UCI Esports at SXSW

by | Mar 23, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

From March 8th through the 17th, the city of Austin, Texas hosted South by Southwest (SXSW), a massive conference over a week long which celebrates “the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries.” Journalists and industry professionals from various fields and companies converged in the Austin Convention Center to promote ideas, technology, new media, films, games, and everything in between. Even UCI Esports got in on the action — on March 16th, Mark Deppe and Constance Steinkuehler hosted the panel, “How High School Esports Lead to Thriving Industry.”

Deppe is the director of UCI Esports and the commissioner of the North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF), an organization dedicated to promoting esports in public high schools across the continent. Steinkuehler is currently an Informatics professor at UCI and has a varied history of gaming and esports research under her belt. Her expertise ranges from advising the White House on gaming-related policy from 2011-2012 as a Senior Policy Analyst for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to her current mixed-methods research with NASEF. (Returning readers will remember Alice Lee’s article on Maria J. Anderson-Coto, a grad student who works with Steinkuehler at the UCI Esports Lab on games research.)

Deppe (left) and Steinkeuhler (right) begin their SXSW panel.

Deppe and Steinkuehler’s panel centered on preparing high school students for the esports industry, not only as players but in other roles such as analysts, journalists, game developers, engineers, and so on. The success of the UCI Esports collegiate team was used as a model for how these high school esports organizations could function and help prepare young students for roles in esports that suit their interests. Since esports teams and the events they partake in are not solely run by players, the goal of the scholastic esports pipeline should be to prepare students to take on crucial roles that interest them. One slide of the presentation highlighted this clearly by analyzing the reality of physical sports such as hockey — even though there are only twenty players on the ice at an Anaheim Ducks game, there are a thousand different employees working at the venue in some capacity to make sure game day runs smoothly.

Beyond preparing students for roles in the esports industry, the panel also discussed how games function as learning tools. The second segment of the presentation focused on the various ways games develop students’ cognitive ability: by improving their visual acuity, increasing their problem solving skills, accelerating their literacy and language learning, and more. Steinkuehler and Deppe furthered the connection between esports and student learning by arguing that high school sports have been shown to aid students in their pursuit of education, as participation in sports is often associated with higher GPAs and higher degree completion. Likewise, the benefits of esports on a high school campus would be plentiful, as students would participate in an environment that stimulates their cognitive abilities while also encouraging the same attitudes as physical sports.

Steinkuehler explains her research on games and education.

The third part of the presentation explored NASEF and its mission to support high school clubs and esports organizations in order to foster the aforementioned learning environments and encourage students interested in the industry. The panel went in-depth into the NASEF state-approved high school curriculum, designed to connect students to STEM, humanities and language, career pathways, social and emotional learning, and school affiliation. NASEF’s model achieves this by providing a network of mentors (teacher GMs, online coaches, industry and higher education pros) providing camps for underrepresented groups and clubs (such as UCI Esports’ own summer camps) and allowing events to be run by both coaches and students.

Deppe and Steinkuehler’s talk at SXSW discussed the importance of high school and collegiate esports organizations and how UCI Esports and NASEF could serve as a model for these new groups. UCI Esports offers dozens of student jobs and prepares both these students and their scholarship players for careers in esports and the broader games industry. Esports teams and related clubs on campus also foster a greater connection between the student and their school, and games can be employed as a creative learning tool. NASEF’s mission statement is “to provide opportunities for ALL students to use esports as a platform to acquire critical communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in work and in life.” By supporting groups on high school campuses, NASEF hopes to encourage students interested in esports as the industry continues to soar towards greater heights.

Photos courtesy Kathy Chiang, Mark Deppe

UCI Esports’ New Jerseys Revealed!

by | Mar 22, 2019, 6:00AM PDT

As our scholarship teams enter playoffs, we are excited to unveil our new jerseys for the current season. The new 2019 jerseys feature two variants – one for home games and one for away. Design efforts were headed by our Digital Marketing Intern, Nick Gasparyan, with support from fellow intern Allison Le (League of Legends and graphic design team manager) and design help from Dishanth Shankar Reddy (student graphic designer).

Together, Nick and Allison brainstormed ideas for the new jersey using a Pinterest board to correlate ideas, taking inspiration from other esports jerseys and experimenting color swatches. These ideas were then passed around to multiple people and some minor alterations were made – most notably from the input of Sebastian “Selectt” Vasquez, UCI Esport’s very own Overwatch scholarship team player. At the end of the brainstorming process, all was taken to Dishanth, who then brought the initial designs and their variations to the drawing board.

