See You Next Mission! Farewell to UCI Esports’ Graduating Players


by , Gianeen Almaria | Jun 13, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

As 2019’s spring quarter comes to a close, graduating UCI students are packing their bags and venturing off to parts unknown. Whether it’s finding work in their field of study, heading off to grad school, or taking a break at home to plan their next move, senior Anteater undergrads are dotting the final period on one chapter of their lives and flipping over to the next clean page.

The players on UCI Esports League of Legends and Overwatch teams are no exception. After making semi-finals in the League of Legends College Championships, and placing top 16 in the National League of the Tespa Overwatch Collegiate Championships, the players at UCI Esports are putting an action-packed, nail-biting season behind them. A handful of our players are also finishing their studies and completing their bachelor’s degrees at UCI. We are extremely proud of our collegiate players and their performances, whether it be on the Rift, on the control point, or in the classroom.

We want to thank the following players for their time with our program and congratulate them on an excellent season of gameplay and their stellar academic performance at UCI:

From the League of Legends team:
Lyubomir “BloodWater” Spasov (support; Business Economics major)
Parsa “Frostalicious” Baghai (bot sub; Computer Science major)

From the Overwatch team:
Brendan “tildae” Alvarez (flex tank, Computer Science major)
Isaac “IzakBirdie” Jimenez (main support, Education major)
Patrick “Pat” Phan (flex support, Business Economics major)
Sebastian “Selectt” Vasquez (flex support, Art major)

Between the rush of sorting everything out for the spring 2019 quarter (including my own graduation!) and the busy lifestyles of the players, I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to interview a few of them before they finally leave the team. I interviewed BloodWater, tildae, and IzakBirdie and asked them questions about their experiences at school, both in and out of UCI Esports.

ND: What has been the best part of being a college student on an esports team?

tildae:  I don’t know if I can say there’s any best part, cause they’re all pretty equally good — okay, I just said there’s no best part, but I was just about to say the part I liked the most! I think the part I do like the most, though, is meeting people with similar interests, because back home I didn’t know anybody that liked esports at all, or even knew about it, so now I come here and there’s a whole freakin’ program of like, people who wanna talk about esports and play in esports, and that’s awesome. So I think that’s my favorite part. I’ve found a lot of people with similar interests I never expected to find.

IzakBirdie: I feel like the uniqueness, like how it’s something I get to say, something my family gets to share. I get to go out in the field, the special education field, or like, I’m also an RA (Resident Advisor) so whenever I get to share that, they’re like, “Wow, I’ve never heard of that, I never thought that existed.” “How can I get involved?” Something like that. Even high schoolers are like, “Woah, what is that,” and I have to say “Hold up, don’t throw your education away!” So that’s what I really enjoy about it, that it’s something I can talk about […] The UCI Esports program a very well-known name to it, with a positive atmosphere that rubs off the right way. Not just in the collegiate community, but in the gaming community as a whole, and also outside that. All the people involved with research, all the people who want to sponsor us, it’s a really cool image that I get to represent.

BloodWater: For me, what has made my experience at UCI Esports so memorable is honestly the community. The people I’m surrounded by. The UCI Esports Arena, for me, this is gonna sound a little cliche, honestly, but it’s become like a second home. After I’m done with classes I come here, spend the rest of my time here, hang out with my friends here, my teammates, you know. So honestly it’s just a place, a community that I feel really comfortable in, and I’m really grateful to be a part of it.

Isaac “Izakbirdie” Jimenez, prompted to display anguish by our photographer.

ND: In general, what has been your favorite moment in your collegiate career?

T: Hmm. There’s a lot of moments. I think I would say going to Arizona for the Tespa championship last year, that was really fun. Like, nobody thinks “I wanna go to Arizona,” right? But that was the first time I’ve traveled out of state, and it was really fun, all the stuff they had us do. Like, I felt like a ‘pro gamer,’ even though we’re just collegiate. The way they treated us, the events they had us do with some other charities, the media exposure was fun… Even though we didn’t win overall, the experience was very positive, and so I had a lot of fun with that.

