Gianeen Almaria is a first-year student at UCI pursuing a double major in Computer Game Science and Art. She's been following esports for as long as she can remember, and continues to avidly follow the growing competitive scene among all games.
In this follow up on the UCI Esports Fitness Program series, we had the opportunity to sit down with both Brenden “tildae” Alvarez (pictured, right) and Lyubomir “Bloodwater” Spasov (pictured, left).
Brenden is currently a fourth year at UCI who plays Flex Tank on the Overwatch scholarship team. While Brenden played soccer prior to graduating high school, he did not have a solid workout plan coming to UCI. While on the Overwatch team, he was offered a place in the fitness program and was more than excited to get into it.
Lyubomir is a fifth year at UCI who plays Support on the League of Legends scholarship team. As a player who has always been passionate about fitness, he strongly advocates for its wide range of benefits.
Both players have come to embrace fitness in their lives, both within and outside the fitness program. Here’s what they’ve got to say!
Q: What was your initial reaction to being offered a place in the fitness program?
BA: I was very excited. I actually wanted to start getting into fitness and going to the gym, when I started college, but I could never find time for it because I was always very nervous. It’s a whole different culture. I was never a part of it. I was scared! But then having the trainer show me the ropes and tell me what to do and help me work on form and all that- it was very helpful. I’m very happy with the program.
LA: I’m a big advocate for [fitness]. I’m a big supporter. I’ve been a runner most of my life. I’ve done a lot of biking throughout my life. My brother and I would wake up at like 4:00 in the morning in high school, and we would go biking for thirty miles, and it would take us about a total of two hours. We would go from one city to another via the city trail. It was really fun because I would just listen to music, and be really in the zone and pumped up. I loved it. And when I would get home, I would feel so invigorated, so energized. And then I would go to class and be like, “Hell yeah, I’m ready to learn!” [laughs] “Hit me with the knowledge!” But yeah, definitely, I really am. If I could choose a drug in the world, it would be adrenaline. So that’s also why I transitioned to calisthenics and I enjoy doing calisthenics because you’re forcing your muscles to work under fatigue, and you’re doing that at a very constant rate, so you’re not resting too much, and you’re doing exercises back-to-back-to-back, and your body’s just like, “Aw, man, you’re killing me!” And you just gotta keep pushing, and you get that high, endorphins start kicking in, adrenaline starts coming up, and it just feels amazing. I love it. I could talk about it all day probably!
Q: What part of the fitness program do you think is most beneficial to you personally? What do you like to take out of it?
BA: “The part of the program that’s the most beneficial to me, I would say, is the program that he gives us. So, when I first started, I still [didn’t] know what to do, right? He can tell me what to do, but aside from that one time a week, what do I do? Obviously you can’t just work out one time a week. So he gave us a personal program tailored to our goals. [For me] it was to lose body fat and to look more toned. It was helpful because he taught me how to do it, like the first day that I had with him, and then I was confident enough to do it on my own the times I went by myself.”
Honestly, it’s like, one of my favorite parts of the program. It pretty much got me into fitness, and [my current roommates] also got into fitness, so now we pretty much do our own thing. But I still do the program with Haylesh [Patel] as well. So it was kind of a good gateway into fitness!
LS: For me, the fitness program- it means a lot to me. For me it helps me prove to myself that I can get through certain mental roadblocks in my head, whether it is physically or mentally, and it’s very motivating when it comes to playing League of Legends as well, as well as other mental challenges in the real world, because it basically… uhm, from the physical exercises, it teaches me that I can actually get through those challenges as long as I push hard enough, and remain persistent, and keep giving it as much effort as I can.
Q: Do you think that this is something that should definitely be implemented along all professional teams?
BA: “I definitely think it should be implemented on all teams. It’s really good, and the stereotype that esports gamers have is definitely bad- I’m not gonna deny it! It’s definitely there! I think it’s very fun; it’s healthy. There’s definitely a lot of benefits when you start working out in the gaming aspect. So I think it’s a lot of fun and everyone should do it.”
LS: I definitely think so. Staying physically fit has increased my performance mentally, psychologically. To me it proved to me that I can get past those mental roadblocks. If I’m struggling in the game, with something, like my laning phase, or something that I’m not doing that well, and it’s a consistent problem, I’m able to remind myself, “Hey, it’s just a roadblock, I can get through it, I just need to work towards it, and soon I’ll get through it.” So this is the lesson that challenging myself while working out has taught me, and I’m very thankful for challenging myself while working out. Because it does teach you a lot at the end of the day, it’s not just a confidence booster, it’s not just to look good, it’s also about psychological health, which is really really important nowadays.
Q: Have you ever been personally subjected to stereotypes? Like when you tell people, “yeah, I play for the scholarship team here for Overwatch.” Do you ever get weird looks from anyone?
BA: Not really, to be honest. [pauses] Okay, well, I surround myself with gamers, so that’s kind of the thing. And even my friends who aren’t gamers have been friends with me for a very long time, so when I told them I was a part of this esports program, they were very surprised. “Oh, that’s very cool, I didn’t know they had that.” Some of them were like “I wish I could do that, but I’m not much of a gamer.” And when I tell Uber or Lyft drivers about it they’re usually just surprised and curious about it, and they ask questions. I haven’t really gotten that negative stereotype. I understand that, locally, I’m surrounded by a really open community, and I’m very lucky to have that.
