Midwestern college esports teams made their marks against semipros and fellow college competitors alike this past weekend at the Wichita Esports Convention in Wichita, Kansas.
The Midwest League of Legends Open, a regional tournament with a $20,000 prize pool, boasted several semipro teams, including eventual winner Zenith eSports and runner-up Wildcard Gaming. But the Open also hosted some powerhouse collegiate competitors, with Robert Morris University, Columbia College and Maryville University making the trip.
Columbia College made it to the finals of the event but was bumped to the losers bracket with a 2-1 loss to Wildcard Gaming, and it lost another three-game series against Zenith eSports in the lower bracket. Zenith, the previous year's champion, went on to reset the bracket and win the event.
"It gave a lot of the players a chance to brush shoulders with people they haven't gotten to meet face-to-face yet," said Ramsey Jamoul of Midwest Esports, which organized the event. "The teams start networking a little bit more, too."
The Cougars' third-place finish was the best among college teams at the event. University of Colorado finished tied for fifth after a three-game upset of Robert Morris, RMU and Maryville tied for seventh and Grand View University, Bellevue University and Columbia College's junior varsity team tied for ninth.
But that doesn't tell the full story, Jamoul said. RMU beat Zenith eSports in the seeding round of the tournament, and despite the advantage semipro teams have in terms of hours they can devote to gameplay and the ability to recruit players more frequently, the college teams, and particularly the varsity programs, held their own.
"You can definitely see the difference between funded programs and unfunded programs right off the bat," among college teams, Jamoul said. "We had really good showings from a lot of the universities in the League of Legends tournament."
College competitors matched up well against pro competition in the $500 prize pool Hearthstone event as well. RMU junior Darien "AgentQ52" Zhao finished in the top three of the Swiss bracket along with Swagoi-sponsored players Tim "Anamor" Burkhart and Brandon "TomLocke" Downs. Each of those players had a loss to their name, with AgentQ52 losing to Anamor, Anamor losing to TomLocke and TomLocke losing to the Eagles' representative.
For the second year in a row, though, the marquee League of Legends competition was won by a contingent of semipro players. That might change in the years to come, Jamoul said, if college teams can use their advantage in time spent playing together, build up their rosters to match semipros competitively and get used to the bright lights of the LAN experience.
It's a lot to ask, but Jamoul said it seems doable based on the performances he saw this weekend.
"When it really came down to it, I think the university teams were actually doing really well," he said. "In many regards, they could've taken it. It just wasn't their day. ... Those are stacked teams that are really hard to beat."
What to watch for
With College League of Legends in full swing, an LAN competition against semipro teams and American Video Game League series firing up in the week to come, it's been a busy two weeks in collegiate esports.
That said, the scene is about to get even busier.
Registration for the AVGL Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive leagues closes on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, with Dota 2 competition beginning Feb. 16 and CS:GO on Feb. 18. A prize of $10,000 is up for grabs for the winners of those leagues, with playoffs on March 31 for Dota 2 and April 1 for CS:GO.
College League of Legends, CSL JV leagues in full swing
Riot Games' College League of Legends season entered Week 4 with 37 unbeaten teams among the 288 teams in its regional leagues. Of those 37 undefeated squads, eight are varsity programs, and six reside in the stacked North region. Four weeks of competition remain prior to playoffs, including in the two Big Ten conferences and the Peach Bowl conference.
Meanwhile, three weeks of competition remain in the Collegiate StarLeague's Junior Varsity League of Legends competition. That league speaks more to how top-heavy varsity programs tend to be and just how young the varsity scene is; the JV league is heavily tilted toward club teams, and the so-called "B teams" of most club colleges match up well with the understudies at even the higher-profile varsity institutions through Week 4 in its league.