Sitting at a computer he built when he was just 15-years-old, Glide High School senior Brett Narkiewicz stares intently at the screen. He moves a mouse. Clicks the keyboard. Controls a virtual character in an online world.
In the past, you would have just seen a teenager enjoying some downtime playing video games, but in 2021 it’s so much more. Narkiewicz isn’t just doing something he loves, he’s earning a college education.
Narkiewicz will officially sign college commitment papers with the Boise State University esports team on Feb. 3 at Glide High School. His commitment includes a scholarship that will cover a majority of his education costs.
“My excitement levels are through the roof,” Narkiewicz said. “I’ve been raving about this to my friends and family ever since it started (about six weeks ago).”
It’s been a long journey for Narkiewicz, who is ranked 9th nationally in the class of 2021, to get to this point, where competitive video games could provide a college education and a future career path.
“I’m really excited to show people that this is a possibility for the future, for them. I think if you told me three years ago ‘Hey, you’re going to be playing a video game for college’ I’d be like ‘No, you’re crazy.’ So, I really want to be able to show youth around me, this is a possibility.”
Like many young people, Narkiewicz got into video games at an early age. His game of choice is League of Legends and he’s been at the controls since he was 9 years old. To put that into perspective, it’s about half his life.
Yet, Narkiewicz has always been into the traditional sports as well, maybe breaking the stereotype of a “gamer” who ignores his mom’s pleas to go outside.
“I really can’t remember a day when I haven’t been thinking about two things, baseball and League,” said Narkiewicz, who has played soccer and baseball for the Glide Wildcats and made the Roseburg Dr. Stewart’s American Legion baseball roster last summer.
He credits the lessons he’s learned from traditional sports with his improvement as a competitive gamer.
“I basically devoted multiple hours a day to improving at baseball for the last 10 years,” Narkiewicz explained. He says that showed him what it took to be successful at something.
“If I didn’t play sports personally, I would have never been a top-level video game player. Just because that type of mentality really, really helps and it’s only something you can learn from competitive endeavors like that.”
Narkiewicz, who goes by the user name “lightpulse” in League of Legends, spends nearly everyday playing. Usually he goes up against highly ranked professionals to help sharpen his abilities.
“I kind of compare it to like if I went to a pickup baseball game and had to hit off of (Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher) Clayton Kershaw,” Narkiewicz explains.
Then there’s the film study.
“I do a lot of analysis on my games to try and weed out mistakes. I know it’s a big thing in football, a lot of teams watching film. It’s the same thing. And then along with that I do a lot of solo practice, like shootaround in basketball.”
The time and effort are worth it. Collegiate esports has grown to over 170 schools, 5,000 student-athletes and $16 million in scholarships and aid, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports.
Amidst the growing numbers, Narkiewicz gained attention with college programs thanks to the Intel Inspires program, which helps players make connections with colleges, universities and industry professionals.
Narkiewicz recalls getting emails from over 40 schools from across the country practically overnight after signing up for the event.
“I would say I had about five or six super serious offers with a lot of benefits that I was mulling over.”
Ultimately, pursuing a computer science degree at Boise State was the fit for Narkiewicz.
“We’re very excited about Brett coming to Boise State,” said Broncos esports coach Dr. Chris Haskell.
“I really cannot wait to get started,” said Narkiewicz.
Competing at the college level will be a big stage, but that won’t be new for Narkiewicz. He’s played in game streams with 500,000 people watching and has been playing against pros, who earn six- to seven-figure salaries, since he was 14.
“It’s kind of a surreal experience especially the first time that I was playing with pros,” said Narkiewicz. “I was like ‘whoa, this is big time.’”
Without hesitation, Narkiewicz recalls his first match against a pro player. He took on Biofrost, which sounds like a medicated ointment for aches and pains, but in reality is a 24-year-old Canadian resident named Vincent Wang, who has risen through the professional ranks, won individual accolades and multiple major championships with Team SoloMid, a professional esports organization.
In League of Legends, there are five players per side and each player has a role. Narkiewicz was opposite Biofrost in a support role and won the match. “I remember beating him and that’s when the mindset kind of shifted in my brain and I was like ‘You know what? This could be something important.’
“It’s funny. I still have the screenshot on my phone from when I was 14 years old playing against him. I was so excited. I couldn’t stop telling my friends.”
Someday Narkiewicz would love to be the pro in the match, making a career of playing video games. “I mean that’s just a thing I’d love to do.”
If a pro career as a player doesn’t pan out, Narkiewicz hopes to get a chance to coach, advise or work behind the scenes in some other way.
But who’s to say a lucrative pro career isn’t in Narkiewicz’s future? Playing video games has gotten him this far, hasn’t it?