Student organization tries to bring eSports fans together on campus


Taewook Kang has a personal preference for a duel-monitor set up. While some see gaming as a casual pastime, professional gamers become very serious when they get into their “zone.”  League of Legends and DOTA are popular games amongst professional gamers.

In the collective American social consciousness, there are specific images that come to mind when people think about sports. They think of Michael Jordan’s heroic, flu-ridden 38-point performance in game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, or David Tyree’s improbable helmet catch in the New York Giants’ upset win over the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

However, they probably do not think of a teenager hunched over a keyboard and mouse while barking orders at their online teammates into a headset.

At least, not yet.

eSports, a term that refers to any kind of competitive video gaming, has become a legitimate arena for financial gain and fame in certain parts of the world, such as South Korea.

With the meteoric rise in popularity of games like “League of Legends” and “Dota 2” in the past few years, arenas around the U.S. are being filled with fans that show up to see people play video games at a high level.

For example, last year’s edition of The International, a large “Dota 2” tournament held annually in Seattle, generated over one million simultaneous online viewers at one point, with many others physically in attendance.

Two years ago, a student organization was formed at Wichita State to bring together students who liked playing “Starcraft II,” another popular game. Recently, that group has rebranded itself as Wichita eSports, and they hope to bring WSU students and anyone else in Wichita together to form a cohesive eSports community in the city.

The group’s president, Morgan Willz, hopes to also encourage outsiders to give eSports a chance.

“All the people who watch [traditional sports] don’t look at eSports as an actual sport because they don’t know anything about it and they’re not giving it a chance,” Willz said. “That’s kind of a stigma that needs to be broken.”

While many people may not consider eSports to be true sports, the eSports community does have one notable ally: the U.S. government.

n July of 2013, the government officially recognized “League of Legends” players as professional athletes. Still, there is much work to be done in order for eSports to gain legitimacy, and Wichita eSports hopes it can help by holding a convention on campus during Spring Break in 2015. Not much is set in stone yet, but Willz said the convention would hopefully feature tournaments, speakers and retailers offering their goods to attendees.

Willz also sees the convention as a showcase for the eSports community.

“Basically, the focus of the convention is to show eSports,” Willz said. “To let people know that it’s out there, it’s a real thing, and that it can be interesting.”

WSU student Tyler Bird enjoys playing and watching competitive games, but does not see a huge difference between traditional sports and eSports.

“You have the goal, you gotta win. So what do you do? You train, you train, you train, and you become better,” Bird said. “eSports is exactly the same way. The only difference is the medium.”

“League of Legends” and “Dota 2” are completely free to play, meaning anyone with a modern home computer can jump in at any time. They are both 5-on-5 action strategy games with huge amounts of depth, so Bird says that, while new players may not do especially well, they should still have fun.

“You can start off and you’ll be terrible,” Bird said. “But, it’s still a game, and you’ll still have fun without doing well.”

The eSports community also does a great deal to shake the stereotype that video game fans are antisocial. According to Wichita eSports member Ashlee Weeks, getting together with friends to either play games or watch tournament live streams is part of the appeal.

“I actually had friends host a party of like 30 people, and we sat there and watched these matches,” Weeks said. “It’s really becoming popular.”

Willz and Weeks said that playing games with friends can help players develop teamwork and resource management skills, meaning the benefits of eSports can extend out into real life without the games requiring physical activity.

“We get the joke that we don’t have to work out to play these video games, but we want to get people involved because it’s a great way to get teamwork skills,” Weeks said.