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.

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.

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!


by | Jan 1, 1970, 12:00AM 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!