Interview Matt Akhavan: “I’m very fond of collegiate esports, Overwatch, Tespa, and everyone involved with the collegiate scene”


by | Feb 2, 2018, 9:33PM PDT

After requesting an interview with Matt Akhavan, we met at the Blizzard Arena and discussed what the responsibilities are as a team manager, thoughts on collegiate Overwatch, and what college students can do to become involved in esports.

Greeted with an ecstatic “UCI Esports!” we quickly noticed how cold the room was. We joked, “They don’t call it the Blizzard Arena for nothing.”

Matt Akhavan is currently a manager for Misfits Gaming and UCI Esports.


Whose idea was it for the entrance today (1/31/18) ?

Today’s entrance was the Naruto run with the rasengan. We all knew that we wanted to do the Naruto run. It was one of the ideas that had been floating around over the weeks, but it was somewhat hard to do. There’s the camera man in front of you, so you can’t be running too fast. It’d look weird and they’d already be on the stage, and then the viewers would think “what are they doing?” So, we added the rasengan because we thought it would be funny and more recognizable. We really just want to be entertaining and have people enjoy our team coming on stage, and eventually when the wins start coming up, we’ll be a team that everyone loves to watch all of the time.

General thoughts on collegiate Overwatch

Collegiate Overwatch is something that I’m excited for. There are more schools that are investing into building infrastructure like professional teams. Schools are taking more interests in esports so that students have an easier pathway as competitors to showcase their talents and pursue a career. It makes it easier for parents to be more accepting of the idea that students can go to school possibly getting a scholarship for playing games and getting a degree. While esports may be a student’s plan A, the degree is also available if esports doesn’t work out or going pro doesn’t work out. So, I’m very fond of collegiate esports, Overwatch, Tespa, and everyone involved with the collegiate scene.

The Fiesta Bowl Overwatch Collegiate Championship is happening February 17th. UC Irvine, UC San Diego, University of Toronto, and UC Berkeley will be competing. Who will you be rooting for?

UCI! I think we came out really strong. We’re completely undefeated. I’ve seen the other schools play, they’re all really good. We’ve gone to UCSD a couple of times. They always have LANs and other tournaments that happen throughout the school year. They’ll be a fun team to watch. West coast best coast by the way.

We recently had LA Valiant come to our school and host an awesome viewing party. Are there any chances of Florida Mayhem doing something similar in the future?

I would love for an event like that to happen especially since I go to UCI. Although, I believe there are marketing guidelines which wouldn’t allow Florida Mayhem to have such an event because its Gladiators/Valiant territory. We are going to be doing events in Florida.  We’ll be doing viewing parties, sending cool merchandise, and making it as fun as possible for the fans in Florida. As far as doing stuff in LA, we’re a bit restricted.

LA Gladiators is hosting a college night at the Guildhall tonight and fans will get to play board and card games against the Gladiators team. Do you think that you could beat Surefour in Connect 4?

I’m actually really good at Connect 4. Ever since I was a kid I was always three or four steps ahead. If I don’t win, I at least tie. If I’m about to lose …

*Matt makes a motion of releasing the Connect 4 discs from the grid and we both laugh about it*

All of the pieces drop and it’s a draw.

What are the general responsibilities that you have as a manager for Florida Mayhem?

As a manager, I manage all of the day-to-day. This includes anything that happens at the studio and any gear that the players need I can purchase. I work with the Overwatch League operations team, the IT department, anything related to game day, practice structure, practice culture, infrastructure, and acquisitions for both players and staff. As you know, Florida Mayhem only has 6 players. I’m assisting in acquisition of players and we have a handful of people on the team working with that as well. Those are my main responsibilities as of right now.

Any advice for someone looking to become a manager?

I would say that you need a degree, which is why I’m getting a degree. Having experience is the most important aspect of becoming a manager. It’s really hard to trust somebody to manage all of the day-to-day and make sure you’re getting everything in on time such as paperwork, contracts,  and visa acquisitions. You’re doing the business as well as the day-to-day for the players. Becoming more dependable and learning how to communicate effectively is something that you learn in college just through interacting with your peers. You also learn time management and meet deadlines. Just the fact of you having a degree signifies that you put in effort through a 4-year program that’s pretty intensive for most students. I think that says a lot about your character if you finish your degree.

Any advice for someone looking to become a coach?

If you want to be a coach, the biggest thing is to create content or to get experience. I’m very weird about this and I’ll say that you should be willing to work for free, but I also don’t think that anyone should work for free. If you’re an organization, you should pay your interns. This is my opinion, but I also think that if you’re not willing to work a job for a free and donate your time for the experience, then you don’t really want it. For being a coach, you have to make content. Put your content on YouTube. Refine your skills. Someone sees your YouTube video, it hits Reddit a couple of times, and that’s when you get people interested in what you’re doing. You then have a portfolio to show people when you’re applying for a position. Overall, it’s about networking, experience, and having a portfolio to show.

As a student, what advice or tips would you give to other students or people in college who would like to get involved with esports

Try to do something locally with your school. At UCI, we have our esports program along with TAG. Other schools have clubs related to gaming and esports as well. Try to do as much as you can. You need as much experience as you can get. Work hard and network. I would say I was very fortunate for getting involved. I lived in LA and I volunteered for teams and at events. My volunteer work was approached with “Hey, you’re really good at this, let’s offer you something more full time.” Then you continue building on top of experiences like that.

Shoutouts

Shoutouts to UCI Esports! My favorite school! Thank you to all of the Florida Mayhem fans that have been sticking with us. I know that it’s been tough to watch our team falter but, we take every loss harder than you guys do and we practice so hard. Everyone wants to win, and we try to stay light-hearted and have some fun when we go on stage for the fans.


Follow Matt on Twitter.  Entrance and interview photos taken by Oshin Tudayan.

 

UCI Learns New Gaming Terms in Different Languages With Gen.G


by | Mar 30, 2021, 12:00PM PDT

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.

New Year, Same Values: Meet UCI’s Overwatch Heroes


by | Nov 13, 2020, 7:00AM PDT

Greetings, everyone!

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.

Why Gamers Should Read Black Authors


by | Sep 24, 2020, 7:30AM PDT

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.


Akil Fletcher grew up in New York where he received a B.A in Anthropology from the City College of New York. Currently, he is a Ph.D student in the anthropology department at the University of California Irvine, where he researches the navigation of Black video game players online. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Akil researches how Black players form and manage communities in spaces that are often hostile to Black participants.

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.