UCI Partners with Hyperice For Esports Scholarship


by | Apr 3, 2019, 2:01PM PDT

UCI Esports is proud to announce its partnership with Hyperice Inc. to create the first ever health and wellness esports scholarship. Hyperice is a leading sports technology company best known for their development of portable ice compression devices, designed to heal damaged tissue and enhance muscle performance. In November 2018, Hyperice named Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster as its esports ambassador, branching out into a wellness campaign dedicated to promoting physical fitness in esports. Now, as a part of this campaign, UCI Esports and Hyperice are collaborating on a scholarship designed to integrate the sports company’s revolutionary fitness technology and methodology into the school’s esports community. Prior to this partnership, UCI Esports has employed a fitness program for its scholarship players conducted by exercise physiologist Hayesh Patel; the collaboration with Hyperice is the next step in ensuring that the physical wellness of its gaming student athletes is a top priority.

UCI Esports joins organizations such as San Francisco Shock of the Overwatch League by partaking in Hyperice’s esports wellness campaign.

The organizations will also be designing gaming-related sports medicine content and curriculum, with a focus on improving playing conditions, increasing athletic longevity, and optimizing player performance. Mark Deppe, Director of UCI Esports, provided a quote for the Hyperice press release on the importance of the partnership and collaborative program. “Health and wellness are crucial for UCI Esports as we try to push the boundaries of human performance within esports. This visionary gift from Hyperice will provide the necessary people and equipment to keep all of our students healthy and fit. These scholarships are also notable as they will be the first for non-players and demonstrate that a successful program relies on talented people in many different roles.” UCI Esports and Hyperice will be selecting two qualified individuals with a background in sports medicine and a passion for esports for the health and wellness esports scholarship in fall of 2019.

Feature image courtesy of Adam Fitch.

UCI Partners with Hyperice For Esports Scholarship


by | Apr 3, 2019, 2:01PM PDT

UCI Esports is proud to announce its partnership with Hyperice Inc. to create the first ever health and wellness esports scholarship. Hyperice is a leading sports technology company best known for their development of portable ice compression devices, designed to heal damaged tissue and enhance muscle performance. In November 2018, Hyperice named Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster as its esports ambassador, branching out into a wellness campaign dedicated to promoting physical fitness in esports. Now, as a part of this campaign, UCI Esports and Hyperice are collaborating on a scholarship designed to integrate the sports company’s revolutionary fitness technology and methodology into the school’s esports community. Prior to this partnership, UCI Esports has employed a fitness program for its scholarship players conducted by exercise physiologist Hayesh Patel; the collaboration with Hyperice is the next step in ensuring that the physical wellness of its gaming student athletes is a top priority.

UCI Esports joins organizations such as San Francisco Shock of the Overwatch League by partaking in Hyperice’s esports wellness campaign.

The organizations will also be designing gaming-related sports medicine content and curriculum, with a focus on improving playing conditions, increasing athletic longevity, and optimizing player performance. Mark Deppe, Director of UCI Esports, provided a quote for the Hyperice press release on the importance of the partnership and collaborative program. “Health and wellness are crucial for UCI Esports as we try to push the boundaries of human performance within esports. This visionary gift from Hyperice will provide the necessary people and equipment to keep all of our students healthy and fit. These scholarships are also notable as they will be the first for non-players and demonstrate that a successful program relies on talented people in many different roles.” UCI Esports and Hyperice will be selecting two qualified individuals with a background in sports medicine and a passion for esports for the health and wellness esports scholarship in fall of 2019.

Feature image courtesy of Adam Fitch.

Varsity Overwatch: Season in Review


by , Nathan Dhami | Apr 3, 2019, 11:04AM PDT

The UCI Esports varsity Overwatch team’s run in the Tespa Overwatch Collegiate Championship came to a close this past Tuesday after a climactic game with Grand Canyon University (GCU).

The Tespa Overwatch Collegiate Championship consisted of three separate and concurrent leagues, where UCI Esports had a powerful performance in the Swiss and Round Robin brackets, going 5-0 in the Regional League, 4-0 in the Varsity League, and 7-0 in the National League.  Unfortunately, UCI Esports was unable to defeat GCU in the top 16 of the single elimination bracket in the National League; having previously lost to UCI Esports 3-2 and 3-0 in the earlier brackets, GCU was able to make the necessary adaptations and overcome our scholarship team in the end, with a 3-2 victory.

We want to thank our prolific scholarship players:

Andy “Genos” Nguyen
Brenden “tildae” Alvarez
Isaac “IzakBirdie” Jimenez
John Nick “Learntooplay” Theodorakis
Patrick “Pat” Phan
Sebastian “Selectt” Vasquez
Seong “Stadium” Park
Xuanyi “Devilswill” Wang
and Zuhair “Zeerocious” Taleb

for an excellent performance during the season. We also want to thank our team’s support staff:

Coach, Ronald “Renathera” Ly
Coach, Michael “The” Kuhns
Team Manager, Angie “Scarletwktk” Batth
Team Psychologist, Milo “PhDodson” Dodson
Team Physiologist, Haylesh “Haylo” Patel
and Player Support Services Coordinator, Hillary “Hillabeans” Phan

for working with our players and bringing the most out of them through a challenging season. The 2019 Overwatch season has been long and hard fought, both for our teams and our opponents. Despite their run ending, the UCI Esports scholarship team had an excellent performance and the fact that they made it so far in the bracket is a testament to their skill.

