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Midwest Campus Clash preview: ‘We’re gonna sit down and be nerds, and it’s gonna be fantastic’

April 5, 2018 GMT

It might be vicariously through a DC Comics-based fighting video game, but Columbia College president Scott Dalrymple and Columbia Public Schools superintendent Peter Stiepleman will be waling on each other for a $1,000 donation to their respective institution.

The epic clash between two of Columbia’s most important education representatives is set for 4 p.m. Saturday in Columbia College’s Southwell Complex as an exhibition during the Midwest Campus Clash — a seven-team “League of Legends” competition between Columbia College, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Maryville University, Robert Morris University and Miami University (Ohio) with a first-place prize of $15,000. Students from Hickman and Battle will also face off against students from Rock Bridge and Jefferson City in a “League of Legends” exhibition match at 3 p.m.

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Stiepleman, who said this weekend’s wager was too fun of an opportunity to refuse, raved about the positive relationship between the district and Columbia College and the far-reaching opportunities of the Midwest Campus Clash.

“It’s about inclusivity,” the superintendent said. “You wanna find every opportunity for kids to belong; it’s that belonging that produces community, which leads to what we’re trying to produce in kids — empathy and compassion. Those lead to good decisions for the future, professionally and socially.”

Despite the stigmas that eSports still faces, Joshua Cobb, a competitor on Missouri’s “League of Legends” team, said it leads to the same positive by-products you’d find on fields and courts throughout the country: teamwork, communication and relationship building.

“You can’t see each other. You get people from all walks of life; skill is the only thing that we see,” Cobb said. “Entitlement doesn’t work in eSports. You can make close bonds with all five members of the team.”

Competitive gaming has also become much more than just a social opportunity. Scholarships for eSports athletes have quadrupled over the last year across the nation, and top professional gamers can earn multimillion-dollar contracts. Gaming channels on YouTube and Twitch have millions of subscribers. Even NBA teams such as the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets have their own eSports teams.

“It’s not a fad; it’s here to stay,” Cobb said.

Cobb’s team will face tough competition at the Midwest Campus Clash, which will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. this weekend. Columbia College, at 16-0 on the season, is the heavy favorite, but defending tournament champion Robert Morris will be a challenge, too.

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The bracket is set up for these two to meet in the finals at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, but Maryville boasts another top-notch team that could be poised for an upset.

Missouri will open play at 10:15 a.m. Saturday in “The Border Battle” against Kansas. Cobb is confident that the Tigers will pass their first-round test, but a potential semifinal matchup with Columbia College at 1:15 p.m. Saturday might be a different story.

“It’s embarrassing that an upstart college 5 miles away from here can completely destroy us,” Cobb said.

Events like the Midwest Campus Clash are intended to level out the playing field. Smaller schools can’t compete with neighboring Division I schools in football or basketball, so Cobb suspects that they saw an opportunity to get ahead of the curb in eSports. As the competitive gaming craze is sweeping across the nation, he assumes more Division I schools offering gaming scholarships will become the norm.

“It’s about raising awareness for eSports and hopefully erasing some of the stigma around video games as being a waste of time,” Cobb said. “We’re gonna sit down and be nerds, and it’s gonna be fantastic.”