ESports team hosts first live event, plans to keep growing

WKU Senior Josh Starnes, from Lexington, KY, concentrates on his monitor during the first round of the League of Legends match against Murray State in Garrett Conference Center on Saturday February 5, 2017. The WKU team is apart of the Collegiate Star League that includes other universities from around the country.

Casey McCarthy

Students filled tables on Saturday at the WKU eSports first live watch party for the match against Murray State University, which was displayed live on a big screen in DSU Nite Class. Free pizza was offered,  and prizes were raffled off during the live streaming.

League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena video game that pits teams of five against each other. The players select from a variety of champions, building up experience and collecting items to defeat the other team.

The WKU League of Legends team lost the match 2-1, winning the first game, before losing the next two.

Around 100 people showed up for the event, Nicholas Conrad, assistant coordinator for the eSports program at WKU, said.

The eSports program was approved by the university last spring , and officially established last semester. This is the third official League of Legends match played by the eSports team, which competes in the Collegiate Starleague, an intercollegiate gaming league.

“We had a great turnout,” Conrad said. “The crowds seemed to enjoy everything about it.”

The eSports program is set to sign a contract with Twitch, a live streaming platform popular in the gaming industry, within the next few days, Conrad said. The contract involves a corporate sponsorship which could include $1,500 in cash and items from the company, academic resources and guest speakers from Twitch coming to WKU to discuss the industry, trends and individual projects in the field.

Conrad said his ultimate goal for the program is to host an invitational at Diddle Arena, inviting five to eight collegiate teams to play live. Patricia Todd, marketing department chair at WKU, discussed the eSports program “coming a long way.”

“As other programs and universities begin to take it seriously, it will blow up,” Todd said.

Todd mentioned the support of President Gary Ransdell giving the program the opportunity to grow, adding incoming president Tim Caboni was open and accepting to the program as well.

Todd’s daughter, Jessica Manrow, a music education graduate student at WKU, takes care of social media for the program. Manrow, a Twitch streamer, helps with the team’s Twitch stream as well as acting as a liaison between the program and Twitch.

Manrow said WKU is among the first universities to become involved with Twitch. Manrow noted the importance of getting the program’s name out there and building on it.

“I’d like to see more events on campus, eventually getting more teams, for more games,” Manrow said. Manrow said she believes Overwatch will be the next game they try and get a team for.

John Hay, a former WKU student and eSports team member, said the program has developed quickly,  especially “by university standards.”

“It has gone from a concept in our minds to gathering petitions back in late April, all the way to live events with a live stream, MC and free food,” Hay said. “It’s a culmination of everything coming together.”

Hay, who is still involved with the team and program, noted the time and commitment put in by students. Hay said the students in the program don’t have scholarships currently and have put in their own time, effort and resources on top of regular student responsibilities to make it all happen.

Hay mentioned international students on the team cutting their winter breaks short for practice.

“The international students on the team came back 10 days early to be here for the start of the regular season on Jan. 10,” Hay said. “These students who only get to see their families when they fly home over break sacrificed for the team.”

Both teams played from their own respective campuses, due to issues concerning campus resources, including computers and accessories. WKU played the event from a computer lab set up in Garrett Conference Center.

Though the live stream did feature a view of the team playing in Garrett, Jerome “Wanbli” Gollner, a senior from Louisville, said the team looked forward to hopefully playing in the same room as students watching. Gollner said this is typically how pro events are set up.

Gollner joined the team last semester and said he has played games in the genre for about 10 years. He noted how far the team has come in its short existence.

“At first, everyone brought their own laptop to play on,” Gollner said. “Now, the team is the same, but we are a lot more professional.”

Gollner echoed Hay’s statements concerning commitment. Everyone has to want to be here and be willing to work at improving, Gollner said. Gollner considers himself to be the ‘captain’ of the team and mentioned his role of looking out for teammates and being available if they have issues.

Gollner was born in Germany before moving to Louisville in 2006. The diverse team includes players from China, Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Chile.

William “Billy” Adams, a junior from Bowling Green, joined the team over the break as an assistant coach. Adams has worked as a professional analyst for professional teams and players.

Adams said strategizing includes studying pro teams and players, implementing strategies, as well as understanding goals, as individuals and as a team. Adams said building a good team relationship means listening to players as well.

Gollner said working to improve as a team meant overcoming egos and learning to take criticism. The team often swaps roles around in the game to help work on teamwork, he explained.

“The game is like an orchestra,” Gollner said. “I don’t tell them what to do, I just make sure they work together.”

Reporter Emma Austin can be reached at 270-745-0655 and [email protected]