The Next Level

Following outstanding success in its inaugural varsity campaign, Northeastern Esports prepares to join the Esports Collegiate Conference

By Brian Shim

As a club team, Northeastern Esports had spent years making its mark as the top esports competitor in the Northeast, besting regional rivals in local club tournaments and bringing laurels home to Huntington Avenue across almost all of its titles. In its inaugural campaign as the first Division 1 varsity esports program in New England, the Huskies have now stepped up to make a strong statement at the national level, with each of our four active Division I titles – Hearthstone, League of Legends, Overwatch, and Rocket League – boasting season-long win percentages greater than .600. 

Now, following this trail of success in its inaugural season, the newly minted varsity team has taken another groundbreaking step towards solidifying the Huskies as a household name in competitive gaming by being unanimously approved to become the first official non-founding member of the Esports Collegiate Conference (ESC). Starting in Spring 2021, Northeastern will line up talented rosters to compete with the nation’s best in big-name titles such as Overwatch, League of Legends, and Rocket League. 

ESC – an independent esports initiative created earlier this year by the twelve institutional members of the Mid-American Conference – provides vital infrastructure in the developing collegiate esports scene, aligning Northeastern with elite institutions across the nation, many of which would be otherwise out of reach from the Northeast region. Through ESC, Northeastern will compete for hard-fought conference championships in various titles that will earn them automatic berths to prestigious national tournaments. 

“Joining a conference like this is a huge forestep for Northeastern Esports. It creates more structure, competitive scheduling, relationships with pinnacle esports institutions,” Nick Avery, Associate Director of Esports said. “Initiatives like ESC are going to be what progress esports and allow it to continue molding into a more traditional and legitimate athletics model.” 

Aside from bringing forward a grounding framework, Northeastern’s collaboration with ESC will also serve an important role in developing the business behind the infant program. 

“The continued brand exposure will be critical in growing our name. Sponsorship, corporate collaborations, investment into the program – these are all administrative aspects that we need to keep on the forefront of our minds when deciding where to steer our program,” Esports Coordinator Tyler Levesque said.

As the esports program continues to grow, Avery and Levesque both hope to see sweeping developments in the future.

“We’re gonna be focusing on national trends within the industry, conference trends, and looking at how we keep engagement growing,” Avery said. “In the long run, we really want to be thinking about how we can bring Northeastern Esports to the big stage and host events and championship games at Matthews Arena.”

Indeed, the leaps that the program has made in recent history have put Northeastern University on the map as a consistent threat in the collegiate esports arena. But joining ESC as a true varsity program isn’t the first triumph that the Huskies have had in the esports scene, as the rosters had been seeing significant successes long before varsity discussions were taking place. 

In 2017, after advancing through qualifying rounds in the Eastern Conference of the inaugural Collegiate Rocket League (CRL) campaign hosted by Psyonix and Tespa, the competitive club Rocket League roster swept their conference opponents in the regular season with an undefeated 7-0 record. Following a hard-fought playoff run, the team then brought home the national championship title, besting the Ohio State Buckeyes in the grand finals 4-3 after an intense best of seven series. 

Northeastern Esports Titles

Beyond CRL, the Rocket League team has been on the ground semester after semester working to legitimize the Huskies as a competitive threat in collegiate esports.

“We’ve played in anything and everything, really. Anything that we can get ourselves into, we’ve pushed to compete and perform the best that we can. And after being a part of all of that, there really aren’t any schools in the region that stand out to us as rivals,” Rocket League junior Ollie Regan said. 

However, Rocket League is far from the only team in the program that has experienced triumph in its path to becoming a varsity team and securing Northeastern’s throne as the premier competitor in New England, with the talent behind the League of Legends team also seeing significant success. 

“Prior to coming to ESC, we’ve been primarily involved in the League of Legends East Conference held by Riot Games for collegiate competitors,” Jack Weng, League of Legends senior and Top Laner, said. “We’ve also competed in local and regional tournaments that feature top teams from Massachusetts and the Northeast.”

According to junior Mid Laner Jon Gold, it became clear very quickly through these tournaments that the Huskies’ competitive hunger would not be satisfied through the local stage. 

“We’ve shown in the last year that we kind of outclass everyone else that we’ve competed against in the Northeast – it’s been pretty easy stuff.”

Weng wholeheartedly agrees, especially after seeing the team reach similarly strong success in its first varsity season.

“After playing in everything, we can definitely say that we’re the best here in the Northeast. And, ever since we started competing with ESC, we’ve come up on top of all the other teams in the conference. We’ve basically been running the tables.”

However, the Huskies’ winning records cannot be taken as unblemished success, according to Weng. 

“In some of our bigger competitions in the past, we’ve managed to barely miss out on playoff opportunities and we’ve lost some big matchups. But, we’ve worked hard to improve since then and we’re continuing to make progress, so we’re looking forward to the future.”

A lot of this progress comes from the hard work of dedicated coaching staff, who work week in and week out to maintain consistent scheduling, targeted practice, and Video on Demand reviews to keep the chains moving. 

“Between matches and practice, we spend a good deal of time each week on actual gameplay, and we try to review as much key film as possible between matches to objectively analyze where we need to improve,” Christopher Bravo, League of Legends head coach, explained. “We use a kind of rinse-and-repeat process – play, study, repeat – to build up and accumulate improvements day by day.”

Despite a history of national success and outstanding marks in its inaugural varsity venture, many within the program believe they are just scratching the surface of their potential. 

“We’re just a program in our infancy, really,” Gold said. “As the school starts to get more involved, our level of activity increases, and we hammer out more structure and scheduling, I 100 percent believe that Northeastern will become a huge household name in competitive gaming nationwide, and inspire other schools to follow our lead onto the esports stage.”