LS: I have a feeling this is involved with a certain stereotype of gamers? [laughs] It’s totally a valid question. I have gotten a few comments that, “Hey, that’s really cool that you’re on the UCI Esports team,” and interests. I don’t think that it’s very unique but I am thankful to be in the position that I am.
True to our mission of providing professional support for young gamers looking to break into the world of esports, UCI Esports recently welcomed 16 high school gamers to our second annual Overwatch summerbootcamp for a week of high-octane, no-holds-barred training.
From June 30th to July 6th, participants worked under the guidance of coaches Ronald Ly and Michael Kuhns to hone their skills in teamwork, communication, and—of course—Overwatch.
Supporting Ly and Kuhns were Brenden Alvarez and Zuhair Taleb, previous members of UCI’s scholarship Overwatch team. Both students acted as junior coaches and mentors to campers seeking, perhaps, to attend UCI in future years as scholarship players themselves.
“The experience was honestly pretty unforgettable,” says Alvarez, a Computer Science major and flex tank on the scholarship team. “Watching the players improve so rapidly within the scrim session felt really satisfying … the campers were all super passionate as well, and I think I found that to be really inspiring, which motivated me to work as hard as I could for them so that they could achieve their goals.”
Although I wasn’t around to view the training sessions in person, Coach Ly was gracious enough to regale me with a snapshot of his experience as a first-time mentor for the students in attendance this year. Following is our interview, conducted online.
What were your general impressions about this year’s camp?
Being my first year running the camp, I came in with the goal to make sure that every camper walked away being able to say that they’ve been greatly armed for future competition and created fond, lifelong memories spending their week here at UCI Esports. I firmly believe we’ve managed to accomplish that, and I’m so proud—and relieved—that the campers earnestly enjoyed their time with us.
Honestly, it nearly brought a tear to my eye to see the power of video games used to cultivate close community and future competitors.
What parts of the week did you enjoy most?
For me, I enjoyed seeing the growth happen daily. It invigorates the fire within myself and my team to see these young athletes level-up in real time, loud and proud about their passion both in game and out.
How did this year’s schedule and events differ from previous years? Do you believe these changes contributed positively to the camp’s success?
I believe a large reason this year was so successful was that we implemented a daily goal with an accompanying lesson for the campers to focus on every day. There was always a tall task ahead of them, and every day the were challenged to meet those expectations, and carry them over to the next. We didn’t make it easy, we really made sure that our big ideas would be difficult to dent, and really played to the gamer’s nature of fighting challenges head on. I think the campers really enjoyed us pushing them to fight for these accomplishments, helping them along the way, but letting them work together to meet their goals and make their teammates friends along the way.
In your opinion, what’s the main purpose of the Overwatch Bootcamp? What skills do campers develop during their time in the program?
The primary purpose of the camp is to equip our attendees with valuable, measurable, and transferable skills that they can take with them wherever they go.
All of the players at the camp had a competitive drive to play and improve, and that was a big focal point for us—we wanted to make sure they were learning about how to better play the game itself, but also to give them personal skills apart from the game that contribute to their success both in the virtual world and their future careers.
How do you and the other coaches accommodate campers’ varying levels of skill in the game?
Both I and my assistant coach, Michael Kuhns, worked plenty of long nights to create a curriculum that accommodates players at all levels. We decided that our lesson plans should be focused on high-end fundamentals that all of our campers will be able to work towards. Many of these players have strong mechanical ability, or some light team experience, and many others had little or none. What we looked to do was make sure that the topics we were talking about focused on both theory and pragmatic exercises that you wouldn’t be able to work on unless you attended our camp specifically.
All of the players at the camp knew that communication was vital to success. But that’s a vague statement that leads to many questions—and we looked to answer those. What does good communication sound like? Who is responsible for saying what? When should and shouldn’t I be speaking up? How should be communicating exactly? All of the campers learned what bad communication sounded like, all of them worked on their own communication skills to make them better. Things like tone, volume, and repetition, clarity, succinctness—all of our campers needed to work on that regardless if they were a “Gold” player or a “Grandmaster” player.
Did all the teams formed this year seem to work well together? Were there any major hurdles the players had to overcome as a team?
The campers all got along very well. It was evident as the days rolled by that they made good friends with one another, and that the daily activities and practices had ushered them closer together. The hurdles that the players had to overcome were intentional ones that the coaches had put into place to better round out all of our campers skillsets, and build on their understanding of the game and how to work as a team. We aimed to further polish their more outstanding capabilities, but also put them in a place where they weren’t able to hide from their shortcomings.
We opted to create two teams this year and implement a mandatory substitution rule. Many of our campers were stuck in their comfort zones—locked in the bubbles of their specific roles—and we wanted to give them a semblance of the experience that a professional player has. We made sure they had to work with others, work to solve problems together, be willing to bend and compromise together, strategize to their unique strengths, and compensate for their unique weaknesses.
