As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact universities across the nation, college athletics are a hot topic for many schools. The issue of whether or not some schools elect to have events stretches beyond Division I sports, even reaching as far down as the club and intramural levels of college athletics. While the risks of intramural and club sports are still not fully known, there’s still one team here at Mercer University that can easily play their unique sport without putting anyone at risk.
Mercer’s club level esports team is still participating in normal tryouts and matchups this year. The team plays a variety of video games competitively against other schools, creating their own schedule and choosing what games they play. All competition can be conducted online through the use of chat servers and custom lobbies.
Mercer E-Sports Captain John Bonner, who took over the leadership role prior to the 2020 academic year, says that the ability to conduct the entire season of esports online is a game changer.
“I’d say it’s incredibly important,” Bonner said. “Not only can everything be online for competition, everything can be online for practice too. It’s a lot easier.”
Bonner, who has played with the esports club team for multiple seasons, explained that the team focuses mostly on the game League of Legends, a strategy-based arena video game that is overwhelmingly popular across the entire world. The game involves two teams of five players competing in an arena using a variety of different characters to battle one another.
Despite the game’s clearly competitive nature, many are still somewhat skeptical about the game’s status as a sport. Frequent questions often include, “Why is the game interesting to watch? What makes it a ‘sport’?”
“Each player has his own unique job and he does something different from all the other players,” Bonner said concerning the strategy of League of Legends. “Within each position, there are different ways for different types of players to do different things.”
In one instance, Bonner compared the flexibility of certain positions and players to ones found on the gridiron in football.
“It has well-defined positions similar to a sport like football,” Bonner says. “In football, you can have a quarterback that either focuses on running or throwing. In League (of Legends), you need to be able to do a little bit of everything because it's very unlikely that you'll be able to get really, really good at one thing.”
Bonner says that because of this depth and strategy, there are more pieces of the game to consider than some might think. As a result, matches against other universities become intense sports matchups that are streamed online for free. That’s another piece of the puzzle that Bonner emphasized: you don’t need a subscription to watch esports.
“If you want to watch a basketball game on your phone, you typically need to have some kind of subscription to something, like ESPN,” Bonner said. “But for something like League of Legends, if you want to check the match and see how it's going, you can just boot up the Twitch free app on your phone and click on the live stream.”
With all these factors combined, League of Legends and esports in general have become a huge hit from the professional level to the collegiate level. As the COVID-19 pandemic arrived back in April, ESPN even began showing League of Legends matchups on its flagship TV network in lieu of other sports.
Mercer E-Sports is one of many club teams that will be competing with other universities over the course of the semester. Team tryouts will be held on Sept. 26.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.