Eight wins away from defending its national title, Maryville’s esports team is in a sweet spot coming off a victory over rival Columbia College to secure the top seed for the League of Legends College Championships. The national championships will be held June 7-10 in Los Angeles.
Maryville lost to Columbia College during the regular season and was ranked third in the Midwest Campus Clash tournament, but the Saints picked up their play to win the North Regional finals by beating Columbia. Three hundred teams competed during the regular season and only eight made it to the finals.
“Everything started to click towards the end of the season, and that’s when you want to play your best,” says Jarret Fleming, Maryville University’s coordinator of athletics and recreation. “The athletes have been in the lab hard at work. We know there will be a lot of great teams in LA. We hope to be in a good position to compete for a national championship.”
Maryville will square off against Illinois in the first round and will face the winner of the University of Texas – Dallas and Columbia match in the semis. The University of California – Irvine, the University of Ottawa, the University of Western Ontario and the University of Maryland are the other teams in the bracket.
“The team doesn’t feel any added pressure,” says Fleming, who will be in LA to cheer on the Saints. “They’re all having fun, staying in the moment and respecting our opponents.”
Maryville entered the postseason with a 19-3 record. Over the past two years, they claimed a national title and two other tourney titles. In their first season, the Saints went 40-0.
“With the additions of Top – Derek ‘West Coast Carry’ Micheau, Mid – Michael ‘dawolfsclaw’ Taylor, and Support – Kevin ‘Cat Ears’ Luu this fall, the team had to learn to play with one another and as a team,” says Fleming. “We’re in a great place right now.”
Their success has generated positive buzz for the team nationally and internationally, which has helped with the team’s recruiting efforts. Luu hails from Canada.
“Dan Clerke, the team’s director, reached out to Kevin (Luu) to see if he was interested in attending Maryville,” says Fleming. “Kevin was one of top 50 players in North America and someone we thought could fit in well with our program. It helped that Kevin was looking for a school to attend.”
Two other new players, Derek Micheau and Michael Taylor, are both from Washington.
“With us having so much success early on, we haven’t had to do much recruiting,” says Fleming. “Students have reached out and showed an interest in Maryville.”
The team’s accomplishments have also allowed Maryville to expand its esports program with the roll out of teams for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone and Overwatch games next year.
Given the tremendous growth of esports on college campuses, it comes as no surprise that the NCAA is showing interest. The organization contracted with a consulting company in late 2017 to learn more about existing esports clubs at universities.
“At the request of the NCAA Board of Governors, we’re taking a step forward by working with NCAA membership to understand current interest in and support of esports,” said Joni Comstock, NCAA senior vice president of championships, in a press release. “Ultimately, we hope to determine if the NCAA should have a role in supporting growth in this rapidly expanding space.”
Maryville is one of the six founding members of NACE, the National Association of Collegiate Esports. The organization has since expanded to over 70 schools across the country.
All matches will be streamed on twitch.tv/riotgames.