For most of our scholarship players, performing well is as much a physical game as it is a mental one. Just ask Haylesh Patel, their personal trainer, who keeps them in tip-top shape during the competitive season as part of our esports fitness program.
For all Patel’s guidance, however, it’s easy for our players to fall prey to the vice that that ensnares millions of college students worldwide: Poor nutritional choices.
Chief among those choices? Consuming instant noodles. With nearly one-thousand milligrams of salt per serving, and only trace amounts of protein, the typical cup of microwave ramen is a case study in empty calories. While safe to eat in moderation, most name-brand noodles fail to provide the nutrients most essential to top performance.
Enter Vite Ramen. The startup, headed by power duo Tim and Tom Zheng—twins with a knack for wholesome, tasty food—offers a variety of nutrient-packed noodles that put a light spin on traditional instant ramen. Instead of the salt and fat you’ll find in store-bought varieties, Vite noodles rely on a blend of herbs and spices to bring out their signature flavor. In addition, they pack a whopping 25 grams of protein per serving, more than half the FDA’s recommended daily value. In short, Vite’s noodles are a nutritional powerhouse—the Soylent of ramen, some might say.
As gamers themselves, Tim and Tom understand how difficult it is to make good nutritional choices when pressed for time. Indeed, their decision to found Vite Ramen was driven in part by a desire to save fellow gamers the trouble of having to pick between playing consistently and eating well.
“One of the things … that influenced us to make this ramen [was] just esports in general,” Tim elaborated in a video interview published on Vite Ramen’s website. “We wanted to eat good food that helped us play better.” A simple motive, but undeniably genuine.
As our newest sponsor, Vite Ramen will supply our scholarship teams with the healthy, filling food they need to fuel their best performance. They’ll also provision us with top-of-the-line cooking equipment so our players can make authentic noodles without leaving their practice stations at the UCI Esports Arena.
“We believe that everything you eat should have everything you need,” said James Vuong, outreach coordinator at Vite Ramen. “We made these noodles to give players a healthy, nutritious meal in the shortest amount of time possible so they can get back to practicing, get back to scrimming—get back to performing at 120%.”
Esports can still be considered a young and fledgling global industry. At UCI, we understand the necessity of building cross-cultural tools to address problems of inclusion, communication, and cultural diversity.
On January 27, 2021, UCI International Center, UCI Esports, and Gen.G Global Academy partnered up to run their first International Gamer’s Language Workshop. We welcomed 57 registrants in addition to dozens of Gen.G students watching together from their classrooms overseas.
This workshop welcomed students and players from across the globe to share perspectives from their experiences both online and offline in relation to esports. Participants learned Korean, Mandarin, and English terminology from games like League of Legends and Overwatch, engaged with professional coaches and student athletes in a Q&A panel, and learned from each other at this unique international networking opportunity.
Attendees worked together to create a “gamer’s dictionary” — defining, translating, and quizzing each other on various words and phrases to bridge a cultural gap together during this 2-hour event.
By the end of the night, it was evident from coaches, students, and panelists that diversity is key to both education and competitive performance. May it be through language, skills, or new perspectives, the International Gamer’s Language Workshop showed us that we all have more to gain by working together than apart.
This is Renanthera, Head Coach for UCI Esports’ Overwatch team, and today I am here to personally announce our competitive roster for the 2020-2021 collegiate season.
Last year, UCI Esports was one of two collegiate teams to make Open Division playoffs for the first time ever. We were semi-finalists (or top 4) in Tespa’s Championship Series. And we did all that with a roster primarily composed of rookies.
This year, we could not be more excited to work with our team composed of some hungry tenacious veterans and new frighteningly talented fresh faces. You may recognize a few of our players from the competitive ladder, maybe from some streams, but we want you all to keep an eye on them as they fight for UCI and that end-of-season trophy.
So let’s meet the players!
First up, Stadium, PG1, and Ago are our reliable and experienced tanks who will be leading us on the battlefield. Our tanks last year were arguably our brightest spot, and we’ve clinched so many important games and series off the back of 4-man shatters, a crucial Matrix eat, or a perfectly executed Sigma Flux.
With Stadium and Ago returning, we keep that mechanical playmaking and clutch-factor while PG1 will be compounding on this strength and lending us even greater depth. No matter what the meta may be—may it call for a genius hamster piloting a war-machine or an astrophysicist gone mad—we will always have the direction we seek with these three players.
Next up, Fade and Danichee make up our inseparable DPS duo, both in and out of game. They became fast friends last year, and with their joined hero pool coverage, excellent synergy, individual aim, and game sense, they won us over again this year. Sometimes, coaches just want to see that our opponents will die over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. These two do that really well, may it be with a bullet (or several), an arrow, a rocket, or even an icicle.
And lastly, our supports: Helljudge, Saffrona, and KapGod. A lot of teams will settle for supports that heal and execute the bare minimum. They make a few calls, and they stay alive. Well, every explorer has a compass; every team has a backbone. But every conqueror carries a weapon, and every champion has an ace up their sleeve. Most supports will make sure we don’t get lost and that we keep getting back up—but ours also make sure that our enemies don’t.
Our student athletes are amongst the best in the world, and we want to showcase their skills, abilities, and hard work this season. Here at UCI, we are so blessed and privileged to be able to work with such an abundance of talented, motivated, and skilled players each and every year. We take pride in being the first public university to create an official esports program. We have continued to defend our title as the premier esports program on the West Coast and remain the team to beat. You cannot have a conversation about the best esports collegiate programs or teams without us.
