As part of my coverage of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Hearthstone team 3migos, I interviewed Annie Mya Chen, president of the UCSB Esports Club, and IDante Damian, a member of the 3migos team which will be be competing at a tournament at PAX South on Jan. 31 for $100,000.
Annie Mya Chen
The Bottom Line (TBL): What does UCSB’s Esports Club do?
Chen: So competitive gaming, first of all, isn’t all that the UCSB’s Esports club does. In general, competitive gaming is really a lot like traditional gaming. There’s a huge professional scene where there are pro players, they have playoffs every year for each game … and there’s always major tournaments. Now what is really popular is the collegiate competitive gaming scene, which is getting bigger. And so it’s really a lot like traditional sports … there’s huge arenas if you’ve ever seen like … if you’ve ever been to the Staples Center for a concert …you can watch professional video gamers play and you can also watch on streams as well. There’s a lot of different types of games and each different games … have different ways of doing tournaments and rules and so on. In general it’s just literally like in the name electronic sports … people playing video games competitively for fun and actively participate by watching as well.
TBL: How does being competitive in Esports differ from traditional sports?
Chen: Ooh that’s a good question. I think a lot of the similarities are a lot of … dedication, hard work. People who train to be traditional gamers usually game for like … if you look at early StarCraft, people would put in literally 10 hours a day like wake up and play, go eat lunch, come back and play some more. Even like football, you have to plan out like, “Oh where am I going to go as a quarterback?” There is a lot of strategic planning and dedication and hard work that go into professional gaming and traditional sports, but at the same time, of course, the scene itself is so different because it’s brand new. Everything that’s going on right now in esports is basically unprecedented.
In other colleges in America esports team have actually started getting scholarships so that people are treated like professional athletes on campuses. But, of course, there’s not quite so much a physical aspect to it, you don’t run marathons or anything. It’s a lot of teamwork too, for most games that you see being played competitively. I guess the only difference would be the physical aspect you know. There’s not so much training for stamina or anything, it’s mostly mental stamina. There’s not really too much of a difference, but you see a lot of professional gamers getting athlete visas into America because of it. So yeah it’s really similar.
TBL: How is intercollegiate gaming set up?
Chen: There’s a lot of different tournaments that are up, there’s not just like you know for football you might just have one football league and that’s all we have in America. But for competitive gaming, there’s no standardized intercollegiate gaming tournament, but rather there’s a lot of different kinds of tournaments. If you look at League of Legends, one of our most popular games, a League of Legends collegiate competition is run by Riot, the publisher of the game. That tournament is just all their own, but of course there are smaller tournaments, like organizations that aren’t fully dedicated to one tournament. So there’s like collegiate star leagues which is like a collegiate league just for teams from colleges. So they have League of Legends, they have Hearthstone, they have Starcraft, they have everything. But for Hearthstone, for our team, the league that they’re competing in is for the TeSPA collegiate league (The Esports Association) which is owned by Blizzard now which is the publisher of Hearthstone. All of these different collegiate gaming competitions are run by different organizations. There’s no standard way but there are big players in a team in terms of organizations.
TBL: What kind of preparation goes into competitive Hearthstone?
Damian: At least for the tournament that we’re playing in, which is the collegiate one, there’s kind of like special rules for the tournament. The way it works is like there’s something called conquest mode, which is each person or individual or team or whatever would bring three different decks of a different class. So basically you’re restricted to that same deck for the whole match. And whoever wins with their three decks first wins the match. That’s typical competitive conquest mode. But for this mode there’s an adjustment where after a match you can switch up your deck or edit your deck as long as it’s the same class. So that means it basically opens up a lot of counter plays, so for example, if we came in with a deck and then we lost to one of theirs, we can — after they win with their deck they can’t use it anymore, so we can adjust our deck to counter — we can edit our deck to make it better. Sometimes there’s a lot of possibilities for counters, so what we’re preparing for is, usually it’s like Chance or Ryan, and I will sit down and first we’ll talk about our opponent, like what do we know about them. Definitely for typical preparation, we all sit down and talk about what decks we’d like to bring to the tournament and to the match and how we’d like to change the decks in the middle of a match.
TBL: Would you consider playing competitively after college?
Damian: Yeah I mean I wouldn’t be against that, but especially in video games, playing competitively is very, very competitive, because, who doesn’t want to play video games for money, you know? There’s a lot of people. It’s very saturated, so it’s very hard even if you’re one of the best around to have to step on an individual level, especially if you’re talking about Hearthstone as well, which has a lot of luck in it. There’s a lot of stuff that’s out of your control so you wouldn’t be able to be as consistent as a competitive player. What I’m trying to say is that it’s really hard so I don’t necessarily go any further. I’m just trying to play to enjoy it and go as far as I can in this tournament.