Esports team looking to grow at Carleton

Tespa Carleton, the Carleton University esports club, has grown since it started in August 2016 and now has an eye towards becoming an official Carleton Athletics club, according to Robert Oles, its founder and president.

“We started as an esports organization that was looking to kind of connect gamers on campus,” Oles, a third-year public affairs and policy management student, said.

Like other universities esports clubs, it partnered with Tespa, a North American collegiate esports organization. Esports are organized, multi-player video game competitions where players take part in a variety of first-person shooter, battle arenas, strategy, or fighting video games.

When the Carleton club started, there were 40 members, which grew to 70 by December 2016 and then to 270 members by the following April, according to Oles. There are now 600-700 members and 15 competitive teams. Membership is free but there are tournament entry-fees for players.

Esports around the world is also growing at an extremely fast rate, with the highest viewed event this year being the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice with 46 million unique viewers, a 35 per cent jump from the previous year. At this event, teams competed against each other in games such as League of Legends, Counter Strike, and Starcraft II in front of a crowd of 173,000 fans.

Oles said he recognized the potential of esports at Carleton and reached out to Tespa. He started the club with James Fitzgerald to provide a mix of competitiveness and community.

“He’s very pro-competitive and I’m very pro-community,” Oles said.

The club now supports 15 different games competitively. The World of Warcraft team made it to the North American finals last year and the Paladins team went to Atlanta, Ga., and won a tournament recently where the team received $6,000 in prize money.

“It blew my expectations out of the water,” Oles said. “Our competitive teams have exploded.”

The investment has grown—from $200 in Carleton University Students’ Association funding last year to $2,000 this year—but Oles noted there’s still room for more funding. Tespa Carleton has American sponsors including Twitch, Discord, and Akquire.

“We’re really looking to take this program to the next level,” Oles said.

The club is currently looking at submitting a proposal and plan to the school to incorporate esports into their athletics department. A proposal hasn’t been brought up yet, according to Jennifer Brenning, Carleton’s athletic director.

“We definitely think it’s an opportunity for the school to make a name for itself in a competitive scene that hasn’t really been established yet,” Oles said.

He pointed out that the level of costs for esports is much lower compared to varsity sports, something that could attract the school as well. Oles noted his dream situation would include paid coaches, an arena (or computer lab) for practices, and varsity scholarships.

“Being a competitor and committing to that kind of lifestyle and that esports/academic balance they have to juggle, I think that needs to be rewarded,” he said.

However, he added there could be pushback on the idea.

“I’m not going in there thinking [Carleton is] going to say yes the first time,” Oles said.

Oles said Tespa is looking to attract residence students in particular.

“There’s so many opportunities, especially for students in res to get involved but for gamers on [residence], there’s not that kind of activity or engagement because of their different interests,” he said.

“Gamers are going to game,” he noted. “We have an opportunity to have them game with Carleton students and meet new people and gain new experiences and attach that to the Carleton brand.”

Oles also emphasized the focus on academics.

“With our executives and our players, they are students first,” he said. “That’s the mentality that I started this club with. That is the mentality I will continue to lead this club with.”

Josh Patry, captain of Tespa Carleton’s Overwatch team, said the club has “grown massively.”

“The difference between last year and this year is quite insane,” he said.

According to Patry, the competition is the best part of esports.

“I love playing against people that I think are better than me because it gives me a challenge, gives me a level that I need to get to,” Patry said. He also pointed out how the teamwork and strategy in esports often goes under the radar.

“The biggest misconception is that it doesn’t take the skill that it actually does . . . a lot of problem-solving, a lot of using your mind to figure what has to be done, a lot of strategy like in regular sports: you have to create an opening, you have to capitalize on that opening,” Patry said.

Patry agreed with Oles on the impact being a competitive club at Carleton could have.

“If we could get funding, it would be great to get our own practice area because right now we all play from home, provide our own gear, play from our own PCs,” he explained. “It would make all the difference in the world,”

Oles noted the need for a strong proposal, to help sway the Carleton Athletics department.

“We would have to pitch something that would transcend Tespa Carleton,” he said. “We would be Ravens esports, we would be a part of their program.”