It was October 2013 when life took a drastic change for 11-year-old Preston Bertram ’24. While playing at a friend’s house, he was shot in the eye with a plastic pellet from an airsoft gun.
Lisa Vest, Bertram’s mother, received a call at work from her screaming and crying son. He was taken to Indianapolis’ Riley Hospital for Children by ambulance and rushed into emergency surgery.
“I just remember him crying and saying, ‘Mommy, I can’t see you.’ I was like, ‘It’s OK, buddy. I’m here, just hold my hand. We can use our voice and our sense of touch so that you know I’m here. It’s OK if you can’t see me right now, but you will.’”
And that he did. Today, Bertram has nearly perfect vision, at 20/25, but in the years right after his accident, he went through many procedures and treatments that imposed limits on his physical activity level and made it difficult to participate in sports and extracurriculars.
“I was a really athletic kid for a while up until that, and then it all got taken away from me,” Bertram said.
Needing a new hobby, Bertram got serious about video games — an activity allowing him to go at his own pace while still being social.
“All kids play video games, but he really got into them. You know, that was his out,” Vest said. “It was something he could enjoy. He could be on his headset talking to friends while they played their games.”
Despite the negative stigma sometimes surrounding video games, Vest wasn’t worried.
“I wasn’t really concerned with him playing video games so much because he couldn’t do physical activities,” Vest said.
With practice, Bertram’s gaming skills flourished, and he brought his passion to the college scene. His game of choice, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CS:GO, has a team within Franklin College’s esports program, GrizGaming.
Bertram said he never expected competitive gaming to be offered as part of his college experience.
“It was a complete surprise to me, but I’m happy I’m doing it,” Bertram said.
Bertram said being part of GrizGaming has taught him a lot, but most of all teamwork.
“The team play is the biggest thing. If you can’t play as a team, then it’s going to be a rough time. With everybody’s actions, there’s going to be an outcome for it,” Bertram said. “You do one small, little thing, and that’s a loss. Just like in football where somebody doesn’t block good enough, and then everything else crumbles. It’s the same case.”
Vest has witnessed the camaraderie and teamwork that take place in the GrizGaming arena.
“In my opinion, it helps their future growth for when they go out into the workforce and have an actual career,” Vest said. “I think it helps to build the team-building skills that they need, you know, the coping with winning and losing and how to handle both types of situations.”
Vest said she is glad her son has the chance to be back on a team and do what he loves. “I’m just so grateful that he’s had this opportunity at Franklin College, to be part of the esports team and be able to be there, too.”
Esports head coach Todd Burris said he values Bertram’s role on the team.
“First of all, for the people that don’t know him, his attitude toward esports is contagious,” Burris said. “He’s always excited about it. He’s always a good leader when it comes to the whole group.”
Though some people struggle to understand the athletic side of esports, Burris said it deserves recognition as a multibillion-dollar industry. Esports also is growing in visibility because it fosters inclusive communities. As one example, adaptive resources make gaming possible for individuals with a variety of physical disabilities, and gaming technology enables teamwork even if the participants live in different time zones.
“I think it’s the future of competition,” Burris said. “Not everybody has the skill set to play football or tennis. With video games and collegiate-video gaming, you are opening up competitive sports to such a huge group of people that you probably could never have reached in the past.”
There is a common misconception that esports is just “play,” but the mental and physical aspects are similar to traditional sports, Burris explained. Structured team practices and strategies for wellness are as fundamental to esports as any other. “The amount of time and level of commitment you have to put into prep is the same,” he said.
Burris’ commitment to an esports program that is holistic and supports each student’s individual growth reassures Vest that her son found the right fit at Franklin.
“This whole program has been something that I’m just very grateful for,” Vest said.
By Ashlyn Myers ’25, Pulliam Fellow
POSTED Mar 27, 2023