Not your average team

By Earn Saenmuk

When Andrew Yoon was forced to give up soccer because of an injury, he found a new activity to pursue: e-gaming.

“The thing about e-sports is that you either like it or you don’t like it,” said the senior in LAS and captain of the UIUC DotA 2 team. “There is no middle ground.”

DotA, or Defense of the Ancients, is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) modification of the game Warcraft III. His teammates and Yoon, a former Illini Media employee, joined the collegiate competition, representing the University.

“It’s basically like chess, except every piece moves at once,” Yoon said. “It’s kind of nerdy representing the school and (being) like ‘lock your doors and put your headphones on.’”

He said a lot of people are playing MOBA games because they’re free. And, if a person plays really well, he or she can make some money off of the game, too.

“Last year’s prize for first place of the world was about 10 million dollars,” Yoon said. “The game is mostly crowdfunded — you can buy an in-game ticket to show your support.”

DotA 2, however, requires strategy and cunning of its players. This causes a lot of players to choose different gaming options, like League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm.

The League of Legends club has become more organized this past year, said Jake Astin, graduate student in Business and current social chair of the club. The club now has more social events, which encourages players to get together instead of playing in front of their computers at home. It also actively organizes matches, and people can sign up to join. The club currently has about 200 members.

“A lot of what we learned this season has to do with organizations and team compatibility,” Astin said. “This was the first season that we had everything together.”

The League of Legends team was one of 16 teams in the final at the competition, but eventually lost to Robert Morris University, the only university that gives scholarships to League of Legends players. Astin said the school has great funding, a practice room and high performance devices available for their team.

“Perhaps our greatest challenge this past season is finding incentives for our players to commit as much as the other teams would,” he said. “Of course when it comes down to it, school and all those other things are a lot more important.”

The beta version of Heroes of the Storm, another game that has recently gained popularity, was released in January. While DotA 2 and League of Legends are quite similar, Heroes of the Storm is significantly different from other MOBAs. The UIUC Heroes of the Storm team competed at the semi-final in Los Angeles, California, before losing to the University of Maryland on April 26.

“The winners gets $25,000 for their tuition, which is a really good deal,” said Patrick Benassi, senior in LAS and member of the team.

Since the game is relatively new, the team did not expect to make it that far, Benassi said.

“We just met each other on Reddit and formed a team,” Benassi said. “We wanted to see how far we could go.”

He said what attracts people to the game is that it requires less time to finish. Blizzard Entertainment has made many popular games — notably Diablo and Starcraft — and the characters from those games can be seen in Heroes of the Storm.

“It’s kind of nostalgic,” Benassi said. “It is new and more exciting too, which is why I enjoy it a lot.”

Members of the DotA 2 club are trying to change the stigma behind gaming one match at a time.

“People say playing computer games is a waste of time,” said Austen Majors, senior in LAS and member of the DotA 2 team. “I think it’s like, instead of watching Netflix for eight hours, I play DotA for eight hours, so it’s not that much different.”

Although they love to game, their grades must be decent too — to participate in competitions, each player must have good academic standing. Yoon, for example, will attend law school next year. Astin also emphasized the importance of schoolwork coming first.

“A lot of our players are really intelligent individuals, and often, they put school before the games anyway,” Astin said. “But it could be another incentive for people to keep their grades up to be able to keep playing.”

Although many people may call these competitive gaming e-sports, the team doesn’t see themselves as athletes. Astin said many people tie athletic with physical strength and endurance, but gaming uses a different type of strategy than what people find in a physical competition.

“There’s a lot of people who are supportive, but there’s also a large number of people who just don’t get it,” Astin said. “I think there’s always value for supporting people who are able to master a particular skill or talent.”

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