Rival Schools Smash in CSL Qualifiers


by | Feb 19, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

UCI players cheer on teammate Robert “PL” Martinez (sitting left.)

On February 16th, 2019, twelve collegiate teams across the Southern California region travelled to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo to compete in the Collegiate Star League (CSL) SoCal Local Qualifiers. This esports organization, which hosts collegiate tournaments for titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rocket League, recently announced their second circuit for Super Smash Bros., switching the previous title on their roster, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate upon release. The February 16th local qualifier featured a five-on-five crew battle event for both Super Smash Bros. Melee and Ultimate. UCI Smash players formed three separate teams to enter the crew battle at Saddleback – two for Ultimate and one for Melee – where universities all over SoCal would compete to earn a spot at the divisional championships in spring.

The ‘crew battle’ is a competitive format unique to fighting games, and even then, the rules are even more fresh and exciting in Smash. Inspired by action anime such as Dragon Ball Z and Yu Yu Hakusho, where characters would participate in martial arts tournaments as a team, crew battles feature teams of up to five players playing in a one-on-one format. The format is such that when you defeat your opponent, you must now fight the next player on that team, and so on until you are defeated. In other words, if Player 1 from Crew A defeats Player 1 from Crew B, Player 1A must now fight Player 2B. In traditional fighting games, players face each other in games that are divided within the game rules by ‘rounds,’ but in Smash, ‘stocks’ and respawning after being knocked off the stage exist in lieu of the rounds format. Because of this, the stakes for Smash crew battles are different than that of traditional fighters: each crew gets a pool of stocks used to keep track of score, and once those stocks are taken, they’re gone for good. That is to say, if Player 1A defeats Player 1B at the beginning of a Melee crew battle, but they lose two of their stocks, Player 1A must now fight Player 2B with a two-stock deficit, while Player 2B begins the game with all four stocks. This can provide an element of depth, strategy, and sheer excitement while watching – and playing – Smash crew battles; while one crew may technically be in the lead by stocks, their current player must compete against any future opponents with a disadvantage. Furthermore, as in other fighting games with crew battle formats, there is also the innate strategy inherent in choosing which players will function as point, middle, or anchors for their team.

As previously reported, UCI’s Ultimate players have been proving themselves as forces to be reckoned with, both at on-campus weekly tournaments hosted at the UCI Esports Arena and at events held elsewhere in Orange County. After deliberating the day before the event, it was decided that the A-team for UCI would consist of the following players: Rafael “Rafi” Guadron, Jovanni Rivera, Dominic “T3Dome” Carone, Jason “Muskrat Catcher” Muscat, and new player Landon “SoulX” Stubblefield. A freshman both at UCI and on the Ultimate crew, SoulX is a skilled up-and-coming Daisy player, with notable recent placings being 9th/30 at the Valentine’s Day 2019 UCI weekly and 65th/408 at 2GGaming’s Heart of Battle regional event on February 9th, 2019.

The UCI Ultimate A-team does their best Daisy impression in honor of Landon “SoulX” Stubblefield (far left.) To his right, in order: Dominic “T3Dome” Carone, Jason “Muskrat Catcher” Muscat,” Rafael “Rafi” Guadron, Jovanni Rivera

UCI’s B-team was formed by players who had initially shown up as possible substitutes should any players from the A-team not be able to attend. However, when your author arrived at the event, initially solely intending to report on the crew battles, the substitute players realized that they had a second viable team of five. Thus, the B-team consisted of Sergio “Lt. Surge” Salas, Uyiosa “Uyi” Igbinigie, Cesar “Muffin” Martinez, Robert “PL” Martinez, and Nathan “Lite the Iron Man” Dhami. Apart from myself, every player on the B-team had respectable placements at UCI weeklies, as well as shifting spots on the UCI Smash 4 rankings prior to Ultimate’s release.

The Ultimate B-team roster, from right to left: Sergio “Lt. Surge” Salas, Uyiosa “Uyi” Igbinigie, Robert “PL” Martinez, Cesar “Muffin” Martinez, Nathan “Lite the Iron Man” “Your Author” Dhami

As previously stated, there were twelve crews total present for the tournament: UC Santa Barbara, Saddleback, CSU Northridge, CSU San Marcos, University of La Verne, CSU San Bernardino, Cal Poly Pomona, CSU Channel Islands, and two teams from USC were waiting to challenge UCI players. The CSL crew battle tournament was held in a single-elimination format – when one team was out, they were out for good. Unfortunately, the UCI B-team lost in the first round to CSUSB’s team. The A-team, on the other hand, had equal parts luck and skill on their side. Being the second seed of the tournament, the UCI A-team was given a bye, where they awaited ULV’s Ultimate crew. After defeating ULV, they moved on to avenge the B-team by defeating CSUSB with a four-stock lead, moving on to grand finals against Cal Poly Pomona.