We had one team that was highly versatile, but less experienced and polished on any given specific team composition. On the other, we had one that was highly specialized and very potent in one composition, but very lackluster when playing others or being forced to shift outside of their comfort picks.
Over the course of the week, we saw one team gain an edge one day, and the other bring it back the next. One day Team A would have the advantage, and then a major turnaround for Turn B would happen the day after. By the end of the week, both teams were extremely competitive, way stronger, and much tighter-knit—it couldn’t have turned out better for us.
What was the most meaningful interaction you had with the group?
The most meaningful interaction with the campers for me was the ending of the finals of our tournament on the last day. It came down to the wire, and I could see the fruits of their labor plain as day. The match came down the wire, really, and the words of thanks and gratitude to the staff and coaches—as well as the kind words shared between opposing teams—was extremely heartwarming.
Did the players teach you anything (about the game, or more generally)?
The players provide insights and reasoning to their thinking in ways that our staff may not have considered before. Good or bad, the sharing of these ideas and the thought-process behind certain decisions made in the game is something you can only expand your knowledge of from interacting with others. I’ve seen certain campers here utilizing their abilities and characters in ways that I hadn’t considered effective prior, but would be forced to meet my own biases and opinions, and inform my own view of the game.
Looking ahead, what more would you like to see included in UCI Esports’ summer programs?
Looking ahead, I would love to continue growing our curriculum. There’s a lot of what I teach that I believe could be invaluable insights to coaches and players of various other titles. There’s a lot of overlap and transferable fundamental skills that you can carry over into different games, even different genres. What we focus on in the UCI Esports program is building up our players as people first and foremost, and it’s this foundational focus that sets us apart from the competition.
I would love to get more campers in and continue to explore what we can accomplish as the camp attendants become more diverse in skill, age, gender, race, and creed. I believe everyone has something to offer and teach others—I want to fill our arena, build another, and fill that one up too! Honestly, I learn as much from these campers as they do from me and my extraordinary staff. I’d personally love to do this more than just once a year.
The interview concluded with several corroborating remarks from Assistant Coach Kuhns, who witnessed the campers’ growth as both players and people alongside Ly.
“Many of the players that attended the camp have a lot of potential to do great things in Overwatch or competitive games in general,” he said. “It was a special treat being able to work with campers that always had a positive attitude and worked to lift their teammates up, whether they were celebrating in wins or encouraging in losses.”
From July 8th to 12th, UCI Esports hosted our third annual Girls in Gamingsummer camp, opening our doors to twelve ambitious young women interested in learning more about the professional opportunities available in the video gaming industry.
The program, which debuted in 2017, seeks to address the lack of female representation in esports by exposing its participants to games-related career paths they might not have considered—or known existed—beforehand.
“During the camp, participants learn from experts in the industry about the plethora of options within esports,” says Kathy Chiang, the camp’s lead and assistant director of UCI Esports. “Our outreach camps focus on building pipelines, enabling and encouraging more young women to get involved in esports through different roles and at varying levels.”
AlthoughUC Irvine, long a forerunner in the bid to increase young women’s participation in esports, has contributed significantly to positive change in recent years through initiatives such as Girls in Gaming, Chiang believes there’s more to be done.
“It seems like the lack of (sufficient) female representation is becoming one of the most discussed and visible issues in esports these days, and it’s definitely one that has been personally relevant to many among our staff and in my own life as well. I believe it’s extremely important to think of multiple strategies to improve this, from improving education and awareness to building special programs and guidelines.”
The relevant question to ask, on hearing Chiang’s words, is “What exactly goes into building these programs and guidelines?” How does an idea—let’s show young women that there are opportunities available for them in the gaming industry—become a reality?
As Allison Le, a fourth-year mathematics major and junior administrator of the 2019 Girls in Gaming camp, explains, the process is quite involved. Although Girls in Gaming has been around since 2017, camp staff build its schedule from the ground up every year, incorporating fresh ideas and insights into their curriculum to keep things relevant to the industry’s current state.
“We looked at previous speakers, found connections we had made throughout the year, and chose the topics we thought spoke to us the most,” says Le, describing the work involved in designing this year’s schedule. “After creating a rough outline of what we wanted to do, we grouped the topics in days, like media on one day, esports management on another day, and so on.”
While Le, who manages UCI’s scholarship League of Legends team during the academic year, is no stranger to wrangling packed schedules, she expressed appreciation for those who dedicated their time to helping her develop this year’s program.
“This was my first year running camps, so I received a lot of advice from the full time staff. I couldn’t have done it without those who focused on outreach efforts, either—because of them, everything was able to fall into place cleanly.”
With all the behind-the-scenes work that went into making 2019’s Girls in Gaming camp special, it’s no surprise that the participants had a great time during their week at UCI. Between interactive talks with women involved in the gaming industry, activities around campus, and group play—dubbed Teamfight Tactics—in the Arena, campers always had something to do. Despite initial difficulties in introducing the group to games only a few had played before, Le reports that the girls rose eagerly to the challenge.
“By the end of the week, we’d successfully had the arena in an uproar during our mock tournament. It’s a clear example of how games can bring a really diverse group together.”