IB: I make friends here and there, so I have some friends in other schools […] through my experience as peaking as a top player, that helped me become well-known for my personality and my behavior. Not only amongst my team but to the Overwatch community as well, to some extent. Like, when I go into games, they say, “Oh, I know you’re on a collegiate team.” They recognize who you are. Even though we didn’t make it to finals, they recognize, “I know who Izakbirdie is, because of the rank, level of play, and the positivity.” What I do a lot is defuse toxicity, or high intense situations, and I feel like not only was that shown a lot in the team, but also in the community. I really liked working with my team and being like how the coaches pushed me into being in the management role, and that spilled over into outside of the game. And that’s what I enjoy most about, kind of keeping track of management, like tracking ultimates for instance in the game, and then keeping track of each other outside the game, making friends and talking to each other. It was something I really enjoyed. And then also peaking Top 500 [on the Overwatch ranked ladder.] Like, as soon as we lost, I did not want my Overwatch career to peak, so I played rank for really long the same day we lost, and I reached my overall peak of all time, with Orisa, a hero that’s not really well-known.

BW: So the first one that comes to mind is winning Nationals last year. That was the highlight for the competitive aspect of the UCI Esports program in general, and for the League of Legends team. We were the first team in the program to secure a national title, and that’s just big. And this year we’re gonna be defending that title… [Author’s note: this interview was conducted before League Collegiate Championship finals.]

ND: What are you going to take away from your college experience?

T: So the things I learned, were, apply yourself and put yourself out there, cause I was kind of a shut-in… Kind of. I was social, but I always preferred to stay home and play games all day, but then I put myself out to the Blizzard club team, and then I put myself out to this program, and that has been like, the biggest change in my life. […] What else did I learn…? I learned that sleep is really important! I don’t know what it was, but I had really poor sleeping habits the first three years, and then this year, I was like, “alright, no matter what, I’m getting eight hours of sleep.” And that has been amazing. I feel good every day now. That’s probably also because of the exercise, which I like, but eight hours of sleep, guaranteed, no matter how much I wanna stay up and play games, I just get that eight hours, and it’s so nice. I feel so much better.

IB: Something I always take away from the program is that I’m representative of the program. That moment where I played in the program is something I will leave behind for others. I came onto the team wanting to leave an impact not only on a gaming level, but on the people. And that’s what I’m going to take away, that next year things will improve because of my feedback, my skill, my everything. Because I wanna give back to other people, that’s why I’m an RA too, and it ties into stuff like that. That’s what my goals in the future are in relation to esports and everything.

BW: Being a part of this program for three years, I came in lacking a lot of skills, especially a lot of social skills. […] So some of the things that I’ve been able to gain from my college experience and the experience as a collegiate player, is just like, being able to manage my time better, being more open minded to a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do, being a more adeptly social creature overall. […] Looking at myself now, I can see that I’ve grown so much in so many ways. If I didn’t choose to go to this university, I’m not so sure a lot of those things would’ve happened, because my other option was going to Cal Poly (Pomona) and I’m not sure that I would’ve found the same community there that I had here. They do have a League of Legends team, but it’s just a club, and I probably would’ve been part of the club, but I wouldn’t have been exposed to so many of the different things that I’ve had here.

Brenden “tildae” Alvarez at the Fiesta Bowl Overwatch Collegiate National Championship.

ND: Are there any highlights from a particular game or set that you’re proud of?