The first seed of the bracket, Cal Poly Pomona’s team boasted an impressive roster, with players like Ken “ShiNe” Huang and Enrique “Nano” Garcia placing well at local SoCal events, and Quinton “ImHip” Goodman being ranked 18th in the all-time Socal Smash 4 Power Rankings as Olimar. These stats did nothing to deter the A-team, however, as all five UCI players were talented in their own right. After T3Dome’s Richter fell to Samuel “Arkistor” Weinger’s Inkling, having already respectably earned three stocks for UCI, Rafi’s Bowser began putting in work. Rafi cleanly defeated Arkistor, only losing a single stock, and proceeded to take two more stocks off of Derek “Deck” Wongso’s Ken before finally being taken down himself. Muskrat Catcher then followed Rafi, finishing off Deck with his King Dedede, and took another two stocks off ShiNe’s Pokémon Trainer before he was felled. At this point, it was down to SoulX and Jovanni’s six stocks and ShiNe and ImHip’s four. The UCI A-team sent out SoulX, who promptly cleaned up ShiNe’s final stock and moved on to fight ImHip. In what will surely be considered a historic match by SoCal Ultimate players, SoulX’s smart Daisy play managed to outmaneuver ImHip’s Olimar and eliminate him, securing UCI’s win with four stocks remaining to none. The decision to add SoulX to the A-team crew after long deliberation paid off, with him taking a game off of a top-ranked SoCal player in order to guarantee UCI’s spot in the CSL divisional qualifiers.

The UCI Melee crew and alternates strike a pose, huddling around Griffin “Captain Faceroll” Williams (crouching center.) From left to right, Alex L., Maruf Mamun, Eric “Woosh” Chagoya, Bryant “Nixqn” Nguyen, Jake “Rig” Song, John “KoDoRin” Ko.

After Ultimate crew battles ended, the Melee crew battle bracket began. The Melee bracket was smaller, with only three schools attending the event – UCI, UC San Diego, and Saddleback. Due to the small bracket, the tournament was ran in a round robin format instead of the single elimination style used for Ultimate. In the round robin format, every team is made to play against each other once to see who can earn the most wins. UCI Melee was represented by the following players: Jake “Rig” Song, Maruf Mamun, Eric “Woosh” Chagoya, Bryant “Nixqn” Nguyen, and John “KoDoRin” Ko.

UCI and UCSD’s Melee teams absolutely dominated Saddleback’s crew in their respective battles, with UCI’s Woosh even taking a whopping fifteen stocks from Saddleback’s players by himself. Now, with one point each, the winner of UCI versus UCSD would earn their spot in the Melee CSL divisional qualifier. Towards the end of their battle, UCSD was unable to reconcile the wide lead that UCI had earned, and UCI’s Melee team was able to close it out cleanly, with three stocks to none. The UCI Melee team is already well-recognized for Griffin “Captain Faceroll” Williams, a UCI graduate ranked 33rd in the world on the Melee Panda Global Rankings. Their win at the CSL qualifiers is just another notable victory for an already prolific crew.

In the end, both UCI teams won the CSL SoCal local qualifiers, earning the right to represent SoCal at the divisional qualifiers, held at a to-be-determined date and location this spring. From there, the winner of the divisional qualifiers will be invited to the national CSL championships, held at Smash supermajor tournament Shine 2019 in late August. The winning teams will also be awarded travel stipends for the purpose of assisting them in traveling to the divisional qualifiers.

More information about CSL Smash can be found on their website and social media. ( CSL Twitter / CSL Smash Twitter ) VODs and livestreams for their Smash events can be found on their Twitch channel. Brackets for the CSL SoCal Local Qualifiers can be found on Challonge. ( Melee / Ultimate )

Photos appear courtesy of Aaron “Ghostzy” Mariconda. ( Twitter )

UCI Esports Unveils Partnership with Vite Ramen


by | Feb 12, 2020, 8:00AM PDT

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. 

Vite Ramen comes in three flavors: Vegan Miso, Soy Sauce Chicken, and Garlic Pork. 

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.

Tim and Tom Zheng, right and left, respectively, founded Vite Ramen to fill a niche that left much to be desired in their undergraduate years: Quick, yet healthy, meals for student gamers to eat on-the-go.

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%.”

On The Scene at NASEF’s 2020 High School Overwatch Finals


by | Jan 29, 2020, 12:00PM PDT

Last Saturday, January 18th, 2020, students from four high schools across the United States met in Orange County’s Esports Arena to compete in NASEF’s 2020 High School Scholastic Overwatch Finals. 

