Esports Sports

Houston Rockets experiment in eSports with Clutch team

The Houston Rockets’ team Clutch Gaming competes in the North American League Championship Series, an eSports League of Legends competition. So far this season the team is 7-5. | Courtesy of J.J. Leal

With the recent emergence of eSports, a form of competition using video games, the Houston Rockets have jumped into the fray with a new branch of their organization that plays League of Legends professionally.

The Rockets purchased in November a team slot in the League of Legends North American League Championship Series, or NALCS, and aptly named their team Clutch Gaming.

League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena game developed by Riot Games. Players play as an unseen “summoner” who controls a “champion” with unique abilities while battling with and against others players. Each match is discrete with champions starting the game weak but increasing in strength by acquiring items and experience over the course of the game.

Competitive League of Legends is played in a five-on-five team format on a map called “Summoner’s Rift.

Clutch Gaming has five roster spots, three of which are filled by previous members of another professional eSports organization: Team EnVyUs. They are known as ApolloHakuho and LirA.

Team EnVyUs performed below expectations a year ago in the NALCS competition and were not accepted into the newly franchised NALCS, giving the three the chance to join Clutch Gaming.

The remaining two roster spots are occupied by Solo, a rookie to the professional League of Legends scene, and Febiven, an international player from the Netherlands. Febiven had an impressive track record overseas in the European League Championship Series, or EULCS. His old team, Fnatic, went undefeated with an 18-0 record in the 2015 regular season, becoming the first team to do so in LCS history.

Much like the Rockets’ MVP-frontrunner James Harden, Febiven will have to play his absolute best for Clutch Gaming to have a successful season, as his role in the middle lane is often a make-or-break position.

Of the other nine teams in the newly franchised NALCS, two of them also belong to NBA teams.  The Golden Guardians and 100 Thieves are owned by the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers respectively.

Each annual season of play is divided into two splits, Spring and Summer, that conclude with play-off tournaments between the top six teams from the NALCS and EULCS. At the end of the season, the winner of the Summer split — the team with the most championship points along with the winner of the gauntlet tournament in each league — qualifies for the annual League of Legends World Championship. The winners of the World Championship receive the prestigious “Summoner’s Cup” as well as a $1 million prize.

Matches are played every weekend in Los Angeles and streamed live to the public for free online viewing through YouTube and, with one game each on Saturday and Sunday. Clutch Gaming also has viewing parties each weekend at different Houston venues such as Dave & Busters, Grindbreak eSports Café and the Microsoft store in the Galleria.

So far the team has played six weeks out of its nine week schedule and holds a record of 7-5. Clutch Gaming’s next match is against OpTic Gaming on Saturday at 8 p.m. 

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