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!”)

UCI Esports Player Rosters For 2022-2023

by | Dec 14, 2022, 10:13PM PDT

Between big roster changes and the addition of an entirely new varsity team, UCI Esports is hyped to present the collegiate players that will represent our organization in the coming tournaments this year! If you’ve been following us on social media, our teams have been teased in multiple posts over the past few months. In preparation for their respective national championships in January, we are excited to officially introduce our team rosters for the 2022-2023 academic year!


  • Coach – David “HermesTheTurtle” Tu 


  • TOP – Minh “Elated” Pham
  • JUNGLE – Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung
  • MID – Ben “CinnamonBread” Chang
  • ADC – Alex “Gorica” Gorica
  • SUPPORT – Brett “Lightpulse” Narkiewicz


  • TOP- Long “Gino” Do
  • JUNGLE – Sam “Glorias” Chen
  • MID – Donovin “Debounair” Boun
  • ADC –  Andrew “Misterdot” Liu
  • SUPPORT – Ryan “Sliggins” Gilson


  • COACH – Michael “TheRealThe” Kuhns
  • DPS – Michael “Excal” Kim
  • DPS – Cyrus “cyy” Buffington
  • DPS – Zuhair “Zeerocious” Taleb
  • TANK – Jonathan “Light” Chao
  • TANK – Sean “Romani” Cook
  • SUPPORT – Mitsutoshi “Supreme” Sato
  • SUPPORT – Dimitrios “Otters” Karanikas
  • SUPPORT – Bruno “KapGod” Moebest


  • COACH – Vishal Rohit “CurryShot” Nathani
  • DUELIST / IGL – Munkhdul “plat1num” Baterdene
  • INITIATOR – Ivan “Sylph” Tran
  • INITIATOR – Richie “Richie” Tran
  • INITIATOR – Fiona “fifi” Lin
  • SENTINEL – Bradley “Cowpie865” Lacy
  • CONTROLLER – Kyle “kyle” Tyni
  • FLEX – Kyle “fwlo” Van

The University of California Esports Initiative (UCEI)  is an ongoing esports partnership between the different UC campuses, and their biggest annual event is coming soon! The UCEI Invitationals presented by Xfinity is right around the corner- set for January 13th-15th- and will feature all the rosters you see above in their respective games! Be sure to tune in on our Twitch channel at twitch.tv/uciesports when the time comes to watch our players duke it out against their rivaling UC counterparts!

UCI Esports Introduces Valorant Head Coach: CurryShot!

by | Nov 22, 2022, 11:37PM PDT

This year UCI Esports is proud to announce our very own Valorant team, the latest addition to our existing esports scholarship program! As excited as we were to venture into the inaugural collegiate Valorant season, we knew we needed a coach to do it right. Hence why we proudly present Rohit “CurryShot” Nathani as our latest hire as Valorant Head Coach! 

You may recognize CurryShot for his time coaching Overwatch as the former Strategic Coach from Mayhem Academy, Guangzhou Charge, and the Los Angeles Gladiators. More recently, CurryShot has been embracing Valorant and worked with multiple teams to find their footing in the fresh title.

“I’m very excited for the opportunity to coach the UCI Valorant team. Valorant is a game I’m really passionate about and I think our team can go far this season. I can’t wait to get started and I want to cultivate a culture that’s healthy and brings wins. I want us to work hard to surpass expectations and thrive in this title like UCI does in all their titles.”

Rohit “CurryShot” Nathani

The season has already started and the UCI Esports’ Valorant team currently stands in the Top 16 in the Western Conference. Make sure to support Curryshot and the players by tuning in to our UCI Esports Twitch to watch our Valorant games on Saturdays at 3:00pm PT!

Community Engagement Coordinator: Jamel Hopkins!

by | Aug 1, 2022, 12:18PM PDT

Whether you’re sieging towers, rushing sites, or pushing payloads, it’s your teammates that largely determine the course of the game. The community with which you surround yourself with is central to the gaming experience, in-game and out. Therefore, it is with great excitement that we announce Jamel “Aespirin” Hopkins, former shoutcaster and student staffer, will be joining the program full-time as our first-ever Community Engagement Coordinator.

