Jamari Pierce

Jamari Pierce is a formidable player on Mizzou’s League of Legends competitive esports team.

Mortals who encounter Jamari Pierce quickly learn of his propensity to hurl venomous spiders or green globules at those crossing his path. But as unfriendly as that sounds, his closest companions wouldn’t want anyone else “watching their six.”

Pierce is one of seven members of Mizzou’s intercollegiate League of Legends team, an esports team that competes against other universities’ counterparts in the virtual world of the popular video game. The complex, fast-paced game pits two teams of five champions against one another in a colorful battleground where each side seeks to destroy the other’s nexus. (Think capture-the-flag but instead of capturing, you blow it up.) Players wear headsets to communicate while taking on the roles of any of 134 League of Legends characters — ranging from humanoid to fantastical creatures — with superhuman powers.

“It’s like basketball meets chess meets football,” says Pierce, a sophomore computer science major from Crete, Illinois. “As in any team sport, chemistry is really important. It’s something you need to have if you want to make a team work.”

Pierce found his teammates thanks to the growing popularity of esports, or competitive multiplayer gaming. It’s so widespread that several universities even offer scholarships to competitive gamers. Pierce hopes Mizzou might someday follow suit.

“In high school, I had a close little group of friends who played,” says Pierce, who encourages interested students to attend a League of Legends club meeting. “People talk about it more at Mizzou. Even people outside of the club are like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve played League.’ ”

While playing on the competition team, Pierce also takes part in the Mizzou League of Legends Club, one of 600-plus student organizations at MU. It’s just one place where Pierce has found his people. Another is his academic cohort in the College of Engineering.

“It’s a real community,” Pierce says. “We’ve got each other’s backs.”