Following a second–place finish in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) 2021 Fall Invitational, IC Blue, the Ithaca College Esports club team that participates in competitive League of Legends tournaments, has its sights set on a bid to the national tournament this spring.
The Ithaca College Esports club was founded in March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and began competing in tournaments in Spring 2020. Since the club and team’s formation, IC Blue has accumulated an 87–52 record over the span of eight League of Legends Tournaments. League of Legends is an online multiplayer battle arena video game that has competitive tournaments played both semi-professionally and professionally. The team is composed of five players: seniors Matt Krueger, Tenzin Namgyel, Manny Sanchez, Eli Robinson and junior Matt Pulsifer.
Sanchez, the IC Blue captain, has played competitive League of Legends since 2015. Sanchez, who used to play soccer and baseball, said he uses Esports as a competitive outlet after injuries steered him away from participating in other sports. Since he joined the team during his sophomore year, he has had the ability to build the roster for IC Blue and watch the team grow each semester.
“When I got here, I was like, ‘It would be sick to make a League [of Legends] team, but it didn’t exist,’” Sanchez said. “It’s been really cool because all of them came in new… nobody has a super big ego, it’s super productive in practice and in games, everyone’s just trying to learn and get better.”
Sanchez said his current role has allowed him to still compete while also taking a step back in a managerial style. As the only member of the team with competitive experience, he has set aside his former aspirations of playing professionally and helped his teammates step up their games.
“I got to … help these guys get a lot better than what we were when we started,” Sanchez said. “Now, I think everyone on the team is better than I am, which is saying something.”
Namgyel said that it has been fun playing with Sanchez during their time with IC Blue, and that he has been a key factor to each player improving.
“Each team operates in its own unique way, and finding each nuance and decision each individual player makes instinctively takes a long time,” Namgyel said. “We’ve been playing together for a little under two years and we’ve started to really come together as a team. What benefits us is that Manny knows a lot about how other organizations, ones with more funding, operate. He knows how they practice and how to both analyze your own performance as well as your teammates’. Since we’re self-coached, all students with no paid full-time coach unlike other schools, it’s our responsibility to teach ourselves and grow, and Manny’s insight on that part of the esports world really helps.”
The team’s spring competition will take place within the ECAC, but Sanchez said he believes the conference will have taken a step back from last year. He said due to the ECAC being a partner conference, only one team receives a bid to the national tournament at the end of the year.
The two types of conferences are open conferences and partner conferences. Open conferences, like the North Conference, South Conference, East Conference and West Conference, receive at least five bids to the national tournament while partner conferences, like the ECAC, only get one bid for the conference winner. Competing in a partner conference where every team is vying for the sole bid to the national tournament has driven varsity programs to switch to open conferences, Sanchez said.
With an anticipated weaker conference, IC Blue’s expectations have steadily increased over time. Senior Jared Anderson, a primary commentator for IC Blue, said the team’s biggest competition will be against ECAC rival Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute after Farmingdale State College left the conference following its ECAC Fall 2021 Invitational victory.
“I feel like our performance really was a good showing for what they can do in the spring,” Anderson said. “I know that this group can make the finals and even win it all.”
Anderson added that winning the ECAC tournament at the end of the spring season is not just the team’s goal, but also its expectation. Sanchez and Namgyel echoed Anderson’s comment and said the team is capable of making it to the national championship. With the team being largely seniors, Namgyel said it is sad to think that IC Blue’s time as teammates is coming to a close. However, he is grateful for how the team came together and what it has accomplished.
“In all honesty, there was a large amount of luck in place that brought us together,” Namgyel said. “Having a starting roster with practically all [top 1% of players in the North America server] going to a school that offers no scholarship money or no funded Esports program is very rare.”
The club competes against several colleges that offer athletes scholarships to compete on its varsity teams. This makes it difficult for the club to maintain a successful team, considering its opponents are able to attract top players.
Namgyel said he hopes the college embraces the budding program to help it stay afloat once the majority of the team graduates after Spring 2022. The team already faces an uphill battle in competing against teams that are provided with more resources than IC Blue, but Sanchez said that does not deter the team.
“We want to at least make the finals in the spring,” Sanchez said. “We made it to the finals [in the ECAC 2021 Fall Invitational], so I think we have to return and do it again.”