The one-day tournament concluded NASEF’s Fall Overwatch season, which began in September. NASEF has sponsored the competition for two years running, and with more than 100 teams participating in 2019–up from 46 the year prior—it’s proven a great success. 

This season, four regional brackets competed for a spot in the finals, pitting school against school in eight weeks of constructive competition. Teams across the nation, vying for the title of NASEF’s 2019-2020 High School Scholastic Overwatch Champions, dedicated countless hours of practice to honing their game—developing teamwork, management, and communication skills along the way.

And for four teams from Naperville North, Portola, Xavier, and Rocklin high schools, those hours paid off with a trip to the national finals. 

Parents, coaches, and fellow competitors spectate a match between Naperville North and Xavier High at the Orange County Esports Arena. All images courtesy of NASEF. 

Although two of the finalist schools—Rocklin and Portola—are local to California, the teams representing Naperville North and Xavier high schools caught flights from the East Coast to attend the event.

“It’s a whole ‘nother ball game when you get to something like this,” said Chris Neumann, Naperville North’s team captain, in regard to his team’s weekend in Irvine, which included a tour of Blizzard Entertainment’s headquarters the Friday prior to the finals. “Once we joined this national team, started winning our division, started coming here—once this happened, our school got tons of people from inside and outside our [NASEF] club to join up in the school and watch us play … I think it’s cool how something like this can provide such a wide-reaching effect.” 


The tournament’s first match, scheduled for 10 AM, put Portola and Rocklin in a best-of-five set on the maps Dorado, King’s Row, and Lijiang Tower. Rocklin took the match with a score of 3-0, in no small part due to its captain, Dash’s, unrelenting offense with Genji, McCree, and Pharah. 

Dash, of Rocklin High’s Thunder Esports, netted 50 eliminations and participated in 70% of his teams’ kills in the second round of their match against Portola High.

After a short break, Naperville and Xavier’s match, which would determine Rocklin’s opponent in the grand finals, began. The series was played with the same map order as that of Portola and Rocklin, and ended similarly one-sided, with a final score of 3-0 favoring Naperville. Without a doubt, the team’s star player was its DPS Hanzo, Found, whose clean play and consistent headshots overwhelmed the competition.

“I’m feeling pretty confident [about the upcoming match against Rocklin], but also nervous,” Found said in an interview following the semis. “The other teams here are very good and they’ve earned their place, so good luck to them.”

Parents of Naperville North’s players flew in from Illinois to support the team in its matches against Xavier and Rocklin High School. Behind them, Naperville’s head coach, Chris Terpstra (pictured mid-right), rallies his players from the sidelines. 

With both preliminary matches decided, only one series remained between the teams left standing and NASEF’s championship title. With friends, parents, and coaches cheering from the sidelines, Rocklin and Naperville North’s players took to the stage, settling in for the best-of-five set on Dorado, Eichenwalde, and Busan.

As might be expected, the match was more balanced than its predecessors, with no star players emerging to steal the show as Dash and Found had earlier. The play, while not conservative, was more measured than usual, with Dash taking the Mei and exchanging blows with Naperville’s Yaressi, playing Doomfist. While their competition raged, the teams’ other DPSs, Leonin and Found, came into the spotlight, fostering broad, team-based strategies on both sides.

In the end, after a close match in Busan, the set’s final map, Rocklin emerged victorious with a closing score of 3-0. They celebrated their victory in an awards ceremony after the match, receiving medals, a trophy for their school, and recognition as NASEF’s 2020 High School Scholastic Overwatch champions.

Thunder Esports, of Rocklin High School, poses with Samantha Anton, NASEF’s COO, and Mark Deppe, its commissioner, after taking the 2020 OW High School Scholastic championship.

“NASEF is really proud to support the growth of scholastic esports, and giving students the opportunity to come out to California with their parents and teachers to be a part of something bigger than themselves has been incredibly rewarding,” Samantha Anton, NASEF’s COO, said of the fall OW season. “A huge congratulations to all the clubs that participated in this year’s high school scholastic tournament—we’re excited to see you at the next one!”

UCI Esports Welcomes the 2019-2020 Academic Year with Our Annual Fall Kickoff


by | Oct 4, 2019, 8:00PM PDT

Last Friday, UCI Esports ushered in the 2019-2020 academic year with our annual Fall Kickoff, inviting several hundred new and continuing students to the UCI Esports Arena from 4-8 PM for an evening of games, giveaways, and good old fashioned fun.

As part of Welcome Week, Fall Kickoff aims to introduce the student community to UCI’s esports program, which has grown in recent years to encompass three scholarship teams, more than half a dozen student-run clubs, and a multi-thousand-dollar gaming setup in the UCI Esports Arena. 

