One would be hard-pressed to start a serious conversation about eSports on UCLA’s campus without mentioning the big kid in the room, League of Legends. League of Legends at UCLA, also known as LoL@UCLA, is now the largest, and oldest, running video game and eSports organization on campus.
League, as it’s also called, has become somewhat synonymous with gaming culture in the last few years. So much so that if you talk about playing computer games, League is more often than not the first game mentioned by those uninitiated. It’s so big it seems to have surpassed Call of Duty in terms of cultural prevalence. The sheer size of League’s player base is reflected on campus, as the official League club boasts more than 80 paid members, not including the unofficial members, and has been around since November 2012. Their main method of recruiting new summoners – the game’s term for players – on campus is not flyering, but simply word of mouth. Rai Kim, fourth-year biology student and the club president, said that moving towards a social route has proved to be extremely effective, and the club now boasts the largest paid member base it has ever had in the past four years. She wants to see this group continue to grow and improve, and aspires to leave behind the foundations for a legacy of continued success as eSports continues to grow on campus.
This student organization does more than just play games with each other. They regularly hold Q&A sessions with special guests from Riot, the company that runs League of Legends, and even invite professional players from various teams to do meet and greets with the members. They also hold socials at various places in Westwood as a de-stresser from academics, play LANs – local gatherings where players bring their computers together to play in the same room – with each other, and even have a mini family system called guilds.
Earlier this year, Kim said the club was approved to have its first event hosted on the Hill, funded in part by the On-Campus Housing Council. The approved event would have involved De Neve Auditorium hosting the viewing party for the League of Legends World Championship live on Halloween morning. Traditionally OCHC has not approved locations or advertisements for gamers to gather at eSports events on the Hill. While this event would have been groundbreaking, as we have never had a live-viewing party of this extent on campus, the event was unfortunately canceled. Because the World Championship were taking place in Europe, the the event would have started at 3 a.m. While students showed a willingness to attend, no professional staff on the Hill was willing to work the odd hours for the event, according to Kim.
Students were relegated to hosting unofficial smaller parties for those who still wished to stay up late and watch their version of the Super Bowl. The winner, a Korean team named SK Telecom T1, received a $1 million grand prize. Viewership information from this event has yet to be released, but last year more than 288 million unique viewers in total tuned into the event. After being denied at the Hill, LoL@UCLA opted to attend a viewing party at a local Cinemark location instead and collaborated with other local universities such as USC and UC Riverside to advertise the event as an exciting intercollegiate experience.
League of Legends at UCLA is not simply a group of students who enjoy watching competitive League. The club also fields three teams in the Collegiate StarLeague, an eSports conference, this season for League of Legends. Two of these teams play in Division 2, and the third team plays in Division 1. Impressively, all three of these teams combine for an undefeated 11-0 record. While the teams have yet to face some of their toughest opponents (the D1 team’s match against USC is Dec. 5), their success can be credited in part to heightened student interest in competitive play, additional practice and the addition of highly skilled students – the D1 team features players in the top-2 percent of the game’s player base or better, akin to four- and five-star athletic recruits.
League gamers flock to the Southern California region as it provides close proximity to the Riot Games (League’s developer) headquarters and the League of Legends Championship Series broadcast, as they play and film in Burbank. Students graduating high school who are looking to play League competitively or even professionally may factor these things in addition to a school’s CSL team into their decision process now. Traditionally UC Irvine has recruited a lot of talented players for their team, as they field one of the country’s strongest collegiate teams. With UCLA climbing up in the ranks, we could see students submitting their intent to register because they want to be a part of our team here.