An NCAA for esports: Why colleges are the next frontier for competitive gaming
Sunday marked the completion of the first ever League of Legends Collegiate Championships held by developer Riot Games
Sunday marked the completion of the first ever League of Legends Collegiate Championships held by developer Riot Games. As thousands watched via online streams, University of Washington's Blue Caster Minions came back to win the final two games of a best-of-three against the San Jose State University team, Sergio’s Dream.
Their prize? $100,000 in scholarship money and the title of the best League-playing college students in the nation. But the tournament was about more than prize money and bragging rights. It signifies a new normal for a scene that has long suffered from inconsistent funding and a lack of unity.
As the industry around esports grows and matures, so too does the infrastructure to support it. When television didn't step up to broadcast esports matches, the industry moved online. Now video game streaming site Twitch is one of the biggest drivers of traffic online.
With around 70 percent of college students playing video games “at least once in a while,” there was bound to be some who want to take the college scene gaming to the next level.
To find them, look no further than the largest collegiate league in the world, the Collegiate StarLeague. Founded in 2009 around StarCraft: Brood War, the CSL has since grown to encompass 315 universities and thousands of active players around the globe.
CEO Duran Parsi thinks the group has barely scratched the surface of what collegiate esports can do.
“It has practically grown exponentially," he says. "We've almost doubled in the number of both teams and players every single season… We expect the final number of teams [this season] to break 700.”
That’s up from 550 teams last year.
The incredible growth has unfortunately been overshadowed by funding problems. In Spring of 2012, in order to fly out their teams to the Grand Finals venue, and to have a prize pool, the CSL had to throw a community fundraiser after a sponsor pulled out. The grand prize ended up being just $3,000. Compare that to a year later, when first place netted the winning team $40,000 thanks to sponsorship from media esports company Azubu. That money allowed the CSL to throw massive global tournaments for both StarCraft 2 and League of Legends. But then Azubu pulled out, too, and the following season the league offered a paltry $1,000 for the winning team.
The problem with cash is compounded by the lack of organizational unity between the many collegiate leagues. While CSL sought to be as inclusive as possible, it didn't stop other leagues from spouting up organically and independently. Some leagues like the Ivy League of Legends (IvyLoL), featured only one game, while others focused only for schools in a single region, like the former Texas eSports Association (TeSPA). In some cases, students are required to compete in multiple leagues at once, which is completely overwhelming when studies are added into the mix.
Recent moves by the two biggest publishers in esports—Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment—have helped bring major stability to the college gaming scene, however.
Riot’s North American Collegiate Champions has merged the two largest League tournaments for college students (CSL and IvyLoL), and created a massive network that feeds into a finals that offers $100k in scholarships. Now with one clear direction, leagues can collaborate to find the best teams in the nation, rather than stepping on each other’s toes.
Going in another direction, Blizzard recently partnered with TeSPA, which last year rebranded with a national focus and changed its name to the more inclusive The eSports Association. Rather than just creating a league structure, TeSPA now helps these clubs promote themselves to their university and student body. By earning recognition on campus, they hope that esports will become a lasting presence that can help students grow and flourish, whether they want to play professionally or not.
No school is a better example of that kind of recognition than University of Minnesota’s Glitch Gaming. By offering weekly social events, along with fielding their own powerful rosters for the college leagues, UMN is embodying both elements of the kind of growth that collegiate esports needs. The group even threw their own convention featuring many guests from within the gaming realm.
College esports are in a perfect position to start receiving the same levels of success and recognition that other college athletes have achieved. While traditional college sports are never going to be perfect—the thorny problem of compensation for NCAA athletes comes to mind—the esports scene has an opportunity to learn from those problems. And if they play their cards right, they might even find a better way to manage college athletics, whether those sports begin with an "e" or not.
NA’s biggest League of Legends event is returning to Canada.
Writer at @dotesports
For the second season in a row, the North American League Championship Series will reach its conclusion in Canada.
Following the explosive confrontation between TSM and Cloud9 in the 2016 Summer Split finals in Toronto, the 2017 Spring Split finals will take place in the 20,000 seat Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver from April 22-23.
Riot has not announced when tickets for the event will go on sale, so Canadian fans and those looking to attend should keep their eyes peeled. 15,000 fans attended the 2016 NA LCS Summer Split finals last year, completely filling the Air Canada Centre, which should indicate just how high demand for tickets is.
