By Anna Jauhola
Two Kittson Central graduates are using their love of video games to help establish an alternative route for students to gain scholarships to attend college.
Brothers Bradley and Matthew Stewart both attend Minnesota State University Moorhead and are currently president and vice president of League of Dragons, an esports club. At MSUM, a group had already formed a League of Legends club, which focuses on playing the video game of the same name. It was more of an intramural club for fun, Bradley said.
By 2020, both Matthew and Bradley were attending MSUM and each enjoyed playing a different game called Rocket League. In this game, each player controls a vehicle and they play soccer.
“When he got to college and I was still in high school, we were still playing (Rocket League),” Matthew said. “When I got to college, he kind of brought up the idea of, ‘How can we play for scholarship money?’ And it all took off.”
The Stewarts approached officials at the university to investigate the possibility of collegiate sponsorship for a club.
“I asked a professor about the League of Legends club and he directed me to one of the club directors. Somehow, Matt Melchior was brought in, the director of recreation,” Bradley said. “He wanted to support it. He understood the basic principle of what we were trying to do with it. So he wanted to make it something on campus and now we have.”
Prior to the Stewarts pursuing this venture, the gamers set up their own equipment in a classroom, but it was not specifically designated for the club.
Now, with support from the university and fellow gamers, the League of Dragons Esports Club has a room dedicated to their efforts located in the Russell and Ann Gerdin Wellness Center. On the main floor of the building the gamers have 12 full computer setups at the various teams’ disposal.
The brothers said it’s exciting to be in on the ground level, helping establish such a venture at MSUM.
“I think we’ve had great progress so far with this being the first semester of really having anything,” Bradley said. “We didn’t have the lab until late October. We were still recruiting people to attend with the promise of a mystical lab they could go into. Now it’s here, it’s real and we’ve used it.”
This is the first year teams have competed from MSUM. The Stewarts are focused solely on Rocket League, being two members of the three-person team.
“With Rocket League, you need three people to compete and the rest are substitutes,” Bradley said. “So we have four or five on the Rocket League team.”
The duo competed just a few weekends ago before heading home for Christmas.
The entire season has been successful for the team, having beaten several larger schools in competitions, including University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, North Texas and Arizona State University.
“We’ve also lost to ASU quite a bit,” said Matthew, with a frustrated sigh. “But with those programs, they can sponsor five to seven teams. They have ASU black, blue, red, gold, etc. And we have one team.”
MSUM’s League of Dragons has played in two leagues, but mostly works within the National Association of Collegiate Esports.
Their record came out 5-2 and while that is pretty good, the Stewarts emphasized it needs to be better as they didn’t qualify for playoffs. They were 10th in a pool of 200 teams, but only the top eight from each conference moved on.
To improve their game, Matthew, Bradley and their teammates are like any other sports team – they must practice regularly. The brothers each play about five hours a day during the season. The investment they’re making has a lot to do with muscle memory.
“Rocket League is a physics-based game,” Bradley said. “There are no animations. That means, if you can train your brain to use your hands to move your car in a certain way, you can train it to do that every single time, then it’ll act that way each time, because it’s based on a physics simulation.”
He noted that top professional players have logged at least 10,000 hours in the game. These are people who are paid to play the game and compete.
Bradley is majoring in computer science and Matthew is majoring in broadcast journalism. Bradley, who will graduate next fall, said his computer science career helps the esports program, as he often has to troubleshoot internet and computer issues. For Matthew, his perspective is changing in what he may do with his journalism career once he graduates. He hopes to become a sports analyst, which could stretch into commentating on esports as well as physical sports. In fact, he often commentates on his own games.
“It’s not uncommon for people to do,” he said.
As the club continues to grow and compete at a collegiate level, the ultimate goal is to make it a program that gives scholarships to students to attend MSUM and play esports. This semester, the Stewarts helped recruit about 25 more members to make membership about 75.
“The realistic goal would be to get good enough to recruit people and give them a scholarship to play for MSUM,” Bradley said. “They don’t necessarily have to win to get scholarship money, but it’s like any other sports program.”
As esports continue to become a bigger and more prominent piece in how people around the world compete and gather, the Stewarts encourage young people to get involved.
Matthew said passion is a big part of it, but competing requires dedication and hard work, just like every other activity. Putting in the time for practice individually and with a team is important.
“You can’t just show up and expect to be good,” he said. “Most of these games that are at this level or at a professional level are time-consuming. They take a lot of your time for a reason.”
Bradley said eventually esports has the potential to become just as exclusive as physical sports, meaning students will need an invitation to join rather than just signing up.
“It’s going to be just like any other collegiate sport. If you want to get in, you better work on it now,” Bradley said. “We’re in a competitive club, we want to win so we want the best players.”
By Anna Jauhola