Heroes of the dorm: the quest for college tutition and recognition

This story originally appeared in The Rotunda

Update (4:09 PM): I made a mistake on the amount of revenue the industry generates, so I’ve changed that in this version you’re reading now. I’ll have that fixed on The Rotunda’s website soon.

On Feb. 20, worlds will once again collide, and mighty heroes will battle for dominance. Not for the fate of the universe but for college tuition. Heroes of the Dorm, Blizzard Entertainment’s collegiate competitive gaming tournament has returned for the second time, with as much as $500,000 on the line for the 715 teams that will be playing. Viewers at home can win up to $10,000 by predicting the bracket up to the final few games, the “Heroic Four.” The competitors will come from all over North America to play the online video game Heroes of the Storm, a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) that combines characters from Blizzard’s most popular franchises, such as Warcraft, StarCraft and The Lost Vikings.

Heroes of the Storm, like other MOBAs, stars two five-person teams that must traverse a battleground via the use of three different lanes in order to ultimately destroy an enemy structure that launches ranged attacks. On the way there, they must kill enemy team members and destroy their towers. Players can also interact with neutral non-playable characters, possibly killing them in order to gain experience.

Longwood sent a team last year under the name “RidersofLongwood,” and was captained by Michael “rea1murphy” Murphy. Murphy is returning as captain for Longwood this year, now in charge of the “Kazoo Kids.” Also returning is last year’s undefeated champions, University of California — Berkeley “Golden Bears,” which defeated Arizona State University’s “Storm Riders.” UC Berkeley has a new captain now, as professional teams scooped up some of the players from last year.

The tournament will last until April, and will be split up into three sections. The Online Qualifier will take place from February 20th until March 6. The Bracket Play section is the first section that will be broadcast, and can be seen on Heroes of the Storm’s Twitch channel (http://www.twitch.tv/blizzheroes), their YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/BlizzHeroes), as well as on ESPN 3, just like last year. This will feature the 64 teams that remain, with each round dividing the number of survivors in half. The last section is the Heroic Four, between the last four teams, and will only be aired live on ESPN 2, though the coverage will likely be on the YouTube channel later. All of this will feature the exciting play-by-play commentating by “shoutcasters,” the competitive gaming version of a SportsCenter talking head.

Heroes of the Storm is just one of a myriad of games that are played competitively in the “eSports” scene, which has already been popular for years in South Korea, but has been rapidly gaining popularity in the United States. In 2014, 27 million people watched the League of Legends Championship, leaving the World Series’ 14 million viewers in its cold shadow. Also in 2014, Twitch, one of the more popular streaming services for eSports, reached fourth place in United States Internet traffic. Gaming industry analyst Newzoo, predicted in January this year that eSports revenue would reach $463 million. They year before, they predicted it will make $465 million in 2017, coming very close to that of American football. In professional eSports, players are paid a salary, sometimes up to $250,000 per year (in addition to money made streaming on Twitch).

Heroes of the Dorm’s coverage by ESPN also shows eSports’ increasing popularity: the recognition of it by those that ordinarily have ignored it. ESPN recently opened a new web portal for eSports and hired several veteran gaming journalists, including Rod “Slasher” Breslau. eSports is growing rapidly, and there’s no stopping it now.