This marks the NA LCS' second-ever final abroad, as seven of the league's eight finals haven taken place in locations around the U.S. Compare that to the EU LCS, which has been spoiled in terms of its show being taken on the road, as the tournament has visited a multitude of countries since its inception—including Poland, the Netherlands, England, and France.
The NA LCS 2017 Spring Split is set to start on Jan. 20.
Jan 16 2017 - 8:53 pm
2017 NA LCS Preseason Rankings
The LCS is back this weekend! We ranked each NA team heading into week one.
Season 6 in the North American League Championships Series was something special. Play reached a new level as two teams basically ran the table in both spring and summer. And for the first time, a North American team made the final at a major Riot-sponsored international tournament.
After a hectic offseason, we are almost ready to dive back into LCS play. Before we start, Dot Esports took a look at the NA LCS landscape and ranked the teams for the Spring Split. Ranking teams at the start of the year is extremely difficult because of roster changes and a new meta, but that won’t stop us from trying.
With a couple strong teams choosing to keep their rosters together and a few potential contenders adding exciting foreign stars, Season 7 could be the best yet.
We start where Season 6 ended: with TSM on top. For most of last summer, nobody could touch them as they out-laned, out-jungled, and out-macro’d everyone. Nobody could match Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg in the mid lane, which unlocked the whole map for Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen to roam.
The big question for this team is who replaces Doublelift as a late game shot caller. We think it should be Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. Having an experienced lane partner in Jason “WildTurtle” Tran will also help him navigate the duo lane. But he will have to do better controlling vision and winning contested objectives. They’ll need stronger initiations that layer the abilities of all five members.
Deliver on that and TSM fans may be able to forget all of their 2016 disappointments.
Best case: Semifinals at Worlds
Worst Case: Semifinals in the NA LCS playoffs
After making it to the bracket stage at Worlds, there’s reason to believe that Cloud9 will be even stronger this year. Remember, the team initially struggled to integrate Jung “Impact“ Eon-yeong at the beginning of the Summer Split. Those memories were put to rest by Impact’s flashy “top die” plays at Worlds.
The real question is whether new jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia can give the team better initiations and map control. William “Meteos” Hartman played a valuable role but didn’t have the mechanics to dictate games. Shot calling will be crucial now that Contractz doesn’t have Hai Lam, shot caller extraordinaire, next to him. Someone on this team will have to become its voice. We’re not sure who.
Coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu has a lot of work to do to make sure his team executes on their strategy and communicates effectively. He made great progress with the team last Summer, but can it continue?
Best Case: Contractz is the solution and they make someone nervous in the bracket stage at Worlds
Worst Case: Meteos is brought back in and they have to scrap their way into the LCS playoffs
3) Team Dignitas
There’s a lot of risk putting Dignitas this high. But the team has put a lot of thought into how to build this roster. It’s clear that they want to play around the solo lanes, where Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Jang "Keane" Lae-Young will benefit from Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun’s pressure. Meanwhile, Benjamin “LOD” deMunck was quietly one of the better AD carries last summer.
How this team communicates with two new Korean players will dictate their place in the standings. The jungle especially requires special synergy with the team. Dignitas has said all the right things about playing together and identifying communication as a major early issue. Knowing those things is one thing; executing is another.
Ssumday and Chaser have a shot at being the best top/jungle duo in NA. But the team could take more than one split to jell.
Best Case: They make the LCS finals in their first year together and compete for a Worlds spot
Worst Case: Communication is an issue all year, they can only win hour-long slog fests, and they fall to the relegation zone
We’re now getting to teams with major question marks on the roster. For Counter Logic Gaming, it’s mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun. We wrote about HuHi in our “Players to Watch” piece. Mid lane’s priority could increase in a jungle-focused meta. And the rest of the team is ill-suited to make up for HuHi’s shortcomings.
It’s been a while since Darshan Upadhyaha has served as a consistent carry. Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes is probably their most consistent damage dealer, but playing around the AD carry is risky with regards to meta changes. Coach Tony “Zikz” Gray’s team is always well prepared and has some of the best early-level strategies in the game. But they desperately need some mid-lane pressure to start exploring next-level strategies.
Best Case: HuHi figures it out, they play multiple winning lanes, and split people to death
Worst Case: HuHi is the same, the competition has leveled up, and they miss the playoffs
5) Team Liquid
There is a risk that we’re ranking Liquid too low. Stars like Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin can be terrifying. New coach Matt Lim is highly regarded for his work on Team Liquid Academy last year. They should have better communication with Reignover calling the shots. What’s not to love?