Despite a world that has changed drastically over the past year, UCI Esports is equipped, we are prepared, and we will always remain the team to believe in.
Years from now when people ask “where were you in 2020?” I will respond, “online, and I hated every second of it.”
2020 was a year filled with strife and changes, as many of the country’s issues were placed under the microscope of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were made privy to the fragility of our healthcare system, made to grapple with the mistreatment of our workers, and we saw just how little our government was ready to deal with the unseen threat of a virus. As buildings and campuses became unsafe for congregations, schools and businesses quickly transitioned from physical interaction to remote operations, trading desks for couches, and cubicles for bedrooms. As an academic I soon saw myself writing grants, hosting calls, and meeting with colleagues all through the screen of my computer. Just like that my and many other lives became mediated through digital platforms.
But then came May and the US caught fire as major cities around America erupted in protest after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of George Perry Floyd Jr. for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, killing him on camera. The act was such a clear show of police misconduct and brutality that not only did protest emerge in Minneapolis but in cities like Los Angeles and New York. People across America took to the streets to protest what was a vile and malicious act of policing and unfortunately (and ironically) were subsequently met with the very force they went out there to speak against. Agitations flared, peaceful protest turned into physical confrontation, and long-ignored anger and sorrow became the fuel for the flames which burned signs, buildings, and coincidentally an NYPD van.
Yet, still, for many, the most heated moments of the protest were not experienced in person but rather were witnessed second hand through their television or through social media online. As the protest raged on, Twitter threads became battlegrounds, YouTube videos spun narratives, and the internet yet again became the hotbed for information and dialogue around the events many were experiencing. With #BlackLivesMatter trending yet again in response to the death of ANOTHER Black person at the hands of the police, the online blurred yet again with the physical. So much so, that social media became the key place where I, a Black man, kept up with the news, contacted friends and family who were near protest areas, and was made to relive the trauma of watching Floyd lose his life again and again as it was shared on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter both as both a form of awareness and as jokes from those craven enough to mock a man posthumously. And, while I donated to BLM initiatives, honked my horn in-vehicle protest, and showed up physically where I could, I—like so many—experienced the brunt of this protest online.
So, it should not come as a surprise when I say that it was not in person or even on Twitter where I got into my harshest debates, but instead, it was within video games like Overwatch and League of Legends where I found the most abuse. In fact, it was gaming spaces like these that became the hardest to occupy during the time of the protest. In an attempt to find some semblance of peace while the world burned, I decided to turn on Overwatch (a hero first-person shooter from the company Blizzard) to try to take the edge off. After some time, I was eventually placed with 11 other players and dropped into a starting zone to wait. However, instead of the typical banter of roles and positions, I was met with a “hello my fellow African Americans, let’s go burn and loot some stores because BLACK LIVES MATTER!” from one of my teammates. Reminded that video games seldom work as escapism for black people, I contemplated whether to let the comment go or to make a scene. I chose the latter.
I responded with “do you think that’s funny?” which prompted him to say “of course! Because they should not be out there at all, because ALL LIVES MATTER!” and quickly an argument ensued. Shouting in a way I am not all too proud of, I went back and forth with the player, I shouted the names of those killed—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin—only to have him respond with conspiracies like the FBI started BLM and comments like “slavery didn’t matter.” It didn’t take long for our remaining teammates to mute us with one going as far as to exclaim, “I don’t play this for politics.” In hindsight I think I would have been better off ignoring the troll—I must admit I was perturbed, livid in fact. Livid that a player used the game as his platform for racism and livid at the apathy of the other players viewing the deaths of Black men and women as simple politics. While the game’s very company (Blizzard) was tweeting in support of Black Lives, its players continued to disparage them. With each engagement I grew colder and angrier, each bout of racism striking deeper than the last until eventually, I arrived at simply telling people to shut the… well you can finish the rest.
Unfortunately, what I experienced is nothing new, as scholars such as Kishonna Gray, Andre Brock, Anna Everett, Samantha Blackmon, TreaAndrea Russworm, and many others have written extensively on the experiences of Black players similar to my own. However, as more and more games become spaces for online interaction, I and many others are yet again forced to acknowledge that games and the many who play them are not always aware of the struggles non-white gamers may go through. But, in writing this piece and sharing my experience I do not want this to come off as an accusation of gamers and gaming practices (there are other avenues for such), but instead as an opportunity to engage with perspectives that have been ignored or overlooked.
As many of us face yet another crisis in our communities, where Black life is threatened for simply existing (under the blanket of COVID no less), it is important to remember that games, as peripheral as they may seem, work as powerful sites of cultural creation and expression. I could not escape my pain through games because the same rhetoric, behavior, and trauma that took place in the physical informed and shaped the virtual. That is why this piece is less of an accusation and simply a call to action.
In a time where Black players face constant racial abuse both inside and outside of games, I propose that gamers engage with the history of this country and the writings of Black scholars, activists, and people. In wanting to see a healthier gaming community, I have curated a list of books, short readings, and articles to read in hopes that gamers and the gaming community at large will pick up the call and accept this challenge. While by no means extensive, the list provided will offer introductory reading to familiarize oneself with Black history in the US and the Black experience in areas such as school, healthcare, and most apropos, online spaces. While seemingly unrelated, there is much to be gained by engaging with past and current writers, and only when we have an informed gaming population can we hope to see change.
If you would like to join in on discussing any of the readings from Akil Fletcher’s list, you are welcome to the UCI Esports Discord server‘s #book-club channel.