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League of Legends team, MSU esports bring a new kind of competition

December 5, 2019
<p>Ryan Felten laughs with teammates while playing League of Legends on Dec. 2, 2019 at Communication Arts Building. </p>

Ryan Felten laughs with teammates while playing League of Legends on Dec. 2, 2019 at Communication Arts Building.

Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Competitive college sports are a long-standing tradition — but when most think of “college sports,” they’re probably thinking of traditional, physical sports. However, a new form of college competition is making its way into the spotlight. 

Esports are competitive video gaming competitions with roots back in the early 1970s, when players competed for prizes by obtaining high scores in competitions sponsored by big names such as Atari and Nintendo. Modern esports have a more traditional, sports-like structure, with leagues, tournaments, sponsors and even collegiate teams.

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Michigan State has its own esports club. Casual and competitive players alike come together and enjoy gaming with their classmates. MSU has collegiate teams for a variety of games, but their League of Legends A-Team made a splash.

ESPORTS AT MICHIGAN STATE

In 2018, the team placed third in the Big Ten conference with five wins and two losses. In 2019, they placed first in the

Big Ten Conference with a 6-0 record and most recently placed first in the Upsurge Premier League, or UPL, fall season with a 5-0 record. 

League of Legends is a competitive, multiplayer online battle arena video game, or MOBA, where players on each team choose a character and attempt to break into the opposing team’s base and destroy their “Nexus” structure. Players level up their character throughout the match by killing enemy players’ characters or computer-controlled monsters, and then by attempting to destroy their enemy’s Nexus. 

League of Legends was developed by California-based Riot Games and was initially released in 2009. It quickly grew into the world’s most popular video game, and professional League of Legends tournaments can receive more than 99.6 million total viewers.

Akash Gupta is the head coach for MSU’s League of Legends A-Team. Gupta plays under the screen name “ArgentumSky.” 

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“I come from a background in leadership,” Gupta said. “In high school, I started a bunch of clubs. I was always the treasurer or president of the club. Whatever the name of my role was, I was always leading the operation.”

One thing that separates esports from traditional sports is how competitions and practices are held. For esports, scrimmages, practices and most games are online, and the players stay at home and communicate via voice and text using a chat program called Discord.

Ryan “Slythion” Felten, president of the League of Legends club and computer science junior, said the team rarely meets in person for team-based events.

“We do meet for (video on demand) reviews, but the majority of the time we meet up is as friends for dinner or something,” Felten said.

MSU has more than a League of Legends team on its esports roster. Students can also play for MSU’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team, compete in local Super Smash Bros. tournaments and play Pokémon, Rocket League, Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege and Fortnite competitively.

HISTORY OF ESPORTS

Esports might seem like a recent phenomenon, but competitive video gaming dates back to the early 1970s. In 1972, students at Stanford University held a tournament for the video game Spacewar called the Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics. The winner of the tournament won a year-long subscription to Rolling Stone magazine, according to Kotaku.com, a gaming news website. 

The first large-scale esports tournament took place in 1980. The Space Invaders Championship was an event held by Atari Games where players competed for high scores in the classic game Space Invaders. The tournament had more than 10,000 participants and is widely regarded as the first major esports event in history, according to a 1981 New York Times issue.

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Esports would continue to grow in the 1980s, where competitions would be held for a variety of games. The arguably most famous 1980s e-athlete is Billy Mitchell, a controversial figure in the gaming community. Mitchell held the world records for highest scores in six popular arcade games, including Donkey Kong and Pac Man. However, several of his records are disputed for being fraudulent.

The 1990s and 2000s fostered esports as we know them today. With the growing popularity of the internet, online competitive player vs. player games would become commonplace.

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In 2000, the South Korean government founded the Korean E-Sports Association. The real-time strategy game

"StarCraft" took South Korea by storm, and tournaments were broadcasted on live TV and garnered millions of views in the early 2000s, according to Dotesports.com, an esports news website.

In 2000, the South Korean government founded the Korean E-Sports Association. The real-time strategy game

StarCraft took South Korea by storm, and StarCraft tournaments were broadcast on live TV and, according to Dotesports, garnered millions of views in the early 2000s. 

The early 2000s would also see the formation of Major League Gaming, or MLG, a network aiming to bring esports into the mainstream by holding tournaments for popular console games such as Call of Duty and Halo. 

In the 2010s, esports became a household pastime. Olympic organizers are considering holding esports competitions in events following the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, according to a report by BBC.

FUTURE OF COLLEGE ESPORTS

The college esports scene is still in its infancy and still has a ways to go until it breaks into the mainstream, but Gupta said it is still a high level of competition.

“(League of Legends), it’s very complicated, and I compare it a lot to basketball because there’s a similar amount of players on the field at one time, and you have to work with each other to set up plays,” Gupta said. “There’s a high level of coordination in this game, and it is a team sport. It is very complicated and you have to be able to work together. …  It is a competition. Who is better at being coordinated, and who is better at being talented and playing the game.”

Political science and pre-law freshman Joseph “Ruination” Riebschleger plays “Top Lane” for the team, a player who mostly stays at the top portion of the field. He said League of Legends and esports are their own entity and not comparable to traditional sports.

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“You can’t compare esports to regular sports, because I know everybody does that when talking about esports,” Riebschleger said. “They’re like, ‘It’s not a sport.’ It’s not as physically active as other sports like football or baseball, but you realize that the higher you go in the ranks competitive-wise, it gets harder to process everything that’s going on because you’re fighting for something that’s on the line, like school pride or actual money. It’s just a game until you get to a very high competitive level, and then it becomes an esport.” 

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