Le believes that, as the program continues to grow, it will incorporate new features that further the goal of bringing diverse groups together through games.
“I’m thinking that, next year, maybe we’ll find a speaker who can spark the campers’ creativity by leading a session where they brainstorm their very own game. Don’t get me wrong; we had some really great speakers this year. But the engaging ones are always the most memorable, and Kathy and I are keen to let the campers explore their creativity in a hands-on environment.”
Le’s closing thoughts?
“I think the biggest benefit of attending Girls in Gaming is that campers are able to see beyond what they might see in the media—see that there’s plenty of diversity in the video game industry. Oftentimes girls might be steered away from video games, but the truth is, there are plenty of women out there. A lot of our speakers didn’t graduate high school or college knowing that they were going to work in games. But their love for video games brought them here, and I don’t doubt that the girls I met during camp will be trailblazers for the future of the industry.”
Pilot team made possible by $50,000 gift from media publisher, video game enthusiast
Irvine, Calif., Aug. 7, 2019 — The University of California, Irvine esports program will host a pilot scholarship team for “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” during the 2019-20 academic year – thanks to a $50,000 gift from the owners of Street Media, which publishes Irvine Weekly and LA Weekly, led by CEO (and gamer) Brian Calle.
Players will be jointly selected by UCI Esports and the TAG Smash Ultimate Club at UCI, and the funds will be used to offer $6,000 scholarships to the top six as well as for administrative purposes. All current UCI students are eligible to try out for the new crew in October at the UCI Esports Arena. “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is a fighting game for up to eight people in which characters from Nintendo and third-party franchises try to knock each other off playing stages.
“The ‘Smash’ community at UCI is one of the biggest and most passionate gaming clubs on campus,” said Mark Deppe, director of UCI Esports. “We are fortunate to be able to offer scholarships to ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Overwatch’ players. When a donor emerged with a desire to support one of his favorite games, we knew this was something we had to pursue to create more opportunities for the ‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ student gaming community.”
While there is no coach for the team, UCI Esports will provide staff to coordinate practice times, travel, social media, equipment needs and competitions. Players are expected to practice 10 to 15 hours per week, maintain a 2.0 cumulative GPA and follow the code of conduct to compete in tournaments and stay on scholarship.
“This is a huge deal for the UCI ‘Smash’ community, as we work very hard to grow the competitive scene and push it into the same spotlight that many other esports have,” said senior Justin Muscat, president of the TAG Smash Ultimate Club at UCI. “The university offering scholarships for ‘Smash’ is a major step forward and validates the work we’ve done.”
UCI is home to an esports arena with 72 custom PCs and computer monitors, headphones and gaming chairs, as well as a studio that broadcasts matches to hundreds of thousands of viewers. Opened in September 2016, it functions as a high-end recreational facility that’s also open to the public. In addition, the esports program has coaching and administrative staff, a team psychologist and an exercise physiologist.
“UCI Esports is the leader in gaming education and the yardstick by which other programs are measured,” Calle said. “We are thrilled to be able to support the development of top talent for the sport. As an avid gamer and ‘Smash’ player, it’s inspiring to see the dedication and commitment these students give to the game and to see them recognized as collegiate athletes.”
This month, UCI’s current “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” club team will compete for the national title at Shine 2019 in Worcester, Massachusetts. The crew won the Southern California qualifier and then the Western Regional to earn a spot in the college championship, hosted by the Collegiate Starleague. Players will battle winners of the other three regionals for the CSL trophy and part of the $15,000 prize.
“‘Smash’ has historically been an incredibly significant game to The Association of Gamers at UCI, with our community always brimming with passion, hosting tournament after tournament,” said senior Brandi Moy, president of TAG at UCI. “It’s extremely exciting that our students can now receive official support and pursue their competitive dreams through these scholarships.”
About UCI Esports: UCI is the first public university to create an official esports program, which is regarded as one of the best and most comprehensive in the world. With a successful computer game science major, an enthusiastic gaming community and a history of elite competition, UCI is a natural place for esports to thrive. A collaboration among student leaders, faculty, gamers and forward-thinking administrators, UCI’s esports program was announced in the spring of 2016. In September of that year, the UCI Esports Arena – powered by iBUYPOWER – opened. The pillars of UCI Esports are competition, academics and research, community, entertainment, and careers. In 2015, College Magazine ranked UCI the No. 1 school for gamers in North America. The campus’s esports program was featured in a four-part documentary on ESPN2 earlier this year.
About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.
Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit news.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.
As 2019’s spring quarter comes to a close, graduating UCI students are packing their bags and venturing off to parts unknown. Whether it’s finding work in their field of study, heading off to grad school, or taking a break at home to plan their next move, senior Anteater undergrads are dotting the final period on one chapter of their lives and flipping over to the next clean page.
The players on UCI Esports League of Legends and Overwatch teams are no exception. After making semi-finals in the League of Legends College Championships, and placing top 16 in the National League of the Tespa Overwatch Collegiate Championships, the players at UCI Esports are putting an action-packed, nail-biting season behind them. A handful of our players are also finishing their studies and completing their bachelor’s degrees at UCI. We are extremely proud of our collegiate players and their performances, whether it be on the Rift, on the control point, or in the classroom.
