-By Edward Brady
UNT was the first public university in Texas to launch a collegiate esports program, and one of their varsity teams, specifically their League of Legends team will soon be returning to official competition. I managed to interview two of the starters for the varsity team, Mid laner Nathan Box (tag in game is Lil Nate), and Jungler Vi Tran (in game tag is SavVI). I was able to enquire how they got into League esports both in a general sense and specifically at UNT, as well as how the team has been performing and what to expect out of them this season.
Nathan, a biology major and chemistry minor who hopes to specialize in neuroscience and will be graduating in 2023, got into League of Legends around 2011-12 (commonly known as season 2 of competitive LoL) through his brother. He was a frequent spectator of the LCS (NA’s professional circuit) and the LCK (South Korea’s professional circuit) as there was so much to learn from watching the best of the best play. In particular, he was a big fan of the Russian team Moscow 5 (later known as Gambit) for their dominant performances and entertaining personalities. Nowadays, he is a fan of North American teams Cloud 9 and Team Liquid as they are some of the best teams in the region and have unique and fun to watch playstyles.
He got his start at UNT Esports through the club teams, and he enjoyed his time, until one day, the support player, Rainy messaged him asking him if he wanted to become the mid laner for the varsity team, he accepted and has become a key part of the team.
Vi, who began his college journey in 2016 as a media arts major, is also a long-time big fan of the professional scene, the LCS in particular. His favorite teams are Cloud 9, mostly because of Blaber, their jungler. He also took Blaber’s motto of “If I go in and I die we lose so if I go in they have to go with me” to heart. League quickly became a favorite game of not just him but also his 2 brothers. He was recommended by a friend in high school to take part in the HSL (High School Star League) and had fun playing in a competitive environment.
He hoped to get a chance to showcase his competitive drive at a collegiate level but wouldn’t get the chance until 2018 when UNT debuted their esports program. He participated in the tournament Dreamhack Austin in 2018 and found his passion for esports. That same year, he also changed his major to Public Relations and hopes to get a job in content creation for esports organizations. He will be graduating in May this year, so he hopes to make “one last memory” before moving on from UNT.
When asked about the team environment and how they have come together, there was one very interesting fact. According to Vi, there is not a single starter from last season who will be starting the season. This new roster has been playing together since August and it has become apparent that the roster is very mechanically skilled, but also a tad inconsistent (albeit now they are nowhere near as inconsistent as they were when they started out).
Nathan told me that the team is very momentum-based. When they get an early lead, they tend to close out their games fast and easily. Once they start winning, they are very difficult to stop and are very good at keeping up the pressure in-game, winning fight after fight before taking the eventual victory. If they win one match, they will keep that confidence heading into the next one. On the other hand, the team hasn’t been great at playing from behind. This can be attributed to the team winning more of its games than not, but if they get off to a slow start, they have issues getting back in the game. Also, according to Vi, constant scrim victories can lead to a false sense of security, but it sounded like that problem had worked itself out over the months they have been playing together.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the team according to VI is that everyone is capable of being their own leader. There isn’t just one player who the team plays through, any of the 5 players are capable of stepping up on any given day to get the win.
Being on the varsity team has also helped the two grow as people. Nathan expressed that communication is a big factor in a win or loss, and the team has come a long way from nobody talking in teamfights when they first started out. Just being in a team environment with people to talk to about the game, program, or life, in general, has also been a nice experience.
Vi noted that being on the team has taught him that you can’t always make everyone happy and how to live for himself. He “started off as a yes man” but joined the program because it made him happy and has learned to be more decisive and take charge when the situation calls for it. He also learned how to persevere when pursuing the things that bring him personal happiness and to keep trying if the first plan doesn’t work out.
However, the biggest aspect of personal growth according to both players has been the ability to take and give criticism. Being on the UNT esports team has been a lesson in how to give constructive criticism without tearing someone down, and how to not block out criticism but instead use it to grow as a player and person.
The UNT League of Legends esports team will begin the official Riot Games sanctioned college season this Saturday at 3 P.M. They are seeded 5th out of the 70 teams in the South conference, the highest the program has ever been seeded. Teams that go 6-0 or 5-1 will make the playoffs. All matches can be found on https://www.twitch.tv/UNTEsports.