MSU’s League of Legends team part of growing collegiate trend across the U.S., embracing the wave of e-sports competitors and fans.
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Each Wednesday evening, in Michigan State’s Communication Arts and Sciences building, the League of Legends team sits in front of the projector screen, waiting for its video review to start. The mood is light, but the team’s passion is palpable.
These meetings involve the MSU players and coaches, reviewing their games and scrimmages against other collegiate League of Legends (LoL) teams. These meetings are led by students, in the form of volunteer head coach Evan Olzem and analyst James Quigley.
LoL is one of the most popular e-sports, and is a multiplayer online battle arena, (MOBA) which is produced and developed by Los Angeles-based Riot Games. MSU’s LoL team is part of the e-sports trend, which in a general sense, are just competitively played video games.
The Big Ten has an official LoL league, with each member university fielding a team. The competitions are televised on the BTN, and draw big online followings.
But that definition is far too narrow to truly grasp what these events mean to the competitors and their fans.
“I don’t care if people call it (e-sports) a sport,” Olzem said. “Instead of training your body you are training your mind.”
Quigley added, “E-sports are professional sports. Plain and simple.”
MSU’s LoL crew
Among the players in the room are Peyton Demarest, a freshman accounting major from Paw Paw, Mich. and Scott Falato, a senior computer science major from Wauconda, Ill.
Demarest, by team consensus, is MSU’s best player. He is a challenger player, which is the highest tier of player in the game. His coaches praised both his individual skill, as well as his leadership and ability to communicate with his teammates and get the best from them as well.
“Peyton is a really big presence, because he is really vocal and really demanding of others.” Olzem said.
Players in MOBA’s work together as a team to try and capture or destroy an objective, and the first one to do so is the winner of the game. LoL games usually run from 20-45 minutes, with as long as 90.
League of Legends was released in 2009 and quickly grew to be the world’s most popular video game. In 2016, there were over 100 million unique players each month. Although that number has decreased since, to around 80 million players per month today, the game is still one of the most popular.
It not only features numerous players each month, but also several million viewers online. The main source of these viewers in the United States is on a website called Twitch. It is free streaming platform where both content creators and companies are able to broadcast their games to the public.
Demarest said he doesn’t usually stream, but Falato does. His in-game name is I Am Nightshade.
League of Legends has a strong following at MSU, with a popular club for the game and the university fielding multiple competitive teams.
MSU’s LoL team funds all of their own trips to tournaments, and provides their own uniforms. They do receive some help once the Big Ten season starts though. This past January, Riot Games partnered with the Big Ten Network to put together a full League of Legends season featuring all of the schools in the conference. The games are all produced and televised/streamed through the Big Ten Network.
This provides exposure for the game and the athletes, while Riot provides the monetary support. Each of the players on the team’s final roster gets a $5,000 scholarship, while the coaches each get $2,500.
Although the money helps pay for tuition, it doesn’t allow them to participate in other tournaments or leagues outside of the Big Ten. The team is always looking for sponsorships from local businesses to help them offset travel and registration costs.
Demarest and Falato are both members of the “A” team, and work most closely with Olzem. Quigley works more closely with the “B” team. The players on the team are all higher tier players than the coaches, but the coaches help bring out the best in all of the players.
“It’s helpful to have outside opinion on your gameplay,” Falato said. “Someone who can point out your mistakes and help you improve on them.”
Both Quigley and Olzem had previous competitive experience. Olzem came to campus hoping to work with the campus Counter Strike: Global Offensive team. Quigley had his competitive experience in another sport.
“I’ve never been a large sports kid, at least not physical sports,” Quigley said. “My first time in the competitive scene is from a large high school organization called First Robotics.”
E-sports: the future or present?
For many in e-sports, it’s not about making everyone see it as an equal to traditional sports. The goal is to find those that do see it as an equal, and having them embrace e-sports’ potential.
Businesses aren’t the only ones who are embracing e-sports. Many universities help provide funding for the clubs and organizations, while some schools, like UC Irvine, take it a step further.
UC Irvine built an entire complex on its campus dedicated to e-sports, that opened in 2016. It was thefirst public college e-sports arena in the United States.
In traditional sports, the top tier means being professional. E-sports, however, offer another path to financial stability. Being a content creator through streaming and a YouTube channel can bring even more money long term than playing professionally.
“People have invested money in League of Legends and there is money to be made from it,” Olzem said.