The Art of (Virtual) War

Despite the global popularity of online gaming, no one’s created an official college-only league. Until now. Will Boston become a major hub of the world’s fastest-growing sport? By Jesse Geman

the art of virtual war

Illustration by Jude Buffum

On a frigid february day in Newton, teams of Harvard and Boston University students battled one another on the playing field, mauling, slashing, and shooting their way to victory. But instead of jockstraps and helmets, they wore axes and magic wands, and many had taken the form of skimpily clad sorceresses or shapeshifting foxlike creatures. Yes, the action was virtual, but the competition was very real—players furiously mashed at their keyboards while shouting commands and arguing about strategy.

Both teams are members of the brand-new American Video Game League (AVGL), launched last year by 25-year-old Victor Suski, also the founder of a state-of-the-art e-sport venue, the Gaming Center, in Newton.

Suski, a Bentley grad with a finance degree, is capitalizing on the massive popularity of e-sports: More people watched the League of Legends world championships last year than the World Series; pro gaming is now a medaled event at the X Games; and one of the world’s largest porn sites, YouPorn, even sponsors its own “Team YP.” The University of Pikeville, in Kentucky, and Robert Morris University Illinois, in Chicago, are even offering e-sports scholarships. And in August, Amazon bought the video-game-streaming site Twitch TV for $1.1 billion.

Although an official video-game league—for the League of Legends—does offer a college championship series, Suski says it doesn’t have the same flexibility that his AVGL does: “They structure it just like the NFL would be, to the point where they literally fine teams for breaking certain rules and things like that. They’re really strict.”

As for Suski’s custom-built Newton venue, it features two soundproofed, five-computer booths; a viewing lounge; and an Internet broadcast facility equipped with microphones, game monitors, and feeds from wall-mounted cameras to capture and stream the gamers in action.

Suski’s goal is to make the AVGL the NCAA for college-level e-sports (thus far, seven Boston-area colleges have signed up), and to make his center a major hub. For five days in January, the center hosted the Evil Geniuses team as they prepared for the Dota 2 Asia Championship, where they won first place and $1.2 million.

Back at the Harvard–BU tourney, the former loses when BU player “demonraiser112” uses his crossbow-wielding assassin to overpower his opponent in a well-timed assault. Although they lost, Harvard’s team captain, sophomore Young-Jun Kim, said he was “definitely proud of the team…and I’m pumped to keep going.”