Changing the Game: Tim Alpherts Takes On eSports

By Andrew Kambel

— Tim Alpherts’ room is slightly untidy, yet not untidier than any student room at AUC, one would think. Empty pots of pre-made pasta sauce and peanut butter are lying around on the floor in a corner, together with countless plastic bags. However, in this room, there is also somewhat of an organized system that can be found: even though Alpherts’ bed is unmade and buried under pieces of clothing, his desk is clean and only occupied by two laptops and a book. Gamepads, cables and other peripherals are neatly stored in a plastic box which could imaginatively be labeled with “PlayUC”, the AUCSA committee he was a part of until January 2016. Even though he is still involved with PlayUC’s logistics and overall operation, he is no longer an official board member — now, he is ready to take on games seriously.

In and around AUC, third-year science major Alpherts has arguably built up a reputation of being ‘that AUC student that talks about video games’, and with good reason. His name and and ambitions have been talked about in the hallways of the student dorms and at the AUC academic building, but he has also been featured in a handful of news blogs, articles on student magazines such as Folia, and his TEDx talk got over two thousand views on YouTube. Additionally, his opinion piece on social stigmas surrounding games recently got published in Dutch national newspaper De Volkskrant.

Alpherts seems very well aware of how taking on games seriously has worked out positively so far. He proudly begins talking about how his last split – a nine to twelve-week tournament period – was fairly popular among Dutch students and that he feels positive about the next split, although it doesn’t take a trained observer to notice some dissatisfaction.

NSE League is an initiative started in August 2015 by Alpherts that organizes eSports events and tournaments for university students all across the Netherlands. So far, he has put up his own website, registered NSE League as a business at the KvK (the Dutch Chamber of Commerce), collaborated with people and students from universities in Twente and Roosevelt, and garnered playing groups from all across the country. All of this has resulted in two twelve-week splits, one of which is still running. And, unsurprisingly, Alpherts still wants to achieve more. “It’s definitely headed in the right direction, even though I’m slightly disappointed with the turnout for the current split,” he immediately said. “There was only a 33% increase in the amount of applications [compared to the previous tournament].”

Previous attempts have been made to establish gaming-related connections between universities, but few have seemed fruitful so far. There was an ‘Inter-UC Gaming’ Facebook page, but it has remained dormant since April 2013. With NSE League, Alpherts wants to change not only the way we approach gaming between students, but also the way we look at the stigmas connected to gaming culture, which was the focus of his TEDx talk.

His idea for NSE League is deeply rooted in his own experiences as a gamer and someone who played competitive matches in games. Alpherts was fed up with competitions that neglected actually playing the game in favor of winning prizes. “I entered in a gaming tournament once and it was fun, but it was all over in thirty minutes, even though I spent three hours preparing for the match and paid money to enter,” he said. “There were forty teams that entered in the tournament, and most of them did not even get to play for more than one or two matches.”

And this is where a split-based competition is very useful, and probably also the reason why Alpherts chose this structure. All teams play the same amount of matches in the first nine weeks of the competition, and only turn to a knock-out phase in the last three weeks. Instead of structuring the tournament around a system of elimination, this structure is much more like a sport such as soccer or hockey, according to Alpherts. “The gap that I’m currently seeing is that gaming is not organised as a legitimate sport, and that’s something I really want to achieve,” he said.

As he shows his new, professionally looking business cards that include his Steam and League of Legends gamertag Alpherts elaborates on the idea of eSports becoming more ‘real’. He talks about what it means to play games such as League of Legends in a competitive environment and how a playing style is dependent on which character has the best skills and attributes for the given situation. “Small changes in the game can have big impacts in the way it is played. Metagaming is a lot like real world economics, in that sense,” he said.

In making gaming and eSports more of a legitimate sport, he wants to involve as many students as he can, as it is ultimately meant for them. “It is important to have not only help from students that are active gamers, but also from those that are not gamers, but are very interested in it,” he said. And so far, he has succeeded. Everything from organization and web to photography and design is done by students from various universities. “That’s how you develop this image of gaming being a normal, social activity,” he said. 

Made for students, by students, NSE League is a grassroots initiative right inside the student community, and much like real world sports, when it comes to the actual matches people always support the teams they feel the most related to. He explains that with League of Legends, the game that was played last split as well as this split, the AUC teams have some sort of rivalry going on with the teams of University College Roosevelt. “It’s somewhat similar to the Ajax-Feyenoord situation,” he jokingly added.

Alpherts considers fully committing to NSE League after AUC. “I came to AUC knowing that I would do Artificial Intelligence as a Master study, but I changed my mind about that. I don’t even know if I want to do a Master program anymore. Studying just isn’t really my thing,” he said. “After I graduate, I want to become Resident Assistant first, and work on NSE League from my room.”

Alpherts is just getting started, and, from his room, taking on bigger companies could be quite a task. But he is not alone in this; the students that enter his competitions and that help run NSE League also motivate him to keep working. “I just really want to bring something to the student community,” he said. For now, he is optimistic when looking at his place in the world of eSports leagues. “It feels a bit like I am David against Goliath, but I think I might win in the long run.”

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