A team league also means that established star players who age (or go on the decline) but are pillars of the community can transition to team coaching or administrative positions and still contribute their knowledge and insight into the sport, rather than leaving it for good and moving on. Even better, it means that successful pillars of the community can make a long-term career out of their passion for eSports.
"Some of the most famous players and eSports personalities including the infamous Sean 'Day9' Plott, Team EG captain Geoff 'INcontrol' Robinson, and Tyler 'NonY' Wasieleski competed in the CSL," Mack notes. "The number of pro players making a splash at big international tournaments as a result of playing in the CSL is growing. You have players like Adrian 'KawaiiRice' Kwong at the University of Washington who coach and turn prospective low-tier players into top-tier contenders. What you get is the start of new teams like team LighT and a player in Patrick 'Caliber' Coury who is suddenly tearing up the StarCraft II scene is a very short period of time."
There is a definite thrill that comes with winning as a team and representing a university on a grand stage through competition. School pride certainly plays a big role, and news of high tournament placement and victory tends to spread across campus, making eSports suddenly relevant at a school. Much of what the CSL is doing involves establishing a system very similar to athletic sports where players can compete for a spot on a team, be recruited by scouts at a college, and develop into star players.
The CSL is also doing something that eSports has been ignoring for years: looking at outside influences for inspiration.
"From the very start we took a deep look at the sports world and what they do," says Mack. "We looked at how great it might be to have a weekly show that analyzes StarCraft and covers the players and tactics of the game. We're looking at getting talented casters and color commentators a list of stats and figures available at their fingertips during events to add credence and perspective to matches. Those are the things that keep viewers interested. Even better, we want to showcase the story behind players and teams, much like ESPN brings drama to sports coverage via player and event spotlights."
To this end, the CSL homepage not only services the league by showcasing players and teams through university spotlights, but it also has a support team available to address inquiries from universities and teams regarding all aspects of CSL participation. The CSL is even drafting documents to assist team captains with effectively growing their team. It's all part of a movement toward establishing a healthy league that will be around for years to come.
The CSL isn't content with resting on its laurels and supporting StarCraft II as its mainstay, either. While StarCraft II is certainly the core focus of the CSL, the organization looks at other popular eSports games in a scaled-down form while it works out a proper format for developing each league. This ensures that the intricacies and variations of each game are considered before establishing a full-fledged stable league. League of Legends was the first to enter the trial format and DOTA 2 followed shortly afterward.
It's quite possible that the CSL may eventually become the cornerstone of eSports, going forward. At the very least, it can help guide eSports to a more stable and successful future.
All of the effort that the CSL has put into creating a healthy eSports league atmosphere will be on display at the AZUBU Collegiate Champions Grand Finals on the weekend of February 16th and 17th in Los Angeles. With a prize pool of $180,000, the CSL has proven that steady and healthy growth can lead to prime-time, big-money events. Better still, admission to the event is free for anyone interested in experiencing the electric atmosphere of eSports competition in person. The official CSL Twitch.tv channel will also livestream the event for free. For fans, players, and colleges, it doesn't get any better than this.
[The CSL was founded by head community manager Mona Zhang. Current CEO Duran Parsi joined soon after and help lay the groundwork for an organized league. The company then recruited production editor Timothy Young and tournament head Alan Nguyen before adding Aston Mack and lead writer Theresa Gaffney into the fold. In 2012, the CSL officially incorporated and went from six people maniacally managing a league of over 200 universities to a committed staff of dozens that continually brainstorm the future of eSports.]