Competitive gaming is gaining popularity at an astronomical rate. In fact, according to CNBC, the estimated viewership of the 2019 “League of Legends” championship drew over 100 million unique views, topping the 2019 Super Bowl by several million. Many of the top players of this game are bringing home annual salaries soaring well into the six figures, and the industry is showing no signs of stopping.
In 2016, the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) was established. The organization now has over 170 member schools throughout the United States, including many familiar names that you may (or may not) be surprised to see. Esports programming is quickly becoming a lucrative area for a number of colleges: prospective students are now being actively recruited and enticed with millions of dollars in scholarship funds.
We recently caught up with Bridgton alumnus, Harrison Joslin ’18, who is a sophomore at Menlo College in California. Harrison was happy to shed a bit of light on esports and just what this new(ish) venture is all about.
How did you get involved in collegiate esports?
I’ve always had a passion for gaming. Even at Bridgton, while I was studying and playing baseball, I was gaming. I’ve played League of Legends (LoL) for about seven years now; the game has been around for ten.
After Bridgton, I decided to attend Menlo College near where I grew up in California. I was committed to play on their baseball team. When I got to Menlo, they were just starting their esports program. It was in its first official year. They held an open tryout, and I went. I ended up being the highest-scoring LoL player in the school. The scholarship I was offered to play as a member of the esports team wasn’t one I could refuse, and, quite frankly, far outweighed my athletic scholarship.
I knew that I wasn’t likely going to play professional baseball. My time at Bridgton was a way to help me to understand that. So, I joined the esports team.
What is League of Legends:
League of Legends (LoL) is a five-versus-five multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game. You choose a character (there are over 150 to pick from), and you are thrown on a map to battle an opposing team. The ultimate goal is to destroy the enemy base. League of Legends is one of the top collegiate competitive games. It’s easy to play in tournament fashion. Each game lasts roughly thirty minutes. Which character you play as, and how your team is composed, are really important to the success (or not) of your team in a match or tournament.
Coming from a background of always playing team sports, it feels pretty natural to be on a competitive gaming team. It’s an organized team, just like any other. You have to communicate with the other players on your team; it’s critical to work together. You are a group of five, and you need to be on the same page or else things won’t go well. You need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your teammates and work together to reach your goals.
For some of the kids joining an esports team for the first time, it’s not the easiest adjustment. They may not have ever played on an organized team and perhaps just gamed individually. That can be a big transition.
How do you actually compete in esports?
The popularity of collegiate esports is growing really quickly. It started out here on the West Coast, mainly with private colleges. Larger public universities now have esports teams and are funneling lots of money into their programs. It’s expanding on the East Coast now too. Students are being actively recruited for esports. Believe it or not, it’s hard to just walk on to a team. You have to be really talented. That said, I think a lot of kids still show up on college campuses and aren’t really sure how to get involved (if they haven’t been recruited).
Our team competes weekly within our league in streamed matches. Every year, the top eight teams in the country for LoL are flown to Los Angeles to compete in the playoffs, with the winners earning six figure scholarships. During my freshman year, our team went undefeated in the regular season. We made it to the playoffs, but, after that, things didn’t go so well. With over 150 colleges now that have active programs, there is a lot of competition out there.
In Asia, esports is a huge business. Every professional team has its own arena for competition viewing. Here in the United States, things are growing too. Las Vegas just built a dedicated esports arena that’s located right on the strip.
Do you see yourself making a career in this industry?
Yes, one hundred percent. There are a lot of opportunities out there””both in collegiate esports as well as the professional scene. Colleges are quickly adding these offerings and frequently look to the athletic directors to research and establish a program. Esports is its own thing; schools need to do it right and know what they are doing. You can’t just hire somebody who has been playing video games in their mom’s basement to coach an esports team. I see a lot of ideas for collegiate gaming and opportunities for improvement.
I hope to either work as a professional esports coach or make my way in the collegiate industry. I’ve already gained some great experience just in my first two years of college, helping to coach at high school programs in the summer and now running my school’s LoL program.
Do you have any advice for current Bridgton students thinking about pursuing esports?
You have to work hard no matter the outcome. Esports is like any other competitive activity: there will be times where you put in weeks of work with no results, but if you persevere, you will get to where you want to go.
Harrison Joslin ’18 currently serves as the Head Captain and Team Leader for Menlo College Esports League of Legends program. He is a sophomore majoring in business and minoring in entrepreneurial studies.