T: Not really. Cause like, to be honest like, the highlights have never been a big part of me. I think uh, in terms of how I play, I don’t think I’m bursty and have a lot of highlights. I’m more like consistent, but obviously if there’s a line I’m staying at it and not going above and beyond. I think that’s an accurate assessment of my gameplay. Uh, I will say though, there was a game where I Pulse Bombed myself a few times… like, one game it happened two or three times, and all of them managed to be caught on stream… So there was one time that someone was near the wall, and I Pulse Bombed them and it hit the wall, so I immediately Recalled, cause that’s usually the safe thing, but I ended up right there. So I Pulse Bombed myself! And another time, the map was Oasis, someone was on the stairs and I Pulse Bombed, I stuck them, but they ran right into me and somehow they didn’t die and I died. And the cameraman, I don’t know if they knew me, but they immediately turned to my body, and just zoomed in on it! That’s been like a meme, that’s been following me this whole time, so obviously it’s slightly embarrassing, but it’s also really funny that everyone, including people in the collegiate community that aren’t from UCI, always meme me about it.

IB: We got broadcasted a lot on our very first year of Overwatch, and I used to just love messing around and trolling. Not in a negative way, but I remember we were playing against Berkeley, and I didn’t know the camera was on me, and I made a very unique play where I blocked someone and they couldn’t get out, and I teabagged them, because before you could crouch really fast. Not like for BM [bad manners] right? But just a funny thing! Especially for my team, in those high intensity situations, I like being the comic relief. Even in our final match, one of my teammates got hooked, and when you get hooked that’s a big thing. Like, you’re basically dead, and you have to reset, and the whole team has to back up, but like, he got hooked and he didn’t die, and I was like, “Damn, that person’s so bad! You’re so good!” Really hyping them up.

BW: So, one of my favorite moments that happened in my own gameplay, would be, something that happened in the semi finals in Nationals last year. In one of our games, the enemy team was picking really unorthodox picks, stuff we weren’t used to playing against or seeing. And the first game caught us off guard- we actually lost the first game, but it was a best of three. The second game, we were able to match their pace and picks. It kind of felt like solo queuing, but in that game, I was able to just move in an interesting way, in a way that I haven’t moved my character in a long time since I was a pro pro player, playing fifteen hours a day. So, to me that was really inspirational, that I could play like that again, that well. I was caught by three people, and it was just me, and I was juking all of their abilities and skillshots, and then my team just comes in clutch after ten seconds to save me. It was the perfect bait, I didn’t die either. Oh my God, it was so magnificent! I felt so good after that. It was a good moment for me, because it reminds me that I can still be really good at this game if I put in the time for it. So that’s a really good reminder to have.

Lyubomir “BloodWater” Spasov shares a moment with Peter outside the UCI Esports Arena.

ND: What are your plans for the future, either in your chosen field, esports, or both?

T: Obviously CS can work in game dev, but I don’t wanna do regular coding, I guess. I wanna code games, not apps and stuff. Just because I like the mechanics of games, one of my favorite parts of games, and honestly gaming is the one passion I’ve always had. I’ve never not had it, so I can’t imagine — I don’t like doing stuff I don’t wanna do, I’m very direct about it, so if I’m like “I don’t wanna do this,” then I’m gonna stand my ground and not gonna do it. So, I already know if I try doing a job that I don’t wanna do, I’m not gonna enjoy myself and it’s gonna suck. So I wanna make sure that I do something that I wanna do, which is either esports or video games.

IB: […] UCI does a lot of stuff with high school, right? And the program that puts on the collegiate Overwatch, Tespa, I’m really gearing towards trying to work with them. I have an interview with them soon so I’m hoping that all goes well, but I really wanna push myself, because I enjoy esports and gaming, and as a teacher I feel like there’s an opportunity to do that, like start a club and help my students. But I feel like now I have options, because as an Education major I want to be a teacher because I want to help out and give back, but I also started to lean into, “Now there’s a way I can help out through gaming.”

BW: I am a business economics major, but that’s not where my passion lies at the moment. I think I’m a lot more suited for hands-on things, that involve me handling equipment and things like that. I am considering going into IT, and then transitioning from the IT world into some kind of block-based programming. HVAC controllers and stuff like that, onsite stuff. […] Overall I’m pretty open to doing a lot of different things because I’ve gained so much insider knowledge of the esports industry over the past several years. I have so much experience as a player, as well as support staff and event planning, and I wouldn’t be opposed to transitioning to a role within the esports industry.

