Inaugural IM esports tournament a slam dunk


Eddie Kerekes

Taking a break from competing, students played a few card games to pass the time.

For most students, the first day of physical education involves sitting and watching presentations. Upperclassmen have already heard the speech from Associate Athletic Director Pat Kennedy while underclassmen aren’t paying attention to it. But, for two Case Western Reserve University students, the first day of class set off the planning of the first event of its kind.

Case Western Reserve Esports Club vice president, co-founder and third-year student Tiffany Nguyen heard about the inaugural intramural (IM) esports tournament and approached the department, offering the club’s assistance once they knew more details about the event.

The “NBA 2K18” tournament, co-sponsored by the Case Western Reserve University IM department and the Esports Club and held on Saturday, Feb. 2, was the brainchild of Assistant Director for Intramural and Club Sports Daniel Conway. He formulated the idea last spring and reached out to the Esports Club last semester, following the physical education interaction. Cavs Legion Gaming Club, an esports team founded by the Cleveland Cavaliers, also reached out to the Esports Club and contributed branded hats and shirts given out as raffle prizes.

Heading into the event, Conway did not know what to expect.

Two days before the tournament, he said, “We really don’t know what’s going to happen—which is kind of nerve-racking but kind of exciting at the same time.”

The tournament itself began about 20 minutes later than the scheduled 7 p.m. start time because Conway and members of the club were setting up the consoles and organizing the Varsity Club on the second floor of the Wyant Athletic and Wellness Center. Two Xbox One X consoles were connected to projectors in front of a multitude of chairs in the main playing areas. In a separate room, students played Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch, while on a side table Tabletop Empire, the CWRU board gaming club, played a few card games with students waiting to play or not interested in watching the basketball action.

The Cavs Legion, who are trying to establish an esports community in Cleveland, then approached the club through Associate Dean of Academics Marc Buchner. Nguyen and club president, co-founder and third-year student Avery Zhou had lunch with the organization’s representative and mentioned the tournament.

“We mentioned how we were planning an esports tournament through the Athletics Department, and they were very excited to support us,” Zhou said.

Nguyen added that 2K18 was a natural fit for the event because of the sponsorship of an organization affiliated with an NBA team. Though the club typically focuses on the “traditional” esports (think ”League of Legends,” “Overwatch” and “Rocket League”), it is always open to hosting an event for any esport if there is interest on campus.

Nguyen said, “We’re hoping to be able to connect with and engage all the gamers in our Case community.”

Nine teams competed in the tournament, and each team played two guaranteed games. Game quarters were three minutes long, except for the championship, which used the default five minute quarters. Most of the teams consisted of two members, but a few had just one person. Conway presented the teams with the bracket and teams selected their desired spot on the bracket in a random order. Student teams selected a NBA team to play as throughout the tournament, with a handful choosing the Golden State Warriors, though other selected teams included the Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics.

Though a Los Angeles Lakers fan, first-year student and member of the team You Reach I Teach Seldon Magruder chose the Warriors because “they’re way too overpowering,” and he wanted to compete with other teams that were choosing the defending NBA champions. He added that when he and first-year teammate Connor Weber play against each other regularly, they ban the Warriors from possible selection.

Instead of playing with both players at once, most teams used one player for two quarters. Generally, gamers play on their own, so adding a second player completely changes the gameplay. The main decision for most teams was the quarters each player sat out.

After winning a tight semifinal matchup against fellow Warriors team Good Game, Magruder and Weber’s team faced Made in China, consisting of fourth-year students Bowen Jin and Russel Zhou, for the championship. Made in China also played as the Warriors in the tournament, and the two equally matched teams played a tight first half. Made in China trailed by just one point at halftime. In the third quarter Magruder pulled away. His team led by 10 points at the end of the quarter and eventually won the game 65-57.

Surrounded by a handful of eliminated opponents, the players alternated between exclamations and the silent focus of concentration throughout the game. Zhou often shouted Made in China’s unofficial catchphrase “China No. 1.” After one critical play, Weber even stood up from his chair and shouted at the screen.

He said, “Seldon had a great quarter and took care of business.”

Multiple players indicated they would participate in a similar event in the future. Magruder suggested to Conway that the next tournament should involve the FIFA series of soccer video games. Because he rented one of the consoles from Rent-A-Center for one month, Conway indicated he might plan an event on short-term notice to maximize its use.