September 30, 2016

Webster students look to start first eSports team

KAVAHN MANSOURI | The Journal

KAVAHN MANSOURI | The Journal

Just ten years ago, a collegiate eSports organization was an entirely foreign concept. Today, a group of Webster students is working to change that reality and enter the realm of competitive video gaming.

Lead by sophomore game design major Patrick Rausch and assistant professor Kevin Taylor, the would-be Webster eSports club is looking to field teams in multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends, and team-based shooter games such as Overwatch.

For Rausch, founding the university’s first competitive eSports club would mean the fulfillment of a long-term aspiration.

“I had always wanted to be a part of an eSports team,” Rausch said. “I never really got the opportunity in high school, so when I came here and realized that a lot of people wanted a dedicated group to play League with, it seemed obvious. Then, suddenly, I had people asking me about starting groups to play several different games, and it was clear that it was going to grow into something bigger.”

It grew so much bigger, in fact – the Facebook group comprises 75 people and and is continually adding members – that Rausch knew he needed to enlist faculty help and seek official club status. When he approached Taylor with questions about starting a club, it was not the first time Taylor had considered the possibility, or the potential challenges involved.

“ESports is a fast growing field of electronic competition, and I have been interested in starting a Webster Club for quite a while,” Taylor said. “It needs to be run primarily on student enthusiasm and interest, so once it’s established, we can take a look at giving the team what they need to succeed. The club has yet to be sponsored, but we have a student team developing fast, and I’m sure the club will be running by the end of the year.”

Rausch said among the group’s primary concerns at the moment are basic logistical steps, such as organizing practice schedules and finding dedicated space to play. The group hopes to eventually obtain lab space, to avoid having to transport computer setups to and from campus.

While the club does have some hurdles to clear on the road to legitimacy, it stands to benefit from the success of already established gaming clubs at Webster, such as the Webster Fighting Game Community (WFGC) and Video Game Club.

WFGC’s president, junior Danny Cohen, said he could foresee a future wherein his group works alongside the fledgling eSports organization.

“I first became aware of them when they sent some people who were interested in playing competitive Super Smash Bros. to us,” Cohen said. “After that, I actually joined their Facebook group to find Overwatch teammates. Our groups share the same basic goal, which is to provide opportunities for people who love video games to compete. With that in mind, I’d love to work together, maybe we could join forces to run tournaments together sometime in the future.”

Once the club is fully operational, Taylor said he envisions an opportunity for the teams and individuals involved to compete against clubs from other schools, perhaps even on a national level. Rausch agrees, and thinks the prestige of a successful club could be beneficial to the university.

“Maryville University has a really successful League of Legends team that just won a national championship,” Rausch said. “That club is kind of kind of the model that we’re basing ours on. Before I came to this school for a game design degree, I didn’t know it existed. In a similar way, maybe if we start competing, it can attract more gamers who are interested in playing games for us.”

However, competitive success is far from the only goal the club’s founders have in mind. Webster graduate Jaylen Clark, who is helping to oversee the development of the League of Legends team, particularly prizes team camaraderie.

“Most of all, I want every club member to make lasting relationships and feel like they are a part of something phenomenal, even if they choose not to play competitively,” Clark said. “I feel like I’ve been more active in the online gaming community thanks to this club, and I’m glad there are other people I share these interests with.”

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