“We see Fall Kickoff as a way to welcome everyone (back) to the Arena,” said Kathy Chiang, UCI Esports’ assistant director. “By showcasing what we have to offer—our PCs, our clubs, and our teams—we can hopefully encourage more students to come back during the school year to learn more about our program or get involved.”

Students lined up to join Fall Kickoff’s main raffle, whose prizes included Logitech gaming mice, keyboards, and speakers. The grand prize was a graphics card from NVIDIA and solid state hard drive from Western Digital. iBUYPOWER and The Association of Gamers at UCI held similar raffles at the far end of the patio.

Well before 4 PM, students had grouped up around tables outside the UCI Esports Arena, armed to the teeth with consoles, controllers, and extension cords. While most of the players had ventured outside to practice Smash Melee, one group played FIFA on a flat-screen TV, leaping to their feet at intervals to celebrate—or bemoan—pivotal moments ingame.


Indoors, the scene was no less lively. From wall to wall, students packed the Arena, weaving between rows of softly-humming computers to spectate the day’s events, which ranged from free-for-all play in Teamfight Tactics to structured tournaments in League of Legends, Overwatch, and Rainbow Six Siege. On either side of the room, volunteers dispensed cans of Mountain Dew Amp Game Fuel, free of charge, to visitors in need of a boost.

As might be expected, scholarship players—denoted by the white anteater sown onto the arm of their jerseys—participated in the tournaments, providing other players a worthwhile challenge as they clashed in teams of five (or six in Overwatch). Though the tournaments had no official prize pool, participants who stuck through to the final round received goodie bags as a show of appreciation for their diligence.

Jeffrey Du, one of our scholarship players, competed against fellow students in League of Legends from 4-6 PM.

All said, the event was a great success, drawing hundreds of students together in a show of community spirit that, with any luck, will continue to shine throughout the academic year.

To all of our attendees and sponsors, thank you—Your support is what makes our programs truly special.

Tryouts for our Scholarship League of Legends Teams Are On–But Only Until October 8th


by | Sep 26, 2019, 8:00PM PDT

The month of September marks an especially busy time for Allison Le. Between prepping for fall quarter classes and settling into life as a senior in the School of Physical Sciences, she’s got a lot on her plate–but, as UCI Esports’ League of Legends Team Manager, her work doesn’t end there. Indeed, for the last three weeks, Allison has been sifting through applications for one of ten spots on UCI Esports’ scholarship League of Legends teams, working closely with coaches David Tu and Geoff Wang to find top talent for both varsity and JV positions.

Although the application period for spots on our League of Legends teams opened on September 3rd, Le encourages students to apply until the October 8th deadline. Following that date, the most qualified candidates–as determined by Tu, Wang, and a host of junior analysts-will be asked to attend live tryouts at the UCI Esports Arena, where their skills will be put to the test in real time.

The first stage of the application process, conducted entirely online, consists of a short interest form requesting applicants’ rank, champion pool, and preferred team position. It might seem sparse, but this information gives the recruitment team an idea of players’ standing ingame and allows them to determine which open roles each might best fill. 

During live tryouts, which start mid-October, applicants will be sorted into groups and pitted against other collegiate teams in matchups resembling those of the College League of Legends (CLoL) series. As they play, Tu and Wang will watch from the sidelines, noting each player’s quirks, proficiencies, and–inevitably–the areas in which they stand to improve. 

By day’s end, they’ll have made their decisions.


Of the applicants sent through to live trials, only ten will land a spot on a scholarship team, with five slotted for varsity and five for JV. Those selected for varsity positions will receive up to $6,000 in scholarship aid for the 2019-2020 academic year, while those who qualify for JV positions will receive up to $1,000. 

In addition to financial aid, scholarship players gain access to a variety of personal and academic wellness programs courtesy of UCI Esports, including biweekly meetings with a team psychologist, advice from professional esports coaches, and one-on-one training from exercise physiologist Haylesh Patel.

Also up for grabs–cool trophies.

With live tryouts two and a half weeks away, there’s still time to apply for a spot on one of our League of Legends teams–but not much. If you have a knack for gaming, and are at all interested in joining our esports family, take two minutes to complete an online application. It might just change your life.

UCI’s Super Smash Brothers Club Shines at CSL’s National Finals in Worcester


by | Aug 29, 2019, 2:30PM PDT

This time last week, members of UC Irvine’s Super Smash Brothers club, Smash at UCI, were 35,000 feet above the ground, traveling by plane to Worcester, Massachusetts, to participate in Boston’s largest esports festival.

The festival, dubbed Shine, is event planner Big Blue Esports’ most popular program, attracting 3,000 players to Worcester each year and netting more than a quarter of a million unique online viewers across three days of competition.