In an interview with Nick, he revealed that he wanted to create a new jersey that was “cool, innovative, and different”. He noted that as of now, there are few jersey companies that specifically cater towards esports collegiate programs. As a result, there is little room for more innovative designs to be produced by the companies themselves. Seeking to alter this trend, Nick decided to take action to move UCI Esports in a direction that would make us stand out from the rest.

One of the main issues Nick encountered was the actual rendering of the jersey design onto a feasible print file. As a solution, he worked with Archon Clothing (our current jersey sponsor) to bring the designs to life.

Moving from the 2018 design to the new, Nick noted that an aspect of the previous design he enjoyed was the sponsor logos being displayed on the sleeves. This element was reimplemented into the new design, albeit on a smaller scale. This was done to make it easier to capture the logos on camera during events, as compared to stretching out the logos, which would make them harder to recognize from a distance. “[This way] our sponsors can get the attention they need.”

Another choice detail on the new design worth mentioning is the new strip on the jersey that displays the in-game name of the player. Compared to previous designs that only displayed in-game names on the back, the design now boasts the names in front as well. This gives even more attention to the players’ identities, as cameras can easily capture both the players’ faces as well as their in-game names. Nick notes that the main inspiration for this change was the designs of Overwatch League/Contenders jerseys. “It gives them more of an identity of where they are on the team. You don’t only know their name, you know how they play, and what to expect.”

Next time you visit the UCI Esports Arena, be sure to check out the jersey wall and see for yourself how the designs have transformed over the years. You might even see the newest design being sported by our very own scholarship teams!

UCI Esports’ Summer Camps 2019

by , Alice Lee, Kathy Chiang | Mar 14, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

We are excited to bring back our Youth Summer Camps for this upcoming summer! Our camps are fun and educational events in which campers will receive in-depth knowledge about the esports industry or how to improve their gameplay.

Our target audience consists of high school students in their junior or senior years interested in pursuing a career in the ever-expanding esports industry. However, we still encourage anyone who is interested to apply, as we may make exceptions based on qualifications and circumstances.

There will be three summer programs in total, each with a specific focus in mind: Girls in Gaming Camp, League of Legends Bootcamp, and Overwatch Bootcamp.

Girls in Gaming Camp

The Girls in Gaming Camp was created for young women who have a strong passion for gaming and will explore a variety of gaming-related topics such as streaming, game development, competition, and more! We will be joined by guest experts from all across the gaming scene to share their own story and insight – with a focus on professional women and their day to day lives in the currently male dominated industry.

This is a day camp run from Monday through Friday with unique talks and activities planned for each day in our very own esports arena.

League of Legends Bootcamp & Overwatch Bootcamp

Both of these camps are geared towards players who hope to play at the collegiate or professional level. They will be led by our UCI Esports scholarship players and coaching staff. Campers will not only receive strategic coaching throughout the duration of the camp, but they will also have the opportunity to learn about team play, communication, and VOD review at a professional standard. If you want to take your game to the next level, this is the place to start!

Unlike the Girls in Gaming camp, our bootcamps are a 7-day overnight program that comes with on-campus housing, meals, and unlimited access to our esports arena.

Applications are open TODAY in our Camps section! Camp prices and deadlines are located on each camp’s page. You can also reference our schedules from past camps.

As the dates draw closer, stay on the lookout for future updates as we finish inviting this year’s guests and developing the 2019 curriculum.

A Look into the UCI Esports Fitness Program with Haylesh Patel!

by | Mar 10, 2019, 6:00PM PDT

In a recent article we touched upon UCI Esport’s fitness program as part of a series on how our scholarship players use the program to stay fit and active. Here, we will explore the program in depth and learn exactly how it is run! Haylesh Patel, the man behind the UCI Esports fitness program, was kind enough to give us the inside scoop on what his role entails and how he helps our scholarship players achieve their fitness goals!

Originally from New Zealand, Patel studied at the University of Auckland and holds a Masters in Exercise Science. He is also a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine and currently works in the Cardiac Rehabilitation department at Hoag Hospital. Beyond his duties at Hoag, he also works for UCI Campus Recreation at the Anteater Recreation Center (ARC), functioning as a personal trainer for staff and students. To round it all off, Patel is also the UCI Esports scholarship teams’ designated Exercise Physiologist.

“One of my key aims with UCI Esports is to improve our players overall health, wellness and improve their performance (physical and mental).  I have designed and created a health and wellness program for the two scholarship teams that looks to improve all aspects of health.”

