SFU’s own League of Legends eSports team has fought its way into the top four of over 1,600 North American collegiate teams in the University League of Legends (uLoL) 2015–2016 Campus Series. The prize for the winning team comes in the form of a $30,000 scholarship for each player.
SFU’s team placed second in the most recent Western Conference — defeating teams from UCLA and the University of Washington. Their ranking from the Western Conference was enough to secure their spot in this month’s playoffs.
For all of those unfamiliar with the game, League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game, which is essentially a game of tower defense, with each team wanting to destroy the enemy teams’ towers and “nexus.” Once the targets have been destroyed, the game ends. Each team is composed of five players, with each player selecting a player character or “champion” out of a large pool. Games can range from 20 minutes to an hour.
The game has maintained its huge popularity since its release in late 2009. The latest numbers released by the game’s developer, Riot Games, showed that in 2014, there were 27 million people playing the game every day, and 67 million people playing every month. In 2015, the League of Legends World Championship attracted the attention of over 36 million unique viewers.
“We’re currently top four on the West Coast, we’re definitely looking to win [the playoffs].” – Quinn MacDonald
The popularity of eSports has even begun to surpass the popularity of other mainstream sports, such as baseball and basketball, in terms of viewership. According to ESPN, the baseball World Series series of 2014 attracted an average of 13.8 million viewers, and the NBA series of the same year attracted an average of 15.5 million viewers. The League of Legends World Championship finals in 2014 attracted 27 million viewers. Although these differences are jarring, it should be noted that the baseball and basketball leagues are limited in scope to North America, whereas League of Legends is international.
In terms of university sports, League of Legends has been making splashes with their collegiate tournaments over the last two years. SFU’s own League of Legends team has been fighting its way to the top of this year’s uLoL Campus Series. The SFU team is composed of regular, undergraduate students: Quinn MacDonald, Justin Pancho, Don Tran, Myles Dawson, Jacky Lee, and team manager Tim Cho are the one’s who will be representing SFU come playoffs.
The Peak spoke with Quinn MacDonald about his thoughts on eSports, and his experiences with the SFU team.
The Peak: What’s your history with the SFU League of Legends team?
Quinn: I’ve been on the team for two years. Last year we played in the North American collegiate championship, and we lost to UBC in the west coast finals. This year we’re playing in the uLoL Campus Series, [which is] pretty much the same thing as the North American collegiate championship, just called something different [. . .]. We’re currently top four on the West Coast, we’re definitely looking to win it.
P: What’s it like balancing being on the team with your studies?
Q: I would say it’s a challenge, especially with me because I’m already pretty bad with procrastinating. It doesn’t really leave much time for anything else.
P: So do you think eSports have the potential to become as popular as other college sports like football or basketball?
Q: Yeah, easily.
P: Why do you think that?
Q: The following is massive, and it only gets bigger as kids grow up with video games. Games like League of Legends and CS:GO, a lot of highly competitive and highly skilled games allow room for people to get insanely good at the game. When people are able to get insanely good at something and it becomes competitive, it becomes fun to watch.
P: What do you think could be done to increase the popularity of collegiate eSports to the level of other college sports?
Q: I guess awareness and advertisement. I think a lot of people are still closet-gamers and only play with their online friends and don’t really talk about it. If people [were] more aware of how popular the games are, and if clubs have better-organized and successful events, people will be more open to discuss it and watch it with other people.
P: What do you think the team’s odds of winning this year are?
Q: I think the top two teams in the whole tournament are us and UBC. [. . .] Of course the other teams in the tournament are good, I just think we’re better. I think as of this moment UBC is better than us, but we have two to three weeks to improve and I think if we put our heads down, actually get into it, and get a lot of practice in we’re actually going to have a pretty good chance.