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Taking on Duke in every sport, even the cyber ones

They’d done it — friends, students and alumni, bound only through their love of one video game, had come together against the odds to win the chance to showcase their merit on the big stage.

If you’re the kind of person who pays attention to sports, you might have heard of a new player on the scene in the past few years: eSports.

And UNC students are in the forefront of the action.

Right now, the biggest eSports game on the scene is undeniably League of Legends, an online free-to-play, five-on-five team game where each player fights on a team to establish map control over objectives and destroy the other team’s base.

There are many different champions you can play with who have unique abilities, and the games are usually around an hour long.

“It’s kind of like chess with the strategy and planning,” said Jeff Yang, the assistant tournament coordinator and team manager of the UNC League of Legends Club.

According to the League of Legends website, over the course of 73 games at last year’s World Championships, they averaged 4.2 million viewers watching concurrently.

Around 36 million viewers tuned in for the World Championship Finals last year, which had more than a $5 million prize.

But League of Legends isn’t just a competitive game and sport — it also brings communities together.

According to its president, Haani Husain, the UNC League of Legends Club has around 250 active members who play games together and attend club events like tournaments and viewing parties.

“We’re working on making it a more friendly community, and working toward having it, so not only everyone plays together, but eats together, talks together outside of tournaments and events,” said Husain, a senior. “Because yeah, we play video games, but we’re also friends.”

Joey Chau, president of UNC eSports Club, said the game fostered bonding.

“Because the games are so long, I feel like players bond with each other through playing,” she said. “I’ve made friends, and those friends have stuck with me.”

The community bonds UNC students have formed in the club are what helped it qualify for the Yahoo eSports University League of Legends Rivalries contest.

Twelve college rivalries, including Duke versus UNC, Harvard versus Yale and Michigan State versus Ohio vied for the top five spots in a monthlong fan voting contest.

UNC eSports Club, supported by Riot Games, the company that makes League of Legends, will host a viewing party on Nov. 11 at 6 p.m. in Sitterson Hall to stream the show match between the UNC and Duke competitive teams.

There will also be a meet and greet before the game with Alex “Xpecial” Chu, who is currently a professional League of Legends player.

By hosting events like these, Riot Games is hoping to take steps to match its commitment to its professional scene with the incredible growth of the collegiate eSports scene over the past few years.

“So, this event is taking the rivalry mostly in basketball with Duke and saying it’s just as intense and fun with League of Legends,” Husain said.

Husain said the competition with Duke would bring attention to UNC’s League of Legends eSports community.

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The match will be broadcast on Riot Games’s official streaming channel. The previous University League of Legends Rivalries match between Brigham Young University and University of Utah drew around 10,000 viewers.

“eSports is the fastest growing sports network in the U.S. right now,” Husain said. “If we are on the cutting edge of this, we can be poised to be a leader in this field, especially in the U.S. where it isn’t as big yet.”

Yang said they were excited to prove themselves on the big stage and felt confident in their chances of winning after all the practice they put in.

But most of all, the people involved are excited to cheer on their team.

“I’m excited to see passionate college-level players cheering on players that we know. It’s different when you’re cheering on celebrities than a person you go to Econ 101 with,” Husain said.

“But I’m most excited to crush Duke, like we always do.”

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story was unclear about Riot Games' involvement in the Nov. 11 viewing party. Riot Games supports the UNC club, but did not sponsor the event.