Haylesh Patel, Exercise Physiologist

Based on his current set of occupations alone, it is clear that Patel works with a wide variety of people and has great experience in doing so. We inquired how Patel and his fitness program cater specifically to scholarship esports players. Due to their practice hours and the strain on certain muscles during gaming, scholarship players requires careful attention. “The last thing we want to do is overload the players and place any undue stress and strain on their muscles and joints,” Patel notes. In order to avoid overexertion, the practice hours of the players are constantly monitored throughout the year. Their workouts are then adjusted based on their current physical state. According to Patel, “the scholarship players must balance school, gaming, and other personal commitments in order to be successful in all aspects”. With this in mind, he has crafted a specialized health and wellness program for them – both manageable and effective.

“We are using a holistic approach to health and wellness with a heavy emphasis on strength and conditioning specific to improving their physical fitness and trying to enhance cognition,” says Patel. Among the scholarship players, there is already a rift between their current statuses in physical fitness (referencing aerobic fitness and strength in particular). While some players partake in regular exercise, others were unfamiliar with it. Patel notes that this renders prescribing exercise routines a little tricky. Even so, he works hard to craft both challenging yet doable workouts for each individual player.

Every week, the scholarship players (in groups of 2-3) meet directly with Patel at the local gym. From there, they first workout altogether under Patel’s guidance, averaging from an hour to an hour and a half. In addition to working out together, each player has their own individualized exercise program to carry out by themselves between meetups. This allows Patel to help players on a more personal level. These individualized exercise programs are personalized to what the player in question wants to improve on – whether it be weight loss, building muscle, or even stress relief. Based on their preferences, Patel creates a regimen and works closely with the players to ensure success in achieving their goals. In addition, he also provides for other aspects of health, such as sleep and nutrition, by providing tools and resources for the players to use in their daily lives. While the fitness program is by no means mandatory for the scholarship players, many have chosen to take advantage of Patel’s professional expertise.

This concludes this week’s Fitness Program series. Up next, we will be featuring interviews with two scholarship players and will go into depth on their own fitness journey, and how the program has impacted their lives!

Interview by Gianeen Almaria and Nathan Dhami.

Opinion: In the era of esports, Evo is still grassroots

by | Mar 4, 2019, 6:00AM PDT

Well, that title may not be wholly accurate – there’s still a lot of money being thrown around – but I’ll explain what I mean as I continue. (Also, there’s only so much one can explain in the title of an article while remaining succinct anyway.)

The following is an op-ed by Nathan Dhami, a student journalist for UCI Esports.

On Tuesday, February 26th, Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar and Mark “MarkMan” Julio revealed the Evolution Championship Series title lineup live on twitch.tv/evo from the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Also known more colloquially as Evo, the largest fighting game tournament in the world will be held this year at the Mandalay Bay venue from August 2nd to the 4th. There were nine fighting games announced for the main stage lineup this year– the maximum number of titles that can be afforded to run at an Evo event, due to expenses and logistics and such. The full roster, in order of announcement, is as follows:

Tekken 7 (T7)
Street Figher V Arcade Edition (SFVAE)
BlazBlue CrossTag Battle (BBTAG)
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (SSBU)
Dragon Ball FighterZ (DBFZ)
Soul Calibur 6 (SC6)
Mortal Kombat 11 (MK11)
Samurai Shodown (Samsho)
Under Night In-birth Exe:late [st] (UNIST)

Las Vegas is about to E-X-P-L-O-D-E with this stacked roster of Evo titles.

Anyone who follows Evo will recognize that only four of these titles are returning titles from last year’s Evo 2018. T7 at Evo is the next stop for players throwing down in the Tekken World Tour, an official circuit being run by Bandai Namco (Bamco.) Likewise, SFVAE at Evo is being run as an official Capcom Cup event, and BBTAG is a part of the Arc System Works (ASW) official ArcRevo World Tour circuit. [There will also be side events for Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 (GGXrd) and BlazBlue Central Fiction (BBCF) at Evo, also being sponsored by the ArcRevo World Tour.] DBFZ is also making its triumphant return after breaking entrant and viewer records at Evo 2018– with over 2500 players, it was the first time a non-Street Fighter title had more entrants than the main Street Fighter title being run at Evo. Meanwhile, SSBU replaces Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Smash 4) as the latest entry in the Smash franchise, and MK11 likewise replaces Injustice 2 (I2) as the newest NetherRealm Studios (NRS) title. SC6, Samsho, and UNIST are completely new to the Evo roster, with GGXrd and Super Smash Bros. Melee being dropped from the event.

