Last Friday, UCI Esports ushered in the 2019-2020 academic year with our annual Fall Kickoff, inviting several hundred new and continuing students to the UCI Esports Arena from 4-8 PM for an evening of games, giveaways, and good old fashioned fun.
As part of Welcome Week, Fall Kickoff aims to introduce the student community to UCI’s esports program, which has grown in recent years to encompass three scholarship teams, more than half a dozen student-run clubs, and a multi-thousand-dollar gaming setup in the UCI Esports Arena.
“We see Fall Kickoff as a way to welcome everyone (back) to the Arena,” said Kathy Chiang, UCI Esports’ assistant director. “By showcasing what we have to offer—our PCs, our clubs, and our teams—we can hopefully encourage more students to come back during the school year to learn more about our program or get involved.”
Well before 4 PM, students had grouped up around tables outside the UCI Esports Arena, armed to the teeth with consoles, controllers, and extension cords. While most of the players had ventured outside to practice Smash Melee, one group played FIFA on a flat-screen TV, leaping to their feet at intervals to celebrate—or bemoan—pivotal moments ingame.
Indoors, the scene was no less lively. From wall to wall, students packed the Arena, weaving between rows of softly-humming computers to spectate the day’s events, which ranged from free-for-all play in Teamfight Tactics to structured tournaments in League of Legends, Overwatch, and RainbowSix Siege. On either side of the room, volunteers dispensed cans of Mountain Dew Amp Game Fuel, free of charge, to visitors in need of a boost.
As might be expected, scholarship players—denoted by the white anteater sown onto the arm of their jerseys—participated in the tournaments, providing other players a worthwhile challenge as they clashed in teams of five (or six in Overwatch). Though the tournaments had no official prize pool, participants who stuck through to the final round received goodie bags as a show of appreciation for their diligence.
All said, the event was a great success, drawing hundreds of students together in a show of community spirit that, with any luck, will continue to shine throughout the academic year.
To all of our attendees and sponsors, thank you—Your support is what makes our programs truly special.
The month of September marks an especially busy time for Allison Le. Between prepping for fall quarter classes and settling into life as a senior in the School of Physical Sciences, she’s got a lot on her plate–but, as UCI Esports’ League of Legends Team Manager, her work doesn’t end there. Indeed, for the last three weeks, Allison has been sifting through applications for one of ten spots on UCI Esports’ scholarship League of Legends teams, working closely with coaches David Tu and Geoff Wang to find top talent for both varsity and JV positions.
Although the application period for spots on our League of Legends teams opened on September 3rd, Le encourages students to apply until the October 8th deadline. Following that date, the most qualified candidates–as determined by Tu, Wang, and a host of junior analysts-will be asked to attend live tryouts at the UCI Esports Arena, where their skills will be put to the test in real time.
The first stage of the application process, conducted entirely online, consists of a short interest form requesting applicants’ rank, champion pool, and preferred team position. It might seem sparse, but this information gives the recruitment team an idea of players’ standing ingame and allows them to determine which open roles each might best fill.
During live tryouts, which start mid-October, applicants will be sorted into groups and pitted against other collegiate teams in matchups resembling those of the College League of Legends (CLoL) series. As they play, Tu and Wang will watch from the sidelines, noting each player’s quirks, proficiencies, and–inevitably–the areas in which they stand to improve.
By day’s end, they’ll have made their decisions.
Of the applicants sent through to live trials, only ten will land a spot on a scholarship team, with five slotted for varsity and five for JV. Those selected for varsity positions will receive up to $6,000 in scholarship aid for the 2019-2020 academic year, while those who qualify for JV positions will receive up to $1,000.
In addition to financial aid, scholarship players gain access to a variety of personal and academic wellness programs courtesy of UCI Esports, including biweekly meetings with a team psychologist, advice from professional esports coaches, and one-on-one training from exercise physiologist Haylesh Patel.
With live tryouts two and a half weeks away, there’s still time to apply for a spot on one of our League of Legends teams–but not much. If you have a knack for gaming, and are at all interested in joining our esports family, take two minutes to complete an online application. It might just change your life.
This time last week, members of UC Irvine’s Super Smash Brothers club, Smash at UCI, were 35,000 feet above the ground, traveling by plane to Worcester, Massachusetts, to participate in Boston’s largest esports festival.
The festival, dubbed Shine, is event planner Big Blue Esports’ most popular program, attracting 3,000 players to Worcester each year and netting more than a quarter of a million unique online viewers across three days of competition.
In addition to Shine’s spotlight events—tournaments in Melee, Ultimate, 64, and Brawlhalla—the Collegiate Star League (CSL) held its US Smash finals for four teams representing universities across the country.
With a prize pool of $15,000, the stakes were high—but nothing the members of Smash at UCI hadn’t seen before. As second-time qualifiers for the collegiate finals (they’d taken second place in 2018), the team was looking forward to bringing Shine another stellar performance.
“We had competed last year and really enjoyed it,” said Rafael Guadron, team captain and one of two players in Smash at UCI sponsored by Carnage Gaming, “so it only made sense to compete again.”
In preparation for their trip to Worcester, the members of Smash at UCI trained rigorously, attending tournaments throughout SoCal and practicing in mock tourneys at each other’s houses.
“We strive to do more and become more than before,” Guadron said, referencing the team’s motivation to train as hard as they did for Shine. “We of course love watching the top players of the world succeed, but what makes us inspired to improve are our own achievements.”
The team’s first match was against the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), whom they beat 3-0 to advance from semis to winners finals. Despite the match’s intensity, Guadron and his teammates kept level heads:
“While competing, we focused on the task at hand and tried to beat every opponent we came across. At times when we were in a deficit, it was hard to not think about it, but we have dealt with such things before, so it was nothing new.”
In the winner’s finals, UCI faced off against UT Dallas (UTD), dropping into the losers bracket after a tough set that ended 0-2. Down—but not out—the team brought their best game to the losers finals, and came out on top with a score of 2-0 against NJIT.
After nearly three hours of competition, Guadron and his teammates had earned the chance to compete, once more, against UTD—only this time, $6,000 was on the line.
One might describe the grand finals that followed as intense, but that would be selling them short. Having battled their way out from losers, UCI stood in ample position to reset the bracket and take the collegiate title. All they needed to do was beat UTD twice consecutively.
A challenge, to be sure, but not impossible.
In the hours that followed, Guadron and his team fought harder than they ever had before, recognizing the stakes but not permitting pressure to break their stride. And their efforts paid off: They beat UTD 2-0, resetting the bracket and pushing the tournament into one, final round.
After a thrilling 15-stock bout that ended 4-0 in favor of UTD, Guadron and his teammates walked away with another second-place win, securing $3,000 in prize money for Smash at UCI.
Reflecting on the experience, Guadron says,
“This event definitely taught us that we need to do more than just compete: We need to study our opponents, learn their stats, and talk to each other about the strategies we’ll use to win.”
Guadron notes, specifically, that UT Dallas made use of coaches, spreadsheets, and data they’d compiled about other teams’ players.
“As a team comprised solely of players, we definitely were the underdogs, but we will take that knowledge into account and put in more time to research our opponents in the future.”
Now that this year’s collegiate circuit has drawn to a close, the team won’t be competing until next October, when CSL qualifiers open for the 2019-2020 season. But, Guadron says, he and his crew will be competing in the singles tournaments hosted by UCI every Thursday in the UCI Esports Arena—be sure to stop in if you want to see the team in action!
(Or, of course, if you want to congratulate them on their amazing performance at this year’s CSL finals.)
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.