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Marquette to Add Varsity eSports: What Does That Mean?

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Your resident gaming nerd swings by to talk Marquette eSports.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

So, by now, I’m sure you’ve heard of Marquette’s plan to add varsity eSports in 2019-2020. If not, check out this fun article from the Marquette Wire. In fact, Marquette will be the first major school to house eSports within their athletic department, including creating a space for the teams to practice (it will be open to the public when teams aren’t using it, so this is fine and also probably good). Marquette will not initially offer scholarships to players, but that may change in time. Marquette will also look to have corporate sponsors (most likely tech and gaming companies and brands, such as Razr, Alienware, iBuyPower, and others) to help offset any costs accrued by the program (hint: the corporate sponsors are usually pretty good with this, especially if Marquette is breaking ground).

Marquette already has competitive club eSports. They play Rocket League and League of Legends against other Big East schools (which is streamed on Twitch; check out this cool site for more information). The Big East is partnered with ESL to host private competitive matches to determine Big East supremacy on the digital battlefield.

So, for anyone trying to make heads or tails of what this all entails (oh god that was a miserable sentence), I’m here to help. A couple ground rules, though.

First and foremost: this is going to be an article from the perspective of an eSports nerd. I actively follow professional eSports. I’m going to have some opinions that you probably disagree with. This probably isn’t the time or the place to get all “get off my lawn kids” or say things like “well it’s not a sport.” You’re well entitled to your opinion, but we can duke it out in a ritual honor duel later. Just go with the flow, my person.

Second: On the opposite end of the spectrum. Any diehard eSports fans, don’t bite my head off when I describe some of this. I’m trying to bring the neutrals into the tent with the rest of us. Just because I don’t go into the intricacies of the pick and ban phase in League of Legends doesn’t mean I’m an idiot (there are about a thousand other ways you can prove this, just follow me on Twitter, you’ll see all one thousand). I’m trying to approach this as if the casual reader (not Casual Hoya, but you know, the average Marquette sports fan) is encountering eSports for the first time. I’m sure most people have a vague understanding, but I’m trying to put into context what varsity-sponsored eSports at a university would look like. (For those casual readers - hint: it’s a bit more than playing Smash Bros in your dorm before going out on a Friday night; but we’ll get into that below). Keep in mind: This is all theories and extrapolations from what the university has actually said so far, and anything you’re reading beyond this point is rumormongering at best.

So.

What can we expect the Marquette program to look like?

Let’s look at the granddaddy of all collegiate eSports teams: Robert Morris University. Robert Morris made headlines by becoming the first university to offer eSports scholarships to League of Legends players. What games do they play?

Well, almost definitely League of Legends. League of Legends is made by Riot Games and is one of (if not the most) popular eSports in the world. No, seriously, go look at the attendance at the World Finals last year (where Chinese team Invictus Gaming defeated Sweden-based Fnatic for the title). It’s nuts. The general concept of League of Legends is simple on its face. It’s a multiplayer online battle arena (“MOBA”). Two teams of five select champions, each with different abilities, and attempt to destroy the base of the other team. Champions get more powerful as the game goes on through gaining experience and buying items, both of which are accomplished by destroying parts of the enemy base, killing the enemy team, or killing AI monsters. League of Legends (“Lol” or just “League” for short) was part of the initial push for collegiate eSports. The vast popularity of the game quickly led to players from the same schools teaming up (I mean, half of my freshman floor played it, it seemed, including me). This would probably be a flagship team Marquette sponsors, seeing as the Marquette eSports club team already plays in the Big East league.

Another flagship team I could see happening is Rocket League. And yes, for those who clicked the link, Rocket League IS soccer with cars and fun physics. It is exactly what it looks like. For those who didn’t click the link (SHAME), it’s soccer with cars and fun physics. The object is simple: two teams attempt to outscore one another. Cars can boost (including up walls) and jump, which leads to some exciting goals (and saves). It’s a bit more appealing to the non-gamer, as it is much faster-paced than League of Legends, and, being based on soccer, it translates as easier to encounter and understand for the traditional sports fan. Considering the club team also plays Rocket League in the Big East, this will probably be included in the initial roster of games played by Marquette eSports players.

After that, it’s kinda up in the air. I’m going to take a stab at two I think they’ll include, and then talk about alternatives/others.

