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Blizzard's recent Heroes of the Dorm tournament was one of the biggest in eSports history and could shake up the future of amateur, collegiate competition.

Zoran Cunningham, Blogger

April 29, 2015

4 Min Read

When I interviewed a top figure of the Collegiate Star League back in 2010, I got to take a deep look at the importance of amateur collegiate-level eSports competition. The interview shed light on how a healthy and thriving amateur scene can contribute to the development and growth of eSports. Yet, despite all the seemingly obvious benefits of publisher and developer support for amateur tournaments, very few developer-funded top-tier collegiate tournaments have popped up and publishers and developers have been largely passive in directly supporting the collegiate scene.

This is perhaps the main reason that Blizzard's Heroes of the Dorm tournament is so refreshing and forward-thinking. While it often takes most eSports developers years to finally wise up and sponsor collegiate tournaments for their flagship titles (and some still don't even acknowledge collegiate competition in any official capacity), it's refreshing to see Blizzard getting a quick jump on the action by hosting a tournament while Heroes of the Storm is still in beta.

With over 880 universities participating in the challenger rounds, Heroes of the Dorm may just be the biggest collegiate league tournament ever assembled for any competition. At the Grand Finals in Los Angeles I spotted students proudly sporting school apparel from universities all over North America. I was instantly reminded of the pageantry of collegiate competition: the school pride, the Cinderella stories, the undefeateds, the winning streaks, the underdogs; the narrative potential seemed endless. The general mix of school pride and game fandom is a potent combination that provides a uniquely captivating experience.

The best-of-five Grand Finals proved to be one of the best in recent eSports history. On one side, the University of California at Berkeley entered the finals match completely undefeated; the team had not lost a single round against any team during their entire tournament run. On the other side, Arizona State University was living up to its moniker as the Dream Team by providing many of the most dominant victories seen in the game's short history. The two teams traded victories back and forth until UC Berkeley sneaked a narrow victory in the final game of the series to win free tuition for the rest of their college careers.  

Perhaps more suprising is the effort Blizzard put into securing live broadcasting for Heroes of the Dorm. Blizzard negotiated full live television broadcasts of the Round of 16, Round of 8, and Heroic 4 on ESPN3 in addition to the Grand Finals on ESPN2 in the United States. Courting a network that reaches almost 100 million viewers in the U.S. is no small feat. It's a major boon that few video games have managed and it'll be interesting to see the impact the decision will have both on video gaming and eSports in the long term.

The industry often talks about the potential for having competitive eSports on live broadcast television. While many other companies and organizers have made valiant in-roads in the past, Blizzard is making a surprisingly big push for a game still weeks from public release. It shows just how incredibly committed Blizzard is to seeing Heroes of the Storm become a major success as a brand.

Courting the collegiate crowd could prove to be a wise investment on the part of Blizzard.
Universities are hotbeds for gamers and future game industry professionals and most universities and colleges are home to game clubs or student unions where students can congregate with other gamers of all kinds. It's not uncommon to find amateur tournaments at campus LAN centers and gaming labs. Any event (streamed, televised, or otherwise) that boosts video games and eSports in the collegiate arena has the potential to draw in new players and spur future collaboration among existing fans.

The increased collaboration among talented, aspiring students is something that could pay dividends for the industry down the road. A thriving collegiate scene could provide an all important element of legitimacy to eSports and gaming in general. The more inroads that gaming can make into the academic arena, the more likely that future generations will see gaming as a vibrant and normative activity. Professors, administrators, parents, and non-gamers will quickly take notice.

As we slowly approach an era where non-gamers become increasingly less common within the general population, every well-conceptualized professional and academic venture into gaming will reaffirm gaming as a healthy and noteworthy medium. It's a win-win scenario for both the developers and the universities involved.


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