ESPN’s highlight reel is about to get nerdy. This month, the sports network is broadcasting Heroes of the Dorm, the second annual video game college championship, on its ESPN2 network. You read that right: video game college championship. (And yes, teams from the University of Colorado Boulder are competing.) Video games have emerged from basements everywhere as a spectator sport with a sleek new nickname: e-sports.
You can quibble about the definition of “sport,” but you can’t deny the popularity of e-sports, which basically comprise any competitive video gaming. In 2014, Amazon paid a billion dollars for twitch.tv, a website that streams games. Last year, the world championship for a game called League of Legends drew 14 million viewers at its peak. (The 2015 NBA Finals topped out at 28 million.) And locally, Littleton-based Creature Hub’s YouTube channel, stocked with gaming content, boasts 1.2 million subscribers.
Although e-sports are most popular in South Korea, they’re making inroads in the United States—and Colorado. Last year, five CU Boulder students competed in the first Heroes of the Dorm tournament, a bracket-style competition featuring 460 teams from different colleges. (Each squad has five members. The object of the game—Heroes of the Storm—is to destroy the opposing team’s base.) The Hungry Buffs spent 14 hours a day practicing over their spring breaks and won seven matches to qualify for the 64-team bracket—akin to making the NCAA basketball tournament. But the University of California San Diego bounced the Buffs in the first round. (Surprisingly, the overall winner was not Robert Morris University, the first college to offer e-sports scholarships, but rather the University of California Berkeley.) This year, three CU Boulder teams will compete in Heroes of the Dorm for a chance to win nearly $400,000 in tuition money.
To prepare for the 2015 tourney, the Hungry Buffs trained at Clutch Gaming Arena & Energy Bar, which offers 60 computers and a bar serving more than 100 varieties of energy drinks. Founded with 25 computers in 2009, Clutch moved to Arvada in 2013 to accommodate the growing population of gamers. This summer Clutch plans to relocate again, to a 50,000-square-foot facility in RiNo. The revamped center will feature 300 computers and consoles, food and drinks delivered to your terminal, and Japanese-style sleep capsules: beds in six-foot-seven-inch-long tubes just tall enough for boarders to sit up inside. Co-founder Justin Moskowitz says the RiNo Clutch will be the largest e-sports resort in the country. We know, we know—you’re scoffing. That’s fine. But you’ve been warned: This game is far from over.