By Jared Prenda
In what used to be used to be the litany of small tables and chairs in the quiet dining room of the Student Cafeteria in the Przybyla Center, now sits a group of students staring intently at computer screens. What used to be small conversations barely above a whisper has transitioned into the clacking of keys, tapping of mouses, and students laughing and calling out commands to each other. Catholic University is one of the countless schools across the country to adapt to the age of eSports, particularly League of Legends (LoL).
Catholic’s team is a member of the College League of Legends, a governing body which hosts teams from over 900 schools across the nation to compete against each other. Catholic U also falls under the partner conference Landmark League. This is a subset of the larger league that is made up of the same schools that the other varsity teams on campus play in the Landmark Conference. They will play a season against each other and send the best teams from the conference to play in the national tournament.
The school opened the eSports lounge at the urging of senior Byron Hinson, who noticed a huge request for such a club while working for the Office of Campus activities. Since opening last spring, the eSports club has 55 members registered on the Nest. The club held a tryout for the official team and narrowed the field down to 8 players on the main CUA League of Legends team.
The team is coached by Joe Bieda, who played for The University of Maryland Baltimore LoL team. Bieda currently works at The Game Gym, a facility in Potomac, Maryland designed specifically to train gamers to go professional in eSports. Through this coaching, the team is currently 1-1 on the season. The team dropped their most recent match against Drew University 2-0.
The way that games work is that the two teams will one match that will consist of a best of 3 series on one map called “Summoner’s Rift.” Each team fields five starters, the lineup must be submitted 3 days in advance, and as many reserves as necessary who will select a unique champion with different abilities. Using these characters, the teams will fight against each other to both defend and attempt to capture the others base, called a Nexus.
The path to the Nexus is not an easy one, however, as each team must capture smaller bases guarded by turrets called “Inhibitors.” A team cannot destroy the nexus until they clear all the other team’s Inhibitors in one of the three lanes. Once these are cleared the team must clear two more Turrets before they can directly attack the Nexus. Destroying the Nexus will win that team the game.
Unlike traditional sports with standard offense and defense positions, League of Legends has their own unique set of positions. They are based on which lane each player plays, either the Top, Middle, or Bottom (Bot). In a standard match 4 players will play the lanes with each specific to a certain lane, with one player playing the “Jungle” role. This player will harvest resources by killing and attacking neutral monsters not found in the lanes to earn resources for their teammates. Beyond the 5 players each team has an army of small weak minions and turrets which aid in both their offensive and defensive efforts.
League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) that was first developed in 2009 by RIOT games. Since its release, League of Legends has been one of the most popular games in the world, with over 100 million monthly players as of September 2016. The company branched into the eSports scene in June, 2011 when they hosted their first Word Championships in Sweden.
The first event had eight teams from North America, Southeast Asia, and Europe for a $100,000 grand prize and the title with 1.6 million total views of the event. In 2018, the tournament comprised of 24 teams from across the world with a $2.65 million-dollar prize pool. The championship match between teams Invictus Gaming and Fnatic reached a peak viewership of 200 million concurrent viewers, for reference Super Bowl LI held that same year peaked at 110 million concurrent viewers. LA 2024, the committee in charge of planning the 2024 Los Angeles Olympics, is currently looking into having esport events as a part of the festivities due to the huge potential audience.
Despite what many might think, the team is a serious commitment and requires just as much dedication as traditional sports. The team practices 2-3 times a week for about 2 hours at a time as a unit. The eSports lounge has open hours every day which Hinson says the members of the club take full advantage of.
As of right now LoL is the only competitive team at Catholic, but the club has plans for expansion into the future.
“As of now the League team is all we have playing competitively,” said Hinson. “We do plan for venturing into other games in the future, depending on interest in the future. We have a lot of interest in Overwatch at the time and right now it’s all about prodding people’s minds and gathering interest. It is not as fast tracked as League of Legends because there isn’t a big conference pushing for it like there was with League and the Landmark. So, we need to get a lot of student interest so we can enter a bigger conference.”
The school took no expense in setting up the lounge for its newest club sport, buying 12 sets of top-of-the-line gaming PC’s, computer mice designed for gaming, and even gaming oriented chairs for the players.
The club is constantly pushing for more and more members and have open sign ups at their Monday and Wednesday night practices and on The Nest. The team also streams their matches live at twitch.tv/cuaesports and are looking to expand into standard streaming to help boost the campus awareness of the club. If enough interest is garnered for a particular game, the school will look into copyright agreements and if it can meet the requirements and the demand is there they will start the team.