Electronic sports—otherwise known as eSports—are among the lesser talked about sports on campus. That’s not to say they’re any less competitive than a varsity basketball or football team.
The Queen’s eSports Association (QEA) hosts multiple teams across various mainstream eSports, including League of Legends (LoL), Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO), and Overwatch. They compete internationally with other teams across North America.
According to QEA Chairman Brendan Willet, ArtSci ’21, there are over 50 players across all of the association’s teams.
While not being a part of Athletics and Recreation, Willet said joining a QEA competitive eSports team at Queen’s is similar to joining a varsity sports team.
“Although [our focus is] video games, we do want to maintain somewhat of a formal structure so that everything feels like you’re competing on a semi-varsity team,” Willet said in an interview with The Journal.
To join QEA, there are signups, tryouts, coaches, analysts, and interviews.
Platforms like Collegiate Starleague (CSL) and Tespa allow Queen’s and various other colleges and universities around the world to compete against one another.
Something that’s unique to Queen’s eSports in comparison to the University’s other physical sports is who they compete against. The average Queen’s sports team competes against other Ontario universities, but the online nature of eSports allows Queen’s to be recognized on an international scale, as the team plays schools all over North America.
Last season, the QEA Golden Gaels’ League of Legends team ranked fourth in one of the eight North-East divisions with a record of 8-3, while their CS: GO team ranked fifth in one of the two North divisions with a 6-5 record.
“Video games aren’t a closeted, niche group nowadays,” Willet said.
There’s big money and high stakes in eSports, and it continues to grow. Players can win millions of dollars in the world’s largest eSports tournaments.
Dota 2’s annual tournament, The International, has set records for eSports prize money amounts. The International 2019’s prize pool was $34,330,068 USD, the 2019 solo Fortnite World Cup Finals had a prize pool of $15,287,500 USD, and the League of Legends 2018 World Championship’s prize pool was $6,450,000 USD.
For comparison, the purse for the 2019 Wimbledon tennis championships was around $42 million USD across all of their events, and the Masters golf tournament’s 2019 prize pool was $11.5 million USD.
While the university scene may not be racking in millions of dollars, there are tournament cash prizes and some universities offer eSports scholarships to incoming students.
Miami University was the first top-tier U.S. university to launch a scholarship program for gamers. In Canada, the University of Toronto and University of British Columbia, among others, also offer eSports scholarships.
Queen’s has yet to implement an eSports scholarship program, but hopes are high as they continue to gain publicity.
“I’ve been really hoping to expand the club and bring it into the mainstream Queen’s and Kingston crowd so that it’s not just this niche little group that you have to hear about from other people,” Willet said.
“I want it to be prevalent on campus [to a point where] people know our school is being represented in these video games that people are pretty well aware of.”
Aside from the ultra-competitive side of the QEA, there is space for more casual players to meet people with similar interests and flourish in the Queen’s gaming community.
Alongside the QEA, there’s also the Queen’s Fighting Game Community (QFGC), an affiliate club where students compete in games like Super Smash Bros., Tekken, Street Fighter, and others.
Fighting game tournaments are held in-person rather than online, as these games are played on a console. While games like Smash Bros. Ultimate could be played online, like physical sport, every fraction of a second counts, and it’s ideal to play locally to avoid any latency, lag, or delay issues for the competing parties.
QEA and their subsidiary QFGC offer some in-school competitive and casual tournaments and sometimes invite one or two other schools to also participate in those tournaments. Willet said the intensity ranges as they offer both highly competitive tournaments and casual intramural game nights.
While one might assume the online nature of Queen’s eSports would free them from COVID-19 interruptions, they’ve been affected like many other sports leagues. QFGC has suffered the most because of the necessity for in-person competition.
However, games played on personal computers haven’t been affected in the same way, as those are played online from home.
Partially due to the pandemic, QEA is hoping increase participation throughout the summer by hosting gaming nights and tournaments.
Willet said Queen’s eSports is becoming an increasingly compelling source of entertainment and competition as the world shifts online.
“We’re hoping that, due to everyone being home more often now, that we’ll see an uptick in our computer-gaming eSports interest, and hopefully that translates into the next semester.”
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