I don’t want to make any snap judgments, but I also feel like it’s safe to say that, beyond the readers of my articles on the UCI Smash scene, a lot of the folks following what we’ve been putting out for UCI Esports mainly follow PC titles, like League of Legends and Overwatch. This isn’t the fault of the reader, of course, since UCI Esports prides itself on its scholarship teams, especially considering our League team’s historic win in the 2018 Collegiate League of Legends Championship, and our Overwatch team’s dominance at events such as the California Collegiate Clash. Having said that, this likely means that most readers are unaware of the history of the fighting game community (hereafter FGC) and its role in the esports community. Beyond that, the history of Evo is also likely lost on the reader base, so the significance of the event and these titles may be difficult to understand.

Street Fighter II launched in arcades as the first real competitive fighting game in 1992. Evo began as a small, forty-man Street Fighter tournament in Sunnyvale, California called Battle of the Bay, four years after SFII made its debut. SF was the first game of its kind where players would compete head-to-head, rather than competing for a high score or completion. Ever since then, fighting games have been a largely grassroots endeavor– that is, events have been almost entirely ran by player support rather than being funded or organized by developers or sponsors. While that has shifted in recent years (Capcom Cup, esports organizations like EchoFox sponsoring players,) for the most part these events are still community efforts. Games like Smash, for instance, have very little developer support for major tournaments in the way of prize pools and official events, although Nintendo will promote events on their media channels and provide infrastructure such as actual hardware.

So, why is this important? Why does it matter that fighting games are grassroots efforts, unlike games like League where the developers themselves have a major hand in how the game is run and played at a professional competitive level?

Last Thursday, February 28th, TAG @ UCI ran another weekly Ultimate tournament. There were fifty players total and I was planning on participating as well, but for one reason or another I was feeling unwell. I grabbed In-N-Out at UTC and went home, instead opting to practice Ultimate while watching the stream. At some point in the night, while waiting for the next match, the stream commentators began talking about the Evo announcement. There were a few off-handed remarks about their surprise about certain titles being included. “Samurai Shodown? What even is that game?” They seemed to be shocked that Melee in particular got cut from the roster to make room for either Samsho or UNIST’s inclusion.

It’s almost like they’ve never been hit by an OHKO in an old-school fighter before. (CW blood)

They weren’t alone — Melee players from all walks of life made their discontent for Evo’s decision to cut their game widely known on social media. There were accusations of Samsho and UNIST being included due to their developers buying their way into Evo, at the expense of Melee’s community. Furthermore, there was also shock that Evo would cut a title from their roster that brought in over a thousand entrants last year (and thus made the Evo organizers a lot of money through entrant and venue fees.)

It’s important to understand, first of all, that the developers of Samsho and UNIST, SNK and French Bread respectively, don’t have the same weight to throw around as major fighting game developers like Capcom and Bamco. While SNK has had a history of developing polished fighting games, like their King of Fighters series, and are well known for their characters’ inclusion in titles like Capcom vs. SNK, the company remains a small but loved developer amongst other giants in the same industry. On the other hand, French Bread is a studio roughly equivalent to what the West might call an indie game developer, and UNIST may not have found the success it had if it hadn’t been published by ASW, a studio that likewise hasn’t had the same buying power as Capcom.

Spike speaks for both SNK and French Bread. (Cowboy Bebop, dir. Shinichiro Watanabe)

So how did they make it into Evo? Melee players and fans who recognize the twenty-year-old title as a prominent esport were baffled by this, even though the answer was right under their noses. Whether this confusion is due to an insular mindset- an inability to think outside of the context of their home game – or simply a lack of knowledge of the history of these titles, I wouldn’t personally be able to tell you, although I feel like it’s a mix of both.

Simply put, Samsho and UNIST earned a spot on the Evo main stage not through the power of their developer’s money, but through the power of their player base’s love for the games. Jason Moses wrote an article way back in 2014 on the significance of Samurai Shodown V Special for Shoryuken.com (SRK is incidentally the main organization responsible for Evo) that explains the passion that players have for lesser-known, niche titles better than I ever could. The inclusion of the latest Samsho title at Evo 2019 marks five years since Moses’s article, and six years since an SNK title has been on the Evo main stage (the game in question would be King of Fighters XIII at Evo 2013.) Anyone plugged in deep enough to the Twitter FGC can also tell you that players have been devotedly promoting UNIST since its US launch on PlayStation platforms last February. In spite of French Bread’s limited resources, the developer has managed to create what is arguably one of the most polished and technically precise 2D fighting games of its generation. Players posting to the #UNI_ST hashtag are discovering long, flashy combos, experimental mix-up situations, and unique character technology that make the game exciting and compelling to watch at a competitive level.

