Michigan State’s Next Sports Championships May Be Lurking In Cyberspace

Oct 15, 2019

MSU’s League of Legends esports team is one of the best in college, and the players are setting Big Ten and national championships as their 2019-20 goal.

EAST LANSING, Mich- Hidden away in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, one Michigan State team is plotting their next championship run. They sit in a dimly lit room staring at LED monitors for hours, playing League of Legends.

The thing about League of Legends is it’s not your typical sport.

Credit MSU League of Legends

League of Legends is a free online multiplayer game that pits teams of “champions” against each other. The game has been around for nearly a decade and been one of the most popular titles to date.  

People start out playing just for fun, but eventually it turns into competition. At least that’s how it happened for Joe Riebschleger, a sophomore political science major at MSU.

“I got into League by watching some Rooster Teeth videos, it’s a company that plays mainly video games and they played League of Legends once and I thought it was an interesting game, so I tried it and I was instantly hooked on it. I’ve played ever since for another six years or so,” said Riebschleger, now in his second year as a player on the MSU League of Legends team.

Tournaments for the game are held worldwide and there is even a Championship series where salaried pros compete for millions.

The Big Ten in fact, just extended its partnership with Riot Games, the developers of League of Legends through the 2018-2019 season. 14 Big Ten schools will participate with the top eight making the Big Ten playoffs. The champion and runner-up then get to compete for an appearance in the Collegiate League of Legends Championship (CLOL).

“It's awesome to see something like Big Ten get involved in esports, they’ve had a contract with Riot and its really cool to see that relationship still going strong and seeing that interest to promote the esports world,” said Ryan Felton, Michigan State League of Legends president and manager.

Felton is a junior computer science major and since being president of the club has seen the growth of esports and League of Legends firsthand.

“The scene has really been booming the past couple years, it's really fun to see scholarship schools popping up. Hopefully, MSU joins that at some point, but we’ll see how that goes,” said Felten.

“Just even at club participation, with our size like people just interested in League of Legends not even from a competitive side has increased significantly. There just hasn’t been an aspect of League of Legends or even esports as a whole that hasn’t been increasing from what I’ve been seeing in the past couple of years.”

Felton said that during the recent tryout period for the teams, they had about 30 to 40 people attend. With all those people the club expanded to four teams with about 25 to 30 people total, including players and staff. For the entire club the number is even bigger with upwards of 60 to 70 members.  

The four teams the club has are A-team, B-team, C-team and D-team. Much like your typical varsity and junior varsity teams, they compete in different leagues based on their skill.

“For the first semester, there’s a league called Upsurge League and they hold four different leagues for different ranges of skills. We have our A-team in the Premiere League, our B-team in the UCL (Upsurge Contenders League) and our C and D team in the minor leagues,” said Felton.

Each team gets to compete in their respective league not just for competitive spirit, but prize money as well. According to the Upsurge esports website, the Premier League has a prize pool of $4,000 divided evenly between first, second and third place while the Contenders League has a prize pool of $2,500.

Credit MSU League of Legends

For the A-team, competition does not stop after the Fall semester, in the Spring they start the Big Ten/College League of Legends season.

That’s where MSU’s team found itself a season ago. They finished the regular season at 7-0, fell in the Big Ten championship, but went undefeated in the play-in tournament and earned a trip to California for the CLOL championship.

The competition was stiff in California, as Michigan State went head to head with top tier programs such as Maryville University in St. Louis, Western University and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, UC Irvine, Illinois, Columbia College and North Carolina State.

The trip didn’t end how they wanted, with the team losing in the quarterfinals, but they finished as one of the top eight teams in North America and as Riebschleger said, got to enjoy a meal from In-N-Out Burger. 

“It was a blessing to play with my friends there because we all had this aspiration just to go there, just to California to play with one another and we wanted to fly out there and we did it. It really shows to us that we can play at such a high standard and its only our first year of playing together and I imagine if we can actually win the whole thing this year compared to last year,” said Riebschleger.

After getting a taste of it last year, the team wants nothing more than to take another trip to the championship. So, if you see them in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, know that this is a team working hard to bring a championship to East Lansing.

“At least get through quarter(finals), top four. If we can inch by inch, I don’t mind as long as we don’t go below than what we already did. If we don’t make it then it’s very as my friends say, doomed,” said Riebschleger.