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Varsity Esports Team Gearing Up for Local Tournament

by Joe Barker on 06/29/2021

The inaugural Gateway Legends Collegiate Invitational marks a return to in-person esports tournaments in St. Louis and the introduction of Saint Louis University’s new-look varsity squad. 

SLU will be competing in the popular game League of Legends against 15 other collegiate teams July 2-4 at Ballpark Village. Billed as the first in-person collegiate tournament of 2021, the event will be the first time SLU will unveil its lineup it plans to use for the 2021-22 school year. 

A look at the SLU esports lab

Players take to their favorite games during the opening of SLU's new Esports Gaming Lab on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Photo by Amelia Flood

Saint Louis University Esports Director Nicholas Chiu said the team is excited to play in a local tournament and gear up for the fall season. The team also is excited to finally meet in person.

Chiu said he’s been working on recruiting and bringing in talent to bolster SLU’s esports reputation. He hopes all that work will pay off this year. His first chance to see the new recruits in action will be at the invitational. 

Chiu said the summer tournament offered an interesting wrinkle for competing teams. Schools were given the option of using the same players that competed in the spring season, but also could use players who will be new to the program in the fall. SLU will be taking the new approach. 

“I really worked hard this past fall to recruit players who are from pretty much the highest class,” Chiu said. “With how new our program is, I really want to step up and make our name within the esports scene. This roster has that potential.”

Making their debut for the Billikens will be Andrew Forman, Christopher Fong, Seungmin Lee, Nicholas Roche and Charlie Uram. Uram, who is not a student at SLU, is filling in a substitute for a player unable to make the tournament. 

The St. Louis tournament will not only mark a debut for the squad, but also an introduction for the players.

“It’s the first time they’re going to meet each other,” Chiu said.

Part of the reason for the lack of prior introduction is all the players are new to SLU. The other is the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the games are played online, players were able to stay sharp and still compete during the pandemic, but weren’t able to spend time together in person. 

“Our national championship still went on, we still played in the big tournaments and things like that — none of that stuff stopped at all,” Chiu said. “The biggest thing is the community aspect was a little bit lackluster because of covid. The esports lab, which is open to the public, was always full. We had students come in all the time, it was pretty much packed, especially on the weekends. Covid just stopped that and that was big — us not being able to have that connection with the rest of the student body.”

With things reopening, starting with the Gateway Legends Collegiate Invitational, Chiu hopes the esports lab  becomes a place to be on campus in the fall.

“This tournament is just a start of things to come,” Chiu said. “Everyone always kind of misconstrues esports as this stay in your room kind of thing, but literally the point of these programs is to tear that stereotype down and really go toward having a community. I think having an in-person environment just allows them to get out of their comfort zone.”

League of Legends pits two five-player teams against each other. Each player has unique abilities. During the match, the goal is to advance toward, and destroy, the enemy base. Chiu said there could be a “couple of synergy” issues that might need to be addressed because of unfamiliarity. Once that’s settled, he thinks the sky's the limit for the Billikens.

“For the past year, we were always one of those OK teams, I think,” Chiu said. “Really this is supposed to be our breakthrough moment. A lot of our players have pro experience, so I’m excited to see them make their debut into collegiate play.” 

The Gateway Legends Collegiate Invitational will be a good chance for SLU to see where it stands among the top teams. Three-time national champion Maryville University also will be taking part in the event. Other teams include Aquinas College, Arizona State University, Bay State College, Bethany Lutheran College, Boise State University, Grand View University, Harrisburg University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Miami University (Ohio), Purdue University, University of St. Thomas in Houston, University of Texas at Dallas, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Winthrop University.

“There’s schools that won a lot last year, but also schools that will be contenders for the national championship this year,” Chiu said. “. . . I’m excited to see how we stack up.”

The round-robin tournament will occur at Bally Sports Live! at Ballpark Village for a prize pool of $10,000. Chiu said the Billikens got a tough draw and are expecting to face stiff competition right out of the gate.

Teams will be placed into pools of four with the top two advancing. Chiu said SLU ended up in what’s being called the “pool of death.” Three teams, SLU, St. Thomas and Maryville all have high ranked players.

“League of Legends has different rankings and Challenger is top 300 in North America,” Chiu said. “We have a full challenger roster, but so does St. Thomas and so does Maryville. That’s typically on the higher end of esports. The fact there are three in one pool is kind of insane.”

There is no cost to attend the event. The tournament schedule will run from noon to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, July 2, and Saturday, July 3. Play will wrap up Sunday, July 4, with action running from noon to 9:30 p.m. 

The tournament also will be streamed live via Nerd Street Gamers’ Twitch channel at twitch.tv/nerdstreetlol.

“We’re going to try and do our best,” Chiu said. “This is a roster that, I think with enough practice, can take on and beat Maryville on a good day. Our goal is to make as big of a wave as possible so that when we come out to the national championship, we’ll be one of the household names.”