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Ohio State group pushes to make video game a club sport

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Ohio State's 'League of Legends' team. From left to right (alternating front and back rows), it's Stephen Vernyi, Kentaro Ogawa, Oliver Mills, Richard Flagg, Peter Ferguson, Cramer Tritt, Colin O'Brien, and Gerald Richland.  Credit: Robert Scarpinito / Lantern reporter

Ohio State’s ‘League of Legends’ team. From left to right (alternating front and back rows), it’s Stephen Vernyi, Kentaro Ogawa, Oliver Mills, Richard Flagg, Peter Ferguson, Cramer Tritt, Colin O’Brien, and Gerald Richland.
Credit: Robert Scarpinito / Lantern reporter

When people think of club sports, physically intensive activities like basketball, swimming and baseball typically come to mind, but one group on campus is trying to broaden that definition.

“League of Legends” is a free-to-play online game that pits two teams of five players against each other. According to figures released last year by Riot Games, the creator of “League of Legends,” more than 27 million people log into the game every day.

Each player chooses to control one of 123 champions who each have unique sets of abilities. Teams compete to destroy the enemy team’s Nexus, which is guarded by not only the opposing team, but also towers that must be destroyed along the way.

The E-Sports Initiative at Ohio State, which organizes video game tournaments, has formed its own team for “League of Legends,” and its members want to work toward making the game a club sport, though many outside the group wouldn’t consider it a sport at all.

The OSU team is composed of six players, including one substitute, who have a coach, a manager and multiple analysts who all help them improve their performance in the game.

Because of the nature of the game and its players, any number of strategies can be used at any given time, and situations can change just as quickly as they can in more physical sports like football.

“It  is not on the same physical level (as sports), but strategically, it is,” Colin O’Brien, team manager and second-year in information systems, said.

“The computer can do a lot of things the body can’t, so it breaks some of the bounds of knowing your body’s limits,” said Albert Maah, co-head of the “League of Legends” department of the E-Sports Initiative.

Robert Morris University, a smaller school in Illinois with less than 3,000 undergrads, was the first school to offer scholarships to “League” players and consider it an official varsity sport, and other schools, such as the University of Pikeville in Kentucky, have followed suit.

“If OSU joins, then all these little schools will have validation,” Maah said. “A lot of people know about OSU, so if they look up OSU and see (we) have ‘League of Legends’ as a club sport, that’s huge.”

Acting team coach Kentaro Ogawa, a third-year in food business management, said there’s a need for organizational structure in the group before attempting to make it a club sport to promote the success and longevity of the group.

“If we can get everything organized and it continues and somehow becomes a club sport, that would just be a change of labeling,” Ogawa said.

The OSU team is set to compete in multiple collegiate tournaments, the first one being a North American Collegiate Championship playoffs qualifier tournament hosted by the Texas e-Sports Association (TeSPA), which is set to run from Saturday to Feb. 22.

Ogawa said beyond practicing through scrimmages through other collegiate teams, the team will talk about deeper strategies and practice as a group leading up to the first game of the tournament this Saturday.

But it’s not all games.

“The problem is I have three midterms next week, too, so we have other things to do,” said Richard Flagg, a player and a third-year in electrical and computer engineering. “All of us probably play the game on our own in our free time anyway, so we can practice that way, too.”

The OSU team will also compete in another NACC playoffs qualifier tournament in March hosted by WellPlayed Productions, another e-Sports organization, if it doesn’t end up qualifying through the TeSPA tournament.

“We’re already feared in football, so we just have to position that into (these tournaments),” Richland said.

10 comments

  1. The time to do this was 2 years ago. The team is starting up now but the game is losing popularity as of this year. That said…it’s certainly got more fans than other teams at OSU like lacrosse so it’s merited.

  2. I would not say that the game is losing popularity..? Riot hasn’t released numbers in awhile — last post I found regarding this is Forbe’s article in 2014 stating 7.5M concurrent players on a good day, whereas according to Steam stats Dota2 has had an all-time peak of just under 1Million (963K). Another thing is that Reddit statistics indicate a continual climb of the /r/LeagueOfLegends subreddit that has remained the same for many months.
    Also Riot’s working with ISP’s to create a dedicate internet “lane” for League traffic, something that I’m sure they would not do if they predicted imminent decline. As long as Rito stays innovative, they will continue to do well for many years to come. Or if they bring back URF.

  3. Can’t wait! Ohio is so progressive <3

  4. Absolutely not. Just because out-of-shape neckbeards sweat while playing League of Legends does not qualify video gaming to be a sport.

  5. Literally 0 of those players have a neckbeard you twit.

  6. Typical – People like us have been insulted all our life and it will never change. It’s just a social taboo to do it in public – especially in college. But when your “anon” on the internet, you call us neck-beards and “out-of-shape”. I appreciate your honesty about the way you feel, but the world is changing. More kids play league of legends than they do football nowadays. You want to know why? Because League of Legends isn’t a corrupt, shitty, high school sport. You can play league of legends AND have time to exercise without having to deal with idiot coaches and parents. E-Sports are the way of the future.

  7. Actually, to the fine fellow who thought that league players were out of shape “neckbeards”, many pro players in the league of legends championship series are required by contract to visit the gym every day. Mental health is affected by your physical health and because of this, the players have to be in good physical condition if they want to be the best they can be.

  8. In fact, I play League of Legends and I’m a medic in the Army – one of the most demanding careers as a soldier. I’m also an exercise science major and routinely lift and run. Think you can do more push ups? I doubt it.

  9. I have students at my high school interested in starting a LOL team. I am willing to be their faculty advisor, but I have no idea how to start. Is there anyone with the E Sports Initiative at Ohio State that would be willing to offer some advice?

    Thank you!

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