. Wednesday October 2014 5/ The Statement EB
he 1989 film_"The Wizard" ends .While an enormous variety of games
with a huge video game tourna- are played competitively on campus, two
ment. Giant TV screens are revealed monolithic student organizations' stand
in smoke-filled introductions, and three out: Michigan League of Legends (MLOL)
preteens line up to compete in a "Super and the Super Smash Brothers Club, also
Mario Bros. 3" speed challenge in front of a known as "Michigan Melee."
huge, cheering crowd. The room is decked Super Smash Bros. is a 2D fighting game
out in cyber-punk decals and moving metal series featuring a range of Nintendo char-
walls. But this scene was completely staged acters. League. of Legends is a MOBA, a
- a fictional '80s spectacle that presented Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. MOBAs
a vision of what competitive gaming might originated with "DotA," a popular mul-
look like in the future. "The Wizard" was tiplayer mod for "Warcraft III: Reign of
Hollywood conjecture of the possibilities Chaos."
of a still-nascent video game industry. Engineering senior Patrick Huang,
Today, thousands of people watch com- president of Michigan League of Legends,
petitive gaming on a daily basis. Unlike the has been a part of their competitive team
ridiculous scenes in"The Wizard," eSports for two years. That's not an easy feat. The
are for real, and eSports culture remains MLOL Facebook group has more than 600
one of the most important rising trends in members, and its competitive team consists
gaming. of only the best of the best.
One of the most popular ways to spec- "MOBAs are really unique compared to
tate competitive gaming is to watch it using other games because you're forced to work
online video services. Head over to Twitch as a team. There are a lot of other games
and you'll experience one of the most fas- that do that, but I think it's magnified in
cinating embodiments of modern competi- MOBAs," Huang said. "Jeremy Lin, the
tive gaming culture. famous NBA basketball player, is a big fan
A month after launch, Twitch opened of DotA 2 and he likes to make the compari-
up its Partner Program, giving popular son between DotA 2 and basketball... You
streamers the opportunity to earn ad rev- know, you have a five player team, every-
enue from their broadcasts. one's got their own special role that they
Twitch was launched in 2011 as a spin- have to fill and you have to trust your team-
off of Justin.tv, a popular video stream- mates a lot in order to succeed."
ing site. Justin shut down in August 2014 Even under all that pressure, Huang
to focus resources entirely on Twitch. The believes that the competitive team is less
magnitude of Twitch's continuing success about cutthroat dramatics and more about
cannot be ignored. In August 2014, Amazon community.
bought Twitch for $970 million. "There are kind of two groups. The
Amazon's investment shows the far-, entire club as a whole - we're not the clos-
reaching potential for online competitive est of groups but we're all friends with
gaming, and it's only getting bigger. Of each other. But there's also the competitive
course, online streaming isn't the only way team," he said.
people watch. In-person tournaments are "The people that have been on my team
huge, with some high-level professional have been some of my best friends in col-
tourneys approaching the grandeur fanta- lege so far ... (League) is a great way to build
sized about in "The Wizard." bonds, and build relationships with:other
At the collegiate level, tournaments have people."
never been bigger. Huang and the Michigan League of
In September 2014, "League of Leg- Legends board members organize numer-
ends" developer, Riot Games, announced ous events for the club, including tourna-
that their 2014-2015 NACC (North Ameri- ments, meet-ups and viewing parties for
can Collegiate Championship) would give big eSports events.
out over $360,000 in scholarships. Each With Riot Games now investing tons of
member of the first place team will win a money into prize pools for collegiate tour-
$30,000 scholarship. naments like the NACC's and professional
Most teams that compete won't be suc- circuits like the League of Legends World
cessful. In general, makingeSports a career Championship, you'd think ambitious col-
or even making money at all through gam- lege League players would be singularly
ing is still quite difficult. focused on big-time eSports success. How-
There are two main ways of pursuing a ever, Huang maintained that MLOL players
- career in eSports: competing and stream- don't have their heads in the clouds.
ing. Making it as a competitor requires "I know there are many people who -for
a rigorous practice schedule and consid- League specifically - have dropped out of
erable skill, while making a living as a school and moved to California where all
streamer requires a large, dedicated fan the professional players are just to pursue
base. However, "making it" is certainly not this lifestyle, and for a lot of people it's very
the end-allbe-all goal for these gainers. For unsuccessful. I'd say for the majority of
most, competitive gaming isn't about finan- MLOL players, they don't have these kinds
cial success. It's a hobby and a passion. of high expectations."
This is quite evident at The University So what is it, then, that draws students to
of Michigan, which is now a thriving epi- the college League scene? Huang saidit's a
center of competitive gaming culture, with legitimate love for the game.
numerous student groups cropping up "I think it's definitely a passion. For a lot
across all kinds of games. of people, it's a big part of their lives, myself
included," he said, "But
whenever you play, you're
enjoying it, and maybe it's
as much of a hobby as play-
ing sports would be."
