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The America East hosted its first esports invitational on April 25, marking its first step in evaluating the collegiate esports scene.

America East’s first eSports tournament generates mixed reactions from UMBC competitors

Over 50 players from across the America East competed in the conference’s first eSports Invitational on April 25. Players competed for prizes up to $1,500 in scholarship funds. The eight University of Maryland, Baltimore County students who competed in the single-elimination Super Smash Bros Ultimate tournament, three of which placed in the top eight, gave the invitational mixed reviews. 

While the money incentivized some Smash players to compete, President of UMBC Smash Club and Vice President of UMBC eSports Jake Knutsen said that many of UMBC’s better Smash players did not participate because the tournament was online.

“The issue with online events usually is, because online is usually so unpredictable, a lot of people lose interest, especially a lot of our better players,” Knutsen said. 

Much of online’s unpredictability comes from lag, a delay in the input of the action to the output of the character’s movement on the screen. Smash has a six-frame delay, meaning the image on the screen is refreshed six times before the player’s action is performed in the game. However, Knutsen states that playing Smash online adds another third of a second to that delay. That extra third of a second is due to the player’s action needing to travel from their console to the game’s server and then register on the other player’s console. 

“When every input is incredibly important, whether it’s because a specific move comes out because of that input, if something is dropped in translation, it can lose you the game really easily,” Knutsen said.

Knutsen was concerned about the invitational’s rules regarding lag. He believed the America East’s rules were vague compared to the 15 page rule set of the Xanadu Games, Maryland’s center for Smash tournament play and competitive training. Knutsen was particularly concerned about players abusing the tournament’s lag rule, which states that a match is to be reset if a player lags out.

“I think that they’re assuming that people aren’t going to be scumbags about it, but they most definitely are,” Knutsen said. “I mean, this is super competitive because there’s a lot of money on the line and there’s essentially nothing stopping someone, if they’re losing, from just shutting off their Switch and then turning it back off again and then cry that they have a bad connection.” 

The America East believes they did their best to create and run the invitational. The conference hired eSports Consultant Kiernan Ensor and solicited Mainline, an information systems company, to ensure it ran smoothly.  

Ensor says lag is inherently an issue with online tournaments and hiring enough match observers to ensure no one abuses lag is expensive.

“It’s a tough thing to really control for,” Ensor said. “The verification process to make sure that no one tries to abuse it [the lag rule] is almost a detriment to ever putting on an online tournament.”

Ensor stated that tournament moderators would verify competitors’ Wi-Fi connection if an issue arose. He also said that, even if a student abused lag, they would get caught if they made it to the broadcast matches in the top eight.

Junior math major Lorenzo “Disgaea” de Ocampo believes that America East’s lack of specific lag regulations played a large role in who won the tournament.

He also says that the invitational being unseeded affected who made it to the top eight. Normally, Smash tournaments are seeded like the NCAA D1 Basketball Tournament. Each player gets ranked according to skill and past wins and their opponent is determined based on that ranking. This ranking, or seeding, system ensures the two best players do not face each other in round one.

De Campo says that his top 20 regional Smash ranking would likely have seeded him first if the America East had seeded the invitational. He says he got lucky with his random seed but still believes the invitational should have been seeded.

“If you are going to host a serious tournament with money on the line, make sure you do your player research,” de Ocampo said.

De Ocampo was also frustrated the tournament was single-elimination and not double-elimination. A double-elimination tournament involves two brackets: a winners’ bracket and a losers’ bracket. If a player loses a game in the winners’ bracket, they are sent to the losers’ bracket. If they lose in the losers’ bracket, they are eliminated from the tournament. However, if they make it to the top of the losers’ bracket, they play the winner of the winners’ bracket. If the winner wins, the tournament is over. If the loser wins, they play again and the second game decides the tournament.

Most Smash tournaments are double-elimination. Many competitors asked tournament moderators whether the invitational would change to double-elimination in the America East Invitational Discord server. Knutsen and de Ocampo both said the America East told them that if there was a small number of competitors, that they would transition to double-elimination. However, Ensor repeatedly told players that they would not do double-elimination in the days leading up to the tournament.

De Ocampo admits that double-elimination tournaments take longer. He said invitationals of over 120 players average between four and five hours. However, the America East’s eSports Invitational single-elimination tournament took over five hours with less than half as many players.

The reason for the invitational’s duration was deadtime between matches. De Ocampo stated that players had to wait over 50 minutes between sets of matches. In most Smash tournaments, once a match is over, another one starts a few minutes later.   

This clearly shows that these people have no idea how to run a Smash tournament,” de Ocampo said. “Before these people start running Smash tournaments, they need to get actual experience from actual tournament organizers.”

Unlike de Ocampo, senior computer science major Nazily “Winstoneee” Zaza said the tournament went smoothly for it being online and directed over Discord. While Zaza does wish it had been a double-elimination tournament, he said that it was a fun way for him to compete against other America East and UMBC students in a game he plays online regularly.

Zaza also enjoyed having his matches broadcasted on the invitational’s live stream. He appreciated the commentators’ post-game interviews with players. Zaza said his interview, after he lost a match to his friend, senior computer science major Rashad “Rashad” Balashov, was fun.  

“If there were more [invitationals] like this, I’d always join,” Zaza said.