We want to thank the following players for their time with our program and congratulate them on an excellent season of gameplay and their stellar academic performance at UCI:
From the League of Legends team: Lyubomir “BloodWater” Spasov (support; Business Economics major) Parsa “Frostalicious” Baghai (bot sub; Computer Science major)
From the Overwatch team: Brendan “tildae” Alvarez (flex tank, Computer Science major) Isaac “IzakBirdie” Jimenez (main support, Education major) Patrick “Pat” Phan (flex support, Business Economics major) Sebastian “Selectt” Vasquez (flex support, Art major)
Between the rush of sorting everything out for the spring 2019 quarter (including my own graduation!) and the busy lifestyles of the players, I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to interview a few of them before they finally leave the team. I interviewed BloodWater, tildae, and IzakBirdie and asked them questions about their experiences at school, both in and out of UCI Esports.
ND: What has been the best part of being a college student on an esports team?
tildae: I don’t know if I can say there’s any best part, cause they’re all pretty equally good — okay, I just said there’s no best part, but I was just about to say the part I liked the most! I think the part I do like the most, though, is meeting people with similar interests, because back home I didn’t know anybody that liked esports at all, or even knew about it, so now I come here and there’s a whole freakin’ program of like, people who wanna talk about esports and play in esports, and that’s awesome. So I think that’s my favorite part. I’ve found a lot of people with similar interests I never expected to find.
IzakBirdie: I feel like the uniqueness, like how it’s something I get to say, something my family gets to share. I get to go out in the field, the special education field, or like, I’m also an RA (Resident Advisor) so whenever I get to share that, they’re like, “Wow, I’ve never heard of that, I never thought that existed.” “How can I get involved?” Something like that. Even high schoolers are like, “Woah, what is that,” and I have to say “Hold up, don’t throw your education away!” So that’s what I really enjoy about it, that it’s something I can talk about […] The UCI Esports program a very well-known name to it, with a positive atmosphere that rubs off the right way. Not just in the collegiate community, but in the gaming community as a whole, and also outside that. All the people involved with research, all the people who want to sponsor us, it’s a really cool image that I get to represent.
BloodWater: For me, what has made my experience at UCI Esports so memorable is honestly the community. The people I’m surrounded by. The UCI Esports Arena, for me, this is gonna sound a little cliche, honestly, but it’s become like a second home. After I’m done with classes I come here, spend the rest of my time here, hang out with my friends here, my teammates, you know. So honestly it’s just a place, a community that I feel really comfortable in, and I’m really grateful to be a part of it.
ND: In general, what has been your favorite moment in your collegiate career?
T: Hmm. There’s a lot of moments. I think I would say going to Arizona for the Tespa championship last year, that was really fun. Like, nobody thinks “I wanna go to Arizona,” right? But that was the first time I’ve traveled out of state, and it was really fun, all the stuff they had us do. Like, I felt like a ‘pro gamer,’ even though we’re just collegiate. The way they treated us, the events they had us do with some other charities, the media exposure was fun… Even though we didn’t win overall, the experience was very positive, and so I had a lot of fun with that.
IB: I make friends here and there, so I have some friends in other schools […] through my experience as peaking as a top player, that helped me become well-known for my personality and my behavior. Not only amongst my team but to the Overwatch community as well, to some extent. Like, when I go into games, they say, “Oh, I know you’re on a collegiate team.” They recognize who you are. Even though we didn’t make it to finals, they recognize, “I know who Izakbirdie is, because of the rank, level of play, and the positivity.” What I do a lot is defuse toxicity, or high intense situations, and I feel like not only was that shown a lot in the team, but also in the community. I really liked working with my team and being like how the coaches pushed me into being in the management role, and that spilled over into outside of the game. And that’s what I enjoy most about, kind of keeping track of management, like tracking ultimates for instance in the game, and then keeping track of each other outside the game, making friends and talking to each other. It was something I really enjoyed. And then also peaking Top 500 [on the Overwatch ranked ladder.] Like, as soon as we lost, I did not want my Overwatch career to peak, so I played rank for really long the same day we lost, and I reached my overall peak of all time, with Orisa, a hero that’s not really well-known.
BW: So the first one that comes to mind is winning Nationals last year. That was the highlight for the competitive aspect of the UCI Esports program in general, and for the League of Legends team. We were the first team in the program to secure a national title, and that’s just big. And this year we’re gonna be defending that title… [Author’s note: this interview was conducted before League Collegiate Championship finals.]
ND: What are you going to take away from your college experience?
T: So the things I learned, were, apply yourself and put yourself out there, cause I was kind of a shut-in… Kind of. I was social, but I always preferred to stay home and play games all day, but then I put myself out to the Blizzard club team, and then I put myself out to this program, and that has been like, the biggest change in my life. […] What else did I learn…? I learned that sleep is really important! I don’t know what it was, but I had really poor sleeping habits the first three years, and then this year, I was like, “alright, no matter what, I’m getting eight hours of sleep.” And that has been amazing. I feel good every day now. That’s probably also because of the exercise, which I like, but eight hours of sleep, guaranteed, no matter how much I wanna stay up and play games, I just get that eight hours, and it’s so nice. I feel so much better.
