Adding the ‘e’ to Sports has been a long and contested road for the eSports community. eSports is a form of sport that designates a video game as the proverbial playing field. With high-end strategizing, physical execution, controversy over performance enhancing drugs, and match fixing pervading both sports and eSports, the line that separates the two can get muddled at times. Regardless of whether it is classified as a traditional sport or a ‘mind’ sport, the rise of eSports, despite significant criticism from many traditional sports commentators, such as Colin Cowherd, is undeniable. Since the year 2000 the number, scale, and coverage of eSports events has been increasing across YouTube, CBS, ESPN, in addition to prize pools have followed suit, reaching up to $16,829,613 in the case of Valve’s annual International, an eSport competition. Relatively new to eSports, however, is the collegiate scene, with Blizzard’s second Heroes of the Dorm this year being the only place for campuses to officially compete for electronic glory. Luckily, the ‘Redmen’—captained by Lucas Crea—have a fighting chance to put McGill on the eSports map this year.
The success of last year’s Heroes of the Dorm marked a watershed moment in eSports history, as it further institutionalized collegiate eSports, prompting various universities to offer scholarships for varsity-level cyber athletes, and had its Grand Finals between UC Berkeley vs. Arizona State broadcast live on ESPN, a first for the genre. Given the long match times and extensive background knowledge that tend to accompany eSport titles, Heroes of the Dorm, featuring Blizzard’s latest release Heroes of the Storm, attempts to bridge the gap between casual and competitive by offering a game that’s much quicker, simpler, and thus easier to watch without sacrificing the thrill-of-the-kill signature to video games. The result has been a tournament that has stimulated both the interest of mainstream media and the niche gamer fan base, and offers a promising future for the North American eSports scene.
Once they’ve passed the qualifying round, standing between each player and the grand prize of paid college tuition for three years (up to $75,000) and a custom built PC gaming system (approximately $1,200) lies a grueling round-of-64 showdown between teams of five gamers and one substitute. The objective is deceptively simple: Destroy the enemy’s base. In between the goal however, stand waves of enemy units, tower defences, and five human-controlled ‘heroes’ which require tactical coordination, wired reflexes, and composure to overcome on the professional level. Crea, whose team stands as the last vestige of McGill’s representation at this year’s Heroes of the Dorm, considers the team’s lack of experience its biggest challenge.
“Most of our players haven’t had much experience, or don’t play as much as myself and other team members, so the real challenge is just to get everyone more or less on the same playing field, and not have them do those silly mistakes that new players do.” Crea said. “The first couple of games were particularly frustrating, but they got better surprisingly quickly, and pushed us to win four games in a row”
Reflecting on McGill’s prospects for the remainder of the tournament, Crea expressed concern over the academic commitments that the team faces as students.
“Most members of my team are in really different programs [ranging] from engineering, biology, and nursing.” Crea explained. “It makes for quite a busy schedule, so I don’t know if that will impact our chances. To make it in the quarter finals of regionals, we have to win our next games this weekend, and I think we have a fair chance at that”.
Crea also commended the skill of the Concordia Stingers who sent the Redmen to the losers’ bracket last weekend with a 2-0 victory, proving that the time-tested McGill and Concordia rivalry carries over into the electronic realm.
Plagued by bouts of sexism, player exploitation, and the still relatively high barrier to entry, the eSports community still have a long way to go, but Heroes of the Dorm is definitely a step in the right direction towards a healthier and more diverse community.
Though the Redmen were eliminated from the Tournament over Reading Week, you can still watch the other teams progress through the round of 64 on ESPN3, Twitch, and YouTube, along with the Grand Finals on April 10, on ESPN2.