Any college student interested in competitive gaming will undoubtedly be aware of Irish Collegiate Esports (ICE). It’s a fantastic organisation that hosts esports tournaments each year for Irish 3rd level students. Tournaments are run during both semesters, as well as the summer months, and for a range of different games. The organisation has made great strides since its inception in 2016 and gives Irish students a place to show their prowess on the virtual field, as well as fostering a community of dedicated and competitive gamers. Of course, ICE and its competitions have been affected by the current pandemic and have had to alter plans for this year. This week, University Express caught up with Aidan Boylan, the Managing Director of Irish Collegiate Esports and public face of the company, to hear his thoughts on the development of Irish Collegiate Esports as well as Irish esports in general, from their humble roots as a simple idea, to where they stand today, and to future goals.
I’d like to start by asking what your introductions to esports were, be it here in Ireland or elsewhere?
My first introduction to esports was watching Competitive Halo 3 run by Major League Gaming. I loved the idea of that kind of intricate teamwork; timing weapon spawns; and pushing map locations together as a team. Naturally, I found other games with these
mechanics and that was all I needed: complex teamwork within a game, and I was hooked.
Following on from that, what inspired you to go one step further and set up Irish Collegiate Esports?
The idea of ICE was actually set up around a quest of personal development. I had a background in community management, but little skills in organising competitive tournaments. My original idea was a single League of Legends tournament. I discussed the idea with a friend, and he said: “Why stop there? Why not run multiple games? Why run for only one season?”. By the end of the conversation, ICE was born; and now in 2020 we’re going into our fifth year of competitions and have hosted games for hundreds of students.
I can imagine this wasn’t an easy task, so how difficult was it in the beginning? What was your biggest challenge?
It was difficult in the start. I was now in a whole world I didn’t understand; registering a company and finding the right people to help with building the idea I had for ICE in my head. Our biggest challenge has always been obtaining funding. We have many volunteers in roles such as Casters, Tournament Administrators, and Social Media Managers; and I’d love to be able to pay them all for their time and devotion but it’s not always that easy.
It’s now four years and many tournaments later, and ICE has only gone from strength to strength. What differences can you see in the organisation today? How has it changed since its inception?
We started out as two people and had grown as big as forty volunteers at one time, but this was unsustainable. We’ve had to change our internal structure and now we’re closer to around 20 volunteers. In the early days I would have run our social media accounts, but as I have not much experience, it was always lacking something. Now we have managers who live on Social Media and the improvement is very clear.
Speaking more generally, how have you seen the Irish esports adapt during your tenure?
I’ve been doing events in esports since 2012, but it’s hard to state all the changes I’ve seen since many would take long explanations. There were times when there would be a few small gaming events a year with LANs, each focused on a specific game, be it Starcraft 2; CS:GO; League of Legends, or fighting games. Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since this was a regular thing. Over time, the costs of these events, such as for renting space, computers, wiring etc. all became too expensive, especially in Dublin City Center; which is unfortunate as it’s where you need to host. A lot of players are Dublin based and it has easy travel links for those willing to travel. We hope to be able to do these types of events in the future and create a mainstay event in collegiate esports in Ireland.
We’ve seen a lot of community development, though. Facebook used to be our primary method of communication but now it’s mostly all Discord.
Previously you have worked with companies such as Marvin.ie, what merit do you see in these partnerships?
Brand partnerships help us do more than we could do by ourselves. Red Bull have been a prime example of this. They not only support our events but run their own and always want to work together. However, brands must understand that our primary criteria for partnerships is that they must be open to the idea that gamers are different to most marketing demographics. Our goal is to reach them through authentic engagement, without disruption of their active gaming time. The reason we operate in this regard is that – like for any of us – time is a precious resource, and where and how you choose to spend it has a big impact on your life. We are always excited to work with partners who can support and enable gamers in continuing to enjoy their preferred pastime or career. When brands understand and live this idea with us, then we love to work with them.
One thing that hasn’t received a lot of merit is 2020, and it’s thrown a lot at us all this year, how has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the organisation and its events?
Well, ultimately we’ve had to cancel all plans for physical events for 2020 and 2021. This has had the unfortunate effect of preventing us from being able to run events around Super Smash Bros for the foreseeable future. This is a shame as it is one of our most popular
gaming titles. I hope we’ll see it return in the future.
However, Covid has let us, along with other circumstances, make the biggest changes this year to tournament formats. We’ve introduced set days for each tournament title and placed a ban on imported players. We also understand that students may not be getting the same levels of employment this year so we’ve made our events free to enter.
Speaking on changes to tournament formats, we have also seen the loss of Overwatch and the addition of VALORANT competitions. What led to these decisions? Do you see any further games being dropped or introduced in the future?
Overwatch had unfortunately only gathered the minimum number of teams one out of the three times we attempted to run it as a tournament title, so it was simply not sustainable enough to keep it running. Moving to set days for each title also meant that we had to use our time wisely. VALORANT has come out this year and has a lot of hype around it. Our VALORANT tournament will be the first of its kind in Ireland and we’re excited for that. As for introducing new games, like I mentioned above, I hope to see Smash Bros. rejoin our roster in the future, but only time will tell.
As a player, set days have been the biggest change to ICE tournaments this year. However, the development has been met with some pushback in the community, as some feel it is too restrictive. What are your thoughts on the matter?
We originally tried to introduce this system in 2018 but we found that it was not the right time for us. However, during the 2019/2020 academic year we had over 500 students enter our events. It was clear to us that the system in place was unsustainable. We introduced set days for a number of reasons, but we believe the clearest result will be that students will know once they sign up to ICE this year, they will need to be available for roughly two hours (the average full game time) every Monday. They know the commitment they are making, so they can arrange to be free. We understand this system might not suit everyone, but we have to choose what we believe is the best course of action for students; and while we’ve seen pushback publicly in our Discord server, I’ve also been privately contacted a number of times from students declaring their support for the changes.
Ending on a hopeful note, where do you hope to see ICE and Irish Esports in general in five years’ time?
I hope to see ICE as a solid fixture in the lives of students. We want students to know that when they go to college, they can represent themselves and their student body in ways that appeal to them; just because they don’t play traditional sports, it doesn’t mean they should miss out on the opportunity.