By Robert Wheatley – Head of Editorial
The University of Hertfordshire boasts its impressive Athletic Union and many sports societies, but there’s only one society at our university that represents a relatively new era of sports, and that’s the Herts SU Esports Society.
Esports is much like any other sporting event: it draws huge crowds (more than 385 million will watch competitive gaming in 2017), it hands its winners incredible cash prizes (the total prize pool for a competitive Dota 2 International 2017 crossed phenomenal $20 million!) — the only difference is that the competition is entirely virtual, and played through video games.
I spoke to Howard and Stefan, the Esports Society’s secretary and treasurer, who gave me a ton of insight into their society along with Esports itself. The two students hope their society will be a big hit this year, for the Esports society will not only be sponsored by computer hardware company ASUS and Overclockers UK but will also hold many gaming events and tournaments that will award students awesome technological prizes.
What society do you run, and what’s it all about?
Howard: I’m the secretary, and Stefan’s the treasurer, and we’re the Esports Society. We support all gamers at the University of Hertfordshire…
We’re sort of for professional type games, so we support Counter-Strike, League of Legends, Dota 2, Overwatch and Rocket League… and whatever else people wanna play…
What is Esports?
Howard: There are specific games that are the ‘big ones’.
Stefan: Some games are classified as more competitive and are more international.
Howard: The ones we support are in big professional scenes; games with millions of players, upwards of tens of millions of pounds of prize-money, have more views per tournament that you’d similarly get in ice hockey — these are the kind of games we support.
These games are like Overwatch, Dota 2, League of Legends, Hearthstone; they have professional players, professional leagues and all earn very good money. The biggest tournament in gaming is The International by Valve, who make Dota 2 — the prize money this year was $20 million dollars.
We’re similar to the Athletic Union and their relationship to professional sport, but we don’t play any professional leagues as we’re not good enough, but there is a thing called The NUEL which is the e-Sports equivalent of BUCS. There are over a hundred universities that participate in NUEL, and we are the University of Hertfordshire’s entry into it.
How long have you been around for?
Howard: We’ve only been the eSports society since last year, and prior to that it was known as the League of Legends Society which just focused on that [game]. This will be our first big year as last year was very much a set-up year with us getting to know how we wanted to run things.
We’re sort of hitting it head on, and it’s very well known among the general student population but we’ve had quite a lot of members last year and we’re hoping to expand it to become one of the larger societies on campus. We’ve also got some fairly big sponsors this year; we’re being supported by ASUS… [and Overclockers UK].
In the past few years, there’s been an explosion in how many people participate in [eSports]. It used to be underground…. it was very secluded. Whereas now it’s blown up. We flew to Poland to watch Counter-Strike and we were there with 15,000 other people watching it.
Stefan: It really is worldwide.
Howard: It really is, it’s like football. It’s not so big in the UK, but outside of it, it’s treated like any other sport. We saw from the Polish how they treat the Polish teams, it’s basically like how they treat a football team — they have chants for each player; the atmosphere’s insane.
People don’t realise how it’s like any other [sport], it’s like playing 5-a-Side: the difference between that and a premiership is the difference between us and professionals and the same video game.
You can’t have an unhealthy lifestyle either because that affects your game. If you don’t eat properly your reaction-time slows down, so it kind of encourages healthiness but not at the same level as football. There are players that pertain to [the healthy lifestyle] like fREAKAZOiD who is ripped as hell… he’s enormous.
How much is it to join?
A fiver. It’s the minimum it could be, and I want to stress that as we obviously don’t have the same outgoings as other societies, based on the fact we just play video games, but there are expenses: we have promotional materials, services, we have a game server we pay for, and we may have to travel. That’s as low as we could make it.
What events are held, and when are they held?
We have big events supported by our partners… the big events we’re doing are six major tournaments, all internal and so only for society members, and those are held online (and at LAN). There’ll be a qualifier tournament where people will play at home, and then the top players will… [play at LAN], so we’ll bring some computers to stream games online and play live.
The top three players will win a prize provided by Overclockers UK and ASUS — and they’re good prizes as well, so we’re really looking forward to that. There’s gonna be six of these events, and primarily they will be for Overwatch, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: three in Semester A, three in Semester B.
