Oxford and Cambridge universities have been sporting rivals in one form or another for nearly 200 years. This rivalry has now moved into the eSports age.
Every year, crowds line the banks of the River Thames in London to watch crews from Oxford and Cambridge battle it out in the Boat Race as they have done since 1829. The annual Varsity Match between the two university rugby teams at Twickenham also adds to the rivalry.
What you might not know is that, for the past two years, teams from these famous institutions have battled it out in deep space playing Starcraft II, crossed swords in the mythical fantasy lands of DOTA 2 and competed in the confined corridors of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).
Now in its third year, and with Cambridge currently leading 2-0, the Varsity eSports tournament is coming back to Oxford again with the dark blue team looking for revenge. This year’s event takes place on Sunday, 6 March at St Catherine’s College, Oxford and the games are expected to be fought out in front of a live audience of around 100 with many more tuning into the live streams.
We are third behind the Boat Race and the rugby in terms of the number of people interested in it
“It all started when we set up the eSports Society,” says Oxford eSports Society President Owen Morgan. “We were playing Starcraft II and we then got in contact with the guys at Cambridge, they emailed a few people and we set up the Varsity competition.”
In the first year, the tournament included popular games including Hearthstone, DOTA 2 and CS:GO in order to broaden the demographic.
This year, the Varsity eSports competition will feature teams of five players competing in DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike, plus individual matches in Hearthstone and Starcraft. The games will be split into two streams, A and B, with all of the action live-streamed on Twitch. Each match will be then be followed by post-match interviews with the winning team or player.
With competition fierce, the teams will be playing on brand new Intel hardware featuring the latest 6th generation Core processors. “It’s really nice kit, I was blown away by it,” Owen added. The Oxford eSports Society President won’t be playing, however, as it falls to him to organise the day and make sure it runs smoothly. “That’s the trouble being President, you don’t have time to play,” he said.
So will the eSports battle between the two universities ultimately rival the Boat Race and the Varsity Match?
“I personally think we are already there,” Owen added confidently. “When we last hosted it two years ago, we had 86,000 streams on Twitch! This puts us third behind the Boat Race and the rugby in terms of the number of people interested in it.” — Henry Tucker (@tuckski)