As Covid-19 has sent shockwaves through the sporting world, many students have been forced to turn to new hobbies with which to occupy their time and satisfy their competitive drive. For many, esports has filled the sports-shaped hole siphoned away over a year ago by an unforgiving pandemic.

Words by Jake Nordland

Esports, for the uninitiated, are videogames played competitively for audiences and prize money. If it sounds niche, it isn’t – esports is a $1bn industry, and the university esports ecosystem awards tens of thousands of pounds to winning teams each year.

Much like traditional sporting clubs at Sussex, the esports society runs competitive tryouts to determine the universities’ best players for its teams, which it then enters into inter-university UK championships for each esport.

Unlike traditional sports, however, our esports teams have been competing unencumbered by the pandemic. Four weeks into the season, we recap how Sussex’s very own Sussex Sharks have been performing in their weekly games in university leagues across the six different esports titles contested by our players.

Sussex’s Rocket League teams, who are historically strong performers and are currently fielding three seperate teams, have had a better-than-expected start to the season. After two weeks of qualification, the 1st team won all three of their best-of-5 matches in the third week to get promoted to Nationals, the highest division containing the top 32 teams in the country. 

Week four saw further success, with two wins propelling them to the 24th spot in the standings. Sussex’s 2nd team managed to stay in the top of Regionals, the league’s second division, offering the opportunity of promotion if they win their next three matches. The 3rd team, meanwhile, lag slightly behind in the third division.

Committee member and team captain for Sussex’s Rocket League 1st team, Ryan ‘Distan’ Hamlett, told The Badger: “Our 1st team made it into National league almost with ease, it made me proud to see as we have been doing so much work to improve over the last year or so”. 

“Our 2nd and 3rd team have also been rising up the Regional standings which is exciting to see as Sussex is quickly becoming more than just a one team university in Rocket League”.

In League of Legends, a shaky qualification period saw both of Sussex’s teams placed into Regionals. Three weeks in, the 1st team narrowly missed an opportunity to promote to Nationals after winning 2 of their 3 series. 

But their narrow loss will mean the roster will have the chance to promote again next week. With both the 1st and 2nd League of Legends teams achieving a 5-4 win-loss record, they sit in comfortable positions in the upper echelon of Regionals.

As one of Sussex’ strongest assets, our 3-person Hearthstone team started strong with a 6th place standing going into week 4. 

But a difficult match versus the 2019 champions Saint Andrews saw Sussex lose out on the last chance to qualify for playoffs, exiting the tournament outside the top 6 and forfeiting the chance for a share of the £600 prize pot.

In Rainbow 6: Siege, two solid opening weeks were improved on in the third week after two series wins saw them promote into the top division for the league.

The fourth week ushered in further success with another 2 series wins keeping them safely within the top division.

Sussex’s team for Valorant – Riot’s new team-based tactical FPS that launched last year – have had some tight losses and resounding wins. Consistent performances and an equal number of wins and losses most weeks mean the team currently sits at 12th, 25th and 30th place in the three different leagues available to university Valorant players.

After missing multiple matches due to unavailability, the Dota 2 team fell into 30th place in the league standings. But with a 5-person team back in action, the team went 1-1 in week 4 and look poised to improve their standings going forward.

There are some notable absences from Sussex’s usual profile this season. The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team, which placed 9th in the South region last term, could not enter their 1st team for this term’s tournament. Sussex’s main Overwatch team, which has also placed well in previous seasons, similarly could not field a team.

National Student Esports (NSE), one of the tournament providers for university esports, maintains an overall ranking of the top esports universities in the UK. Sussex ranked 35th out of all UK universities last academic year, having previously finished 20th the season before.

Jacob ‘Jev’ Evans, President of the Sussex Esports society, told The Badger: “Whilst this term has been a quieter one, [due to] not wanting esports to get in the way of academics, we’ve still proven ourselves in multiple games, posting impressive scores in multiple tournaments.”

“But we’ll come back stronger”, he added.

Any Sussex students can form or join a team and take part in university esports tournaments each term for free. For more information about how to participate in esports at Sussex, visit their society page or join the University of Sussex Esports Society discord server.

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