In addition to Shine’s spotlight events—tournaments in Melee, Ultimate, 64, and Brawlhalla—the Collegiate Star League (CSL) held its US Smash finals for four teams representing universities across the country.

With a prize pool of $15,000, the stakes were high—but nothing the members of Smash at UCI hadn’t seen before. As second-time qualifiers for the collegiate finals (they’d taken second place in 2018), the team was looking forward to bringing Shine another stellar performance.

“We had competed last year and really enjoyed it,” said Rafael Guadron, team captain and one of two players in Smash at UCI sponsored by Carnage Gaming, “so it only made sense to compete again.”

In preparation for their trip to Worcester, the members of Smash at UCI trained rigorously, attending tournaments throughout SoCal and practicing in mock tourneys at each other’s houses.

“We strive to do more and become more than before,” Guadron said, referencing the team’s motivation to train as hard as they did for Shine. “We of course love watching the top players of the world succeed, but what makes us inspired to improve are our own achievements.”

The team’s first match was against the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), whom they beat 3-0 to advance from semis to winners finals. Despite the match’s intensity, Guadron and his teammates kept level heads:

“While competing, we focused on the task at hand and tried to beat every opponent we came across. At times when we were in a deficit, it was hard to not think about it, but we have dealt with such things before, so it was nothing new.”

In the winner’s finals, UCI faced off against UT Dallas (UTD), dropping into the losers bracket after a tough set that ended 0-2. Down—but not out—the team brought their best game to the losers finals, and came out on top with a score of 2-0 against NJIT.

After nearly three hours of competition, Guadron and his teammates had earned the chance to compete, once more, against UTD—only this time, $6,000 was on the line.


One might describe the grand finals that followed as intense, but that would be selling them short. Having battled their way out from losers, UCI stood in ample position to reset the bracket and take the collegiate title. All they needed to do was beat UTD twice consecutively.

A challenge, to be sure, but not impossible.

In the hours that followed, Guadron and his team fought harder than they ever had before, recognizing the stakes but not permitting pressure to break their stride. And their efforts paid off: They beat UTD 2-0, resetting the bracket and pushing the tournament into one, final round.

After a thrilling 15-stock bout that ended 4-0 in favor of UTD, Guadron and his teammates walked away with another second-place win, securing $3,000 in prize money for Smash at UCI.

Reflecting on the experience, Guadron says,

“This event definitely taught us that we need to do more than just compete: We need to study our opponents, learn their stats, and talk to each other about the strategies we’ll use to win.”

Guadron notes, specifically, that UT Dallas made use of coaches, spreadsheets, and data they’d compiled about other teams’ players.

“As a team comprised solely of players, we definitely were the underdogs, but we will take that knowledge into account and put in more time to research our opponents in the future.”

Now that this year’s collegiate circuit has drawn to a close, the team won’t be competing until next October, when CSL qualifiers open for the 2019-2020 season. But, Guadron says, he and his crew will be competing in the singles tournaments hosted by UCI every Thursday in the UCI Esports Arena—be sure to stop in if you want to see the team in action!

(Or, of course, if you want to congratulate them on their amazing performance at this year’s CSL finals.)

From left to right: Sergio “Lt. Serge” Salas, Daniel “Mega” Nguyen, Rafael “Rafi” Guadron, Dominic “T3Dome” Carone, Justin “Muskrat Catcher” Muskat, Landon “Soulx” Stubblefield, and Jovanni “Jovanni” Rivera.

A Look into UCI Esports’ Annual Summer Overwatch Bootcamp


by | Aug 26, 2019, 12:00PM PDT

True to our mission of providing professional support for young gamers looking to break into the world of esports, UCI Esports recently welcomed 16 high school gamers to our second annual Overwatch summer bootcamp for a week of high-octane, no-holds-barred training.

From June 30th to July 6th, participants worked under the guidance of coaches Ronald Ly and Michael Kuhns to hone their skills in teamwork, communication, and—of course—Overwatch.

Supporting Ly and Kuhns were Brenden Alvarez and Zuhair Taleb, previous members of UCI’s scholarship Overwatch team. Both students acted as junior coaches and mentors to campers seeking, perhaps, to attend UCI in future years as scholarship players themselves.

“The experience was honestly pretty unforgettable,” says Alvarez, a Computer Science major and flex tank on the scholarship team. “Watching the players improve so rapidly within the scrim session felt really satisfying … the campers were all super passionate as well, and I think I found that to be really inspiring, which motivated me to work as hard as I could for them so that they could achieve their goals.”

Alvarez, Ly, and a team of dedicated staff provided campers one-on-one coaching to help them optimize their gameplay.

