The Ontario Post-Secondary Esports (OPSE), a collegiate eSport league, has announced that the organisation would return in fall 2021 for its second season of competition.
Universities and other institutions from all around Ontario, and a few from elsewhere in Canada, will again have the chance to battle it out across many games for a chance to win a scholarship.
To get an inside look at what’s to come, Fabrice Samedy and OPSE league commissioner James Fitzgerald discussed the inaugural season and plans for the future. Here are the highlights of that conversation.
Can you explain what OPSE is?
James Fitzgerald: “So, OPSE is sort of the first of its kind, quite frankly, across North America, but definitely in Canada. It’s an eSport league in the post-secondary space that is taking the traditional sporting formatting and using eSports as the new medium for it. So, we follow a traditional sports season with your preseason, regular season, and playoffs, but instead of playing games like football, soccer, and hockey, we’re playing games like League of Legends, Overwatch, and Hearthstone!”
What was the idea behind the foundation of the OPSE?
James Fitzgerald: “It’s sort of two-fold. On the the OPSE side, the first part of it really comes from a foundational side. You know, we’re really invested in growing collegiate eSports within Canada, and within Ontario. In order to do that, you really need to get the schools involved at an official level; there’s only so much you can do with student-run organisations and student-led initiatives, no matter how good the students are, just because there’s going to be turnover every year, and you’re only with a program for four years. So if you want long term success, realistically, you need to get the schools involved, you need to get the schools invested, and you need to get them engaged.
The problem we saw was that the existing infrastructure from an eSports event space in league space provided little-to-no value for the schools to buy-in. You weren’t guaranteed to play games against your rival, you weren’t guaranteed to have a season that lasted more than two games, you didn’t have your schedule known well in advance to do planning for promotions and marketing. So, it was really hard for schools to understand the space or get their student body and brand behind it. You want the uOttawa Gee-Gees to know when they’re going to be playing the Carleton Ravens and to get excited about it. It’s a completely different picture when you have students at Carleton playing students at uOttawa. It’s, it’s almost at a completely different level.
We figured, not only do they need this to get invested, to get involved, they also need to be able to play their rivals and to be able to use their brand. Finally, they need to be able to engage their student bodies. In the end, they needed that foundation. They needed to know that things are going to be here and that the entire landscape isn’t going to 360 flip over and collapse.”
Now that the inaugural OPSE season is in the books, what is your opinion on it? Were you satisfied with how everything went?
James Fitzgerald: “Overall, I think the season was extremely successful, from my perspective, and I think you’d probably get the same response from any of our members. We were able to give out $24,000 in scholarships last year to eSports players across the province, which is just mind-blowing to me. On top of that, we had four different provincial champions. In fact, we had eight completely unique schools in those finals, which is crazy to think of the parity within competition here in Ontario.
On our broadcast, we were able to broadcast over 300,000 unique individuals throughout the season; we have over 2.2 million minutes watched – which is a number bigger than I can really fathom. None of that would have existed a year ago, so to me, it was extremely successful there. We’re just hoping to grow even bigger and better for future seasons.”
Did it all go according to plan, or did you encounter some hiccups or roadblocks along the way?
James Fitzgerald: “Realistically, everything sort of went according to plan. The biggest hiccups were sort of on keeping the entire OPSE team started remotely. We were expecting to at least get partially through the season, be able to get into a space together, even if it’s on the production side. The reality of it is that, throughout the entire season, not a single person working on the OPSE project was able to meet in person, which almost provides an even greater perspective on this. We made this thing happen for hundreds of thousands of people, and no two people were ever in the same room together for the entire year. It’s really mind-blowing. I wouldn’t necessarily call that a hiccup, but there were definitely a lot of learning experiences.
I think the team performed admirably there, and we’re just excited to see what the future holds for us now that we can take all that we learned. Last year was basically a case study, and we had all these predictions on how things would go and how people would react. We had a general idea of how we want to do things, but until it’s actually done, you’re sort of guessing. Now we’re no longer guessing: we now have experienced it, and we understand how it all works. We can take that and be a lot more confident and comfortable moving into next season, which allows us to focus on improving other areas as well, which means that things are only going to be better from here.”
You recently announced the return of OPSE for a second season this fall. How do you feel about it?
James Fitzgerald: “I don’t think anyone was expecting OPSE to be a one-off. It is a yearly seasonal format, and that stability is part of what schools need. So, the big part of the announcement from the other week was that we are including Valorant within our offering of eSports titles. It was something we considered doing for our inaugural season, but we just weren’t sure of the stability of that game yet. It wouldn’t have been responsible for us to commit to a year-long season of Valorant without that certainty.
Now that we’ve hit the point where we’re sure that, not only is the game itself eSports ready, but there is also a big community within the collegiate space. We’re super excited to be able to showcase the talent within Ontario and to be able to support the student community here in Ontario, to get them involved with OPSE in the same way that we were able to with Overwatch, League of Legends, Hearthstone, and Rocket League last season.”
What can you tell me about the upcoming season, anything new on the horizon?
James Fitzgerald: “I can’t tell you too many secrets of what we have planned, but the biggest change is that we are moving to a five-game format, which also means that we’re moving our regular season broadcast to five nights a week. Moving to that five-night broadcast schedule is something that we sort of piloted within the playoffs, and there was a really good reception from the viewership point of view. We’re also sure that Valorant is the title that the community wanted as it was one of our most requested titles throughout the entire season. In the end, everything is just going to be bigger and better, and you know, it’s only good news from here.”
With the addition of Valorant as the fifth title on which schools will have the opportunity to battle it out, it also means that the total number of scholarships that will be distributed over the next year will also be increased by another CA$6,000. Starting next year, a grand total of CA$30,000 will be up for grabs in five different games: League of Legends, Hearthstone, Rocket League, Overwatch, and now Valorant.
The participating schools for the second season of OPSE have not yet been made public, but Fitzgerald says that his organisation is currently in talks with a number of schools that showed interest in joining the inaugural season but couldn’t due to short notice.