The college esports scene is growing fast, but it’s still rare for competitive gamers to see each other face to face — much less with an audience. “I’ve never played League of Legends in front of a live crowd.” During the regular season, almost all games are played online from the comfort of a team’s practice room.
But new tournaments are giving teams like Columbia College and Maryville University a taste of what it’s like to perform for a crowd. “Inviting all these high-profile schools, all these big-name sponsors… a stage, casted by live announcers, is going to be really something.” “I expected to get that far, with us, but to actually see it in real time and live it was a very interesting experience.” “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back from the stream. We are getting ready to bring you some Columbia versus Ohio state action.” “With traditional sports, if you play for a college, you don’t play for money.
You can’t really do that. For esports, you have the option to go to tournaments. Usually in a tournament you have cash prizes.” In April, Columbia College hosted the inaugural Midwest Campus Clash. For some, this was the first time they’d fought for bragging rights — and $25,000 in prize money — on stage. “Columbia College, they’ve drafted a ‘do or die’ composition.”
“The winner of this will be facing Robert Morris University.” Tournament play moves faster than the regular season. There’s less room for error. “You’re pitting yourself physically – your reaction time, your dexterity, how precise you can be with your movements – against another individual. But it also has a strategic element like chess.”
“Not only are you playing the game in real time, you’re also thinking 30 seconds, a minute, five minutes, twenty minutes ahead of the game and thinking, ‘Okay, what can we do to get from point A to point B, to accomplish our goals?'” Columbia College started the game about as strong as possible. “This could be the first blood thanks to a repel and it’s Hollywood taking it away!” “When we got first blood, the crowd just started cheering, I felt the energy flow through me.
If all these guys are coming to support us, I have no reason to lose.” “Chalk one up for the home team. Columbia is on the board.” That strong teamplay kept Columbia in the tournament.
One rival down, more to go. And that’s it for Columbia College! They are going to advance. They are going to take on Robert Morris University! But when it’s up against a team of equal skill, being out of position for just a moment can lose a team a lot of ground.
“Overall 3 for 0 in favor of Robert Morris University.” It’s just so much harder with the team comp that Robert Morris has available to them right now.” “I would say only two plays lost us the whole series, essentially.” It’s always hard to take a loss, but a hard-fought loss to a tough opponent is easier to swallow. “This is the closest we’ve ever been.
We usually get smashed, so I’m pretty happy.” Maryville was at the Campus Clash, too, and left with a rare loss to regional rival Robert Morris University Illinois. But season play was still underway, and in May, Maryville came back to sweep Robert Morris on the way to compete for the championship title. In the grand finals in Los Angeles, Maryville faced the University of Toronto in a best-of-five-games contest.
“I’ve never actually — in a tournament — gone that far. It was really exciting to go to LA, to go through the whole experience. “Everyone is there watching your games, everyone’s analyzing you.
… It was a lot of fun, though. In the most important games of its season, the team had to execute on every aspect of its training — teamwork, communication and timing. And just like any other “League” match, the game starts before players even take the digital field. “Pick-and-ban is one of the most important parts of the game.” Before the round begins, teams take turns banning certain characters from play and picking their play characters from the remaining pool.
They have to use their knowledge of the game to build a lineup that works — while trying to stop their opponents from doing the same. “It’s a back and forth battle between you and the other coach. If you draft something really bad, or team comp that makes no sense, you’re going to lose.” Those early picks gave Maryville an early advantage, which turned it into a decisive 3-1 victory. “I knew that we had a good roster, I didn’t realize we were that good. “When we played at the championship we made a statement.
I felt really good getting the MVP. A really surreal feeling for me.” “It’s kind of surreal that it all just happens. … It felt really good.”
And what do you do after that? After you win a championship, what’s left? For some of the best players on the collegiate scene, the endgame is the pros.