eSports team wins North American title and $180,000 but lacks UBC’s recognition

Think NCAA basketball but for eSports. That’s what UBC’s eSports Club won on May 3.

They swept Robert Morris University (RMU) 3-0 in the North American Collegiate Championship (NACC) tournament for League of Legends, earning each player a $30,000 scholarship and bragging rights as North America’s best League of Legends team in a tournament of over 1,600 teams.

To win this title, UBC has been competing since October through three tiers of competition with some of Canada and the United States’ strongest League of Legends teams. The team estimates that they have spent thousands of hours practicing, watching professional matches and preparing for the tournament.

“Half came to luck and half came with hard work. It’s really lucky we got these five players to go to the same school,” said team member Wesley Lee.

UBC’s team consists of Lee, a computer science major, Jason Dong, a statistics major, Bob Qin, a forestry student, Sean Wang, an engineering student and Jeremy Koberstein. Brian Choi, a biotechnology major, acted as the team’s substitute but did not compete in the finals. Carman Lam, another UBC student, managed the team. The team has been playing together in various forms for over two years and credit their history, along with some luck, for their hugely successful tournament.

“We had a lot of talent. It was just about putting it all together and communicating properly,” said Lee.

The first round, called the qualifiers, was organized by third-party organizations IvyLoL, CSL, TeSPA and WellPlayed. This round is in a league format, where the top placing team from each region in every league proceeds to the next round. UBC won their league.

Any student registered as an undergraduate in the US or Canada can sign up and compete. Competition was split into four geographical regions -- north, east, south and west.

These 16 teams enter the playoffs to determine the regional champions. UBC, in the western conference, competed with three other western universities to be crowned champions and proceed to the championship round held in front of a live audience in Los Angeles.

UBC breezed through the qualifying round and faced Simon Fraser University (SFU) in the West NACC regional finals. UBC swept SFU 2-0 but it was no easy feat.

The team claims Vancouver is the home to many excellent League players and that many attend UBC and SFU.

SFU and UBC have a fierce rivalry and UBC eliminated SFU in almost the exact same manner last year. But this does not stop the two rivals from being close friends.

Riot Games, the League of Legends developer and a partner in the tournament, covered the expenses for all the teams to travel and compete in Los Angeles. Over $300,000 of prize scholarships were awarded to the top four teams.

“While we were there it was all business,” said the team. “Go to bed early, practice at these times, make sure you just feel good.”

In Los Angeles, UBC first faced the trash talking, southern champion, Texas A&M University team. In a fierce battle UBC came out on top, 2-0. Strong performances from Qin and Dong secured the contest for UBC.

RMU grants scholarships to eSports athletes and considers their eSports club an official university athletic team. Regardless of this advantage, UBC took the first match with five uncontested dragons and a baron. Game two was faster paced and RMU scored some kills but it wasn't enough to stop UBC. Game three was little more than UBC exhibiting their utter dominance and winning the national championship.

“We all had one of the best moments of our lives, standing on stage, winning, playing so well,” said Lee. “It was definitely a highlight of my life.”

The event has no official television or media contract but an estimated 80,000 people tuned into the event. The tournament was streamed online and can now be found on YouTube. There was also a large media presence at the event this year. The team had little time to practice and prepare once they landed in Los Angeles as they were constantly being interviewed and approached by members of the media.

26 times more people watched the NACC as attended UBC hockey’s Winter Classic, though it was mostly through the comfort of their own home. And all of this, the training, the media and the trip without official standing at UBC as a competitive club or team.

“We weren’t allowed to use the actual school name and logo when we are participating at these tournaments. I thought that was really stupid. This is a collegiate tournament and we can't even use our own Thunderbird logo,” said Lee.

Some team members said they do not mind just being a club, but they would like to partner further with the university and see a closer relationship as a win-win situation.

“From this win they might be interested. That would be cool,” said Lam on developing a better relationship with UBC and the athletics department.

Last year UBC made the final round but were eliminated, placing fourth. This years national title secures UBC eSports position as the best in North America and makes a strong case for UBC’s eSports team as being one of the university’s strongest competitive teams.