Checking back in with the Queen’s Esports Association

Co-chair Brendan Willet speaks to ‘The Journal’ about QEA’s growth, evolution 

Willet is proud of what QEA has become.

At a time when most club members might still be getting their bearings with school, members of the Queen’s Esports Association (QEA) are acting like varsity athletes—putting in countless hours of weekly practice and preparation for their upcoming competitive season.

According to Brendan Willet, ArtSci ’22, one of the QEA’s co-chairs, this type of hard work and commitment is a fundamental component of the club, and it largely informs his hope that one day Esports participants will be recognized for what they already are: athletes.

“I think there’s definitely progress being made,” he said in an interview with The Journal. “It’s slow progress.”

“It can’t, unfortunately be as simple as just, ‘Alright, you guys are now varsity athletes.’”

As Willet explained, the process for becoming a full-fledged varsity athletics team is more than just gaining recognition for comparable amounts of time and practice—it’s also demonstrating that you have a culture that generates interest from students who want to attend the university.

“Because that’s the same reason the people sign up for schools [like Queen’s]. To join a football team, or to join a hockey team,” he said.

“We want kids from high school showing up at [Queen’s] because they want to join the Queen’s University varsity League of Legends team.”

And, based on QEA’s almost exponential growth over the past three years, that level of interest isn’t far off.

According to Willet, QEA has approximately 400 general participants in addition to the 70 paying members who compete in the club’s docket of competitive tournaments throughout the year.

“We’re realistically one of the larger clubs on campus, as far as I understand,” he said.

Willet first joined QEA as tech support, helping with livestreaming club competitions, programming, and event planning. After one of the former co-chairs stepped down three years ago, he saw an opportunity to continue realizing the club’s potential—and he hasn’t looked back.

Since then, Willet believes the club has evolved significantly, especially when it comes to how professional it is.

“The primary point of evolution within the club has got to be its formalization, […] it’s structure and administrative side of things,” he said.

“It’s, unfortunately, the boring side of the club that’s evolved the most, but that’s because from the beginning, we’ve always tried to have a strong basis of […] players [wanting] to play competitively.”

Now that QEA has a substantial portion of members who would like to transition into amateur and professional Esports careers, he wants the club to act as a springboard toward those aspirations. That means handling club affairs as professionally as any other varsity athletics team would: organizing practice schedules, signing up for tournaments, and handling mountains of paperwork.

Despite all of that, however, Willet believes the fundamental ethos of the club is still alive, and that QEA is still providing a community for individuals who just love to play video games.

In tandem with QEA’s evolution towards professionalism, the collegiate Esports scene at large has also seen a rapid transition towards formality. Most recently, U Sports announced the inauguration of its own “U Sports Gaming” league intended to provide greater competitive structure to Canadian university Esports teams.

When asked about his perspective on U Sports Gaming, Willet had some interesting thoughts to share.

“I’d say the general consensus is that we’re excited to see universities and colleges getting more interested in Esports as a potential […] varsity competitive scene, but there’s definitely some hesitancy on our part.”

Although he—and many other collegiate Esports teams—are glad that U Sports is giving them recognition, he believes their execution of the league was done without much consideration toward the competitive models that are already set in place for Esports tournaments: namely, awarding teams monetary prizes for winning.

“Prize pools aren’t really a thing in traditional [university] sports. And, unfortunately, that’s realistically […] one of the factors behind the decision for a lot of schools not to play in the [preliminary U Sports Gaming tournament],” he said.

“When you already have your players registered for three different leagues or tournaments or whatnot, it’s hard to convince them […] to take away time from practising for those tournaments that have scholarships on the line to play in [a] random one-off tournament on a weekend.”

Though he believes U Sports Gaming holds promise, Willet hopes that U Sports will now engage in a constructive dialogue with collegiate Esports teams going forward, as he thinks improvement on its model is necessary for greater participation to follow.

Speaking on their competitive outings slated for this school year, Willet expressed his excitement for QEA’s participation in a new North American league called NECC, as well as their continued support of the CSL Esports league. Referencing NECC’s ranked tournament style, Willet is looking forward to the prospect of facing opponents deliberately chosen for their similar skill level.

“We’re playing against teams like Guelph or Western, who are more comparable to our skill level,” he said. “And so we actually get good competitive matches instead of just getting rolled when we show up to play.”

“It’s all just looking super promising this year, and we’re really excited to see how it turns out.”

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