Super Smash Brothers is on my short list for what I think will be considered. Yes, the same game that you played to pregame your Friday night out in college is also a widely popular competitive game, drawing huge crowds to tournaments. Why is it on the short list? Well, it’s made by Nintendo, which is probably the most universally-recognized video game platform. People of all ages grew up playing one iteration or another. And, finally, being two players competing against each other (or, at most, a two-on-two fight), the roster and associated investment into it can be small while still benefitting from having players who play.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (“CS:GO”) is another one on the shortlist. A five-on-five shooter game, the object (at least in the competitive space) is to A) plant the bomb if you’re on the Terrorist side or B) stop the bomb from going off on the Counter-Terrorist side. Teams play a best of 30 (first to 16 rounds, or if it’s tied, overtime) and alternate the side they play on after 15 rounds. CS:GO is fairly unique in that each round only ever takes around 2 minutes and it’s highly tactical: smoke grenades hide your advance, flashbang grenades blind your enemies, and you die after taking only a few bullets. Considering its popularity in the world and the amount of sponsors that participate in the game, I’d be surprised if a CS:GO roster wasn’t fielded after more than a year.

Overwatch: Overwatch is a combination of a few games on this list. It has unique heroes with different abilities and play styles, much like League of Legends, while also being a fast-paced first-person shooter. The appeal of Overwatch is variety; in League of Legends you play on the same map every time, and in Counter-Strike you play on a small rotation of maps with the same objective every time. Overwatch (in addition to its wide cast of characters) has a variety of game modes and maps to play, so that the experience is varied every time. It’s a great foil to having a League team and a Counter-Strike team.

So that’s my short list of likely future games. There’s a few more that might pop up down the road:

DOTA 2: A very similar game to League of Legends (actually, League was based on it), DOTA 2 was made originally as a modification to a game mode in the wildly popular Blizzard game Warcraft 3. Reasons why it didn’t make the shortlist: although wildly popular across the world and with large pro prize pools, I didn’t really see much interest on the club team’s page, and with League of Legends already being sponsored, I would think the focus would remain on that MOBA team until it is firmly established.

Call of Duty: Ah yes. CoD. Where you got called racial and homophobic slurs by ten year olds and where everyone wanted to spend a night with your mother. Well, turns out that, once you’ve passed that area of toxicity, it’s actually a highly strategic game that has three different competitive game modes and a large variety of maps. Unfortunately, it just does not have the competitive presence of other games on this list. More sponsors and large brands are invested in CS:GO and Overwatch, and both have larger established tournament bases. This is unlikely to be an initial roster recruited, but I could see it in the future.

Fortnite and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds: I’m grouping these two together because they are both battle royale (small teams/individuals playing against everyone else) games. While Fortnite is easily the most popular video game right now (all those kids they show on the jumbotron doing the flossing dance or basically any other dance younger kids are doing, they learned from this game), it’s not conducive to a competitive environment. It’s more for individual streamers (professional players that live broadcast them playing games). They’re both wildly fun to play with friends, but there really isn’t a high level competitive environment surrounding them like the other games on the list.

Alright, so we’ve talked about what they’ll play? But what else comes with it?

First and foremost, a support structure. No longer are you playing in your dorm room, apartment, or a public space on campus by yourself or with friends. Actually having a physical location to train and analyze benefits the players in improving their skills and knowledge of the game, as well as teaching teamwork and familiarity with teammates. In addition, coaches (yes, coaches!) and other staff will be hired to oversee these developments. Being part of the athletic department, the eSports athletes will have access to many if not all benefits (I assume) that other traditional athletes do, such as tutors, strength and conditioning training, and nutritionists. Yes, those last two are very real things when you’re talking about high end competitive eSports. Quick twitch hand/eye coordination is wildly important when it comes to eSports, as is properly fueling the human body to properly be able to operate said coordination. Granting the eSports team access to those resources is one of if not the reason why you put the eSports team under the athletic department’s banner in the first place.

So there you have it. Marquette eSports is going to be a real varsity-sponsored sport. Seeing as it’s a varsity sport, you can expect more coverage from the site regarding the players and competitions (probably from me). Until then, if you have any questions, drop a comment below, fire up a fan post, or hit the site handle or my personal handle up on Twitter. Go follow @MarquetteGaming, too.