By Aidan Feith
One can only assume the atmosphere was electric as teams and competitors from across the Peach Belt Conference descended upon Florence, South Carolina for the Fall 2022 esports conference championships for Rocket League and Valorant. Lander’s teams, led by Rocket League team captain Brandon “Papa Pack” Pack and Valorant team captain Thomas “McInSmash” McIntosh, departed for Florence at 8:00 AM Friday morning to arrive in time to get some early practice in before their matches.
Competition for the championship weekend began at noon on Friday, as Lander University’s Valorant program faced off against the Missouri Western State Griffons. The match between the two middle-seeded programs started off strong for the Bearcats. However, match pace soon slowed significantly before eventually turning against the Bearcats as Missouri Western would go on to win round one with a score of 13-8 before winning round two and the overall match with a score of 13-3. Lander’s defeat relegated them to the Valorant losers’ bracket, and they would not play again until Saturday – where their first match of the day would also be their last as they defeated USC Aiken 2-0 to finish fifth overall in the tournament.
“We tried our absolute best on Friday and played harder than we had all season, but there are just some things that remain outside of our control,” said McIntosh after the tournament on Sunday. “Saturday’s match went fairly well as well, and we ended up winning that one. We have grown a lot as a team, and I am very happy with how we have been doing this semester. However, for next season we need to work on different ways to push the objective, have better ways to execute said push, and work better on communication in fast-paced situations.”
Lander Rocket League played their first match of the tournament at 3 PM on Friday against Montevallo, resulting in a resounding 3-0 victory over the Falcons with the majority of goals scored by Pack and Harrison “Slimey” Bell. Their second match on Friday was against USC Aiken with a winning result of 3-1. Saturday’s first match against the Florida Southern Moccasins did not go according to plan, resulting in the team’s first loss of the tournament as the Mocs swept the match 3-0 and relegated the team to the losers’ bracket. The Bearcats would recover momentum in their match against Kennesaw State to win 3-1 and would rematch against Florida Southern in the championship match.
The grand finale was a best-of-seven series, compared to the best-of-five that was used in the rest of the tournament. Both Lander and Florida Southern’s aggressive playstyles resulted in an absolute slog, a war of attrition where whoever touched the ball last would end up victorious. The victorious team in the first series of the championship match would, in fact, be the Lander Bearcats as they defeated the Moccasins 4-1. After a bracket reset, the two teams faced off again for a second best-of-seven showdown in which Florida Southern would claim the ultimate victory – and the overall conference championship – with an overtime finish in game seven to land a final score of 4-3.
“We did really well on Friday, we knew we were better than anyone we played that day and we certainly played that way,” said Brandon Pack. “On Saturday, however, we really could have done better. We started off slow but did gradually get better overall as the day progressed, even though we didn’t end up winning. The same thing could be said about our season in general, we started off slow, but got better overall.” When asked what the team needed to work on for next season, Pack said, “We just need to play more as a team. We’ve really just played for fun for the most part, so we’re pretty happy with our performance.”
“Overall, I feel like the matches went well as we got to see our teams play the best matches they’ve played all semester despite the results.,” said Lander University esports head coach Deshaun “Spazz” McFadden. “Throughout the season, I feel that each team has made progress and are continuing to grow and develop. Next semester’s competition will be centered around Overwatch and League of Legends. I feel the teams have been practicing hard and are just waiting to get started.”
Lander University Athletic Director Brian Reese stated that the program’s overall performance this semester was “awesome,” and that he was very proud of the team. “We (Lander Rocket League) made it to the championship match against the number one seed and took them into overtime. We lost a tough one, but it’s still a great accomplishment by this team.” When asked what he felt the team needed to focus on as the focus shifted to Spring 2023 competition in Overwatch 2 and League of Legends, Reece said, “We just need to keep hammering away at it. Last year we didn’t even qualify for the fall championships, we didn’t qualify for the spring championships – which we hosted – but the great thing is we’re progressing significantly. That’s what you want. You want to change the trend line, and right now we’re trending upwards. If this continues into spring, what with the progress we’ve made this fall, we should be in good shape.”
Lander’s Rocket League team would finish the season with a record of 10-5, and Lander’s Valorant team would finish the season with a record of 2-6, both programs within the top 5 of their respective games.