[Credit: Herts Esports Society Facebook]
Alongside that we’re participating in the NUEL, so every week for a few weeks we’ll play against other universities online… there will be some tryouts for that (9-15 October), much like how the Athletic Union runs tryouts at the beginning of the year. We’ll probably also be doing some screenings for the League of Legends World Championship finals, and possibly the CS:GO Majors…
Stefan: Even things like Insomnia, we’ll be going to.
Howard: Yeah, and there’s also LANs run by external organisers [like Insomnia], and we’ll open it up so people can represent our university at these events. Maybe some ad hoc events, so for example with some non-Esports games we’ll play [PLAYERUNKNOWN’S] Battlegrounds.
We’ll also be doing varsity maybe this year or next year. Our partner is Bedfordshire but they don’t support [Esports], so we may end up doing a varsity against another university.
Stefan: I joined as a member last year… I feel like this year we’ve had a massive overhaul, as members we really wanted to get our ideas pushed forward to have things going on all the time.
What’s new this year, and what do you want to improve on?
Howard: Just more events.
Howard: More events, more teams. We were very focused on Counter-Strike last year because it was the only game we played, whereas this year we have committee members from different games so we can pull together and do more stuff. We’ve got partners now as well.
Stefan: Each committee member focuses on different games, which is good because before we didn’t really have anyone for League of Legends which was a huge part of the society — it’s very important we cater to everyone.
What’s the best thing about your society?
Howard: The cool logo?
Howard: (Laughs)… I think if I was a Fresher and played video games, it’s just nice to have a representation in your university of this sort of growing industry. Like, there’s a hell of a lot of support for sports like football… but there’s no support for Counter-Strike even though it’s huge.
It’s nice as a Fresher to come to something that’s all set up so you can get involved.
Stefan: I think, personally, my favourite part of the society is, as a society member, I think it’s really good to join a society with lots of similar minds to you. I know in my friend group when we play Counter-Strike, it’s not taken as a competitive game — I think it’s very good that you can come into a society and compete in the NUEL and have actual competitive events.
Howard: We have jerseys coming out this year and we’re going to go to these LAN events with the idea being that we can not only compete with other universities, and while it’s a bit of fun and you can joke about at the end of the day it’s still a serious tournament against hundreds of other universities around the country. You can compete at a serious level against the general public and pro-teams, so it does give you opportunities to do this.
This is what I was joking about at the beginning: there are proper games and then there’s [casual games] like FIFA. We do cater to the casual side of it, but ultimately it’s a place to take things seriously.
Some people like going to the pub, some people like going out to drink, and some people like to play games like League of Legends.
What can your society bring to students who might not think it’s for them?
Howard: I think it takes some sort of prerequisite interest in games, but we invite people that do like to play video games whether that is something crap or something proper, we are going to have events where you can try stuff out, or just come along and watch.
Ultimately, it is a competitive environment, so it might not be as approachable if you’re not into that sort of thing, but I would encourage people to come along and see what we do. Because, if you look at a number of people that watch Dota versus the number of people that play Dota, more people watch it than play it, so there’s a market for people who aren’t interested in playing it.
If I was to suggest to anyone if you’re at all interested in seeing what Esports can be like, I’d look at Rocket League, because not all Esports games are complicated and have wizards or machine guns. It’s football with cars: you drive around with a rocket and try to score goals — it’s really fun.
We’re going to put more casual events on in a more casual environment with something like Rocket League, or Super Smash Brothers.
Stefan: To be honest, any games people request we can probably play.
Howard: I’ve been [mocking] FIFA, but there are professional teams, so if it’s a tournament people want to participate in then we can host that.
Stefan: We want to be here for people to enjoy games.
Howard: … even games like FIFA, and mobile games like Vainglory are big now, along with things like Hearthstone. Like, if you want to play Hearthstone for Hertfordshire we’re the University Esports League’s rep, so we’re happy to support it, and we’re looking for committee members willing to help support us with this.
Stefan: We’re a very new society and I think we’re still learning a lot about what our members really want from us, what games they want to play, and I think it’s only going to get better.
If you want to learn more about the Herts SU Esports Society hop on over to their website, which will give you updates on their events and activities for the upcoming semester.
Also, keep checking Trident Media, as we hope to bring you plenty more Society Showcases!