Collegiate esports has recently become a microcosm of the industry at large, complete with its own stories, leagues and dynasties. Veteran Canadian institution Carleton University is no different, with a healthy club ecosystem and teams competing in multiple titles.
The flagship of Carleton is its Paladins team, which stormed through the American Video Game League Paladins College League this fall with but a single loss. The players won the $10,000 final, and Carleton walked away with a national championship.
That accolade, though, doesn't just belong to Carleton: The majority of Carleton's Paladins roster doesn't even attend the school.
According to AVGL's rulebook for Paladins, "teams can consist of players from multiple colleges as long as they are within the same region." The wrinkle was made to give talented players who struggle to find high-level peers in their school, such as Carleton's Dante "Demise" Provenzano, a chance to combine forces with other institutions and become a competitive threat.
"I decided to make the team when I heard about American Video Game League," Demise said. "I'd only been playing for a few months, and aside from ranked play, I wanted to prove myself in actual competitive play. I started out by advertising in the AVGL Discord to find a team to play with. After going through a few different potential rosters, we finished with this roster."
That roster included players from colleges in Canada, Illinois and Ohio. Demise said that being new to Carleton made it difficult to find players at his level among his fellow students, and he wasn't alone: Some other schools, including Carleton's eventual finals opponent, American River College, used the rule to assemble teams.
"It is not always easy to find members from your own college that play the same game as you," said Chris "Powtech" Sonet, a Franklin University student who played for Carleton, "and it is even harder to find ones that are at the same skill level as you."
AVGL had similar rules for its Smite league this fall; only the captain of Indiana University-Bloomington, the eventual champion, went to the school. But as college esports grows, the need to reach out to other campuses is being lessened.
AVGL has changed its rules for Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive this spring to ensure the majority of players for each team go to the school they represent. The rules make the teams more traditional but might also create difficulties for potential players at smaller campuses. Lap-Heng "Kaalaron" Keung, a substitute for Carleton who goes to the Illinois Institute of Technology, is hopeful the rule change won't apply to Paladins in the future, and AVGL founder and CEO Victor Suski confirmed Friday that the one-school-only rule doesn't apply to Paladins this spring.
"The team simply chose the strongest players," Kaalaron said of Carleton, "not only in terms of mechanical gameplay but also in how well each member could communicate and work with one another."
Change is on the way for Carleton regardless, though. Powtech has already moved on to coach Splyce in the Paladins Pro League, and many of the players have their sights set on making it to the pro scene.
Illinois Institute of Art-Schaumburg student Shao Hung "EatUrBroccoli" Cheng, a cog in the Carleton machine, is one of those players with pro aspirations. The Paladins Global Series and Paladins Pro League are likely destinations.
"Most of us are already making our way into the PGS scene," EatUrBroccoli said in early January. "Hopefully we'll eventually make it into league similar or equivalent to PPL while keeping up with our education."
In the meantime, though, Demise and his squad will push for back-to-back titles, both for themselves and Carleton -- whether they go there or not.
"During the regular season, we had next to no trouble," in the fall, Demise said. "Actually, only one team was able to even get a single point against us. Moving into the championship, we felt our opponents were fairly even to our individual skill levels. What I think gave us the edge was Chris 'Powtech' Sonet's skill in drafting as well as our composure.
"Our first game on LAN started out fairly rough, but we stuck through it and won. After that point it felt like the players on American River College had started to tilt and did not play to their full potential."