With over 100 million monthly active players, “League of Legends” is the most played game in the world. The popularity of esports has trickled down to college communities so much that esports clubs such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s League of Legends Club are constantly growing in interest.
This spring semester, the club is fielding a varsity team to compete in the official collegiate “League of Legends” tournament sponsored by Riot Games, which is also granting scholarships to students who play on the team.
The College League of Legends tournament is played online over a seven-week span starting on Jan. 15 and consists of four regional conferences and the Big Ten and Peach Belt conferences. The Nebraska team will compete in the Big Ten Network Conference in the West Division.
While the tournament is entering its fifth season, this is only the second year of Riot’s partnership with the Big Ten Network to have a separate conference with only Big Ten schools. This also marks the first time a Nebraska team will compete in the tournament after being one of two Big Ten schools that did not participate in the inaugural season — the other being Penn State.
Every player participating in the Big Ten Conference will receive a $5,000 scholarship, with another $5,000 allocated to any student staff who help to manage and/or coach the team.
“We feel it’s important for the same reason students receive scholarships in sports or other academic endeavors,” Michael Sherman, the associate esports manager at Riot Games said in an email. “Scholarships are a tangible way for schools to support an effort to excel in a chosen area, whether it’s robotics, biology, soccer, football or ‘League of Legends.’”
Sophomore business administration major Blaine Nelson, who was part of the team that received sponsorship from Raising Cane’s, spearheaded the formation of the roster that will compete against other Big Ten schools. Nelson was recently appointed League of Legends Club president after former president Alize Evans’ departure from UNL.
“I brought it to [Evans’] attention back in August,” Nelson said.
Nelson said that while he has been planning on creating a roster for the tournament since August, the official process of creating the roster began in mid-December. He posted sign-up sheets online for interested players and compared their profiles to form a team that would mesh well together. The finalized roster consists of players who are within the top 1 percent of players in North America.
The players will compete with other Big Ten schools over seven weeks in a round robin format, best of three series, with the top four teams from both East and West divisions qualifying for the conference playoff.
“My goal is to finish in the top half in the Big Ten West. I think it’s very doable,” senior biochemistry major Bryce Byman said. “I think it would be a good goal for us to have.”
The playoff champion and runner-up will qualify for the “College Championship Play-in,” where they will face off with the top two teams in the Peach Belt Conference and the runners-up of the regional conferences for the final four spots in the “College Championship.”
Big Ten Network said in a press release that they are in talks with several platforms to determine how the tournament would be best showcased.
Zebulon Cooper, a senior physics major, said he thinks the tournament helps legitimize “League of Legends” as a serious sport, putting it on par with other school sports.
“People in general would say how we just play video games for fun, and then they see us on [the] Big Ten Network, [and] it just adds a little bit of seriousness to it,” Cooper said.
The Nebraska team will include the first UNL students to receive scholarships for playing in a collegiate esports league. Nelson said the chance to compete against other universities and receiving scholarships is something they look forward to.
“Although we are not officially recognized by the university as Division I athlete[s] through the Big Ten, we are Division I esport athletes,” Nelson said. “Being able to start something so fresh and so new with so much potential for the future is just so cool.”
Freshman business administration major Zeyu Bai said it is his goal to join esports clubs in college to gather and play games, and the chance to play competitively is something he could not pass up.
“For me, this is fantastic,” Bai said.
In order to play at their best, the team has dedicated team practice times on top of just playing individually over the week. However, none of the players think that this will affect their academics in any way. Byman in particular thinks that while this is a serious commitment, any time that will be invested into the game will not be something that any of them can’t already handle.
“I think that the reason that we’re still in school and are really highly ranked at ‘League of Legends’ is because we’re all really good at managing our time in the first place,” Byman said.
Bai also said that there are some elements of discipline that can be implemented in studying that can be observed in professional League players. He said that just like the need for players to practice and truly understand the characters in order to be good at the game, the same principles can be used to increase the quality of studying.
With the amount of hours the players have committed to the game, it may come as a surprise that none of the players are aiming to become professional players. Half of the team members are seniors, and they already have plans on what they will be doing after graduating, which range from pursuing tourism jobs in Korea to going to dental school.
However, their passion for the game has given them a chance to represent UNL in a growing community and increase the presence of not just the League of Legends Club, but esports in general, on campus.
“My main focus is just kinda growing this club and seeing what we can do, building a program here at Nebraska,” Nelson said.