University esport has, up until this term, been a one-man show. The man in question is Josh Williams, who set up the National University Esports League (NUEL) in 2010, allowing thousands of students to compete across the UK. Up until this year, the NUEL has been the only tournament organiser in university esport to offer term-long competitions across multiple titles. No organisation offers anything quite like the NUEL. This term, that’s going to change.
The National Student Esports (NSE) is a new organisation, founded with financial backing from holding company Benchmark Sport, and British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS), who are the national governing body for higher education sport and run most of the national university leagues. NSE aims to provide another opportunity for students to get involved with esports, this time with a semi-official body that hopes to legitimise video games as opportunities for competition. Both NSE and NUEL have just completed their first week of University competition, offering League of Legends, Hearthstone, CS:GO, and Overwatch among others.
Nouse asked NSE Operations Manager Niall ‘Nolly’ Hayward what his organisation’s goals are for the coming year. He started with societies. ‘I think anyone within university esports is aware that the growth of the space is very dependent on how well societies can grow and we will be doing more to support that.’ ‘We sent out around 200 boxes of goodies for them to give away at events to attract new members.’ Of course, NSE’s events team are also working to replicate NUEL’s success in online leagues; this season sees 500 teams competing across six titles. Points from every team competing will go towards their University being crowned ‘Esports University of the Year’.
Nolly is proud of NSE’s infrastructure. He wants NSE’s site to celebrate ‘the rich history that so many teams and societies have’, and allow histories to develop as the site ages.
NSE’s launch hasn’t arrived without issues, however. Due to what Nolly calls an ‘administration error’ on NSE’s end, both DOTA 2 and CS:GO players experienced delays in matches this week. York Gaming Society Chair Dhillan Lad explained. ‘The matches displayed weren’t the ones that should have been played’. Societies found themselves facing teams they shouldn’t have been facing. Thankfully, issues were resolved as quickly as possible, and Dhillan notes that NSE staff were communicative, and notified players of problems ‘as quickly as they could’.
This year has also seen huge investment from the NUEL into supporting societies. The organisation now offers huge prizes for its largest titles (including an all-expenses-paid trip to LA for the winners of the Overwatch tournament.) The NUEL has supported societies in other ways, and Josh particularly wanted to highlight the ‘ROG laptop programme’. Josh’s work on the Twitch Student Program has also generated some ‘amazing live broadcasts’, putting many gaming societies, including York, on the front page of the largest game streaming service in the world.
Many see NSE and the NUEL as competitors. It’s true that NSE’s arrival has precipitated large investment by NUEL into its various projects. That said, the ultimate winners from this situation is the students, who now have choice, and a far better-funded system overall. Competition is good.
The most exciting aspect of NSE and NUEL’s plans for the UK are career opportunities. NSE already offers internship opportunities with Spanish esports firm Liga de Videojuegos Profesional (LVP) for which applications remain open, and Nolly wants to expand this further with ‘skills training at events’. Josh has also organised student access to the Red Bull Gaming Sphere for esport boot camps.
Nouse finished the interview by asking both whether they saw esports as a large part of university competition in future. NSE’s Nolly was adamant. ‘Esports is a major part of inter-university competition.’ He also believes esports is about more than just the games. ‘It’s about the people you meet, skills you learn and experiences you have.’ Josh offered a similar answer. ‘It won’t just be limited to competing but esports will become a major social and educational activity on campus’. One thing’s for sure: with two organisations now vying for the attention of British students, the future of university esport across the UK looks bright. All York students have to worry about now is beating Lancaster at Smash at the next Roses.