Like CLG, it goes back to the mid lane. It’s not clear who will start, but it will either be a Challenger player who’s never put it all together on the LCS stage (Grayson “Goldenglue” Gillmer) or someone who hasn’t even seen the stage in years (Austin “LiNK” Shin).
This is a roster that has the talent to win it all if a few breaks go their way.
Best Case: Things click between Reignover and Piglet and they break the fourth-place curse on the way to Worlds
Worst Case: They never find a solution to the mid lane and we get version two of the Donezo Manifesto (or Break Point, part two)
We’re now getting to teams where the win condition is not immediately obvious. For Immortals, it starts with the jungler they basically traded Reignover for: Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. He can be a win condition in himself.
But there are more question marks than certainties. Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong hasn’t really been at Flame Horizon level (+100 CS over his lane opponent) for some time. The bot lane is a mystery. Finally, there’s the potential that Dardoch self-destructs.
Best case: Flame and Dardoch click, Cody Sun stays alive, and they compete for a playoff spot. Dardoch keeps an even keel and their steady improvement gives fans something to hope for
Worst case: Dardoch blows up, everyone blows up
This was one of the hardest rosters to rank.
P1 was ascending in the latter half of the Summer Split. Then they signed Ryu Sang-wook and No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon. Unlike other teams adding Koreans, P1 should have a better time integrating these two. Ryu has played in Europe since 2014. And AD carry is an easy position to integrate communication-wise, as long as there’s good synergy with the support.
Whether Arrow and Adrian can develop synergy is the primary question. Adrian was able to do some great things for the carries on Immortals in 2016. But his champion pool was also called into question and his duo lane was not usually a strength.
Best Case: Inori and Ryu stand out with flashy plays, Arrow is the second best ADC behind Piglet, and the team makes it to the LCS semifinals
Worst Case: Arrow and Adrian never jell, they get beat in the macro and late game, and head to the promotion tournament
8) Echo Fox
Echo Fox has two star solo laners: Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok and Henrik “Froggen” Hansen. Beyond them, the roster is a complete mystery. Not that players like Yuri "Keith" Jew are unknown—we just don’t know what their true talent level is. It’s not clear how many players on this team are really LCS-level.
Then there’s the question of shot calling. It’s anyone’s guess how this team coordinates. You can’t turn every game into a farm fest (though Froggen would surely prefer that). At some point, someone needs to go in with Looper and start fights.
Best Case: The make a surprising run at the playoffs behind unstoppable play from Looper and Froggen. Who needs a jungler?
Worst Case: Froggen sets another CS record, but Echo Fox can’t survive the promotion tournament
9) Team EnVyUs
This team started out strong in their first LCS split last summer. Behind stellar play from top laner Shin "Seraph" Wu-Yeong, they went 5-1 in series before other teams started figuring them out.
The team will need to regain their footing in 2017 and play more patiently around Seraph. New jungler Nam “lira” Tae-yoo may help, but his addition results in a strange situation with three Koreans in the solo lanes and jungle and two native English speakers in the duo lane. Can they figure out how they want to play and stick with it?
Best Case: They don’t get relegated. The duo lane follows the Koreans around and Seraph and Ninja put their carry pants on
Worst Case: None of that happens, they make too many mistakes, and there’s not enough talent on the roster for Seraph to carry
10) Fly Quest
It may seem obvious to stick the new team at the bottom. But this decision was not made easily. The reason? Hai.
We don’t know how teams like P1, Echo Fox, or even Dignitas will communicate. Not so for Fly Quest, who should continue relying on Hai’s impeccable shot calling. There’s a lot of value to a team being on the same page and knowing what to do as a unit. Just ask TSM about their experience with that last spring.
The problem is, it’s unclear what Hai is working with. Stomping on Challenger squads is completely different to facing LCS competition each week in best-of-three settings. Teams are going to identify Fly Quest’s weaknesses quickly and pounce repeatedly. It’s just hard to find winning matchups anywhere on this roster.
Best Case: Hai’s shot calling allows the team to grind out late-game victories off of superior macro play. They go .500 in the regular season and get a game in the playoffs
Worst Case: It becomes apparent that they just don’t have LCS-level stuff anymore. They go back to the Challenger Series where they romp