UCI Esports Wins the 2018 College League of Legends Championship!


by | Aug 13, 2018, 2:21PM PDT

This article was a collaborative effort with UCI Esports League of Legends coach, James “Dreamweaver” Bates.


From July 7th to the 10th, UCI watched its League of Legends team pack up their bags and make their way to the League of Legends Championship Series Arena in Santa Monica, where the team would participate in the North American division of the College League of Legends Championship. Recent losses for the Overwatch and Heroes of the Dorm teams just earlier this year meant that this tournament was the perfect opportunity to show that UCI Esports will still fight to call themselves the victor.

Although most expected British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University to enter the tournament, UCI Esports had defeated them in the West Conference Playoffs, earning the title of the number two seed and a ticket into the championships.

Round One: University of Ottawa

New to the collegiate scene, Ottawa started this season ranked 18th in North America, but quickly fought their way through to the seventh seed this tournament. Despite their rapid climb, however, UCI Esports put it to a swift end.

With the newest Anteater, Evan “Captain Nuke” Phu, executing powerful ganks (surprise attacks that outweigh numbers in the performer’s favor) and careful team-fight setups, it’s no shock that he took the MVP title of the first match. Even more impressive was James “Lattman” Lattman’s play during Game 2– no one would contest that a devastating Pentakill, let alone the only Pentakill the entire tournament, would make him UCI Esports’ first series MVP during the championship. UCI Esports’ performance that day was a only a small prelude to what would come the rest of the weekend. Fans both at home and at the event had plenty to look forward to.

Lattman (right), alongside hostess Ovilee May (left), as he holds a blown-up cut-out of his face brought in by the UCI crowd.

Round Two: University of Maryland

The next day, UCI Esports faced their most consistent scrimmage partner and champion of the Eastern Conference, University of Maryland.

Working late into the night, UCI Esports had busied themselves carefully studying and predicting any of the wild picks that Maryland might try throwing at them. While the first two games of this series were quickly under UCI’s belt, Game Three suddenly put a bump into the road. The first twenty minutes of the game were dictated by Maryland jungler Winston “Wezi” Zhou playing Lee Sin, barring UCI from their usual early game jungle lead and eventually taking Game Three from the Anteaters.

Youngbin “Youngbin” Jung, however, wasn’t going down without a fight. With a newfound fervor, the jungler lead UCI Esports to victory in Game Four, winning their second series of the tournament.

Final Round: Columbia College

As Riot’s marching band lead the crowd in a spectacle of roaring cheers, UCI Esports and Columbia College prepared for the final series ahead of them. Columbia, an all-star roster put together in 2017, was one of UCI’s practice partners and a favorite to win the entire event.

The Anteaters capitalized on every chance they received, banning all of Columbia mid laner Julien “Juliens” Gelinas’ best picks every game as well as Youngbin counterpicking his jungler-counterpart Zachary “BukZach” Lapham, winning a solid Game One. And although Game Two began looking in favor of Columbia, Jeffrey “Descraton” Du’s miraculous Zoe plays reunited UCI for a victorious comeback. Game Three followed suit, Descraton on Zoe once again leading the charge until UCI Esports ganked Columbia’s solo lanes and choking out a win. The series, as well as the 2018 season of College League of Legends, ended soon after, with UCI Esports alone left standing victorious.

Lyubomir “Bloodwater” Spasov poses with UCI Esports, raising the College League of Legends 2018 Championship Trophy above him.

Road to China

After what seemed like a drought, UCI Esports was finally able to bring a championship trophy back home. Friends and family alike gathered from far and wide for support, with Descraton’s parents even assembling everyone together in the lobby to sing their son happy birthday. This only ushered in the beginning of a longstanding celebration. On June 14th, UC Irvine honored the team by hosting a party on campus, and California Congresswoman Mimi Walters even sent special congressional recognition certificates to the team.

The team’s victory lap is far from over, however, as they will now represent all of North America during the International Collegiate Championship taking place August 15-18th in Xi’an, China.

