Esports comes to Marist College

Marist athletics has gone digital, with the development of esports teams for Dota 2 and League of Legends on campus. These teams are not officially affiliated with Marist College or Marist athletics, but do represent the school in the Collegiate StarLeague, a intercollegiate league organization that manages teams from colleges across the United States. Games that are commonly played in esport competitions are MOBA games, which stands for multiplayer online battle arena, like League of Legends or Dota 2. These are 5 vs. 5 team based games that involve teamwork in order to complete a specific objective, like defeat the enemy team and conquer the field by destroying enemy structures. These two games in particular are the most popular free MOBAs being played today, with millions of players active and millions of dollars in profits every year. The games generate revenue through sales of character skins, items, and other in-game content.

The Collegiate StarLeage started in 2009, according to a representative for the CSL. “We were looking to bring the excitement about esports in Korea to the US, and college seemed like the most logical way to start since we were all college students at the time, and we knew there were many many people like us who were fans of StarCraft in college… We run a year-long competition, we generally have 500+ teams every year in a NCAA style system divided by geographical regions, with 2 divisions based on skill and competitiveness.” There is a buy-in to enter the CSL leagues, and students who win in the CSL league championships are generally awarded money in the form of a scholarship. Marist’s teams are both in Division 2, which is the amateur league for less competitive schools.

Both Marist teams operate through the Marist Game Society club on campus, who provide facilities and equipment, as well as recruiting space for the teams every semester. “We love to see that esports has begun to develop on campus, even unofficially. I believe that esports is close to becoming something significant in both the gaming community and the sports community, and will hopefully evolve into an official college supported team,” said Gregory Cremins, president of the Game Society. “Students have an opportunity to not only showcase their skills, but earn money and build connections through their experiences in collegiate esports that could potentially help them in the future.”

The Marist esports team got started last year, with the Dota 2 team formed by Kevin Skocypec. This years team consists of seven players; Daren Pagan, Matt Oldenburg, Liam Hardwood, Stephen Bohner, Lawrence Barnet, Max Vitkin, and team captain Skocypec. These students meet regularly to practice and hone their skills.  “Last year, when I brought Collegiate esports to Marist as a freshman, I was striven to have everyone practicing 7 days a week, all in the same room.  That.. didn’t turn out well.  We started practicing in the Cabaret two times a week, but this year we have changed things,” said Skocypec. “Now we just practice from our own dorm rooms and houses and communicate via programs like Skype.  This occurs at least two times a week, but we are trying for four or five.”

Despite it’s growing popularity, many people still ask the question, “what are esports, exactly?” “Esports” is an abbreviation of electronic sports, which are organized video game competitions and tournaments. These competitions have been around for many years, beginning as early as the 1970s with local tournaments on arcade consoles. The term “esports” didn’t become popular until the 1990s, with the advent of online gaming and multiplayer competition.

Today, esports has evolved into a massive international operation that spans multiple genres of games. Professional esport players can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in sponsorships and winnings for their play, and the largest competitions have prize pools of over $1 million. These competitions are now gaining massive popularity outside the realm of the hardcore fans, thanks to mass media coverage from newspapers, magazines and television. This past summer, ESPN aired coverage of The International Dota 2 tournament.

The ESPN coverage is a big step for esports popularity, despite the general disapproval from the viewers not interested in the competition. Many viewers expressed either anger or confusion as to why ESPN would broadcast video games on their channel at all. Even the president of ESPN has claimed that esports are more competition than sport, and that they would never be equated to physical competition.

However, game developers including League of Legends developer Riot Games have stated that, “TV’s not a priority or a goal” and that “eSports have a proven record to be successful on internet streaming only.” Sadly, many will never consider esport an actual sport, and don’t feel that esports could be as physically or emotionally stressful as real sports can be. If you were to ask any esport professional, however, they would tell you how taxing playing these games professionally can be sometimes.

“Playing a game like this can be seriously painful sometimes. Not just aches and cramps in the wrists and fingers, but serious damage and carpal tunnel too. Also it isn’t uncommon to see eye strain, neck pain, severe headaches, and fatigue come as a result of what we do,” said Marist Dota 2 player Max Vitkin. “It’s all for the sake of practice and competition. Not to mention how draining it can be, emotionally. We put ourselves under extreme pressure, and sometimes it can make us physically sick.”

Where esports really gains its massive following is in online streaming, from sites like Twitch. Twitch allows players to stream their gameplay online for others to view live, as well as recorded. Twitch has recently become a multimillion dollar product, thanks to its acquisition by Amazon. Many esport competitions are streamed live on Twitch so that they can be viewed worldwide, which has caused the recent spike in interest. Massive competitions take place every year in all types of genres of games, and are all run by different organizations, such as Major League Gaming, Electronic Sports League, and even companies like Samsung and Microsoft. Tournaments like Evolution Championship series, The International, and the Intel Extreme Masters are all international events held for specific game genres such as fighting games or MOBAs, and offer cash prizes as well as sponsorship opportunities for all players involved.

When asked how and why he got into esports, Skocypec said “I would have to say I started getting into esports first when I used to play StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.  You could ask any of my friends or family members and they would all tell you this: I played that game WAY too much! I worked hard until I got to the top tier of leagues, and was driven to become professional. I played a Dota type game in Starcraft with some of my friends, and that led to actually playing Dota 2.  My attention went from the StarCraft pro-scene to the Dota pro-scene. I used to be an athlete and played baseball and marched in a competitive marching band, and started to realize how much I enjoyed and did well in PC video games, but I knew realistically I couldn’t become a professional, so I decided to go into amateur  competitive gaming and that evolved into this. I hope to bring the Marist team into division one play before I graduate.”

The Marist Dota 2 and League of Legends teams begin their season soon, and hope to proudly represent Marist College and themselves in the CSL.

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