Jamel will play an essential role for the program by connecting UCI Esports to the greater gaming community. As a primary liaison of the program, they will help to encourage and foster relations with other gaming spaces of all scopes, high school students, local UCI clubs, UCI alumni, and the national college esports community as a whole.

“As we have evolved as a program and adjusted to a world with COVID-19, we see a tremendous opportunity to use games and esports to re-engage our communities as we come back together in person. Our new Community Coordinator will play a vital role, connecting us more closely with UCI clubs, high school students, and our local community.”

– Mark Deppe, UCI Esports Director

“I’m ecstatic for this opportunity to give back to UCI Esports and the gaming community! In stepping into the role, my goal is to make our program a central hub on campus for students to call home like I have for years. I want our arena to brighten campus. Every student should feel safe and welcome here. I want everyone on campus to come here and get to know us, know each other.”

– Jamel Hopkins, Community Engagement Coordinator

The establishment of this new position at UCI Esports marks an exciting venture in the program’s ongoing commitment to building bridges between our local campus community and beyond. We are more than excited to have Jamel on board once more and look forward to witnessing his continued impact on the program!

First Ever Pokimane Scholarship Recipient: Nyah Beck!

by | Jul 22, 2022, 12:30PM PDT

Two years ago, UCI Esports was excited to announce the upcoming launch of the Pokimane Scholarship. A generous donation of $50,000 was given to the program by the famous gaming personality Imane “Pokimane” Anys herself to fund tuition and fees for student gamers for years to come via accrued interest. Over this summer, the program has chosen one lucky undergraduate to receive $2500 for the 2022 school year ahead, officially beginning the Pokimane Scholarship! 

The first ever recipient of this scholarship will be Nyah Beck, a founder of the Black Gxming Society as well as a Community Leader of The Association of Gamers, both being local campus organizations at UCI. Beck emphasizes the importance of gaming in her life as a conduit for making life-lasting connections and fostering community. 

“I believe the greatest thing [about gaming] has been being able to connect with others who live all over the world and have diverse backgrounds that differ from my own. Even times that the community has not been so great or positive to be around, this often serves as a learning experience, but also makes the great friendships stand out even more. Finding these peers has allowed me to grow and embrace my geekiness and be my most authentic self.”

– Nyah Beck

UCI Esports would like to extend a joyful congratulations to Beck! We are excited to see her impact on the gaming community moving forward!

Welcome Tildae!

by | Dec 9, 2021, 4:17PM PDT

A New Challenger Has Arrived

We are incredibly excited to share that Brenden “Tildae” Alvarez has come back home to UCI and will be joining UCI Esports as our new Arena Coordinator.  Brenden graduated from UCI in 2019 with a degree in Computer Science.  Tildae also played on our Overwatch team for two years, leading the squad to the Fiesta Bowl in 2018 and a berth in the National Championship match.

Since graduating, Brenden has been working as a counselor for Connected Camps and a coach for NASEF.  We are thrilled to have him back on campus and to help us engage the UCI gaming community as we return to campus.

Please join us in welcoming back home and congratulating him on his new position.

Our League of Legends: UCI Esports 2021-22 Roster

by | Nov 2, 2021, 7:37PM PDT

The UCI Esports program formally announces our League of Legends scholarship team rosters today in anticipation of the College League of Legends (CLOL) national championship, coming off the heels of the team’s victory in the RSAA Fall Warmup as the Shurima Division champions.

Your Irvine anteaters are a formidable team, composed of several challenger players, many promising new additions, and a lively spirit coming into this year reinvigorated to fight for the trophy once again, last hoisted by the team in 2018. 

Today, we proudly unveil our official varsity and junior varsity rosters for the year of 2021-22.

