Esports Takes To The Gym!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.