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Michigan State’s Esports program becomes a destination for top players

Drew Farrell

New facilities, scholarships and a growing program become calling cards to attract recruits.

At Michigan State, most varsity athletes spend their days dealing with academics and strenuous physical demands, such as running laps, lifting weights, and catching passes.

However, there’s a new group in East Lansing that’s different..

Unlike most athletes, freshman Drew Farrell hones his craft by taking notes, talking with others online, and playing the Nintendo Switch, where he takes on players across the country in Super Smash Bros. for MSU’s esports program.

Farrell is on the B-team for MSU’s Super Smash Bros. team, which is one of the three varsity squads for esports. He’s 15th in Michigan in Super Smash Bros. by the Michigan Smash Ultimate Power Ranking.

Farrell will now have ample opportunity to play against top-tier talent in an ascending program with better talent.

“Drew is a player who has had some really big wins,” said Chris Bilski, the director of ESports at MSU. “He has a win over the number one player in the state of Illinois. Drew has a lot of potential, and I think bringing him to Michigan State will give him an opportunity to play in an environment where he’s playing against good players all the time.”

Farrell is known by his gamer tag Drewish in the esports world, where he primarily plays with the character Palutena, an aerial based fighter.

Palutena is extremely skilled, and possesses an array of moves within the air that allow her to put together combinations quickly.

“Her (Palutena) combos are really easy to string together,” said Farrell. “She’s really fast on the ground too, and she has a way to teleport and do her combos out of that as well. Her movement is what really stands out. All of her aerials are good. The only thing she’s lacking is her ground game isn’t the strongest. She only has two really good moves on the ground.”

Outside of his diligent preparation, Farrell feels he’s mastered one of the keys to success in Smash.

“It’s all about watching your opponent’s character and not looking at yours,” said Farrell. “It’s all about reacting to what your opponent does. Many lower level players don’t understand that. Either they’re too focused on their own characters, or they’re clicking too many buttons instead of picking their openings. It’s almost kinda like chess.”

Farrell has also started spending more time re-watching his matches, particularly the losses, which has helped him vastly improve over the last year along with his note taking.

“It helps a lot. There’s like 80 or 90 characters in this game, and if you don’t know them you’re going to get folded pretty quickly. Reviewing video and different players helps a lot too. I review videos of my losses online if they’re available. I used to only look at my victories and avoid my losses. But sometimes you have to look at them.”

An example of Drew's game notes.
Drew Farrell
An example of Drew's game notes.

The esports program is offering partial scholarships to its players, which influenced Farrell’s interest in coming to MSU.

“There being scholarships on the table is really nice, because I don’t know if I was considering MSU before it,” said Farrell. “Other schools were offering them, but I thought MSU was the best fit for me. I was really interested in their esports program. It especially drove me here because I play Smash, and they have a team here that’s ranked, and that’s one of the best in the country right now.”

Farrell is a part of a historic recruiting class in the esports program, being one of the first freshmen to receive a scholarship.

“It felt great,” said Farrell, about being a part of the esports program’s inaugural scholarship recruiting class. “Especially coming in from high school, my school didn’t have any esports in particular, I was just doing it outside of Smash. My parents were proud of me. They thought I was doing nothing with my time the whole time, until I told them about this and they were proud then.”

Farrell had limited exposure in esports competition growing up in Holland, Mich. He mostly played in local tournaments throughout high school, playing just enough to qualify to be ranked in the Super Smash Bros. Power Rankings this summer.

“West Michigan doesn’t have as many events as east, so it’s really hard to make it on if you live over there,” said Farrell of his ranking. “I went to the bare minimum amount of events and was just barely able to make it on, which is kinda nice because fifteen is the limit.”

Bilski is optimistic about Farrell’s trajectory being on campus, in an environment with better competition.

“I think in a lot of ways, Drew was limited by his environment,” said Bilski. “He’s a player that, once we can get him on campus, and he gets to play against other top-tier players on a regular basis, I think his trajectory is just going to be up and up.”

Even with the lack of exposure he received, Farrell is proud to represent gamers across Western Michigan, especially those in Super Smash Bros., who continue to support him at MSU.

“A lot of the West Michigan Smash community I feel like supports me because I try to be as nice as I can at tournaments, and try to be positive. It’s cool that they have my back too. They drive me to places sometimes, and we go to tournaments together.”

Farrell also noted how important regions are within the Super Smash community, and how prideful players are of their respective regions.

“Regions are very prominent as a whole in Smash,” said Farrell. “Especially for me, I really want to support my region and be the best I can for them. Whenever you go out of state, there’s people cheering against you because you’re from a different region, or there’s people cheering for you if you’re from the same region.”

Now as a student at MSU, Farrell is excited to continue to work on his craft, where he’ll soon be practicing two to three hours a day on Super Smash Bros. He takes detailed notes on his performances, staying in constant communication with his teammates and coaches.

Farrell is excited to be a part of a program on the rise, with a community back home rooting for him, along with plenty of teammates and coaches alongside him every day.

“Coming into MSU, just being here for the team,” said Farrell. “It's nice to represent something even greater.”

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