Matthew Shealy

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Winthrop University’s League of Legends esports team is off to a great start in 2020 with wins over elite programs, including Grand View University, Arizona State and Harrisburg University.

The Eagles, who were ranked 18th in the preseason poll, jumped to sixth in the standings last month and most recently ascended to fourth place in the ESPN college League of Legends coaches poll.

“Hopefully we can keep climbing,” said Josh Sides, head coach of the esports team. “The goal is number one.”

This is the inaugural season for the Winthrop esports team after the university announced it would form a team last spring in an effort to recruit more students.

So far this year, Winthrop has beaten Texas Tech, Old Dominion and Florida State in collegiate League of Legends play, but its biggest wins have come in the ASU GSV Tournament.

The tournament is hosted by the ASU GSV Summit, which was created in 2010 as a collaboration between Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley to promote technology and innovation.

“We were the only team that played a top-25 team for all of our matches throughout (the tournament),” Sides said.

The Eagles — after defeating UT Dallas (currently ranked No. 24), Harrisburg (No. 3), Grand View (No. 14) and Arizona State (No. 8) — earned a spot in finals of the tournament, which will be played live and in person in San Diego March 29.

Winthrop will face No. 1 ranked Maryville University in the matchup, which is a team one player on Winthrop’s roster is very familiar with.

Tony “Saskio” Chau attended Maryville for four years and was a member of the college League of Legends national championship-winning teams in 2017 and 2019. Now he’s the oldest member on Winthrop’s team.

“I was kind of forced into a position where I had to be a leader, because I was seen as the two-time national collegiate champion,” Chau said. “It came really naturally, because I kind of wanted to be a leader while I was at Maryville University, but I never had the chance to.”

Sides said Winthrop benefits a lot from having Chau on the roster.

Coach Sides
The Winthrop esports team is lead by head coach Josh Sides (photo: Matthew Shealy).

“He’s got that veteran leadership – that veteran experience – that he’s kind of able to pass on to our younger players and kind of help them understand what it takes to win a championship,” Sides said.

If Winthrop takes down Maryville, Sides said he believes it would constitute the Eagles moving up to the No. 1 spot.

“If we beat Maryville, that’s an obvious statement of ‘we’re the best team in the country,’ especially if we beat them live and in person,” Sides said.

However, Chau said becoming the top-ranked team would bring some challenges.

“I don’t want to be the top dog where everyone is trying to gun for your spot,” Chau said. “I don’t think that we have the structure compared to Maryville to be a (No. 1 overall) team, because they have the facility, they have the experience, they have the backing from their president directly and they have the culture there. That’s something that I’m trying to build here, but we’re not as developed.”

Chau said it will be exciting to play against his former teammates in person and he looks forward to seeing how Winthrop matches up against the team that taught him so much.

According to Sides, Winthrop plays four to five scrimmage matches a week and then players are expected to get in at least 20 games of solo practice.

“We have concepts that we work on week to week so we don’t have one specific style that we play to that can be counteracted,” Sides said. “We definitely are working on developing as many different play-styles as possible.”

Sides said the team also works on building chemistry by gathering for a “family dinner” from time to time. He said players are encouraged to eat together often, as well as work out and take classes with one another, so their time in the lab isn’t the only time they see each other.

With so much success already this season, it may come as a surprise that the young Winthrop squad hasn’t gotten a little cocky, but Sides said he isn’t worried about his team.

“I’m fine with them getting a little bit of a big head, because they kind of deserve it,” Sides said. “If they didn’t think they were the best, I wouldn’t have recruited them. I want every player to come here thinking they’re the best player and this is the best team.”

A live stream of Winthrop’s esports matches can be found at