Although I wasn’t around to view the training sessions in person, Coach Ly was gracious enough to regale me with a snapshot of his experience as a first-time mentor for the students in attendance this year. Following is our interview, conducted online.


What were your general impressions about this year’s camp?

Being my first year running the camp, I came in with the goal to make sure that every camper walked away being able to say that they’ve been greatly armed for future competition and created fond, lifelong memories spending their week here at UCI Esports. I firmly believe we’ve managed to accomplish that, and I’m so proud—and relieved—that the campers earnestly enjoyed their time with us.

Honestly, it nearly brought a tear to my eye to see the power of video games used to cultivate close community and future competitors.

What parts of the week did you enjoy most?

For me, I enjoyed seeing the growth happen daily. It invigorates the fire within myself and my team to see these young athletes level-up in real time, loud and proud about their passion both in game and out.

How did this year’s schedule and events differ from previous years? Do you believe these changes contributed positively to the camp’s success?

I believe a large reason this year was so successful was that we implemented a daily goal with an accompanying lesson for the campers to focus on every day. There was always a tall task ahead of them, and every day the were challenged to meet those expectations, and carry them over to the next. We didn’t make it easy, we really made sure that our big ideas would be difficult to dent, and really played to the gamer’s nature of fighting challenges head on. I think the campers really enjoyed us pushing them to fight for these accomplishments, helping them along the way, but letting them work together to meet their goals and make their teammates friends along the way.

Campers prepped for an afternoon of scrims with light exercise.

In your opinion, what’s the main purpose of the Overwatch Bootcamp? What skills do campers develop during their time in the program?

The primary purpose of the camp is to equip our attendees with valuable, measurable, and transferable skills that they can take with them wherever they go.

All of the players at the camp had a competitive drive to play and improve, and that was a big focal point for us—we wanted to make sure they were learning about how to better play the game itself, but also to give them personal skills apart from the game that contribute to their success both in the virtual world and their future careers.

How do you and the other coaches accommodate campers’ varying levels of skill in the game?

Both I and my assistant coach, Michael Kuhns, worked plenty of long nights to create a curriculum that accommodates players at all levels. We decided that our lesson plans should be focused on high-end fundamentals that all of our campers will be able to work towards. Many of these players have strong mechanical ability, or some light team experience, and many others had little or none. What we looked to do was make sure that the topics we were talking about focused on both theory and pragmatic exercises that you wouldn’t be able to work on unless you attended our camp specifically.

All of the players at the camp knew that communication was vital to success. But that’s a vague statement that leads to many questions—and we looked to answer those. What does good communication sound like? Who is responsible for saying what? When should and shouldn’t I be speaking up? How should be communicating exactly? All of the campers learned what bad communication sounded like, all of them worked on their own communication skills to make them better. Things like tone, volume, and repetition, clarity, succinctness—all of our campers needed to work on that regardless if they were a “Gold” player or a “Grandmaster” player.

Campers exercised their communication skills to complete projects both ingame and out.

Did all the teams formed this year seem to work well together? Were there any major hurdles the players had to overcome as a team?

The campers all got along very well. It was evident as the days rolled by that they made good friends with one another, and that the daily activities and practices had ushered them closer together. The hurdles that the players had to overcome were intentional ones that the coaches had put into place to better round out all of our campers skillsets, and build on their understanding of the game and how to work as a team. We aimed to further polish their more outstanding capabilities, but also put them in a place where they weren’t able to hide from their shortcomings.

We opted to create two teams this year and implement a mandatory substitution rule. Many of our campers were stuck in their comfort zones—locked in the bubbles of their specific roles—and we wanted to give them a semblance of the experience that a professional player has. We made sure they had to work with others, work to solve problems together, be willing to bend and compromise together, strategize to their unique strengths, and compensate for their unique weaknesses.

We had one team that was highly versatile, but less experienced and polished on any given specific team composition. On the other, we had one that was highly specialized and very potent in one composition, but very lackluster when playing others or being forced to shift outside of their comfort picks.

Over the course of the week, we saw one team gain an edge one day, and the other bring it back the next. One day Team A would have the advantage, and then a major turnaround for Turn B would happen the day after. By the end of the week, both teams were extremely competitive, way stronger, and much tighter-knit—it couldn’t have turned out better for us.

What was the most meaningful interaction you had with the group?

The most meaningful interaction with the campers for me was the ending of the finals of our tournament on the last day. It came down to the wire, and I could see the fruits of their labor plain as day. The match came down the wire, really, and the words of thanks and gratitude to the staff and coaches—as well as the kind words shared between opposing teams—was extremely heartwarming.

Did the players teach you anything (about the game, or more generally)?