Photos courtesy of Riley Okumura and Blizzard Entertainment/Tespa.

Heroes Never Die: Recognizing UCI Esports’ Outstanding Staff Graduates


by | Jun 12, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

It’s that time of year. Temperatures are rising, classes are winding down, and freshmen are selling swipes at prices that would bring Maruchan to shame. For most, it’s a time of relaxation. Of fun. The calm before the storm of finals.

For graduating seniors, however, the end of the year strikes a bittersweet note. It marks the culmination of a lengthy academic commitment—one filled with hard classes, good memories, and Anteater pride. For UCI’s class of 2019, finals week really is the final week.

That said, we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge our graduating staff and their contributions to UCI Esports. Each and every one of them has played an important role in making the program what it is today, from overseeing our scholarship teams to managing the Arena in its day-to-day operations.

UCI Esports Arena Staff

Damian Rosiak

Damian started at UCI Esports as an intern during the summer of 2016. Within five months, he’d earned a promotion to Stream Lead, where he managed and produced streams for the program’s Twitch account.

Damian graduates with a degree in sociology.

Patrick Tran

Patrick has worked with UCI Esports since 2016, entering the program as a member of the UCI Esports Arena floor staff. After a year of exceptional work, he took on the role of Student Supervisor.

When he’s not overseeing the Arena, Patrick is applying the skills he’s acquired as an Informatics major to problems in UX and UI.

Patrick Mok

Like Patrick Tran, Patrick Mok has been a member of the UCI Esports Arena floor staff since 2016. As a Student Supervisor, Patrick trains junior staff and keeps the Arena running smoothly.

In his spare time, Patrick studies business economics and manages money as The Association of Gamers at UCI’s Resource and Finance Director.

Jeffrey Huang

Jeffrey is an aerospace engineering major with experience in 3D modeling and information technology. He’s been working with UCI Esports since fall quarter as part of the Arena’s floor staff.

Joshua Coss

Joshua joined UC Irvine as a transfer student in 2017, where he quickly found his place as a staff member at the UCI Esports Arena. Now, soon to be equipped with a Bachelor’s in psychology, Joshua aims to secure a career as an esports psychologist.

Lance Chi

Lance has worked as a member of the UCI Esports Arena staff since 2018. As a student of business economics, his interests include supply chain operations and financial management.

In addition to his work with UCI Esports, Lance has served as a peer advisor for the School of Social Sciences since 2018, guiding fellow undergrads to success in their chosen fields.

Katherine Jiang

Katherine has worked diligently as a member of the UCI Esports Arena floor staff since 2018. On the side, she’s pursued a degree in business economics (and, on the side of that, a minor in accounting).

Willy Saronamihardja

Willy is a software engineering major with a penchant for Spotify and cheap boba.

An avid gamer (there’s a non-zero chance you’ll find him in the Arena playing Fortnite when he’s off shift), Willy plans to spend the year after his graduation enjoying his favorite titles as he hunts for jobs in the tech sector.

Overwatch Team

Angie Batth

As the manager of UCI’s Overwatch team, Angie Batth knows what it means to keep an operation running smoothly. From organizing training sessions to setting up interviews for the players she oversees, Angie is always on the move—it’s just a testament to her stellar work ethic that she’s managed to balance the workload of a business economics major with the responsibilities of supervising the Overwatch team.

Shoutcasters

Anthony “The Last Mehican” Ortega

For the majority of the 2018-2019 academic year, Anthony has casted League of Legends play-by-plays for UCI Esports.

After wrapping up a successful undergraduate career with a degree in business economics—and playing plenty of Magic: the Gathering in the meantime—Anthony plans to return to UCI next year to pursue his Master’s in finance.

