The crowd at the last live MLG event in Anaheim, Calif., was the biggest eSports tournament to date.

Courtesy of Katie Goldberg.

A different kind of major-league play

As summer break comes to a close, student gamers have to begrudgingly abandon their controllers and keyboards in favor of textbooks and highlighters. While the concept of free time becomes a sorely missed pleasure, gamers are left only with memories of the high scores and boss battles of the past months.

But Major League Gaming might be providing some solace — in the form of the MLG Summer Championship.

The pinnacle of all things eSports, a growing community for gaming, the summer championship is a culmination of competitive gaming during the past three months. It offers a seasonally fitting conclusion for gamers across the nation.

Starting this Friday, the best players will gather in Raleigh to compete for a portion of the $215,000 prize pool. With titles such as StarCraft II, League of Legends, Mortal Kombat and Soulcalibur V headlining the event, the championship will be a spectacle of fierce competition for every type of gamer.

The crowd watches in awe as two of the top Korean players , DongRaeGu and Trickster, compete on stage at MLG Raleigh 2011.

“The growth of eSports over the last year has been phenomenal, with tens of thousands attending our events in person and millions more watching online through live streaming,” said Katie Goldberg, the vice president of communications for Major League Gaming.

With the last open spectator event accumulating over 1 million unique online views, MLG is once again streaming the entire event for free. For $15, online viewers can upgrade to HD and additional streams. In total, MLG will be streaming hundreds of hours of collective content throughout the weekend, with replays readily available soon after the event.

As extensive as the coverage online will be, students in the Triangle area have the chance to attend the Raleigh event in person. Spectators can purchase passes that allow them access to the entire championship, which runs from Aug. 24-26.

With a nearly infinite supply of free Dr. Pepper and other companies giving away prizes throughout the event, the summer championship will have something for local and national student gamers.

“In 2012, we are holding four large spectator championship events in the U.S. and we chose to return to Raleigh because of the great community and warm reception we have received in years past,” Goldberg said. “That, along with the proximity to local universities, presence of the strong local video game industry and ease for both competitors and spectators to travel to the city, make Raleigh a great location for our summer championship.”

George Imura, a junior and the head of the League of Legends eSports division in Chapel Hill, has helped grow the gaming community by organizing local tournaments with funding from Riot Games. He said he plans on attending this year’s MLG championship.

“It’s nice to see a circuit being held in Raleigh because it allows players to see what an actual live event looks like,” Imura said. “Most people watch streams maybe two hours a day, but a tournament stream only can show so much compared to what the real event can show.”

Besides giving spectators a more complete view of the games, the live event provides opportunities for fans to interact with big-name players and teams and have their merchandise autographed.

But even if eSports superstars like MarineKing and Saintvicious do nothing to excite the average spectator, there are still players the community can support.

With the open bracket system MLG has implemented, players of any skill level are able to register and compete within the StarCraft II tournament, providing an accessible outlet for local players to taste what it is like to compete on the grandest stage in eSports.

In the open bracket, a recreational player facing a top player in the world in the first round is not an uncommon occurrence. Like the NCAA basketball tournament, players predicted to win the entire tournament can just as easily be eliminated by a relatively unknown newcomer.

One UNC student hoping to stand out at the weekend event is Jerred Miklowcic. Currently a senior studying computer science, he was recently signed by one of the top North American teams, Complexity Gaming, to join its Academy program.

Although not a part of the main team that has hosted the likes of legendary pro gamer Lee “NaDa” Yoon Yeol, Miklowcic said he plans on pursuing a career in professional gaming after graduation.

He said he hopes that MLG Raleigh 2012 can be his breakout performance.

“I’d like to face any Korean Terran player,” Miklowcic said. “I really think I can take them down because my style for that matchup is super solid. Other than that I’d like to play against any of the big names in an attempt to prove myself in public.”

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