Heroes of The Dorm Proves Collegiate Esports Is Here To Stay

I discovered the world of esports my sophomore year of college. I attended Baruch College, a small CUNY school on the corner of 25th St. and Lexington Ave. in New York's Murray Hill district. The only socializing I did was at "the pit", a grey, granite semi-circle located across from a bubble tea shop where the smokers would hang out.

There I met Doc, a blonde-haired relic of the 90s' emo scene. He was covered in comic book tattoos, face piercings and Marvel superhero fitted hats. Everyday after (and sometimes before) class we'd head to Fitzgerald's, the bar on the corner that never checked ID. There, he started showing me videos of this new game called League of Legends he said I needed to try. So I went home, booted up my decade old HP laptop and downloaded the client.

I was hooked from my first game. I started going to open mics less and queuing up for ranked games more, neglecting my schoolwork in the process. When I wasn't playing, I was watching Twitch streams and NA LCS matches to fill my time. I had no idea that you could be a professional gamer, that someone could give you money just for being the best at a skill my parents viewed as arbitrary. Roaming around campus one day, I saw a flyer for the "Baruch E-sports Association", a club for fans of League who would meet up and play. They were officially certified by TESPA, a network of college clubs that host official tournaments and gatherings.

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Only attending single meeting, my lack of school pride and the fact that I was shit at League kept me from ever going back. Trying to play with Diamond-ranked ELO hounds who scoffed at every misplay kept my play socially confined to my Lower East Side dorm room. After watching Blizzard's Heroes of The Dorm event live, I regret not spending more time at my local TESPA chapter.

Heroes of The Dorm is a Heroes of The Storm collegiate tournament sponsored by Blizzard. In its third year, hundreds of teams competed over the 2018 season to prove who's the best Malfurion and earn a full-ride scholarship to the school of their choice. I've watched other collegiate esports events before, specifically the uLoL Campus Series match at PAX East 2016 between Ohio State and Michigan State. The League of Legends play was far below the level of professional; the team coordination was off, plays seemed rushed and Malphite showed up for the first time in seven metas. I genuinely couldn't understand why anyone would watch college athletes play when the best players are are just one Twitch stream away.

"There are a lot of things that make collegiate esports as interesting as traditional sports," Adam Rosen, co-founder of TESPA told Newsweek during the finals at Blizzard Arena in Burbank. "The same reason fans come to their college football games is the same reason fans come here. It's about the story telling, the affiliation with the teams, the aspiration that one day you can be out there."

Talking to the players, I really started to understand why someone would pursue their passion. Many players in the final four teams had no desire to become pro players, choosing to take their experience in the tournament and apply it to whatever career path they choose next. I also started to get biases towards certain schools and players. Justin "Matzoballz" Goo has the best in-game name of any player I'd ever met, and he chose it because of "that Adam Sandler song."

The University of Kentucky consisted of a pair of two brothers who took the game very seriously. Roger "Rogerthat" Dittert is a father with an 8-month-old who had to practice with towels shoved under his door so that he wouldn't wake the baby. Sometimes while scrimming or practicing in a serious match, his wife would text him to keep the noise down. She encouraged him to play, knowing how important it was for him to give it his all. This tournament was his last shot, he had no desire to go pro after he was knocked out. To give everything your all and still fall short is heartbreaking, a narrative that invests spectators in collegiate esports.

At Heroes of The Dorm, I learned that you don't watch collegiate play to see high-level strats and metas, you go to see a clown fiesta and hear a story. College play will always be inferior to pro, but collegiate players aren't afraid to take risks. In the second series, Cho'Gall, a two-headed ogre that requires two players to pilot, was brought out by CCP against SUNY Buffalo. The game was a joy to watch, even with my minimal Heroes of the Storm knowledge.

"We're focused on winning hearts and minds," Rosen said."There's this idea that gaming is for kids in their parents basement, it's anti-social. That's outdated thinking." Collegiate esports is still a few years away from going mainstream but events like Heroes of the Dorm help it continue to grow, evolving from a buzzword to an integral part of modern campus life.