College For Esports Players

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“Damn. If they all go in can we fight them right now, or no?” “A basketball player can go in and practice his midrange jumpers, and that’s what he’ll do for a day. … If we want to practice, we have to do a 5 on 5 scrimmage.” At Maryville University, Columbia College and other esports teams, players like Andrew Smith, Connor Doyle and their teammates work hard to hone not just their individual skills but their ability to cooperate and strategize. “If you’re not working 12 hours a day, somebody else is.” In the most popular competitive mode of “League of Legends,” two teams of five players each control one of more than 130 different characters with unique strengths and abilities. Each team works together to push the other team back, destroying computerized minions and defensive towers, and eventually attacking the Nexus at the center of the enemy base. Every teammate has a job to do. “My role is the midlane.” “I play jungle.” “I start off in the jungle.” “He runs around doing whatever he feels like.” “I’m kind of a wildcard.” Players work with coaches to guide their improvement. Individual games become less important than learning to work together. For Columbia College coach Duong Pham and Maryville coach Mat Perez, that means keeping everyone focused. “We practice almost every day. … Almost every single day with different teams at different levels.” “Once we go into training… they have to understand — no music, no other programs, put your phones away. ‘No headset! Headset off.’ …

This is pretty much their job, so they need to focus on it.” League of Legends has a simple formula — conquer the battlefield — but there are so many combinations of characters and strategies that every game is unique. Players have to know more than 130 characters inside and out, and during games they have to keep tabs on teammates, opponents, timers, cooldowns, health bars — and they can only see part of the map. That’s a lot of information, and no one player can see the whole picture. “It’s pure communication. … Everyone collectively gives information and then a decision is made from the group.” “‘If we want to win, we have to work for each other.” “We’re doing these drills where we go into a normal game, where we’re playing against casual players. We try to work as a team to try to reinforce communication and doing a specific strategy.” “You have to be committed to being brutally honest with your teammates… The ability to not only give that good criticism but also take it is really important.” Over the course of the regular season, a team will spend six weeks practicing and competing. If they make it to postseason play, that means another week of wildcard tournaments and a four-day championship. It’s a short season, but it’s intense. And unlike traditional sports —

“We’re not gated by our bodies.” It’s pretty tiring, honestly, because there’s really no cap for your practice. If you’re playing a physical sport, you obviously can’t practice all day, because your body will just break down. At Columbia, players report for weekly workouts, so they’re not in their desk chairs 24/7. Maryville’s policy is more relaxed. “Some of them work out, some of them don’t. Some will come join us in basketball or whatever, to get some cardio in.” And no matter how much time they spend training, the game is still the second-most important thing they’re at college for. “The million-dollar question everyone asks-” “How do you maintain a full course load in addition to training as much as possible to go pro? It’s really difficult.” “Emphasis on academics … on getting a degree, on getting educated. … I hope it stays that way.” “I tell them first comes academics. … If there’s a problem with it, I have no problem canceling the scrim or letting someone know. It’s a tough balance to strike. But only the most dedicated players and the most tight-knit teams will turn it into success when it matters. “You have to commit yourself fully, mentally, not just to playing for fun, but to improve yourself as a player, which takes introspection, hard work, long hours.” “Working with each other, compensating for each other.” “It comes down to understanding your players a lot. … The game just evolves, and you have to learn so much more.”