“Exciting and challenging” is how AU sophomore Jaden Ickes described the Anderson University Esports team’s successful League of Legends fall season.
Ickes, a seasoned veteran with nine years of experience in the popular and competitive gaming platform, played a critical role in the team’s 9-4 League of Legends intercollegiate record this season – the program’s first winning record in its three-year history.
Though the team proved to be dominant in competition, sweeping six of their 13 total matches, AU Esports improved on many team and game elements in practice during the fall semester.
“We brought in two new players this year: our top-laner, Justin Alford, and our mid-laner, Luke Thalheimer,” said Ickes. “There was a lot of adjusting to changes, which was a good thing.”
Ickes proved his versatility within the game by fulfilling the bottom-lane position (aka “bot lane”): a vital position which, previously, he did not have much competitive experience in.
For his part, AU Esports Coach Matthew Burnstedt attributed the team’s improvements to better communication and program development.
Burnstedt observed that in gaming, team members don’t often have the same level of communication that is seen in other sports.
“A lot of our teams have a communication barrier,” Burnstedt noted. “Gaming, as a whole, is a very isolated and individual thing — I could go in my room and play a slew of video games and not talk to a single soul. Trying to break the silence tends to be where I fit in with the teams.”
Early in the season, the team’s growing experience, adaptability and better communication helped it win its first five meets – with four of those being clean sweeps.
In addition to helping the League of Legends team, Coach Burnstedt does what he can to further develop team dynamics, communication and gameplay strategy for other games.
Burnstedt has been head coach of the AU Esports program for two years. He has 10 years of experience playing League of Legends, both casually and in competition.
Burnstedt plays other games from the competitive scene, like Super Smash Bros., which is a platform-based player-versus-player game that was newly added to the conference’s spring lineup.
With the fall 2022 season of Esports concluded, the team now looks forward to playing the many game titles offered in the spring’s collegiate competition.
AU Esports will be participating in Rocket League, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate and Overwatch II in conference sanctioned matches.
The Call of Duty squad will take part in open category competitions, independent of college sanctioned play.
Burnstedt believes the two new games added to the collegiate conference – Super Smash Bros Ultimate and Overwatch II – will lead to an interesting spring season.
“I think it’s going to be interesting in terms of where we fit in with the rest of the conference,” said Burnstedt.
One of the spring games, new to competition, will call for necessary team adaptation. Overwatch, the team-based, first-person shooter from previous esports seasons, will be replaced with a new generation of the game: Overwatch II.
The slight variation in gameplay between the old and new generations of Overwatch may necessitate changes in team strategy and player roles.
Not only will the AU team have to adapt to new Overwatch gameplay, but the players will face strong opponents during match play, with some opposing teams’ rosters having esports athletes in the world’s top 500 Overwatch players.
As for the potential of the Super Smash Bros team: it’s up in the air.
The coach said that since Smash Bros. is new to the conference, “I’m not sure where the team lines up.”
Because the many dual athletes that make up the Smash Bros. team are still finishing their athletic seasons, no formal esports practice has been held as of yet.
The vehicle-based soccer game, Rocket League, will remain in the conference’s game lineup.
“Rocket League is a whole different story,” said Burnstedt. “Last year, we were very dominant. I think Rocket League will have another dominant year considering we’re running the same roster.”
Burnstedt believes one vital change to the Rocket League team’s preparation could transfer their success from the regular season into the playoff season.
“[Last year] we made it to the playoffs, and the change of environment messed with us more so than we thought it would,” he said.
He continued, “This year, we’re trying to practice in the esports lab more – in the public space, away from the comfort of our homes and favorite gaming chairs. That way, when we travel for the finals, we can compete in the environment.”
Ickes also believes the Rocket League team will have success in the spring season.
“The Rocket League team has some ‘dogs.’ You can quote me on that,” Ickes said. “Jack Long – that man is a unit. I’m expecting big things for Jack and the Rocket League team.”
Long, a junior at AU and third-year veteran of the esports team, has proved to be an integral part of the Rocket League roster in previous years, and has twice been named AU athlete of the week.
Long, along with Brayton Gust, Rico Mandolini and Cam May, will make up the main Rocket League roster.
The spring competition and conference schedules for Overwatch II, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Rocket League have not yet been released.
Ickes will not be participating in the Spring season due to League of Legends competition not being held during that time. However, he still plans to continue playing.
When asked about his future goals in Esports, Ickes said, “My long-term goal is just to keep my love for the game and to keep playing it because I enjoy it.”
He encourages students with an interest in esports games to attend a practice and meet the team.
“If you’re looking to have some fun with the games that you enjoy, and we have an Esports team for it, showing up is a good idea,” Ickes said.
More information regarding the Anderson University Esports program can be found here.
Past and future AU Esports’ live streams, among other content, can be found on their Twitch page.