Nathan Hildebrandt

(Rock Hill, S.C.) – The Winthrop University esports team continues to compete, despite not having a full-time coach to work closely with students, after former head coach Josh Sides stepped down from his position late last year.

Chuck Rey, Winthrop’s interim athletic director and head volleyball coach, has stepped in to help oversee the team, which players say has been helpful.

“He’s definitely stepped up and been very helpful and encouraging everyone,” said Matthew Hoshauer, a freshman computer science major who leads the Super Smash Brothers subdivision of Winthrop’s esports team. “We’re very grateful to have him.”

However, Hoshauer, who was a guest on the Palmetto Report podcast, said it’s still been difficult not having a coach, as Rey can’t do everything Sides could.

“(Rey) is not a full-time esports director,” said Hoshauer, who plays under the name “Mage” in competition. “But he has definitely been very helpful in those kinds of things that are still extremely purposeful, like being able to communicate with the university in a good way and helping direct us.”

Hoshauer said senior Ben Grieser, who plays under the tag “Dell,” has taken a larger role in leading the team.

“He’s been a phenomenal stand-in leader. He was like an assistant to (Sides), almost. He was very helpful in the administration of things and he’s still very helpful in the administration of things,” said Hoshauer.

He also said every gaming team has a captain to manage practices and ensure the players have everything they need to succeed. “Usually that person is the one who is organizing things,” Hoshauer said.

That can be a considerable time commitment, considering how often the team practices.

“As a team we practice around three hours, usually four to five days a week. Then we practice individually; I for example practice around an extra five to 10 hours for the week,” Jacob Chan, a senior who plays under the name “FrostForest,” told the Palmetto Report last April.

Hoshauer said the captains of each team and the Winthrop administration have done a good job to allow the esports team to function at a high level, even without a coach.

“Each team has their own different needs,” Hoshauer said. “Some of them are similar, but some of them are distinct. For example, normally League (of Legends) teams usually have a centrifugal coach that helps them with (video-on-demand) review and talk about things at a higher level, like team work. For a team like the Smash team, we all self-study. We’re able to do those things on our own.”

Sides announced his departure from the team in December, citing a need to focus on his health.

“It is a tough thing, to leave something you love, not because you want to, but because you need to,” Sides said, via Twitter on Dec. 2. “There are many reasons that have contributed to this decision, but the bottom line is I have unfortunately ignored my health and emotional wellbeing until I no longer can. I am mentally and physically exhausted to the point where I can no longer continue.” 

Hoshauer said Sides was “going through a bit of a rough period” shortly before leaving.

“(Sides) was unhappy with his position and things, more or less,” said Hoshauer. “He also had some personal things going on at the time with his father, I think was very sick and passed away.

“That coupled with, I would say not getting the proper things that he needed, doubled to make him decide that he needed to take a break from things.”

Whoever replaces Sides, will have big shoes to fill, as the team has won two national titles — including the Collegiate Esports National Championship and the League of Legends College Championship — and a Big South Championship.

“Someone like Josh Sides, he was…I would say that he’s a pretty shining example of what a good head-coach should be,” Hoshauer said.

He said the new coach will need to be able to “adapt to different personalities” and be “motivated and “passionate” about the sport.

He also said the players have been able to express their opinions about who the next coach should be. 

“They’ll definitely have some voice or say,” said Hoshauer. “They’ve all had the ability to have some sort of input.” 

However, Hoshauer said he has heard some discussion about the possibility of Sides returning to coach the team, but it’s unclear when a new coach will be hired.

The Winthrop League of Legends team will compete this weekend (April 30-May 1), with an opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals and travel to Los Angeles to play at the Riot Games studio over the summer.

* Michael Rego contributed to this report.