The players provide insights and reasoning to their thinking in ways that our staff may not have considered before. Good or bad, the sharing of these ideas and the thought-process behind certain decisions made in the game is something you can only expand your knowledge of from interacting with others. I’ve seen certain campers here utilizing their abilities and characters in ways that I hadn’t considered effective prior, but would be forced to meet my own biases and opinions, and inform my own view of the game.

Campers and camp staff exchanged ideas regularly—here, Coach Ly advises a group about their progress on a team-based project.

Looking ahead, what more would you like to see included in UCI Esports’ summer programs?

Looking ahead, I would love to continue growing our curriculum. There’s a lot of what I teach that I believe could be invaluable insights to coaches and players of various other titles. There’s a lot of overlap and transferable fundamental skills that you can carry over into different games, even different genres. What we focus on in the UCI Esports program is building up our players as people first and foremost, and it’s this foundational focus that sets us apart from the competition.

I would love to get more campers in and continue to explore what we can accomplish as the camp attendants become more diverse in skill, age, gender, race, and creed. I believe everyone has something to offer and teach others—I want to fill our arena, build another, and fill that one up too! Honestly, I learn as much from these campers as they do from me and my extraordinary staff. I’d personally love to do this more than just once a year.

The interview concluded with several corroborating remarks from Assistant Coach Kuhns, who witnessed the campers’ growth as both players and people alongside Ly.

“Many of the players that attended the camp have a lot of potential to do great things in Overwatch or competitive games in general,” he said. “It was a special treat being able to work with campers that always had a positive attitude and worked to lift their teammates up, whether they were celebrating in wins or encouraging in losses.”

UCI Esports Hosts Third Annual Girls in Gaming Summer Camp


by | Aug 22, 2019, 12:00PM PDT

From July 8th to 12th, UCI Esports hosted our third annual Girls in Gaming summer camp, opening our doors to twelve ambitious young women interested in learning more about the professional opportunities available in the video gaming industry.

The program, which debuted in 2017, seeks to address the lack of female representation in esports by exposing its participants to games-related career paths they might not have considered—or known existed—beforehand.

“During the camp, participants learn from experts in the industry about the plethora of options within esports,” says Kathy Chiang, the camp’s lead and assistant director of UCI Esports. “Our outreach camps focus on building pipelines, enabling and encouraging more young women to get involved in esports through different roles and at varying levels.”

Although UC Irvine, long a forerunner in the bid to increase young women’s participation in esports, has contributed significantly to positive change in recent years through initiatives such as Girls in Gaming, Chiang believes there’s more to be done.

“It seems like the lack of (sufficient) female representation is becoming one of the most discussed and visible issues in esports these days, and it’s definitely one that has been personally relevant to many among our staff and in my own life as well. I believe it’s extremely important to think of multiple strategies to improve this, from improving education and awareness to building special programs and guidelines.”

The relevant question to ask, on hearing Chiang’s words, is “What exactly goes into building these programs and guidelines?” How does an idea—let’s show young women that there are opportunities available for them in the gaming industry—become a reality?

As Allison Le, a fourth-year mathematics major and junior administrator of the 2019 Girls in Gaming camp, explains, the process is quite involved. Although Girls in Gaming has been around since 2017, camp staff build its schedule from the ground up every year, incorporating fresh ideas and insights into their curriculum to keep things relevant to the industry’s current state.

“We looked at previous speakers, found connections we had made throughout the year, and chose the topics we thought spoke to us the most,” says Le, describing the work involved in designing this year’s schedule. “After creating a rough outline of what we wanted to do, we grouped the topics in days, like media on one day, esports management on another day, and so on.”

While Le, who manages UCI’s scholarship League of Legends team during the academic year, is no stranger to wrangling packed schedules, she expressed appreciation for those who dedicated their time to helping her develop this year’s program.

“This was my first year running camps, so I received a lot of advice from the full time staff. I couldn’t have done it without those who focused on outreach efforts, either—because of them, everything was able to fall into place cleanly.”

With all the behind-the-scenes work that went into making 2019’s Girls in Gaming camp special, it’s no surprise that the participants had a great time during their week at UCI. Between interactive talks with women involved in the gaming industry, activities around campus, and group play—dubbed Teamfight Tactics—in the Arena, campers always had something to do. Despite initial difficulties in introducing the group to games only a few had played before, Le reports that the girls rose eagerly to the challenge.

“By the end of the week, we’d successfully had the arena in an uproar during our mock tournament. It’s a clear example of how games can bring a really diverse group together.”

Le believes that, as the program continues to grow, it will incorporate new features that further the goal of bringing diverse groups together through games.