The UCI Esports Twitch channel will be the sole official English broadcast for the event this upcoming week. Be sure to tune in for a local time schedule to catch our team prove that not only can they be the best in the West, but the best in the world as well!

Esports Lab Spotlight: Craig G. Anderson


by | May 1, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

This is part 2 of a mini-series on the UCI Esports Lab and their research topics.

This article features Craig G. Anderson, a doctoral candidate at the Esports Lab. His research topics focus on the cognitive influences of games, including the roles of failure and persistence in gaming. More information, including contact information, can be found at https://www.uciesportslab.org/.

What led you to become involved in esports research? What is your educational background?

I’ve been working with Profs. Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire for about five years;  we started in Madison, Wisconsin where we were initially researching educational games. It wasn’t until we moved to Irvine when our research started to change gears toward esports. I still study single player commercial games, but I can now start looking at the area of multiplayer competitive environments as well.

What questions are you looking to answer through your research?

My masters work was on “what makes video games engaging.” To that end, I made a low-fidelity version of Peggle and had people play it to find out if they still enjoyed playing and if they learned the core skills about the game (they only played half as much, and reported less engagement). There’s something about having success just out of reach that keeps players coming.  I then started to think about how failure is so common in games, and how games construct failure as something expected. I’m interested in looking at games like Dark Souls and Cuphead, notoriously difficult games that have a huge fanbase. Do playing these types change the way we think about failure, both in and outside of the game as well?

Today, my research focuses on how players react to failure in games. I come from a psychology background, so I’m interested in how video games make people think, and especially how they frame failure in comparison to other environments. One reason why esports is so interesting is because there are teammates that are relying on you to succeed with them as well — any failure can affect the whole team. Another interesting aspect as well is the spectators; do players react to failure differently when people are watching? If so, how?  

I am currently looking to watch testers play Cuphead and try to map the places where players are most likely to fail. I’m particularly interested in seeing if they persist, and also the reorientation strategies they use. What’s difficult about this is that the methodology hasn’t been done before. Researchers usually just survey their testers about their experiences, but I plan to actually observe the testers play the game. How long do players persist through failure? How many times do they fail, and how do they react to those failures? How many times do they try before they give up?

Who do you work with on a regular basis at the lab?

The lab was designed on purpose to encourage open, constant collaboration. Everyone talks across the table and gets the chance to collaborate with others on topics they find interesting. There are all kinds of people that work in the lab, from professors to graduate students, and even undergraduate and high school interns.

Outside the lab, our biggest project is NASEF, the high school esports league that also facilitates academic research. We work with the high school players to get gameplay footage that we might be able to refer to in our research, such as League of Legends mid lane players.

What is one of the most important things you’ve done in your time researching esports?

I am the co-chair for UCI’s Esports Conference (ESC). It was a huge amount of work, especially since ESC 2018 was the first-ever instance of it. The team spent a whole year planning the whole event, but it paid off! I’m happy that many people enjoyed it and want to go again next year, so even now we’re working on ESC 2019.

Where do you see esports (and/or research in the area) in five years?

As esports becomes more mainstream, I see it growing in popularity until it is on par with regular, traditional sports. Similarly, esports research will continue to grow, especially at UCI where the Informatics department and games studies is growing. I want to see UCI become the premier game studies university. Before Profs. Steinkuehler and Squire came, there were only three or four professors in the department studying anything games-related. Now that there are a lot of big names doing research here, the school is now attracting more and more games scholars.

Looking Cool, Joker! Smash DLC Steals UCI’s Hearts


by | Apr 24, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

On April 17th, 2019, the first Challenger Pack DLC for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launched alongside the version 3.0 update. (While Piranha Plant was the first DLC character to be added to the game in January 2019, it was not as part of the planned season pass content.) The long-anticipated update added Joker, the main protagonist from Atlus RPG Persona 5, to the already prolific Smash roster. The Phantom Thief of Hearts explodes onto the scene, wielding a variety of attacks both martial and mystical. The most important mechanic separating Joker from the rest of the cast is his Rebellion Gauge, which summons the Persona Arsene to assist Joker in his attacks. The DLC also included the new stage Mementos, a landscape inspired by the world of subconscious thought that the Phantom Thieves travel through in Persona 5.

