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Sandburg's first national title winner not a typical athlete

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Carl Sandburg College
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Todd Gorman, 22, of Knoxville, is Carl Sandburg College's first national title winner.

For the first time in Carl Sandburg College's history, the school has a national champion.

Prior to Todd Gorman's National Junior College Athletic Association win on Dec. 11, Sandburg had never won a national title in any individual or team sport.

Gorman, 22, of Knoxville, played a little football in high school, but it was never really his thing.

Neither was track.

Or basketball.

Or sports in general.

But when he enrolled at Sandburg in 2019, he signed up for a different kind of team.

“They had a little desk set up where they were advertising their esports program and I figured, you know, why not,” Gorman said. “It will give me a chance to play games and also to meet other people with similar interests.”

Esports, or electronic sports, is competitive video gaming.

Sandburg was the first community college in Illinois and among the first two-year schools nationwide to have a varsity esports roster.

Gorman was on that inaugural team, and now he’s captured the NJCAA esports title for a game called Hearthstone.

He described Hearthstone as a strategy-based computer card game akin to chess. He was a beta tester for the game before it was released in 2015 and has been playing it ever since.

During the regular season, Gorman went 8-0 in weekly matches.

Then he swept his quarterfinal opponent 3-0 and eked out a 3-2 win in the semifinals before sweeping his opponent from Bryant and Stratton College 3-0 for the championship.

Gorman plans to study psychology at a four-year college after Sandburg.

He understands the psychology of gaming the way others have long explored the psychology of traditional sports.

“Especially a strategy game, not only am I planning my own moves but I have to kind of think ahead and try and predict what my opponent’s going to do because there are all these different variables and aspects of the game you can make predictions on,” Gorman said.

Gorman has been playing video games since he was a toddler sitting on his father’s lap, so he has been in training for his national title for pretty much his entire life.

He said it’s encouraging to see esports teams offered not just at more and more colleges, but at the high school level, too.

“For anybody who’s like me and was never big into sports and you just kind of did it because you felt like you had to and it was really the only avenue for sort of extra activities, just give it a shot,” Gorman said. 

Jane Carlson covers west central Illinois and southeast Iowa for Tri States Public Radio.