It’s interesting to point out that while Melee players express their discontent with their game being cut for titles that they believe don’t deserve a spot at Evo, Guilty Gear players are more than happy to pass on the torch of ‘technical, flashy anime fighter’ to their little brother UNIST. (That is, if the memes generated after the Evo lineup reveal are anything to go by.)

While Evo has grown larger and larger every year, from forty entrants in 1996 to tens of thousands in 2018, and as developers and sponsors have been jumping into the new era of esports, the brand and the tournament is still about the community first and foremost. UNIST and Samsho are in the same position now that Melee was in 2013 where it got crowdfunded into an Evo main stage spot through passionate player support. On a larger scale, only three of the nine main titles at Evo are being organized as part of a developer-supported circuit. As the FGC continues to grow, it stands apart from other esports communities as the games are played in spite of the low stakes relative to PC esports with six or seven figures in prize pools and circuits with major production value. As Melee departs the Evo roster, it will find a home at other events, whether they’re held in hotel ballrooms or a college student’s apartment. Meanwhile, games like UNIST are finally gaining recognition, allowing them to leave these humble venues and possibly ascend to greater heights.

Perhaps UNIST will be able to break free of the shackles of its ancestor, Melty Blood Actress Again. (“The Melee players can’t shower because we’re busy playing Melty!”)

Esports Lab Spotlight: Maria J. Anderson-Coto

by | Feb 28, 2019, 6:00AM PDT

This is part 1 of a mini-series on the UCI Esports Lab and their research topics.

Despite the field’s rapid growth in the past few years, academic research on the subject of esports is rare. The UCI Esports Lab’s aim, according to their website, is to “understand and enrich esports” through their student research. The faculty and graduate students there focus their study on methods to optimize esports teams, and they apply their findings to educational spaces like the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF). Such research often involves how players function in teams, particularly when they need to communicate and work together.

This article focuses on Maria J. Anderson-Coto, a first-year doctorate student at the Esports Lab. Her research topics include player performance, retirement in esports, and gender inclusion. More information, including contacts, can be found at https://www.uciesportslab.org/

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

I came into graduate school with a background in business,. My first exposure to esports was in the form of watching the advent of the Overwatch League and reading about gamification. I quickly realized that the business teams I worked with had problems that could be solved with games, and were very similar to esports teams. Today, I play games to study them and as a social activity, so I always try to make the time I spend playing games meaningful in some way.

What questions are you looking to answer through your research?

One of my research topics is team dynamics. How do esports teams work? How do players with different abilities, roles, and languages work together so well? How do the internal and external factors, such as physical activity, social relationships and mental health influence their teamwork? I try to see these players as high-performing athletes, playing a sport that demands precise communications and interactions in a stressful environment, requiring not only the body, but the brain.

One of my current projects is on player retirement. I am trying to figure out why players are retiring early on, since the body doesn’t give out in the same way that physical athletes do. Most esports players retire at around 25 years old – why? I’m also looking into a retrospective on their professional life – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Learning why a player retires can give me further insight into how the team works as well.

In the future, I plan to research gender inclusion in esports. There’s already many papers and articles about the need for more diversity. Why aren’t they here, though? What factors are preventing true diversity from happening? Why aren’t they doing it, and how can we make it more accessible?

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

I work with my advisor, Dr. Kurt Squire, Dr. Constance Steinkuehler, and other graduate students in the Esports Lab as well as the Participatory Learning Lab. I also collaborate with Mark Deppe at the Esports Arena, who is very supportive of our research.

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

I was on the board for planning UCI ESC 2018 and because of my business background, I was in charge of acquiring marketing materials like signage, t-shirts, bags and booklets. It was particularly difficult because this was the first-ever academic esports event, so there was no existing precedent for it. Getting everything together was extremely stressful, but it was gratifying getting to work with the team outside of research.

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

Esports doesn’t have a rigid, centralized structure like traditional sports, but I expect to see the field grow just like it’s currently doing now in the next five years. One particular thing I am curious to see is some sort of regulatory body emerging – or any type of regulation being created, as well as a higher standard of esports professionalism.

Esports Takes To The Gym!

by | Feb 25, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

It wasn’t too long ago that the gamer stereotype was someone who disliked physical activity and spent most of their time as a recluse in their local basement (in fact, this assumption is still prevalent, even today). While this was a common insult before, it hardly applies in today’s gaming scene – especially in esports. Newcomers to competitive gaming may be surprised to find that the physical state of these players betray their expectations! The modern professional esports scene is filled with anything but these stereotypes, as players and their teams now take their physical fitness more seriously than ever.