Daniel Barke

Daniel has worked professionally as a shoutcaster since 2018, when Team Liquid recruited him to cast for the NALCS Academy Summer Split. His knack for gaming commentary led him to his current role with UCI Esports; you might recognize him as the personality behind our popular League of Legends streams.

Content Creators

Nathan Dhami

For much of the year, Nathan has put his skills as an English major to the test creating written content for UCI Esports’ blog. In his spare time, Nathan games–like many undergraduates, he’s obsessed with Smash Ultimate and other fighting games.


Whatever their role, every one of our graduating staff has been vital in upholding UCI Esports’ mission of nurturing a strong, inclusive on-campus gaming community. Though words are insufficient to describe the gratitude we hold for our departing staff, Marke Deppe, the program’s director, voices our collective sentiment well:

“Since our founding, UCI Esports has relied on the passion and talent of our students to help us build the program into what it is today. I cannot be more thankful for the efforts of our graduating seniors as they take the next steps in their life journeys. We will miss them greatly and will be cheering them on as they join our alumni family.”

We wish you only the best in your future endeavors—from all of us in the UCI Esports family, GL HF!

Jumping forward into the next stage of their lives.

Learn Popular Games with UCI Esports Affiliate, Connected Camps


by | Jun 6, 2019, 12:00PM PDT

UCI Esports is very excited to support Connected Camps! A non-profit organization, Connected Camps began in 2015 and is focused on fostering creativity, problem solving, collaboration, and interest-driven learning for kids who want to get into coding and game design.

Connected Camps is a series of online education programs for students ages eight and up who are interested in learning how to develop their own games, as well as how to improve their skills in popular esports titles.

As the premiere US collegiate esports program, we are very enthusiastic about lending our support to a program that encourages students to develop their learning ability alongside games and esports while also encouraging their special interests.

Connected Camps has also partnered with NASEF in order to provide virtual coaching support for up to 120 high school teams. NASEF is also UCI Esports’ high school outreach partner organization, so the relationship with Connected Camps means that young players at nearly any point in their education will be able to receive virtual coaching while developing their interest in game design.

Within the scope of esports, Connected Camps is offering two specialized programs directed towards young players who want to train and evolve their gameplay. With the support of UCI Esports, Connected Camps is offering online camps for four different popular esports titles:

Fortnite
Overwatch
League of Legends
Rocket League

Furthermore, Connected Camps is also offering an online Fortnite club program, an online Fortnite workshop, and two other esports workshops focused on drills that improve reaction time and lessons on analyzing professional and personal gameplay footage. During these week-long camps, players will learn how to strategize for different maps and take advantage of unique layouts, team composition and character counterplay, personal exercises for achieving in-game goals, the functions of particular roles, and how to learn new characters in order to fulfill multiple roles while also staying true to favored playstyles.

Connected Camps has also begun featuring 1:1 coaching support, where young players can practice popular esports with specialized coaches at their own pace. Players of all experience levels can improve their skills in a game they already play, learn healthy performance strategies, develop their teamwork, or even get started in a brand new game. Connected Camps is offering coaching for the following titles:

Fortnite
Overwatch
League of Legends
Rocket League
Apex Legends
Super Smash Bros.

UCI Esports is proud to be supporting Connected Camps in its endeavors to empower young students’ learning capabilities through esports! The organization is a perfect fit for our mission to bolster competition, academics and research, player community, entertainment, and career options by using esports and games as powerful tools.

Please follow the provided links for more information about Connected Camps and their programs.

Championship Bound: The Return to Glory


by | May 16, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

With the conclusion of the Group Stage, UCI Esports’ varsity League of Legends (LoL) team—the defending national champions—is moving onto the live finals in Los Angeles, CA for the second consecutive year!

