As a drone floats through the dimly lit Southwell Complex at Columbia College, excited patrons take a break from their various activities and look upwards. But the aircraft provides just a slight distraction. There are far more important things to see and do here.

Some have come to the Midwest Campus Clash and Gaming Expo with their sites set on the main event. Perched up on the main stage throughout the day are eSports competitors from colleges around the Midwest, taking part in a League of Legends tournament.

The importance of that event does have a dollar value, as the teams compete for a $25,000 prize pool, with a $15,000 prize for first place. Of course, for those vying to be crowned champion, the event is about a lot more than money.

Missouri’s eSports team took part in the Clash, with the Tigers’ road to a potential title steeply inclined. In the quarterfinals, Missouri defeated Colorado 2-0 in a best-of-three series. Perhaps some Tigers fans still bitter about the “Fifth Down” game finally tasted sweet revenge.

Missouri went down big early in Game 1, but stormed back to win that contest, before coasting to a dominant Game 2 victory.

“I think we broke their mentality,” said Josh Cobb, a member of Missouri’s eSports team. “I think most of any sport, in general, comes down to the mental (aspect). Everyone at this level is really good at League of Legends, but it’s the mental game that’s gonna change whether you are good or great.”

The Tigers’ win set up a crosstown semifinal matchup with mighty Columbia College — the top-ranked team in the nation, per ESPN’s latest coaches poll.

“Those are some of the best players in North America. Just getting the chance to play with them is amazing,” Cobb said.

The Cougars took care of business in the semifinals, defeating Missouri 2-0. But the home-court advantage would not bring Columbia College a title, as the Cougars fell to No. 8 Harrisburg, 2-0, in the final.

The tournament’s live stream, broadcast on the internet by Twitch, had 118,000 views throughout the day, according to Sam Fleury, the event’s senior director of public relations.

It wasn’t all about watching fellow gamers Saturday. The Midwest Campus Clash featured a large arcade right in the center of the Southwell Complex’s hardwood basketball court.

Those in a group of high school students surveyed their options. There were a bevy of choices, from Dance Dance Revolution to Sega Daytona USA and beyond. But when one exclaimed, “Wait, they have it?”, the decision became obvious. The quartet made a beeline for Guitar Hero.

This kind of occurrence is what associate vice president of marketing Brad Wucher envisions as he and his team go through the nearly “yearlong process” of organizing the Midwest Campus Clash.

“One of the reasons why we decided to make this more than just a Campus Clash, but also a gaming expo, was to broadly appeal for everybody of all ages,” Wucher said. “So whether you’re a hardcore gamer, or somebody who has no idea that eSports is even a thing, this is your chance to kind of stick a toe in the water.”

Wucher also sees the event as a way to support the local community and bring it together. Without a doubt, the Midwest Campus Clash does serve as a meeting place for the region’s gamers.

“Actually, I met one of my girlfriends here,” said Battle student Luis Portillo, who has attended the Clash each of the three it has existed. “I’ve met new friends, people that I hadn’t talked to in years.”

Having fun was not the only goal for the more than 2,000 people attending the Clash. Portillo said he has networked here in the past, garnering help and support to set up Battle’s eSports team.

With another year of the Midwest Campus Clash in the books, Wucher and the rest of his team can enjoy a month away from planning the event. But soon they’ll reconvene, starting the process of putting together the 2020 edition of the Clash. Wucher envisions an even bigger future for the event.

“I see it going to the point where we’re gonna have to pull out the bleachers on both ends to create more seating,” Wucher said.

Supervising editor is Theo DeRosa.

  • A Missouri men's basketball beat writer, David is a senior studying journalism from Brooklyn, New York. He has attended 356 sports venues. He can be reached at: davidsack@mail.missouri.edu

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