UMN video game tournament attracts 300 competitors

Participants played games like Super Smash Bros and League of Legends at this year’s GopherCon event.

Natalie Rademacher

There was a brief panic at TCF Bank Stadium Saturday when — without warning — the campus Wi-Fi stopped working.

The outage brought the University of Minnesota GopherCon video game tournament to a standstill. Players hurried to pause their games, and waited anxiously for word on the cause of the disturbance. 

But after a short period of time, the internet was back up and running. Over 300 participants ages 3 to 75 eagerly continued their gaming.

The event, fueled by energy drinks and take-out food, was a competitive opportunity to be seen by professional esports recruiters for some. For others, like Chuck Baarsch, the event was more of a family affair. 

Baarsch, a Minneapolis resident, said he taught his sons and grandsons how to play video games. The group of five — Baarsch, his brother Tom Baarsch, his two sons and one of their girlfriends — took their family tradition of playing the game “Heroes of the Storm” together to TCF Bank Stadium this weekend. 

“This is our first tournament. We don’t know what to expect,” Omaha resident Tom Baarsch said at the event. “We’re hoping not to lose all our matches.” 

Attendance increased at this year’s energetic GopherCon tournament compared to the first event held in May, said Adam Thao, president of the University League of Legends club, which co-hosted GopherCon. 

Most attendants brought their own computer set-ups, and many carried them in laundry baskets. They played games like “League of Legends”, “Super Smash Bros.” and “Overwatch” while EDM blasted from speakers throughout the venue.

Esports as a competitive video game industry is growing, said Nick Beauchene, a University graduate and administrator for Shift Up eSports. The company hosts esports tournaments in the area and co-hosted both the first GopherCon in May and Saturday’s event.

Gopher Athletics paid for the event venue, Thao said. In response to increased popularity and awareness of campus esports, the athletics department is considering adopting the University League of Legends team as an official Gopher sport, he said. 

“They reached out to me this summer. This idea came to their attention after we received news coverage and they realized our Big Ten Network [League of Legends] team receives scholarship money,” Thao said. “They are helping out a lot with GopherCon.”

Gopher Athletics also provides the team with computers and practice space in Ridder Arena, he said. 

While “League of Legends” attracted the most competitors, other clubs on campus participated as well, like the Super Smash Bros. Club. 

“These clubs have a big role on campus,” Beauchene said. “Every club runs their own event. With the Smash community, everyone is bringing their own TVs and monitors [to this event].”

Toby Thongphasavahn, another administrator for Shift Up eSports, said the company’s long-term goal is to establish a permanent venue near campus to host other tournaments like GopherCon.

While many players came to compete, others came for the experience. 

“This is just a group of friends playing together,” University student Aaron Boger said after playing a round of the game “Heroes of the Storm” with his friends.

Boger’s team lost most of their games Saturday, but he said the group wasn’t discouraged. 

“We would be gaming on Saturday anyway,” his teammate Abe Johnson said. 

Esports have changed the video game industry, Thao said. The increasing number of competitive events means players don’t have to play alone from home, he said.

“These tournaments are about creating a sense of community. You can play games at home, but at the end of the day, coming together is what it is all about,” Beauchene said.