Top – Erik “Berik” Kim
Jungle – Duong “Duong Pro” Tran 
Mid – Ben “Cinnamon Bread” Chang
Bot – John “Sahori” Vu 
Support – Ethan “Kim Down” Song

Junior Varsity:
Top – Dylan “Dongha” Chen
Jungle – Lan jie “TacoVaco” Tsai
Mid – Danny “Somesort” Yi
Bot – Andrew “Misterdot” Liu
Support – Dylan “dtro18” Tran

“Our return to campus comes paired with new faces and talent. And we have amazing chemistry between the players and rosters, which I think is our strongest asset in contesting the championship this year. Our players are hard-working, resilient and handle adversity together head on. We aim to represent the best that the school has to offer and hope to make the UCI community proud. ” – David “Hermes” Tu, League of Legends Head Coach

Our League of Legends teams have been playing in a handful of leagues and tournaments in practice for Riot Games’ official first-party North American collegiate circuit, and our Junior Varsity team currently competing in the NACE Starleague JV West Playoffs. Having come together less than 2 months ago, the team is growing quickly, full of promise, and eager to make UCI proud as one of the premier teams in the league, and as the pride of the west coast.

Official CLOL matches will be streamed early next year when competition kicks-off in February of 2022 and local watch parties will commence then for local community members and students to come out in support. For more information on our teams, follow our social medias to keep up with the action on and off Summoner’s Rift.

Changing of the Guard

by | Oct 19, 2021, 3:06PM PDT

Greetings from UCI Esports,

We have been incredibly fortunate to have phenomenal people walk through our doors and contribute to the creation of our program.  As we begin our sixth year, we want to thank the following folks who have left us in the past year, and acknowledge their work and legacy.

Jess Acebes: Original student staff, intern, Girls in Gaming camp co-founder, streaming class teacher, NASEF tournament ops, meat lover.

Erik Bleitz:  Strategic planning lead, leadership board administrator, marketing guru, main tank, text-based game entrepreneur.

Milo Dodson: Team psychologist, the Milo of Milo meetings, speaker, celebrity, travel buddy and roommate in China.

Samantha Anton: OCHSEL tournament coordinator, NASEF COO, admissions expert, tour guide, emcee, kombucha advocate, mortal enemy of all Scorpios.

Hillary Phan: Player Support Coordinator, Intern, Girls in Gaming camp co-founder, multi-award winning Animal Crossing island designer, bean.

Damian Rosiak: Original Arena Supervisor, intern, streaming lead, special projects coordinator, Smash Ultimate overseer, NHL tournament overlord, Breakaway world champion.

Kathy Chiang: Fastest typist on the west coast, original Arena Coordinator, TAG founder, role model, collegiate leader, mentor, friend, cat mom.

As we close our chapters with these superstars, we are making a few changes to our current team.  

Ronald Ly is transitioning from Overwatch Head Coach to Acting Assistant Director.

“To my mentors and colleagues that have taught, inspired, and encouraged me these last 3 years, know that it has been a privilege to cross paths with such inspiring teammates. Our program has been enriched and made strong by your work, and I’m excited to see what we’ll all accomplish in the future, whether it be at UCI Esports, elsewhere, or beyond.”

  • Ronald “Renanthera” Ly

Michael Kuhns has moved from Assistant Coach to Head Coach of Overwatch to replace Ronald.

“I am excited to take on this new role and to lead our Overwatch team heading into the new year.  We have the most talent we have ever had and I am excited for our future.”

  • Michael “The” Kuhns

In other positive news, UCI leadership is ramping up support for esports and we will have several full-time and part-time jobs available in the coming months. We will be looking for the next generation of hard carries for our small, but mighty, department.  

We just opened up the Arena Coordinator Position which will be filled in the coming weeks.  Additionally, we are planning to hire an Assistant Director, a Communications Manager, and two part-time assistant coaches in the next six months.  

We will miss all of our colleagues who have left and will cheer them on in their next adventures.  Please join us in thanking our departed staff and stay tuned for some of the exciting things coming soon.

Mark Deppe
Director, UCI Esports