Feature Pic

The number-cruncher behind the ‘Bama of college e-sports

By Yifan Wu

In a season-opener against an unranked and little-known opponent, a college powerhouse fell behind by one point for less than two minutes. However, the head coach, who just came off a brief stint in the pros, buried his face in his hands and sighed in disbelief before rifling through the team analyst’s notepads.

No, it was not Alabama football but rather Robert Morris’ varsity team playing “League of Legends,” a free-to-play computer game, against Missouri Baptist. Like the Crimson Tide, who list six analysts on its staff directory, RMU e-sports leads the collegiate scene in support staff, starting with Mykolas “MykieMause” Saulis, a full-time analyst.

Up to six hours a day, five days a week, Saulis hovers behind the varsity team’s gaming chairs during practice, taking notes and making observations. Sometimes, the computer network major joins the post-game huddle to discuss his findings. Often, Saulis finds a working station at the arena’s corner and records his notes into a Google Docs spreadsheet.

“As of right now, the notes are very broad,” Saulis said. “The spreadsheet has specific points we want to see the team work on, like specific timing to be aggressive. We try to get some sort of quantified result, and then you can track their progress.”

When Drake Porter came to RMU as the head coach last October, he suggested the addition of a student-analyst, citing his experience working at Frank Gang Gaming, a professional team.

“Most of the pro teams have someone breaking down gameplays for them, and now the college scene is catching up,” Porter said. “They can put it in numbers and let us know how the opponents play under different circumstances.”

The search process started the week before Campus Series kicked off in mid-January, when Porter sent an email to RMU players not on the top two varsity teams, but also announced the position was open to any RMU student. Almost 40 applications were in his inbox the next day.

Saulis impressed Porter with experience as a player on the third team and his in-depth knowledge for the game. Between classes and spreadsheets, the Oak Lawn native also led his own team, “Mykie Mause Club House,” in the RMU intramural “League of Legends” tournament.

“I am still fresh, still testing the waters and figuring out what to do,” Saulis said. “With the team, we have really good communication and synergy, so I enjoy working with every one of them individually.”

Immediately after Riot Games, developer of “League of Legends,” released an update, Saulis added game-testing to his responsibilities.

For hours, Saulis, Porter and starter Derek “West Coast Carry” Micheau, have explored all the possible scenarios where the slight three seconds of change-in-game mechanics could affect the team. Soon after, Saulis started some scouting work on Maryville, the team RMU would later dismantle in three quick scrimmage games.

“Maryville is really the only team we have to look out for in this division,” Porter said. “They are not the same team that beat us last year, but we still think that’s our main rival.”

In “League of Legends,” five players on each side can choose to play as one of the 134 champions. But a pick-and-ban system allows both sides to take the opponent’s favorite chess pieces off the board.

For Saulis, the opposition research includes looking up the other team’s entire roster, studying its favorite champions, predicting the likelihood of picks and making ban recommendations to the team.

“We scouted Maryville for about an hour before the matches, and that wasn’t too hard,” Saulis said. “We noticed trends of champions they are picking. But sometimes they ‘smurf,’ like how they might hide the champion they are playing.”

“Obviously numbers can’t tell us everything about our opponents,” said Micheau. “But now we have a better idea about their habits.”

Like most e-sports athletes at RMU, Saulis had a difficult time explaining his scholarship to family and friends, but his new role is harder to describe.

“I told my mom [about my job] just yesterday, and she asked what any of this means,” Saulis said. “I tried to tell her as broadly as I could, but really it is like being an analyst for any traditional sport.”

Photo at top: Student analyst Mykolas Saulis works on a spreadsheet for Robert Morris University’s “League of Legends” team. (Yifan Wu/MEDILL)