The NCAA men's basketball tournament might have ended in spectacular fashion on Monday, but there is still plenty of highlight reel play waiting to unfold this weekend in the world of collegiate e-sports—as in competitive video gaming—at Blizzard's Heroes of the Dorm grand finals.
Heroes of the Dorm is a NCAA bracket–style tournament where teams of five face off in Blizzard Entertainment's multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game Heroes of the Storm. That's a whole lot of buzz words for the uninitiated, but Seattle is no stranger to massive MOBA tournaments. Since 2014, KeyArena has hosted the International, a pro competition for Bellevue-based video game company Valve's own MOBA Dota 2, with prize pools in the millions of dollars. The most popular MOBA, League of Legends, regularly fills stadiums around the world during its professional season.
The difference between those events and Heroes of the Dorm is while other e-sports competitions pit professional teams—most from China, Korea, and Europe—against one another for huge sums of cash prizes, Heroes of the Dorm assembles teams from different universities around the country and seeds them in what is essentially March Madness for video games. The winning team receives free college tuition.
Bryan McCarthy, captain of the eight-seed UW team (that lost out to two-seed Tennessee in the tournament's third round) thinks that the injecting college play into the Heroes of the Dorm tournament, which takes place in between Heroes of the Storm's professional seasons, is a step forward in getting e-sports recognized as, well, a legitimate sport.
"The school is completely uninvolved right now," says McCarthy, "but our goal is e-sports integrated into the athletic programs." While he admits it's been a bit of a stretch trying to convince program directors that playing video games qualifies as an athletic activity, other aspects of playing on an e-sports team mirror that of college athletes.
McCarthy was recruited out of high school to play League of Legends in a program unofficially affiliated with the University of Washington. Many players on UW's Heroes of the Storm team, like players on the other college teams, aspire to go pro and see the tournament as a big stage to show off their skills. The UW squad even held walk-on tryouts like a basketball or football team would.
This fall, UC Irvine will become the first public school in the country to offer e-sports scholarships to students. The Heroes of the Dorm grand finals will be broadcast on ESPN2. Athletic or not, e-sports are sure starting to feel like a sport.
Heroes of the Dorm
Apr 9—10, CenturyLink Field Event Center, Free with RSVP (Televised on ESPN2 and ESPN U)