The TAG @ UCI Ultimate weekly tournament was hot off the heels of the update, although it wasn’t the first Southern California weekly to actually run the new patch. (That honor would go to the April 17th Wednesday Night Fights event held at the Santa Ana Esports Arena.) With 44 entrants, the weekly was also notable for the appearance of two top SoCal players, Matt “Elegant” Fitzpatrick and Mr. ConCon– the former currently ranked 10th with Luigi on the SoCal Ultimate Power Rankings, and the latter an honorable mention with the same character. Justin “Muskrat Catcher” Muscat, head TO for the TAG @ UCI Ultimate club, also placed a humble five-dollar bounty on the highest placing player who exclusively played Joker for the duration of the tournament. However, while Elegant did use the new character in many of his games, he ultimately returned to his main for a few matches, and grand finals of the tournament was a Luigi ditto between him and Mr. ConCon.

UCI players practice with Joker on a Battlefield-form version of the new Mementos stage.

I asked top UCI players for their opinions on the new character after they had a day to see what he was capable of. “The most amazing thing to me, is that last night at Wednesday Night Fights, Joker almost won the tournament,” Muskrat Catcher explained to me, referring to grand finals of WNF 1.9 (4/17/19) between Mr. E’s Lucina and SweetT’s Joker. “He took grand finals to a game five scenario, so obviously he has promise as a character.” Muskrat’s personal belief was that Joker was neither a bad character nor an overtuned one, and that the future metagame would be very interesting with his introduction.

Rafael “Rafi” Guadron disagreed with Muskrat’s assessment, however. “[He’s] a mid-tier, mid-high character. He seems pretty annoying, and I don’t like that he has that Arsene [mechanic.]” Functionally, when Joker summons Arsene, his damage output and the rest of his abilities increase dramatically. The Redemption Gauge that marks the time until the Persona appears fills up in small increments when Joker takes damage, and in major increments when Joker successfully counters attacks. “I’m probably not gonna play him,” Rafi stated bluntly.

When I asked Uyiosa “Uyi” Igbinigie for his opinion on Joker, he gave me a very straightforward rundown of how he feels the character functions. “[Joker’s] definitely looking like a technical character. If we were trying to put him in a character archetype, [he’d be] more along the combo characters like Sheik and such, where you have to do a lot of hits in order to do massive damage, but then you get Arsene, which functions like [Cloud’s Limit Break mechanic] so you can get KOs really well.” Incidentally, even though he had a relatively low placing of 17th at the tournament, Uyi was also the winner of Muskrat’s five dollar Joker bounty, being the highest-placing solo Joker at the event.

In anticipation of Joker’s inclusion, the TAG @ UCI graphics team designed a new Persona-themed rankings image for the UCI Ultimate players to commemorate their recent results.

Meanwhile, Mementos was also the subject of debate in regards to the stagelist moving forward. With the Hazards toggle set to Off, the harmful elements of Mementos (namely the trains that pass through the top and bottom blastzones) disappear, leaving a large, asymmetrical stage with a slope in the center, and two platforms in the center and on the left. “If 2GGaming [the major Southern California grassroots Ultimate tournament organization] runs it at their events, we’ll have to play on it,” Rafi said. At the moment, due to Mementos’s asymmetrical nature, the stage may only be run as a counterpick rather than a neutral starter stage. However, its unique aesthetic and acid jazz Persona soundtrack make it an endearing fan-favorite, so players strongly advocate for its inclusion in official stagelists.

In the end, Joker’s stunning inclusion into Smash alongside the Mementos stage are bound to shake up the Ultimate metagame. The new character has stolen the hearts of both new and current players, and once his abilities are further explored, he may even have the potential to clinch out tournament wins. While it’s safe to say that no one saw Joker’s invite to the prestigious mascot fighter coming, everyone is still excited to see how he’ll perform.