The 2019 West Conference semifinal match against Cal (UC Berkeley) could have been a thrilling match to watch, but unfortunately a family emergency for one of their starting players forced the team to forfeit for failing to field a full roster. (Wish our sister campus luck in the Pacific Esports (PAC-E) League of Legends Invitational, hosted by UCLA Esports!) The final match against Cal Poly Pomona resulted in another UCI win, taking the top spot in the West conference.

As the West is one of the top four conferences, we receive an auto-berth into the College Championship where eight teams will play a three-round single elimination tournament. The first round is best-of-three and all other rounds are best-of-five. So a UCI repeat championship could entail as few as eight more matches, or as many as thirteen!

Maryville University, University of Ontario, and University of Illinois also won their conferences and joined us in the auto-berths. University of Waterloo, Michigan State University, Columbia College, and North Carolina State University battled their way through the remaining teams to complete the “great eight” of the Championship Finals. (You can see the Round 1 brackets here.)

Our Round 1 bout will be an intensely noteworthy rematch against Columbia College, our grand final match opponents from last year whom we defeated 3-0 to become the 2018 League of Legends College Champions. Tune in to catch our quarterfinals match on Friday, May 24th at 6pm Pacific Time on Riot’s Twitch channel.

Once again, your 2018-2019 UCI LoL varsity team is:

Evan “Captain Nuke” Phu (Top Laner),
Avi “Im Avi” Behar (Jungle),
Jeffrey “Descraton” Du (Mid Laner),
Youngbin “Youngbin” Chung (Bot Laner)
Lyubomir “BloodWater” Spasov (Support),
and Ethan “Kim Down” Song (Support, Substitute).

We must not forget the amazing support staff behind the team:

James “Coachman” Bates (Head Coach),
James “Lattman” Lattman (Assistant Coach),
Allison “Shoogle” Le (Team Manager),
Milo “PhDodson” Dodson (Team Psychologist),
Haylesh “Haylo” Patel (Team Physiologist),
and Hillary “Hillabeans” Phan (Player Support Coordinator).

Don’t forget to tune in May 23rd – May 26th for the College Championship matches!

Follow UCIEsports and College League of Legends on Twitter for updates.

Update: Riot recently posted an official announcement and information page with the schedule of matches.

Esports Lab Spotlight: Craig G. Anderson


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

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

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

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

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

What questions are you looking to answer through your research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UCI Esports Fitness Program with tildae and BloodWater!


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

In this follow up on the UCI Esports Fitness Program series, we had the opportunity to sit down with both Brenden “tildae” Alvarez (pictured, right) and Lyubomir “Bloodwater” Spasov (pictured, left).

Brenden is currently a fourth year at UCI who plays Flex Tank on the Overwatch scholarship team. While Brenden played soccer prior to graduating high school, he did not have a solid workout plan coming to UCI. While on the Overwatch team, he was offered a place in the fitness program and was more than excited to get into it.

Lyubomir is a fifth year at UCI who plays Support on the League of Legends scholarship team. As a player who has always been passionate about fitness, he strongly advocates for its wide range of benefits.

Both players have come to embrace fitness in their lives, both within and outside the fitness program. Here’s what they’ve got to say!

Q: What was your initial reaction to being offered a place in the fitness program?

BA: I was very excited. I actually wanted to start getting into fitness and going to the gym, when I started college, but I could never find time for it because I was always very nervous. It’s a whole different culture. I was never a part of it. I was scared! But then having the trainer show me the ropes and tell me what to do and help me work on form and all that- it was very helpful. I’m very happy with the program.