Recently, big-name esports team organizations (e.g. Team SoloMid, Dallas Fuel, Cloud9, Los Angeles Gladiators, Fnatic…) are regarding their players’ physical health as a critical component of their play. Much as one would expect a professional, ‘real’ sports team to, these organizations highly encourage their players to work out and focus on their nutrition – for some, it is even mandatory as part of their training as a player. Often, the managers for these teams will even hire personal trainers and cooks to cater towards daily exercise and a healthier diet.

UCI Esports scholarship teams are no exception to the belief that physical health is a key part of player success, both in and out of the game. In fact, the scholarship players have a personal trainer available to them, Haylesh Patel. Patel works for both the League of Legends and Overwatch teams as their Exercise Physiologist – crafting health and wellness programs that are tailor-made experiences for each individual player. These programs take into consideration a player’s goals, whether it be in the physical or mental realm.

A lack of physical activity on stage makes a clear divide between pro esports players and athletes. However, fitness and health remain key to consistent performance and optimal gameplay. Good health is vital to competitive games of all types – whether it’s a MOBA, FPS, or FG. These games are fueled by split-second reflexes and a deep knowledge of game strategy. A player’s mind is the key to their success and one of the best ways to amp concentration is to embrace a healthy lifestyle.

A number of pro players have gone through drastic physical transformations after being recruited under these teams – losing weight and gaining muscle mass. It is remarkable how much positive attention some esports teams have gotten in terms of keeping their players fit, whether it be for aesthetic appreciation or the sheer dedication the players put into their exercise. A fine example of such would be Gilbert “Xplosive” Rojo from OpTic Gaming. In 2017, he posted two photos of himself – one at the beginning of the year and one at the end. The dramatic loss of weight garnered much attention, with many fans expressing how inspiring his fitness journey was.

Xplosive is one of many pro players with a weight loss transformation to behold. Recently, pro players have become active on social media – promoting fitness with videos at the gym, progress photos, and updates on their personal fitness goals. Many fans of these players often feel inspired by the dedication to the gym life and strive to create and work towards their own goals.

It’s amazing to see how the esports scene has revolutionized itself over the years, changing the stigma and bringing light to fitness and health in a young, but rapidly growing industry. In future articles, I will provide readers with an in-depth look at the UCI Esports fitness program, featuring interviews with Haylesh Patel himself, as well as an inside scoop on the program’s function from players Brenden “tildae” Alvarez (not pictured) and Lyubomir “BloodWater” Spasov (pictured above in the featured image to the very right)!

Rival Schools Smash in CSL Qualifiers

by | Feb 19, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

UCI players cheer on teammate Robert “PL” Martinez (sitting left.)

On February 16th, 2019, twelve collegiate teams across the Southern California region travelled to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo to compete in the Collegiate Star League (CSL) SoCal Local Qualifiers. This esports organization, which hosts collegiate tournaments for titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rocket League, recently announced their second circuit for Super Smash Bros., switching the previous title on their roster, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate upon release. The February 16th local qualifier featured a five-on-five crew battle event for both Super Smash Bros. Melee and Ultimate. UCI Smash players formed three separate teams to enter the crew battle at Saddleback – two for Ultimate and one for Melee – where universities all over SoCal would compete to earn a spot at the divisional championships in spring.

The ‘crew battle’ is a competitive format unique to fighting games, and even then, the rules are even more fresh and exciting in Smash. Inspired by action anime such as Dragon Ball Z and Yu Yu Hakusho, where characters would participate in martial arts tournaments as a team, crew battles feature teams of up to five players playing in a one-on-one format. The format is such that when you defeat your opponent, you must now fight the next player on that team, and so on until you are defeated. In other words, if Player 1 from Crew A defeats Player 1 from Crew B, Player 1A must now fight Player 2B. In traditional fighting games, players face each other in games that are divided within the game rules by ‘rounds,’ but in Smash, ‘stocks’ and respawning after being knocked off the stage exist in lieu of the rounds format. Because of this, the stakes for Smash crew battles are different than that of traditional fighters: each crew gets a pool of stocks used to keep track of score, and once those stocks are taken, they’re gone for good. That is to say, if Player 1A defeats Player 1B at the beginning of a Melee crew battle, but they lose two of their stocks, Player 1A must now fight Player 2B with a two-stock deficit, while Player 2B begins the game with all four stocks. This can provide an element of depth, strategy, and sheer excitement while watching – and playing – Smash crew battles; while one crew may technically be in the lead by stocks, their current player must compete against any future opponents with a disadvantage. Furthermore, as in other fighting games with crew battle formats, there is also the innate strategy inherent in choosing which players will function as point, middle, or anchors for their team.