IB: Something I always take away from the program is that I’m representative of the program. That moment where I played in the program is something I will leave behind for others. I came onto the team wanting to leave an impact not only on a gaming level, but on the people. And that’s what I’m going to take away, that next year things will improve because of my feedback, my skill, my everything. Because I wanna give back to other people, that’s why I’m an RA too, and it ties into stuff like that. That’s what my goals in the future are in relation to esports and everything.
BW: Being a part of this program for three years, I came in lacking a lot of skills, especially a lot of social skills. […] So some of the things that I’ve been able to gain from my college experience and the experience as a collegiate player, is just like, being able to manage my time better, being more open minded to a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do, being a more adeptly social creature overall. […] Looking at myself now, I can see that I’ve grown so much in so many ways. If I didn’t choose to go to this university, I’m not so sure a lot of those things would’ve happened, because my other option was going to Cal Poly (Pomona) and I’m not sure that I would’ve found the same community there that I had here. They do have a League of Legends team, but it’s just a club, and I probably would’ve been part of the club, but I wouldn’t have been exposed to so many of the different things that I’ve had here.
ND: Are there any highlights from a particular game or set that you’re proud of?
T: Not really. Cause like, to be honest like, the highlights have never been a big part of me. I think uh, in terms of how I play, I don’t think I’m bursty and have a lot of highlights. I’m more like consistent, but obviously if there’s a line I’m staying at it and not going above and beyond. I think that’s an accurate assessment of my gameplay. Uh, I will say though, there was a game where I Pulse Bombed myself a few times… like, one game it happened two or three times, and all of them managed to be caught on stream… So there was one time that someone was near the wall, and I Pulse Bombed them and it hit the wall, so I immediately Recalled, cause that’s usually the safe thing, but I ended up right there. So I Pulse Bombed myself! And another time, the map was Oasis, someone was on the stairs and I Pulse Bombed, I stuck them, but they ran right into me and somehow they didn’t die and I died. And the cameraman, I don’t know if they knew me, but they immediately turned to my body, and just zoomed in on it! That’s been like a meme, that’s been following me this whole time, so obviously it’s slightly embarrassing, but it’s also really funny that everyone, including people in the collegiate community that aren’t from UCI, always meme me about it.
IB: We got broadcasted a lot on our very first year of Overwatch, and I used to just love messing around and trolling. Not in a negative way, but I remember we were playing against Berkeley, and I didn’t know the camera was on me, and I made a very unique play where I blocked someone and they couldn’t get out, and I teabagged them, because before you could crouch really fast. Not like for BM [bad manners] right? But just a funny thing! Especially for my team, in those high intensity situations, I like being the comic relief. Even in our final match, one of my teammates got hooked, and when you get hooked that’s a big thing. Like, you’re basically dead, and you have to reset, and the whole team has to back up, but like, he got hooked and he didn’t die, and I was like, “Damn, that person’s so bad! You’re so good!” Really hyping them up.
BW: So, one of my favorite moments that happened in my own gameplay, would be, something that happened in the semi finals in Nationals last year. In one of our games, the enemy team was picking really unorthodox picks, stuff we weren’t used to playing against or seeing. And the first game caught us off guard- we actually lost the first game, but it was a best of three. The second game, we were able to match their pace and picks. It kind of felt like solo queuing, but in that game, I was able to just move in an interesting way, in a way that I haven’t moved my character in a long time since I was a pro pro player, playing fifteen hours a day. So, to me that was really inspirational, that I could play like that again, that well. I was caught by three people, and it was just me, and I was juking all of their abilities and skillshots, and then my team just comes in clutch after ten seconds to save me. It was the perfect bait, I didn’t die either. Oh my God, it was so magnificent! I felt so good after that. It was a good moment for me, because it reminds me that I can still be really good at this game if I put in the time for it. So that’s a really good reminder to have.
ND: What are your plans for the future, either in your chosen field, esports, or both?
T: Obviously CS can work in game dev, but I don’t wanna do regular coding, I guess. I wanna code games, not apps and stuff. Just because I like the mechanics of games, one of my favorite parts of games, and honestly gaming is the one passion I’ve always had. I’ve never not had it, so I can’t imagine — I don’t like doing stuff I don’t wanna do, I’m very direct about it, so if I’m like “I don’t wanna do this,” then I’m gonna stand my ground and not gonna do it. So, I already know if I try doing a job that I don’t wanna do, I’m not gonna enjoy myself and it’s gonna suck. So I wanna make sure that I do something that I wanna do, which is either esports or video games.
IB: […] UCI does a lot of stuff with high school, right? And the program that puts on the collegiate Overwatch, Tespa, I’m really gearing towards trying to work with them. I have an interview with them soon so I’m hoping that all goes well, but I really wanna push myself, because I enjoy esports and gaming, and as a teacher I feel like there’s an opportunity to do that, like start a club and help my students. But I feel like now I have options, because as an Education major I want to be a teacher because I want to help out and give back, but I also started to lean into, “Now there’s a way I can help out through gaming.”
