June 21, 2019

Cardinals Level Up With Esports Team

A symphony of computer mouse clicks and keyboard punches fills the room of Pryzbyla 224, underscored by the low, whirring hum from desktop computers operating at high speeds. The operators are moving just as fast, their eyes darting across their screens as their fingers drum feverishly away. Their concentration is held, except for the occasional directive or slant barked by one teammate to another.

“Flank left,” someone shouts.

“No, totally tilted!” replies Byron Hinson.

The students are members of Catholic University’s Esports team, which is in the middle of a weekly practice session. Hinson, a senior mechanical engineering major from Ashburn, Va., who serves as team president is observing the gameplay with club coach Joe Bieda, who is taking notes on a pad and offering a sage word or two.

With Bieda at the helm, Hinson on his right, and the platoon putting all it has into its match, the team looks similar to Captain Kirk’s USS Enterprise from Star Trek. This may just be a battle against hostile mobs of monsters in an online game of League of Legends, but for Hinson and his team, the fight is all very real.

Over the past five years, Esports (competitive video gaming) has become a major inroad for university students. New programs have popped up all over the country, and scholarships worth thousands of dollars are offered to students able and willing to play and compete competitively. Esports is a lucrative venture for both the students involved and the universities organizing them.

The Landmark Conference, the intercollegiate Division III athletic conference that the University is affiliated with, along with institutions in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., announced that they wanted to hold a League of Legends tournament in Spring of 2019. All affiliated institutions who expressed interest were invited to send teams to compete.

Esports team members

“The Landmark Conference started a working group for all interested universities in the conference to explore the potential to have Esports within the conference,” said faculty adviser and fitness director Wendy White. “After we sent an initial survey to Catholic U's students, the number of interested responses helped us decide to get the ball rolling, be part of the working group, and continue communication with interested students to get Esports started.”

Esports has grown ever since. At the start of this year, the Cardinals threw their hat into the virtual ring with a team of 46 members. Now the team has joined nearly 90 other university teams as part of the Eastern Esports Conference of the American Esports Collegiate League after a series of qualifiers, making it to a semi-finals matchup against Drew University in March. In a tough but even fight, Drew University took the victory, ending a promising premiere season for the Cardinals.

Now Hinson says, the team is looking towards next season and new recruitment. “Our Jungler and top Laner are graduating,” he said, referencing names for players who specialize in targeting certain areas on the map. The team also plans to start recruiting teams for different games, like team-based first-person shooters like Overwatch and Apex Legends, or the brawler-style fighting game Super Smash Bros.

Esports has helped make the transition to college life more enjoyable for some of its members. Luke Kelty, a freshman computer science major from North Carolina, was originally interested in attending North Carolina State University and competing on their Esports team. When he came to Catholic, he realized it was an even better opportunity for him.

“Here I can actually have an opportunity to take something I’ve been playing for years and use it to get the school a trophy or some recognition. That’s really gratifying,” he said.

Team members
Team members, from left, Byron Hinson, president; Tien Pham; Jaime Arechalde; James Chiles, team captain; Kyle Korona; Michael Perez; and Lan Nguyen.

Austin Chiles, a senior computer science major from Rockville, Md., said the team has provided a new and engaging experience.

“I’m fairly good because I know how the game works,” Chiles said. “Individually you’re trying to do everything you can on your own. But with a team, I can talk to someone and bring them with me. It’s very interesting. The amount I can do in a team environment is double what I could ever accomplish on my own.”

The team practices in a specially outfitted Esports room in the University Przybyla Center, which has been outfitted with gaming chairs in addition to the rows of Alienware desktops, one of the most high-end gaming computer brands. The room has been open to students since January and non-team members can come in and play games on the computers when the Esports team is not practicing.

Esports may be going for the gold in the competitive sphere but for everyone else on campus, it really is all fun and games. And that is precisely what Hinson the rest of the team want.

(A version of this story was previously published in the independent, student-run newspaper, The Tower.)

— Andrew Morgan, B.A. 2019, Marketing and Communications Intern. For more information, contact communications@cua.edu.