Virtual esports foster real-life community at Emerson

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • November 13, 2014

1415874945 img 0286.jpg
The esports club plays two games: Super Smash Bros. and League of Legends.
The esports club plays two games: Super Smash Bros. and League of Legends.

During one typical Emerson esports club meeting earlier this month, bystanders watched as students feverishly jammed buttons on their game consoles in the Multipurpose Room, competing against one another in matches of the video game Super Smash Bros., trying to defeat their opponents to advance to the next round.

The esports club was created this summer so gamers could come together, collaborate, and compete with one another, according to Ashley Crocker, a senior visual and media arts major. Crocker, along with junior Samuel Gilliland and sophomore Alex Monaghan, are the club’s founders and leaders.

“The reason for developing the club was to bring this [esports] community to Emerson College in a structured way,” Crocker said. “We can introduce students to the industry and have a lot of fun.”

Esports—organized, often professional video game tournaments—have recently swelled in popularity; today, top prizes are worth millions of dollars, and major events can attract thousands of spectators.

Currently, Emerson’s club focuses on two games, Super Smash Bros. and League of Legends, because they are among the most popular esports games nationwide, Gilliland said.

Super Smash Bros. is a console game in which each player chooses a character and fights against other characters until one is left standing. The battles take place on virtual platforms in fantasy worlds, and characters try to knock others off of the screen with their specialized powers. League of Legends is also a virtual battle game that takes place in a digital arena and players connect and compete online.

“We’re a blend of casual and competitive,” said Gilliland, a writing, literature, and publishing major. “We try to accommodate both factors, because sometimes you just want to play games for fun.”

The club offers tournaments of Super Smash Bros. every other Saturday in Piano Row’s Multipurpose Room at 6 p.m., and usually have an attendance of 30–40 people, according to Gilliland. These tournaments usually draw in a good amount of spectators, some of whom do not attend Emerson, Gilliland said. 

In the club’s tournaments, players start in groups and play successive rounds until only one in each group is left. Then all the group winners compete against each other, eventually reaching the semifinal and final rounds. This is a procedure known as “double-round elimination.”

The club is also planning to host competitions for non-Emerson students, said Gilliland. These would include Super Smash Bros. tournaments of up to 32 people that are open to anyone at Emerson and any neighboring schools.

“A far-off goal is having Emerson become a hub of ‘Smash’ tournaments,” Gilliland said, “[and] become a recognized place in the ‘Smash’ community.”

Esports—and the games Super Smash Bros. and League of Legends—are common on college campuses. Many other local schools, like Suffolk University, Berklee College of Music, Northeastern University, Tufts University, and Boston University have esports clubs. Since June, Robert Morris University Illinois has even qualified esports as a varsity sport, and students can earn scholarships to play video games.

Emerson’s club also has teams for Super Smash Bros. and League of Legends that compete in tournaments against other schools in the region.

The Super Smash Bros. team competes in The Melee Games, a tournament open to colleges across New England. This year, the team beat Berklee College of Music, but has since been eliminated after losing to Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Members of the team also compete individually against members of other teams, according to Monaghan, a visual and media arts major.

The club’s League of Legends team, called League of Lions, has five members and is currently competing against other teams in the North America Collegiate Championship, put on by Riot Games, the company that produces League of Legends. This tournament consists of teams battling each other to capture the others’ virtual territory, according to Crocker. Teams in the league are ranked so that they compete against similarly skilled groups.

The club has big plans for this year, Gilliland said. This month, members are teaming up with the Anime at Emerson club for a Nintendo Night, during which they plan to watch Pokemon movies and play games on the Nintendo Wii and N64 consoles. Gilliland said they are also working toward applying for recognition from the Student Government Association, and expanding by bringing in more Emerson members.

“We might not have the gamers [yet],” Crocker said, “but here at Emerson we have the means and the drive to produce these really amazing events.”