BW: I am a business economics major, but that’s not where my passion lies at the moment. I think I’m a lot more suited for hands-on things, that involve me handling equipment and things like that. I am considering going into IT, and then transitioning from the IT world into some kind of block-based programming. HVAC controllers and stuff like that, onsite stuff. […] Overall I’m pretty open to doing a lot of different things because I’ve gained so much insider knowledge of the esports industry over the past several years. I have so much experience as a player, as well as support staff and event planning, and I wouldn’t be opposed to transitioning to a role within the esports industry.
Photos courtesy of Riley Okumura and Blizzard Entertainment/Tespa.
It’s that time of year. Temperatures are rising, classes are winding down, and freshmen are selling swipes at prices that would bring Maruchan to shame. For most, it’s a time of relaxation. Of fun. The calm before the storm of finals.
For graduating seniors, however, the end of the year strikes a bittersweet note. It marks the culmination of a lengthy academic commitment—one filled with hard classes, good memories, and Anteater pride. For UCI’s class of 2019, finals week really is the final week.
That said, we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge our graduating staff and their contributions to UCI Esports. Each and every one of them has played an important role in making the program what it is today, from overseeing our scholarship teams to managing the Arena in its day-to-day operations.
UCI Esports Arena Staff
Damian started at UCI Esports as an intern during the summer of 2016. Within five months, he’d earned a promotion to Stream Lead, where he managed and produced streams for the program’s Twitch account.
Damian graduates with a degree in sociology.
Patrick has worked with UCI Esports since 2016, entering the program as a member of the UCI Esports Arena floor staff. After a year of exceptional work, he took on the role of Student Supervisor.
When he’s not overseeing the Arena, Patrick is applying the skills he’s acquired as an Informatics major to problems in UX and UI.
Like Patrick Tran, Patrick Mok has been a member of the UCI Esports Arena floor staff since 2016. As a Student Supervisor, Patrick trains junior staff and keeps the Arena running smoothly.
In his spare time, Patrick studies business economics and manages money as The Association of Gamers at UCI’s Resource and Finance Director.
Jeffrey is an aerospace engineering major with experience in 3D modeling and information technology. He’s been working with UCI Esports since fall quarter as part of the Arena’s floor staff.
Joshua joined UC Irvine as a transfer student in 2017, where he quickly found his place as a staff member at the UCI Esports Arena. Now, soon to be equipped with a Bachelor’s in psychology, Joshua aims to secure a career as an esports psychologist.
Lance has worked as a member of the UCI Esports Arena staff since 2018. As a student of business economics, his interests include supply chain operations and financial management.
In addition to his work with UCI Esports, Lance has served as a peer advisor for the School of Social Sciences since 2018, guiding fellow undergrads to success in their chosen fields.
Katherine has worked diligently as a member of the UCI Esports Arena floor staff since 2018. On the side, she’s pursued a degree in business economics (and, on the side of that, a minor in accounting).
Willy is a software engineering major with a penchant for Spotify and cheap boba.
An avid gamer (there’s a non-zero chance you’ll find him in the Arena playing Fortnite when he’s off shift), Willy plans to spend the year after his graduation enjoying his favorite titles as he hunts for jobs in the tech sector.
As the manager of UCI’s Overwatch team, Angie Batth knows what it means to keep an operation running smoothly. From organizing training sessions to setting up interviews for the players she oversees, Angie is always on the move—it’s just a testament to her stellar work ethic that she’s managed to balance the workload of a business economics major with the responsibilities of supervising the Overwatch team.
Anthony “The Last Mehican” Ortega
For the majority of the 2018-2019 academic year, Anthony has casted League of Legends play-by-plays for UCI Esports.
After wrapping up a successful undergraduate career with a degree in business economics—and playing plenty of Magic: the Gathering in the meantime—Anthony plans to return to UCI next year to pursue his Master’s in finance.
Daniel has worked professionally as a shoutcaster since 2018, when Team Liquid recruited him to cast for the NALCS Academy Summer Split. His knack for gaming commentary led him to his current role with UCI Esports; you might recognize him as the personality behind our popular League of Legends streams.
For much of the year, Nathan has put his skills as an English major to the test creating written content for UCI Esports’ blog. In his spare time, Nathan games–like many undergraduates, he’s obsessed with Smash Ultimate and other fighting games.
Whatever their role, every one of our graduating staff has been vital in upholding UCI Esports’ mission of nurturing a strong, inclusive on-campus gaming community. Though words are insufficient to describe the gratitude we hold for our departing staff, Marke Deppe, the program’s director, voices our collective sentiment well:
“Since our founding, UCI Esports has relied on the passion and talent of our students to help us build the program into what it is today. I cannot be more thankful for the efforts of our graduating seniors as they take the next steps in their life journeys. We will miss them greatly and will be cheering them on as they join our alumni family.”
We wish you only the best in your future endeavors—from all of us in the UCI Esports family, GL HF!
It was half past two, and the Student Center’s Pacific Ballroom buzzed with activity.
