Sports-addicted souls seeking solace in reruns of games past can rejoice.
The two top Iowa university teams face off Tuesday night in “a highly competitive, fast paced action-strategy game designed for those who crave a hard fought victory.”
We’re not talking about football, basketball or soccer. We’re talking esports — a fast-growing sport on college campuses across the country and one that has not been canceled by the coronavirus pandemic.
That description is how League of Legends describes itself and at 9 p.m. Tuesday you can watch undefeated Upper Iowa face one of two teams that compete for the University of Iowa. The match will be streamed live on Twitch.
Normally, the 27 student-athletes who compete for Upper Iowa are spread among various games, including Smite, Overwatch, DotA 2 (Defense of the Ancients), Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Fortnite and League of Legends. The latter is the only game currently competing.
The Esports program at Upper Iowa started two years ago when Jim Lowery, the school’s athletics video producer, was asked to help build the program and serve as the team’s coach.
“We started by recruiting the same way other sports do,” Lowery said, “looking for incoming freshmen.”
Because the school put the program under the umbrella of athletics, the Peacocks are able to offer academic and athletic scholarships.
“The big surprise was the level of interest from on-campus students,” Lowery said.
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The esports season, regardless of game, runs with the academic year. Upper Iowa has already defeated Nebraska, Kansas and the other team of Hawkeyes on its way to an undefeated League of Legends record.
The Peacocks coach believes “given Americans’ predilection to find sports to watch, you may see an increase in interest in esports. It’s exactly the same as watching any other sport. You cheer and laugh and enjoy yourself the same way anyone else would do watching the Super Bowl.”
League of Legends has 80 million monthly users with more than 30 million daily players. There were 100 million following the 2019 final, including a record peak of 44 million, the highest in the game’s 10-year history.
Lowery said another benefit to the broadcast is it must be quality.
“It has high production value with announcers, replays, commercials and graphics and it’s all being done for gamers,” he said. “Everything has to be done right, because we know the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong.”
More than 130 schools compete in League of Legends, including “every team in the Big Ten,” Lowery said.
“A lot of them are big schools you may not think would lend their name to that, but that’s what the student body wants,” he said.
If you are interested in checking out online gaming, Lowery suggests downloading Steam, which is a free way to play hundreds of games on your PC.
The Peacocks face Northern Iowa in their regular-season finale, March 31 at 9 p.m., also on Twitch.