The home of collegiate esports is right in the middle of nowhere.
Flyover country, they call it. This isn't the West Coast, where the North American League of Legends Championship Series and Overwatch League live. It isn't the Northeast with its vibrant fighting game community. No, this is a part of the country best known for being flat. But through a confluence of coincidences and coordination, it's become the biggest player in varsity esports, with the most programs in the nation and the most success in the collegiate League of Legends scene.
Welcome to Missouri, the home of college esports. ESPN.com took a trip to tour the state's five college esports programs in September to figure out why schools in St. Louis, Columbia and Bolivar became champions of the college esports craze.
Editor's Note: Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri, announced its varsity esports program on Oct. 11 and was not a part of this tour.
Location: St. Louis
What to know: Maryville has won two national titles in League of Legends, including the League of Legends Collegiate Championship in May at the NA LCS studios in Los Angeles. The team was founded by Dan "clerkie" Clerke, a former Call of Duty pro and co-general manager of pro team eUnited.
Quotable: "I knew esports was big, was a huge industry. I also knew that it was growing in popularity among college students even more than it had been. And I knew that it was one of those areas where it was wide open. Nobody had done it, or very few. One of the things we try to teach our students educationally across the board here is don't be afraid to take chances. Don't be afraid to be out in front, and don't be afraid to take the initiative. Even if you try and fail, you're going to learn a lot from that experience, and it's going to help you a lot in what you do. It appealed to that sense of innovation and forward thinking, and particularly being on the cutting edge of something." -- Mark Lombardi, Maryville University president
Missouri Baptist University
Location: St. Louis
What to know: MBU is in talks with its administration to turn the basement of a dorm into a space for its team to compete. The team currently competes in a space separated from a classroom by two garage doors; all it takes is an accidental press of a button for League practice to turn into a lecture session.
Quotable: "Right now what's kind of holding us back is the space. Once we acquire our [new] space, we have dreams of next year maybe turning this into a 30-student program. We'd love to start branching out into other games like Rocket League, Overwatch, CS:GO, other games like that, but really right now it's about getting the space and growing into it." -- Andrew Douglas, MBU coach
What to know: The Cougars hosted their inaugural Midwest Campus Clash in April, with a $25,000 prize pool. They won the American Video Game League Collegiate League of Legends Grand Finals this past week at DreamHack Denver.
Quotable: "There aren't too many sports where a school like Columbia College can defeat the Ohio States of the world. This is one of them, and we're kind of getting a kick out of it. How long can that continue? We'll find out. But we're going to do our best to stay competitive at a very, very high level." -- Scott Dalrymple, Columbia College president
What to know: The Stars are the only all-women's college to field a varsity program and one of the only schools to start with Overwatch rather than another game as its primary esport.
Quotable: "I've kind of wondered what is it about the Midwest, but I can't think of anything in the Midwest in particular that has made it particularly geared towards being the hub, as it were, of this collegiate esports explosion. ... It certainly benefits those of us that are here because we have kind of a built-in network where we can compete with one another, work with one another. It might help in dividing things when it comes to conferences later on." -- Ernest Utterback, Stephens College coach
Southwest Baptist University
What to know: SBU is the only program in the country to also sponsor scholarships for streamers. Its Horizons Project, with the help of around 20 contributors, creates more than 70 hours of live content per week across multiple games.
Quotable: "This is a way we can innovate and be on the front lines and really do something that coastal schools are not doing yet. It creates something that is attractive to students all across the nation that they can't get anywhere else." -- Chris Allison, SBU coach