GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan State University League of Legends Club was crowned champion Sunday afternoon of the first Grand Rapids Rift Clash esports tournament.
The Spartans were awarded $2,500. Since the sport isn’t regulated by the NCAA, the players got to split the money and keep it for themselves.
Backed by the West Michigan Sports Commission, the Rift Clash was West Michigan’s first major esports tournament.
“In West Michigan, this is one of a kind at this point. But across the country, there are tournaments like this that are happening pretty regularly,” Aquinas College esports coach Adam Antor said. “These players came here to compete and try their best to win.”
Crowds followed and joined them at Celebration Cinema North — not to catch a flick, rather to see keyboards click.
“A lot of people don’t understand. They hear esports and they think, ‘What game could that be?’” Antor said. “Every player kind of decides which game their best at and plays one game, think of it like track and field. You’re on the track team but you’re a thrower or a runner, sprint, distance — same concept with different games.”
The game on deck Sunday was League of Legends. It has been around for a while. University of Michigan club gamer Max Imos Nolan says he has been around for all of it and his dad is to blame.
“I’ve been playing League of Legends for like eight or nine years, and that was in its infancy back then,” Nolan said. “My dad played it a lot, actually. He’s a doctor. In between his shifts, he’d play a game or two and he’s like, ‘This is a lot of fun, you should try it out.’ Now I might actually make some money doing it.”
The allure of financial gain and the unlikely odds of sustaining injury are all part of esports’ meteoric rise.
“There’s a lot of safety concerns in a lot of traditional athletics right now and we have those safety concerns in esports,” Antor explained. “These players may not be running up and down the court in the traditional sense of athleticism, but believe me, you can work up a sweat.”
West Michigan Sport Commission Director of Marketing and Events Katy Tigchelar hopes the events keep coming and the prize money doesn’t stray too far from home.
“We’re hoping they spend their money here,” Tigchelar said. “Their visitors will spend their money here by shopping in our stores, eating in our restaurants and staying in our hotels. So basically sports tourism is our industry.”
The event was confined to one theater Sunday, but Tigchelar believes soon it could fill an entire arena.
“That would be a great goal of ours to maybe put this in Van Andel Arena someday, but right now Celebration Cinema has been a great partner of ours and hopefully will continue to be for the next few years,” Tigchelar said. “It’s huge and we want Grand Rapids to be a part of it.”