Starting in fall 2018, the Big East Conference and its member schools will expand its horizons to competitive video games, hosting its first-ever Big East eSports Invitational. While this is the first time Seton Hall has officially sponsored an eSports team, competitive gaming has been popular on the South Orange campus for quite some time.
Gaming Sector, Seton Hall’s on-campus video game club, currently has about 100 members, many of whom are competitive video gamers. Christian Ciardiello, the club’s vice president of eSports, saw the plethora of passionate gamers and used it as an opportunity to form a competitive team within Gaming Sector last year.
“I joined the PC sector, and one of the things I was always passionate about is eSports,” Ciardiello said. “One of the things I noticed was that we didn’t have a team here, but there were a lot of leagues that we could easily enter ourselves into.”
Each team consists of five players, a manager and a substitute player to rotate the squad. Last year, there was limited interest for the team; however, this year, Ciardiello was forced to create a second team in response to the increased interest from students.
The most popular eSports game, League of Legends, was the primary focus of Ciardiello when organizing the teams. With both team rosters set, Ciardiello entered them into two different League of Legends tournaments against other independent collegiate teams, where they held their own against more experienced players.
“This year, basically everyone but me and another kid are brand new,” Quinton Escalante said, a sophomore team member. “A lot of freshman have come in this year and our team has gotten a lot better since.”
When Ciardiello found out about the Big East’s eSports initiative, he immediately reached out to Seton Hall Director of Athletics Pat Lyons to talk about the existing Seton Hall team and its interest in joining the new league.
“They told us that they support eSports and our group,” Ciardiello said. “What came out was that we both knew we existed and that we were interested in moving forward with eSports.”
Originally, the Big East planned to host eSports tournaments for FIFA and Rocket League, with no mention of League of Legends. This disappointed Ciardiello, who admitted he was not as interested without the game.
“I was a bit bummed out at first because, we had put so much time and energy into that specific game,” Ciardiello said. “However, I received an email shortly after that they were dropping FIFA, and League of Legends would be added, and I was absolutely ecstatic.”
Although Ciardiello is not personally invested in Rocket League, he has organized a team within Game Sector to compete in the Big East’s league.
“There are a ton of Rocket League players in Gaming Sector and on campus in general,” Ciardiello said. “Finding guys for that team wasn’t hard at all and I expect them to do really well, actually.”
Just like the athletes who will take the field or court in the fall, the gamers will spend hundreds of hours in preparation for the Big East eSports Invitational next fall. Just like any other Pirate team, the hope and expectation will be to take down the competition.
“The individual talent has definitely gone up a lot, and this year our team work has gone up a level,” Escalante said. “We have really started to jell and find chemistry among us. So, we really want to go in there this fall and win.”
Andrew Lombardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lombardo_andrew.