League is no doubt one of
the biggest games on cam-
pus, but Michigan's Super
Smash Bros. community is
known as one of the big-
gest collegiate scenes in
the world, with hundreds
of active players, biweekly
tournaments, and a wel-
coming weekly venue: the
Duderstadt center. The
group is mainly organized
through its Facebook group,
"Michigan Melee," coor-
dinated by Michigan alum
Harn graduated from
Michigan in 2013, but he's
still the University's Smash
ringleader. Today, he's
organizing "The Big House
4," a national Super Smash
Bros. tournament taking
place in Romulus, MI, with
over 500 attendees. Harn
reckons the success of the
group's events is due to the
friendliness of the group to
"When people without
experience go to tourna-
ments, they're usually
afraid of a few things, like
the social stigma of tourna- Students compet
ments. It's like, am I gonna get bect down
so hard that it's going to be humiliating?"
"But people understand that there are
going to be new players, and that it doesn't
matter if people don't know how to do
advanced techniques; they're just another
part of a big family."
Super Smash Bros. Melee, by far the most
popular Smash game to play competitively,
is now 13 years old. For many players, it's
getting tougher to organize events and
tournaments because competitive Melee
play requires old-school CRT televisions,
a rare find now that HD televisions have
completely overtaken the market. Melee
also lacks online play, meaning players
must seek out real-life interaction in order
to play competitively. This isn't necessarily
a bad thing, though - Harn credits the lack
of online play as a highly positive benefit to
the Smash scene.
"If you look at other games like 'League
of Legends' and 'Starcraft,' their online
communities can be toxic sometimes. And
if you look at Melee, there's none of that
because you can't hide behind a computer
screen. You have to go to the tournaments
and meet people... Smash is by far the most
friendly for new players," Harn said.
Additionally, Harn noted that the Smash
community is so friendly that he can reach
out to players across the nation.
"If I need graphic design done, I know a
ate in bi-weekly Super Smash Bros. Melee Tournaments broadcasted live on twitch.tv at Mason Hall, where they bring their own televisions for a los
guy. If I need a bouncer for an event, I know
a guy. If I need housing, I'm never going to
pay for housing on a random trip, anywhere
in the United States ever again. I'm going to
hit up the Smash network."
The social appeal of collegiate eSports
is clear. Both Huang and Harn attested to
the positive community and the rewarding
networking that comes with it. However,
there is one noticeable caveat that comes
with the accepting nature of these commu-
nities - the hardcore gaming scene is over-
whelmingly male. At a Friday night Smash.
event, only one girl was in attendance. Yet,
Lisa Nakamura, University Screen Arts and
Cultures professor, says that this disparity
is slowly changing.
"I've never taught a video game class
that had very many women at all. But as
time has gone on, I've gotten more," she
Professor Nakamura researches Digital
Game Studies, as well as Asian American
studies, Digital Media Theory, and Race
and Gender in New Media.
She addressed the gendered differenc-
es in different categories of video games,
including First-Person Shooter games, and
"It's interesting, I ask people, 'Are you
a gamer?' and most of the men say yes;
almost all of the women say no. And then
I ask, 'Well, how many of you play 'Candy
Crush?' ... and that's everyone," Nakamura
said. "So women tend to view themselves
not as gainers unless they're playing FPS
games, or even RPGs... The disparity really
is a gendered one," she said.
So what's the problem? Why aren't more
women involved in "hardcore" gaming and
eSports? Nakamura says it's due to the fact
that the majority of game developers are
"Not very many women make games.
When you make video game storylines
or animations, what people tend to do is
copy things they admire; they copy things
that impress them or move them in some
way," Nakamura said. "Because the devel-
oper culture is so male, you get these same
images over and over again, because people
can't really think outside what their canon
is. The indie canon is different, because
there are more women in it."
The gender disparity in the hardcore
gaming scene is changing. One thing still
isn't clear, though: why is competitive gam-
ing so big in college? Why now? Why not in
high school, when gainers have less respon-
"Maybe it has something to do with the
fact that you're no longer living with your
parents," guesses Julia G. Raz, a Rackham
student. Raz is a Communications graduate
student who has been studying games aca-
demically since 2008.
"Your parents might have given you a
hard time about spending so much time
playing video games and not focusing on
your schoolwork, and now you have the
opportunity to spend just as much of your
free time as you want playing these games.
You no longer have anyone looking over you
and telling you what to do," Raz said.
Harn disagrees: "The future is pretty
promising for the competitive scene. I
could see it becoming as big as Netflix or
ESPN in the coming years, I really do."
Whether eSports stays a niche market
or explodes into the mainstream, the Uni-
versity will remain a hotspot for this hard-
core gaming culture. Campus groups like
Michigan Smash and MLOL are making
it clear that gamers aren't the basement-
dwelling weirdos the mainstream media
often depicts them as. Raz agreed with this
"I hate the stereotype that gamers are
antisocial ... the reason people want to take
part in these communal experiences is so
they feel like they have other people who
are their friends that get them. It's like a
sorority or fraternity of its own," Raz said.
"It's this sense of community that people
want to have. When you first join college
you want to have that sense of belong-
ing, and what better way if you love those
games than to spend time with others who
love them too."
FOR THE FULL VERSION SEE