On the north end of the hall, visitors clustered around tables topped with 70s-style TVs, craning their necks to get a glimpse of the Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament unfolding before them. Shouts of encouragement for the gamers focused intently on their matches rang wall to wall; the occasional roar arose as a character flew from the stage, disappearing off one of two huge screens hanging from the ceiling in a flash of colored light.
Among the celebrities in attendance on Sunday’s tournament were ARMY and Elegant, both of whom command top rankings on the global Smash leaderboard.
You might be curious as to what had drawn such an excited crowd to the Student Center, whose major events this quarter have included an anime convention and a trivia contest pitting students against their professors. The answer? Zotcade, UCI’s annual competitive games showcase.
For those unfamiliar with the event, which takes place every May under the auspices of The Association of Gamers at UCI (TAG @ UCI), it’s best described as a celebration of UC Irvine’s unique gaming culture. Because it’s open to the public, Zotcade brings students and visitors alike together for a day of fun, games, and—as befits a university with two fully-fledged scholarship teams—competition.
Since its inception in 2013, Zotcade has become UCI’s premier gaming festival. Today, it features not only tournaments in a variety of top-rated titles, but several games-centric panels, too: The lineup this year featured speakers from Tespa, NVIDIA, and HTC Gaming, with a special presentation on streaming and content creation from BuzzFeed’s Kelsey Impicciche.
Kelsey spoke with UCI Esports’ Angie Batth about her life as a content creator for BuzzFeed at Zotcade’s Streamer Summit.
Alongside the presentations, which ran from 1 to 7 PM, hundreds of players competed in LANs across the Student Center and in the UCI Esports Arena. As Kenneth, a visitor who heard about Zotcade online and journeyed from Los Angeles to participate in the Smash Ultimate singles tourney, says of his experience, “Everyone had a good time, it seems like … I had a conversation with ARMY, who is the best Ice Climbers in the world, and he actually sat down with me, and that was cool.”
Kenneth also got his Switch’s Joycons signed by the winners of the Smash Ultimate and Smash Melee tournaments.
Tournaments in other popular games, including Rainbow Six Siege and Overwatch, drew similarly enthusiastic audiences. Although it’s a bit too late now to watch the matches live, the tournaments can be found in all their glory on Twitch. A word of warning, though: Some of the streams are more than ten hours long, so make sure you finish that assignment you’ve been thinking about doing for the last week before sitting down to watch.
Players from CSU Long Beach faced off against Cal Poly Pomona in an afternoon round of Rainbow Six Siege. You can check out the stream here.
The event’s sponsors—including NVIDIA, HyperX, and Aorus—boothed in the Student Center’s lobby*. Attendees could be seen playing Dragon Ball FighterZ, Overwatch, and Battlefield V on the high-powered devices they brought to showcase.
If you weren’t able to make it to Zotcade this year, don’t fret: There are plenty of events coming in the next few weeks to help you scratch your gaming itch. UCI Esports camps for both Overwatch and League start later in the month.
* It goes without saying that the sponsors handed out lots of cool swag.
UCI Esports is very excited to support Connected Camps! A non-profit organization, Connected Camps began in 2015 and is focused on fostering creativity, problem solving, collaboration, and interest-driven learning for kids who want to get into coding and game design.
Connected Camps is a series of online education programs for students ages eight and up who are interested in learning how to develop their own games, as well as how to improve their skills in popular esports titles.
As the premiere US collegiate esports program, we are very enthusiastic about lending our support to a program that encourages students to develop their learning ability alongside games and esports while also encouraging their special interests.
Connected Camps has also partnered with NASEF in order to provide virtual coaching support for up to 120 high school teams. NASEF is also UCI Esports’ high school outreach partner organization, so the relationship with Connected Camps means that young players at nearly any point in their education will be able to receive virtual coaching while developing their interest in game design.
Within the scope of esports, Connected Camps is offering two specialized programs directed towards young players who want to train and evolve their gameplay. With the support of UCI Esports, Connected Camps is offering online camps for four different popular esports titles:
Fortnite Overwatch League of Legends Rocket League
Furthermore, Connected Camps is also offering an online Fortnite club program, an online Fortnite workshop, and two other esports workshops focused on drills that improve reaction time and lessons on analyzing professional and personal gameplay footage. During these week-long camps, players will learn how to strategize for different maps and take advantage of unique layouts, team composition and character counterplay, personal exercises for achieving in-game goals, the functions of particular roles, and how to learn new characters in order to fulfill multiple roles while also staying true to favored playstyles.
Connected Camps has also begun featuring 1:1 coaching support, where young players can practice popular esports with specialized coaches at their own pace. Players of all experience levels can improve their skills in a game they already play, learn healthy performance strategies, develop their teamwork, or even get started in a brand new game. Connected Camps is offering coaching for the following titles:
Fortnite Overwatch League of Legends Rocket League Apex Legends Super Smash Bros.
UCI Esports is proud to be supporting Connected Camps in its endeavors to empower young students’ learning capabilities through esports! The organization is a perfect fit for our mission to bolster competition, academics and research, player community, entertainment, and career options by using esports and games as powerful tools.
Please follow the provided links for more information about Connected Camps and their programs.