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All For the Love of the Game Sports

From basement to gaming hub: The history of TMU Esports

By Dexter LeRuez

In early November 2022, 18,000 fans flocked to the Chase Centre in San Francisco, Calif., the home of the seven-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors, to witness the end of an action-packed year. 

However, the Warriors were nowhere to be seen, the basketballs were locked away and the court was covered up.

Instead, fans watched professional gaming teams DRX and T1 battle for the League of Legends World Championship.

League of Legends is a video game created by Riot Games where teams of characters fight while attempting to destroy their rivals’ base. It’s one of the many gaming titles to have developed competitive ecosystems with professional teams, paid players and passionate fans—otherwise known as ‘esports.’

Statista, an online platform specializing in data gathering and visualization, predicts the global esports market will bring in $4.3 billion USD in revenue in 2024.

However, outside the bright lights and big stadiums of mainstream esports is a subgenre that has begun to gain momentum: collegiate esports. 

Geoffrey Lachapelle, the manager of the Red Bull Gaming Hub at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), witnessed the change in opinions on esports during his time in the university’s undergraduate media production program from 2011 to 2015. 

“I would get failed on homework by teachers who would say that video games will never be a thing,” he said. “By the time I was graduating, a group of first-years had launched their own Super Smash Bros. Melee club in the basement of the Student Campus Centre.”

Since Lachapelle’s graduation, the esports community at TMU has grown exponentially, spearheaded by TMU Esports, a competitive club for esports fans and players alike.

Taylor McMillan, a fourth-year arts and contemporary studies student and co-president of TMU’s esports club, has seen the club’s membership grow rapidly—especially during the pandemic.

“We did very well during COVID-19 compared to most teams because esports thrives online,” McMillan said. “So even from 2020 to now, we have grown quite a bit.” 

According to McMillan, the club is home to various competitive teams that play in several esports titles, including League of Legends, Apex Legends, Valorant, Overwatch and Rocket League.

TMU’s esports club has become one of the best in Canada. Last October, the TMU Blue Valorant team finished third in Canada’s tournament of the Red Bull Campus Clutch. They were just two wins away from a trip to Türkiye to compete in the Grand Finals against collegiate teams from around the world. 

However, the club doesn’t just focus on the competitive side of esports. It also hosts casual events and watch parties for major events.

McMillan said the club has those of marginalized genders and that gender inclusivity is “ingrained in the culture.” 

“Our rosters have always been mixed gender, and our staffing has always been largely female,” they said. “We’re very diverse in that aspect.”

However, there is still room to grow, specifically in regard to how outsiders perceive the gaming and esports community.  

“I think there’s still a stigma around esports. I still get a lot of people asking, ‘But do you let women play?’” McMillan said. “I think just taking a minute to come to our events [to] see what our community is about…would be big.”

Even with questions from outsiders, the future of collegiate esports at the school is bright. 

TMU has become a hub for esports in recent years, with the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) hosting several premier esports tournaments for Call of Duty and Overwatch.  

The club has also benefited from the creation of the Red Bull Gaming Hub. The gaming facility is designed for TMU students to learn about and play video games while surrounded by top-of-the-line hardware and software.

“[The club’s growth] is in no small part due to the Red Bull Gaming Hub and our presence there,” McMillan said. “Having that in-person space where we can host events and our teams can come together and practice…has really helped us grow.”

Now, many eyes within TMU’s esports community are focused on the future of competitive gaming on campus. One vision is to compete with more extensive esports programs, namely those in the U.S., by creating scholarships for esports athletes. 

“Scholarships would be a good way to incentivize players to come,” McMillan said. “Some kind of scholarship package…would really help us pull people in.”

Lachapelle’s vision goes even further: a TMU campus where students can watch their favourite Bold esports players compete live at the MAC.

“I think people will go to the Mattamy to watch collegiate competition one day,” he said. “I think we’ll be doing it within the next eight years.”

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