members to avoid social isolation, they notice. Davy: “During the pandemic, the people at Erasmus Sport said: ‘Not much will change for you guys’. But our members do actually want to meet up.”
There’s just been a bit of a debate at the board game table about how intimate a hug is as a way of greeting someone. “Pretty normal these days, isn’t it?” “Er, we’re gamers! We don’t do physical contact!” The group can’t help but laugh.
Marcos (20, Law) joined six months ago. “It was the right time. I live a long way away and had just passed my driving test. I didn’t really have any social contact with anyone and this struck me as being the best way to change that. You change groups every five weeks in Law, so it’s quite hard to really bond with people.”
Gaming is actually of secondary importance to him. “I used to do a lot of gaming, but not so much recently. I found that that didn’t matter too much. It’s more about playing games and enjoying each other’s company here. Though it does help if you have a gamer mindset.” Yanique laughs: “You mean if you’re an introvert!” And then in all seriousness: “There are plenty of introverts here, which is logical, because they get each other and are on the same wavelength. I’m not really into clubs where people do nothing but down pints.”
Egged on by the journalist in attendance, Xiao, Paul and Tyco have a go at Just Dance. Tyco (20, Health Sciences) wins by a narrow margin. He missed the club whilst he was heavily involved in ballroom dancing. “The people here are really open-minded. There’s an extensive LGBTI+ contingent too, which I hadn’t expected. Gamers don’t come across as especially sociable or open-minded online, but this community is actually really warm.”
Mariëtte (19, Economics and Law) got on a PC for the first time today. “I usually play board games or pool. The atmosphere is really good here. I don’t do much social stuff outside the club. I’m pretty busy doing a joint degree. People accept you as you are here.” Xiao (20, Business Administration) echoes this. “I come here every week. Nobody judges you. You can make mistakes and it’s fine. Even during a game.”