As previously reported, UCI’s Ultimate players have been proving themselves as forces to be reckoned with, both at on-campus weekly tournaments hosted at the UCI Esports Arena and at events held elsewhere in Orange County. After deliberating the day before the event, it was decided that the A-team for UCI would consist of the following players: Rafael “Rafi” Guadron, Jovanni Rivera, Dominic “T3Dome” Carone, Jason “Muskrat Catcher” Muscat, and new player Landon “SoulX” Stubblefield. A freshman both at UCI and on the Ultimate crew, SoulX is a skilled up-and-coming Daisy player, with notable recent placings being 9th/30 at the Valentine’s Day 2019 UCI weekly and 65th/408 at 2GGaming’s Heart of Battle regional event on February 9th, 2019.

The UCI Ultimate A-team does their best Daisy impression in honor of Landon “SoulX” Stubblefield (far left.) To his right, in order: Dominic “T3Dome” Carone, Jason “Muskrat Catcher” Muscat,” Rafael “Rafi” Guadron, Jovanni Rivera

UCI’s B-team was formed by players who had initially shown up as possible substitutes should any players from the A-team not be able to attend. However, when your author arrived at the event, initially solely intending to report on the crew battles, the substitute players realized that they had a second viable team of five. Thus, the B-team consisted of Sergio “Lt. Surge” Salas, Uyiosa “Uyi” Igbinigie, Cesar “Muffin” Martinez, Robert “PL” Martinez, and Nathan “Lite the Iron Man” Dhami. Apart from myself, every player on the B-team had respectable placements at UCI weeklies, as well as shifting spots on the UCI Smash 4 rankings prior to Ultimate’s release.

The Ultimate B-team roster, from right to left: Sergio “Lt. Surge” Salas, Uyiosa “Uyi” Igbinigie, Robert “PL” Martinez, Cesar “Muffin” Martinez, Nathan “Lite the Iron Man” “Your Author” Dhami

As previously stated, there were twelve crews total present for the tournament: UC Santa Barbara, Saddleback, CSU Northridge, CSU San Marcos, University of La Verne, CSU San Bernardino, Cal Poly Pomona, CSU Channel Islands, and two teams from USC were waiting to challenge UCI players. The CSL crew battle tournament was held in a single-elimination format – when one team was out, they were out for good. Unfortunately, the UCI B-team lost in the first round to CSUSB’s team. The A-team, on the other hand, had equal parts luck and skill on their side. Being the second seed of the tournament, the UCI A-team was given a bye, where they awaited ULV’s Ultimate crew. After defeating ULV, they moved on to avenge the B-team by defeating CSUSB with a four-stock lead, moving on to grand finals against Cal Poly Pomona.

The first seed of the bracket, Cal Poly Pomona’s team boasted an impressive roster, with players like Ken “ShiNe” Huang and Enrique “Nano” Garcia placing well at local SoCal events, and Quinton “ImHip” Goodman being ranked 18th in the all-time Socal Smash 4 Power Rankings as Olimar. These stats did nothing to deter the A-team, however, as all five UCI players were talented in their own right. After T3Dome’s Richter fell to Samuel “Arkistor” Weinger’s Inkling, having already respectably earned three stocks for UCI, Rafi’s Bowser began putting in work. Rafi cleanly defeated Arkistor, only losing a single stock, and proceeded to take two more stocks off of Derek “Deck” Wongso’s Ken before finally being taken down himself. Muskrat Catcher then followed Rafi, finishing off Deck with his King Dedede, and took another two stocks off ShiNe’s Pokémon Trainer before he was felled. At this point, it was down to SoulX and Jovanni’s six stocks and ShiNe and ImHip’s four. The UCI A-team sent out SoulX, who promptly cleaned up ShiNe’s final stock and moved on to fight ImHip. In what will surely be considered a historic match by SoCal Ultimate players, SoulX’s smart Daisy play managed to outmaneuver ImHip’s Olimar and eliminate him, securing UCI’s win with four stocks remaining to none. The decision to add SoulX to the A-team crew after long deliberation paid off, with him taking a game off of a top-ranked SoCal player in order to guarantee UCI’s spot in the CSL divisional qualifiers.

