Three years ago, Brindon “Breezyyy” Keesey tried out for the Arizona State University League of Legends team and didn’t make the cut. Now, Keesey has signed a contract to play for 100 Thieves and has become the second ASU player to go pro in any esport.
The deal shines a spotlight on a university rarely seen in the collegiate esports scene.
The organization 100 Thieves is one of 10 with a franchise slot in the League Championship Series, the premier professional league for League of Legends in North America. The team is co-owned by founder Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, rapper Drake and record executive Scooter Braun. Keesey will compete primarily in the the LCS developmental NA Academy League, but he can be called up to start for the main team.
Playing in the support position, Keesey will primarily assist his team and facilitate its strategies through less offensive means. While his position typically gets the fewest kills out of the five in the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA), he still plays an important role helping his team destroy the enemy base and winning the game.
In fact, Keesey played an indispensable role for ASU’s League of Legends team, coach Benjamin Duan said. He is one of the major reasons the program has been top tier for the past three years.
“He’s done so much for us,” Duan said. “We have won so many tournaments that our program never would have been able to do before Breezyyy was on the team. He was a huge reason why we basically never had a finish below a top six or top eight in any tournament we entered.”
Keesey’s contributions to the team is what got the attention of 100 Thieves Academy coach Kelsey Moser. She said his confidence was uncommon in other players the team considered.
“The exciting thing about Breezyyy was just how willing he was to take charge of situations in terms of making plays,” Moser said. “He was a lot less hesitant then other players we scouted, which was very interesting to see.”
The gain or 100 Thieves is still a loss for ASU, which was ranked in the top 10 of ESPN’s collegiate League of Legends Power Rankings last year. Going into this season, it was a favorite to win not only the western conference, but also the national title. Yet, despite the loss of the team’s star player, Duan said he has already found an adequate replacement in former ASU support player Abe “Pseudo” Lee. He hasn’t played for ASU in almost four years, but Duan said he is confident in his abilities.
“At the beginning of the year, I was really worried that this could have happened and knew there was no one close to Breezyyy’s level,” Duan said. “We ended up scouting one of our old support players who played before Breezyyy. We know Pseudo is very capable of doing great things and he’s good to go.”
There are upsides of Keesey’s departure, however. Since ASU has been so dominant during his run with the program, it put attention on the university. Although there is a well established path from college to professional leagues in traditional sports, that is far from the case in esports.
Out of the 10 LCS rosters for the 2020 season, only a single player out of the 50 starters have had any collegiate level experience. However, perhaps not by coincidence, that is 100 Thieves’ starting support player, William “Stunt” Chen. Moser said that the scene should take the amateur and collegiate scene more seriously.
“I think one of the biggest barriers is just the lack of visibility of some of these competitions,” Moser said. “These tournaments are important and are a pretty good source of getting information on newer players.”
With new light shone on Keesey, ASU and the collegiate scene, expectations are high for both 100 Thieves and ASU going into the 2020 season. Keesey will make his debut for 100 Thieves Academy sometime in January, right around the same time ASU kicks off their regular season in the western conference of the 2020 season of College League of Legends.
Story by Warren Younger, Cronkite News