In a closing message addressed to the Overwatch scholarship team, Renanthera lauded the players and their performance throughout the 2019 season. “What I’ve had to learn is that victory will come and go, and victory isn’t what defines us. What separates winners and losers aren’t the trophies, or the medals, or the accolades. It’s the perseverance through adversity. It’s that we don’t stop trying.”

“[Even though] no one was happy with the result….I’ve never seen the team more driven to prove themselves until the morning after,” Renanthera additionally noted. The UCI Esports Overwatch team will continue to play and perform in the future, rising to the challenge and continuing to push themselves to be the best they can be, both in and out of the game.

Insight on Latest Cycle of Video Game Industry Layoffs


by | Mar 27, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

On February 12th, Activision-Blizzard held its quarterly earnings report wherein CEO Bobby Kotick joined in to tell shareholders the great news of a “record year” at one point, then later dropped the bombshell that they would be reducing their workforce by 8%. For a company that had approximately 9,600 employees in 2018, this means they recently laid off likely close to 800 workers, with more than a quarter of that at legendary local game development studio Blizzard Entertainment according to the California Employment Development Department (as reported by Variety). The largest departments cut were IT, then Marketing and Live Experiences, followed by a global insight department.

If you love watching the Overwatch League, maxing CPM in Starcraft II, dropping cards in Hearthstone, defeating bosses in World of Warcraft, warring in the Nexus or banishing Diablo back to the Burning Hells, some of the people who contributed to the development and support of those interactive masterpieces are no longer working at Blizzard. Massive layoffs are notorious for happening without warning. There are (at least) two strongly opposed perspectives as to the pros and cons of this. One of these perspectives can be compactly examined via the website of Game Workers Unite (GWU), one apropos source of the pro-labor side.

The other (pro-business) side, unless one has experience (or access to people) in positions of upper management or business ownership, can be more complex or difficult to relate to for most. For example, imagine if it were your job to decide the answer to these two tough questions: with Blizzard set to release no new titles in 2019 nor hold its annual set of global “Heroes of the Storm” championship tournaments, what work is there to do for those hundreds of employees? What amount of reorganization or retraining would be viable and good business? Cuts hurt, but not cutting can be worse in the long run.

Organized Labor

When many think “labor unions” and what gave rise to them in modern America, what images come to mind? Soot-covered faces, mine cave-ins, and crippling accidents with limbs caught in machinery may be common responses. With the Industrial Revolution long in the rear-view mirror, the mental picture of unions needs updating. As U.S. child labor laws first passed in Congress 101 years ago, and manufacturing as a major middle class industry has been declining since the 1990s, so too has the outcry for unionization largely dissipated into a faint echo of the distant past.

But despite far more humane working conditions today, it remains true that only through unionizing can strong collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) come into existence. CBAs are a uniquely powerful tool to help level the massive power imbalance between employers and employees. One single worker fed-up with terrible working conditions (e.g., not being able to spend any quality time with their family, physical and mental illness from stress and exhaustion) threatening to not go to work is similar to a small ripple in a pond trying to tip over a rowboat. But if their demands for better treatment are not met, unions can threaten to strike en masse, and such a threat is like a tidal wave swelling to flip over that same rowboat.

Thus CBAs give workers leverage to negotiate for protections against employers to defend themselves against the worst sides of the industry: onerous crunches (working 10-16 hour days for weeks or months, possibly without overtime pay if salaried) or massive layoffs without guaranteed warnings, severance, retraining, or resume and interview training to find new jobs. On a related and positive note, massive credit to Blizzard for having a Career Crossroads program that offers much of these, softening the blow and rate of terminations–such a thing is rarely heard of (in any industry), perhaps due to its volitional existence.

The Voice of Experience

Founded in 1955, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), representing more than 12 million workers in the United States across more than 50 labor unions, recently published an open letter through Kotaku in support of unionizing game workers shortly after the major layoffs at Activision-Blizzard. This was the first major public statement they have ever made about the topic.

Talk of unionizing has come and gone like the ocean tides for at least a couple decades in the video games industry’s modern history: most recently after Red Dead Redemption 2 came out last October, Rockstar was under major fire; before that, in Q2 2011, there was “L.A. Noire” makers Team Bondi–Rockstar was the publisher. Now could be the time for change. Now can be an inflection point where the right circumstances and forces converge into a flash point to break a cycle of fruitless upset. (For more regarding the AFL-CIO’s position, see Polygon’s conversation with secretary-treasurer Liz Schuller, author of their letter.)

But no single thing is a panacea for all ills. You can read about 13 Advantages and Disadvantages of Labor Unions here–spoiler alert, the article lists one more disadvantage than advantages.

Past and present extensively covered, we will look to thoughts about the future (and other things) from outspoken gamer, writer, and ex-NFL player Chris Kluwe in my next article.

Those impacted by the layoffs at Blizzard, Arenanet, and others can find a depth of empathy, solace, and reasons to hope in the 14 years of perspective from Christine Brownell, who knows exactly what it’s like.

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!”)

by | Jan 1, 1970, 12:00AM 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!”)