LA:  I’m a big advocate for [fitness]. I’m a big supporter. I’ve been a runner most of my life. I’ve done a lot of biking throughout my life. My brother and I would wake up at like 4:00 in the morning in high school, and we would go biking for thirty miles, and it would take us about a total of two hours. We would go from one city to another via the city trail. It was really fun because I would just listen to music, and be really in the zone and pumped up. I loved it. And when I would get home, I would feel so invigorated, so energized. And then I would go to class and be like, “Hell yeah, I’m ready to learn!” [laughs] “Hit me with the knowledge!” But yeah, definitely, I really am. If I could choose a drug in the world, it would be adrenaline. So that’s also why I transitioned to calisthenics and I enjoy doing calisthenics because you’re forcing your muscles to work under fatigue, and you’re doing that at a very constant rate, so you’re not resting too much, and you’re doing exercises back-to-back-to-back, and your body’s just like, “Aw, man, you’re killing me!” And you just gotta keep pushing, and you get that high, endorphins start kicking in, adrenaline starts coming up, and it just feels amazing. I love it. I could talk about it all day probably!

Q: What part of the fitness program do you think is most beneficial to you personally? What do you like to take out of it?

BA: “The part of the program that’s the most beneficial to me, I would say, is the program that he gives us. So, when I first started, I still [didn’t] know what to do, right? He can tell me what to do, but aside from that one time a week, what do I do? Obviously you can’t just work out one time a week. So he gave us a personal program tailored to our goals. [For me] it was to lose body fat and to look more toned. It was helpful because he taught me how to do it, like the first day that I had with him, and then I was confident enough to do it on my own the times I went by myself.”

Honestly, it’s like, one of my favorite parts of the program. It pretty much got me into fitness, and [my current roommates] also got into fitness, so now we pretty much do our own thing. But I still do the program with Haylesh [Patel] as well. So it was kind of a good gateway into fitness!

LS: For me, the fitness program- it means a lot to me. For me it helps me prove to myself that I can get through certain mental roadblocks in my head, whether it is physically or mentally, and it’s very motivating when it comes to playing League of Legends as well, as well as other mental challenges in the real world, because it basically… uhm, from the physical exercises, it teaches me that I can actually get through those challenges as long as I push hard enough, and remain persistent, and keep giving it as much effort as I can.

Q: Do you think that this is something that should definitely be implemented along all professional teams?

BA: “I definitely think it should be implemented on all teams. It’s really good, and the stereotype that esports gamers have is definitely bad- I’m not gonna deny it! It’s definitely there! I think it’s very fun; it’s healthy. There’s definitely a lot of benefits when you start working out in the gaming aspect. So I think it’s a lot of fun and everyone should do it.”

LS: I definitely think so. Staying physically fit has increased my performance mentally, psychologically. To me it proved to me that I can get past those mental roadblocks. If I’m struggling in the game, with something, like my laning phase, or something that I’m not doing that well, and it’s a consistent problem, I’m able to remind myself, “Hey, it’s just a roadblock, I can get through it, I just need to work towards it, and soon I’ll get through it.” So this is the lesson that challenging myself while working out has taught me, and I’m very thankful for challenging myself while working out. Because it does teach you a lot at the end of the day, it’s not just a confidence booster, it’s not just to look good, it’s also about psychological health, which is really really important nowadays.

Q:  Have you ever been personally subjected to stereotypes? Like when you tell people, “yeah, I play for the scholarship team here for Overwatch.” Do you ever get weird looks from anyone?

BA: Not really, to be honest. [pauses] Okay, well, I surround myself with gamers, so that’s kind of the thing. And even my friends who aren’t gamers have been friends with me for a very long time, so when I told them I was a part of this esports program, they were very surprised. “Oh, that’s very cool, I didn’t know they had that.” Some of them were like “I wish I could do that, but I’m not much of a gamer.” And when I tell Uber or Lyft drivers about it they’re usually just surprised and curious about it, and they ask questions. I haven’t really gotten that negative stereotype. I understand that, locally, I’m surrounded by a really open community, and I’m very lucky to have that.

LS: I have a feeling this is involved with a certain stereotype of gamers? [laughs] It’s totally a valid question. I have gotten a few comments that, “Hey, that’s really cool that you’re on the UCI Esports team,” and interests. I don’t think that it’s very unique but I am thankful to be in the position that I am.

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.