There are a number of McMaster students with childhood memories of playing video games for extended periods of time.
Playing alone, with your friends on a split screen or against players across the globe, video games have made a similar impact to this generation of students as sports have. Just as professional athletes are paid to play a game they enjoy, plenty of people wish they could play video games as a living.
Enter the industry of competitive video gaming, also known as Electronic Sports, which has grown in popularity as the internet has become faster and more accessible on a global scale. With games such as League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Overwatch each having their own professional leagues with a dedicated fan base, the tag of a professional eSports player has become a reality.
Along with the professional scene, collegiate leagues have also enjoyed a rise to a lesser degree. While there is no established league within U Sports or the Ontario University Athletics conference, McMaster’s League of Legends manager Zoila Ricciardone hopes that one can be established soon.
“Over the next few years, we are hoping to gain more support from the university, both from the students and the institution itself,” Ricciardone said. “We are currently working with the [McMaster] Athletics and Recreation department so that we can be recognized as an official varsity team by the university.”
A growing number of schools are starting to take eSports seriously, meaning there is a growing possibility for the OUA and U Sports to start hosting tournaments for eSports. On March 24 in the United States, Illinois College announced an expansion to their athletic program to include eSports, which will include two co-ed teams that will participate in established collegiate leagues.
Currently, the League of Legends team at McMaster University participates in uLOL Campus Series, an intercollegiate league that includes schools from both the United States and Canada. From the preseason to the playoffs, Mac competes with other schools from October to May of every year, and is continuously ranked based on their performances. The schedule for McMaster’s League of Legends team presents challenges that are unique to eSports teams and shared with traditional varsity sports.
“The biggest challenge as a team was getting together to practice during the week,” Ricciardone said. “There are a few reasons for this, some of which also apply to other varsity teams including schedule conflicts and academic obligations. A challenge specific to an eSports team is the lack of decent internet access during the week. McMaster’s Wi-Fi is not always the most reliable, and bandwidth is almost always taken up in student housing.”
The team still manages to meet up at least four or five times a week for scrimmages against other schools, in-person meetings and regular season and tournament games on the weekend. Even with these challenges, they has done considerably well this season. The team was able to finish third in the Eastern division, playing against top teams from the University of Toronto, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and State University of New York. Their next tournament takes place from May 12-14 at an invitational tournament in Toronto.
McMaster undergraduate students recently approved the creation of a new Student Activity Building to be constructed on campus. This space could include a gaming room. If so, this would provide more opportunities for McMaster eSports teams to get better and compete with the best teams from North America, while also giving Mac students the chance to relax from school and interact with fellow students through video games.
“In the end, our main goal is to generate hype around each of our competitive teams so that we can foster a community of people with similar interests,” Ricciardone said.
Perhaps it is not a matter of whether or not eSports will become established at McMaster and the OUA as a whole; it may be a matter of when.