“I’m thinking that, next year,  maybe we’ll find a speaker who can spark the campers’ creativity by leading a session where they brainstorm their very own game. Don’t get me wrong; we had some really great speakers this year. But the engaging ones are always the most memorable, and Kathy and I are keen to let the campers explore their creativity in a hands-on environment.”

Campers gathered in the UCI Esports Arena at the end of the week for the program’s closing ceremony.

Le’s closing thoughts?

“I think the biggest benefit of attending Girls in Gaming is that campers are able to see beyond what they might see in the media—see that there’s plenty of diversity in the video game industry. Oftentimes girls might be steered away from video games, but the truth is, there are plenty of women out there. A lot of our speakers didn’t graduate high school or college knowing that they were going to work in games. But their love for video games brought them here, and I don’t doubt that the girls I met during camp will be trailblazers for the future of the industry.”


UCI Esports to offer scholarships for top ‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ players


by | Aug 7, 2019, 1:00PM PDT

Pilot team made possible by $50,000 gift from media publisher, video game enthusiast


Irvine, Calif., Aug. 7, 2019 — The University of California, Irvine esports program will host a pilot scholarship team for “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” during the 2019-20 academic year – thanks to a $50,000 gift from the owners of Street Media, which publishes Irvine Weekly and LA Weekly, led by CEO (and gamer) Brian Calle.

Players will be jointly selected by UCI Esports and the TAG Smash Ultimate Club at UCI, and the funds will be used to offer $6,000 scholarships to the top six as well as for administrative purposes. All current UCI students are eligible to try out for the new crew in October at the UCI Esports Arena. “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is a fighting game for up to eight people in which characters from Nintendo and third-party franchises try to knock each other off playing stages.

“The ‘Smash’ community at UCI is one of the biggest and most passionate gaming clubs on campus,” said Mark Deppe, director of UCI Esports. “We are fortunate to be able to offer scholarships to ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Overwatch’ players. When a donor emerged with a desire to support one of his favorite games, we knew this was something we had to pursue to create more opportunities for the ‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ student gaming community.”

While there is no coach for the team, UCI Esports will provide staff to coordinate practice times, travel, social media, equipment needs and competitions. Players are expected to practice 10 to 15 hours per week, maintain a 2.0 cumulative GPA and follow the code of conduct to compete in tournaments and stay on scholarship.

“This is a huge deal for the UCI ‘Smash’ community, as we work very hard to grow the competitive scene and push it into the same spotlight that many other esports have,” said senior Justin Muscat, president of the TAG Smash Ultimate Club at UCI. “The university offering scholarships for ‘Smash’ is a major step forward and validates the work we’ve done.”

UCI is home to an esports arena with 72 custom PCs and computer monitors, headphones and gaming chairs, as well as a studio that broadcasts matches to hundreds of thousands of viewers. Opened in September 2016, it functions as a high-end recreational facility that’s also open to the public. In addition, the esports program has coaching and administrative staff, a team psychologist and an exercise physiologist.

“UCI Esports is the leader in gaming education and the yardstick by which other programs are measured,” Calle said. “We are thrilled to be able to support the development of top talent for the sport. As an avid gamer and ‘Smash’ player, it’s inspiring to see the dedication and commitment these students give to the game and to see them recognized as collegiate athletes.”

This month, UCI’s current “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” club team will compete for the national title at Shine 2019 in Worcester, Massachusetts. The crew won the Southern California qualifier and then the Western Regional to earn a spot in the college championship, hosted by the Collegiate Starleague. Players will battle winners of the other three regionals for the CSL trophy and part of the $15,000 prize.

“‘Smash’ has historically been an incredibly significant game to The Association of Gamers at UCI, with our community always brimming with passion, hosting tournament after tournament,” said senior Brandi Moy, president of TAG at UCI. “It’s extremely exciting that our students can now receive official support and pursue their competitive dreams through these scholarships.”

About UCI Esports: UCI is the first public university to create an official esports program, which is regarded as one of the best and most comprehensive in the world. With a successful computer game science major, an enthusiastic gaming community and a history of elite competition, UCI is a natural place for esports to thrive. A collaboration among student leaders, faculty, gamers and forward-thinking administrators, UCI’s esports program was announced in the spring of 2016. In September of that year, the UCI Esports Arena – powered by iBUYPOWER – opened. The pillars of UCI Esports are competition, academics and research, community, entertainment, and careers. In 2015, College Magazine ranked UCI the No. 1 school for gamers in North America. The campus’s esports program was featured in a four-part documentary on ESPN2 earlier this year.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit news.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.

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“The ‘Smash’ community at UCI is one of the biggest and most passionate gaming clubs on campus,” said Mark Deppe, director of UCI Esports. “When a donor emerged with a desire to support one of his favorite games, we knew this was something we had to pursue.”

Steve Zylius / UCI