Willy Lee ’18 and Joshua Lu ’18 both had a simple goal, familiar to any college student: Find and bring together others with similar interests to their own.
For some students at Brown, that means politics, advocacy or intramural sports teams. But for Lee and Lu, it was e-sports.
Lee initially wanted to start a club for League of Legends, a popular online multiplayer video game, but found that other clubs with the same mission had failed to gain traction at Brown. Lu gained interest in Super Smash Bros. Melee during his freshman year at Brown but found only a Facebook group with some casually interested students rather than anything structured.
The two joined together last September after Lee found an article written by Lu about the lack of gaming clubs at Brown. Thus, the Brown e-sports team was born.
Nationwide, the popularity of e-sports is surging, especially in the collegiate circuit. Hundreds of schools now boast competitive teams that compete in events watched both online and in person by thousands. Like other sports, doing well pays off: Prize money at competitions is routinely in the thousands of dollars. In 2014, Robert Morris University became the first university in the country to offer scholarships for gaming, covering as much as 50 percent of tuition and room and board for qualified gamers. The national sports media is taking notice as well, as ESPN recently launched an e-sports section on its website.
In its first year, Brown’s e-sports team is far from established in the collegiate scene. Lu put it simply: “It’s basically just a space for people to come together and play video games.”
The club garnered interest from over 100 students and sees anywhere from 20 to 50 people at its biweekly meetings. The team currently supports five games: Super Smash Bros. Melee, League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Hearthstone.
The meetings — the team’s equivalent to practices — are held in the Underground and have mostly focused on Super Smash Bros. so far. The team uses old televisions stored in Faunce to play the game because of the game’s antique nature.
The big events for the team this year were two “game-a-thons,” the second of which was held two weekends ago. The competitions were open to the public and drew 20 to 30 people.
The team also competed in a 10v10 tournament against teams from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and traveled to Connecticut College to compete as well. “We destroyed them,” Lu said, grinning.
The two captains don’t give much merit to the skepticism that e-sports is not a true sport. “To get super philosophical: What do we define as a sport?” Lu said. “E-sports is different. It’s super un-physical, but it’s a very big mental game, and it’s a very big technical game.”
Lee, who is also a member of the men’s swimming and diving team, defined sports as anything that requires practice and effort to improve. “All sports are just like a game,” he said. “Nobody can just jump in and be a master at it.”
Lee and Lu hope to exploit the growing popularity of e-sports to grow the team at Brown. “At the very least, it helps people who are kind of interested but aren’t sure where to start,” Lee said. “It’s kind of cool to contribute to that growing popularity.”
Going forward, Lee and Lu want to increase the popularity of all five games at Brown and opportunities to compete against other colleges. The two have been in contact with other Ivy League schools and nearby colleges such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in an effort to set up a “circuit” between the schools. They hope to set up events to compete against these schools and have gotten interest from every Ivy except Princeton so far.
“It would be really cool to bring all of them together and bring them to Brown where people who haven’t been exposed or who have judgment about e-sports can see how big e-sports is,” Lee said.