A few weeks ago, in an editorial titled “Good Game: The Rise of Esports” I explored the culture that has grown up around the real time strategy game Starcraft 2 and the growing legitimacy of competitive gaming as a spectator sport. Building on this foundation, I would like to look at our own manifestation of e-sports culture here at NKU – the university Starcraft team that has been competing on our behalf in the Collegiate Starleague, an organization that brings together student teams from all over the world for electronic competition. NKU Starcraft, in keeping with the larger community, has expanded rapidly over the past year and seems fated to become one of the largest and most active organizations on campus.
The Collegiate Starleague was founded at Princeton University, purportedly after a recorded match with M.I.T.’s Starcraft: Brood War team went viral – snowballing in only two years into an international league with more than 240 teams competing in its 5th season. While the vast majority of players in the CSL are not professional gamers, many teams do boast players holding “Master” or even the coveted “Grandmaster” status on the game’s internal ranking system, marking them as formidable opponents. The Starleague bracket pits two collegiate teams against one another each week for the duration of the season, with overall competition split between four regional divisions.
NKU currently holds a 7-5 winning record for the season in the difficult Northern division – an achievement considering the competition. Facing off against universities with vastly higher student populations from which to recruit, many of them with one or more “Grandmaster” players on their roster, NKU is nonetheless holding its own against schools like UC, the University of Waterloo, and Cornell. Success against these odds might be explained by the strong esprit de corps within the group itself. As team captain Andrew Ankenbauer describes, “We don’t exactly have the most power-packed roster, but everyone works together to practice for our matches, so I think we’ve done a lot better than expected.”
This week the team began reaching out for official faculty sponsorship, seeking to expand the role of the organization from merely competition in the CSL to status as an official club within the university. Ranks have swelled in recent months, and currently around sixty gamers are affiliated with the club to a greater or lesser extent – some playing regularly in the weekly CSL matches while others merely practice, spectate and support the community. Although Ankenbauer described the average skill ranking for CSL competitors as “Master” level, players of average ability have found success competing on behalf of NKU and the ranks of the club include numerous players of every rank.
As one of the most vibrant organizations on a campus that is sometimes notable for a lack of student participation outside of athletics, NKU Starcraft deserves the faculty sponsorship it needs to continue expanding and make use of NKU resources. The club has matured from a purely competitive organization into a rich community of gamers, and as an asset to the university and a focus for growth in student involvement on campus, it is entitled to the support of the institution it so ardently represents.