The UCI Melee crew and alternates strike a pose, huddling around Griffin “Captain Faceroll” Williams (crouching center.) From left to right, Alex L., Maruf Mamun, Eric “Woosh” Chagoya, Bryant “Nixqn” Nguyen, Jake “Rig” Song, John “KoDoRin” Ko.

After Ultimate crew battles ended, the Melee crew battle bracket began. The Melee bracket was smaller, with only three schools attending the event – UCI, UC San Diego, and Saddleback. Due to the small bracket, the tournament was ran in a round robin format instead of the single elimination style used for Ultimate. In the round robin format, every team is made to play against each other once to see who can earn the most wins. UCI Melee was represented by the following players: Jake “Rig” Song, Maruf Mamun, Eric “Woosh” Chagoya, Bryant “Nixqn” Nguyen, and John “KoDoRin” Ko.

UCI and UCSD’s Melee teams absolutely dominated Saddleback’s crew in their respective battles, with UCI’s Woosh even taking a whopping fifteen stocks from Saddleback’s players by himself. Now, with one point each, the winner of UCI versus UCSD would earn their spot in the Melee CSL divisional qualifier. Towards the end of their battle, UCSD was unable to reconcile the wide lead that UCI had earned, and UCI’s Melee team was able to close it out cleanly, with three stocks to none. The UCI Melee team is already well-recognized for Griffin “Captain Faceroll” Williams, a UCI graduate ranked 33rd in the world on the Melee Panda Global Rankings. Their win at the CSL qualifiers is just another notable victory for an already prolific crew.

In the end, both UCI teams won the CSL SoCal local qualifiers, earning the right to represent SoCal at the divisional qualifiers, held at a to-be-determined date and location this spring. From there, the winner of the divisional qualifiers will be invited to the national CSL championships, held at Smash supermajor tournament Shine 2019 in late August. The winning teams will also be awarded travel stipends for the purpose of assisting them in traveling to the divisional qualifiers.

More information about CSL Smash can be found on their website and social media. ( CSL Twitter / CSL Smash Twitter ) VODs and livestreams for their Smash events can be found on their Twitch channel. Brackets for the CSL SoCal Local Qualifiers can be found on Challonge. ( Melee / Ultimate )

Photos appear courtesy of Aaron “Ghostzy” Mariconda. ( Twitter )

Intellivision: 40 Years Later

by | Feb 9, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

Featured image courtesy of www.beeslife.com

Released by Mattel Electronics in 1979 (yes, that Mattel! As in Barbie, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price, et al.), the Intellivison is a historic home video game console whose name comes from the merging of “intelligent” and “television”. Its development began in 1977, the same year the Atari 2600–it’s main competitor–was introduced. Word first broke in Spring 2018 that a reboot console was in the works.

UCI professors, Tom Boellstorff (Department of Anthropology) and Braxton Soderman (Department of Film and Media Studies), are keenly interested in a retrospective look at the Intellivision, a historic innovation in home entertainment and ancestor of modern gaming. From their flyer for last week’s colloquium:

“We are writing a book on Intellivision, provisionally entitled Intelligent Visions: The Intellivision System, Video Games, and Society. Intellivision, developed by Mattel Electronics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is one of the most important but understudied home video game systems. In this informal talk, we will present this project, very much in progress, and introduce some key working concepts under development, including productive constraint, systems theory, and transplatform. We will explore our multidimensional approach to Intellivision as social history, computational infrastructure, design platform, and gaming space. Finally, we will discuss how Intellivision provides a crucial [alternative] history to Artificial Intelligence (AI), with consequences for anthropology and [science and technology studies].”

One focus of their academic inquiry involves inviting contemporary gamers from the UCI Esports family to play-test the console and see what feedback and observations they have to offer from a modern perspective. While hardware and software have grown by leaps and bounds in forty years, some basic fundamentals may still exist beneath the surface, waiting for sharp eyes and keen minds to perceive connections across the decades of time.

UCI students, staff, and members of the public alike are also welcome to come by the Arena during business hours–simply ask to play it for free in our Community Corner! (Pro tip: if one might typically jump straight into video games, it is highly recommended to read the instruction booklet in the game boxes if you want a smoother ride. **Tutorials did not exist in video games in the 1970s**.  But, if puzzling out how to play a game sounds like a fun game within a game, enjoy the game-ception!)

As the old TV shows would say, don’t touch that dial! Stay tuned for more. This announcement article is the first in ongoing coverage about this research project.

If you seek the Intellivison, quest into yon Community Corner and find the small screen CRT monitor beneath the LoL poster!