A team of gamers from the Information Technology Program in the Viterbi School of Engineering will advance to the finals of a Call of Duty tournament this weekend.
The team — composed of Graham Hawes, Yingteh Lee, Andrew Molina, Isaac Steele and Aaron Liu — will be flown to the Nvidia Headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., for the final showdown on Jan. 19.
Though it’s called gaming, the competition is serious stuff: All members of the team have committed significant time to practicing, frequently getting together to play Call of Duty: Black Ops and watching archived videos of gaming competitions to better hone their skills and anticipate those of other teams. Players researched the guns used in the game and collectively logged hundreds of hours in preparation.
As the team now readies for this weekend’s final tournament in Santa Clara, members said they couldn’t be more excited or sure of a USC victory. In the first round of the competition, USC will play against a team from North Carolina State University, who Hawes anticipates will employ some “unorthodox strategies.”
If the Trojan gamers advance from there, they will be up against the winner of a round between UC Berkeley and a wild-card school.
“In all honesty, I think that we will win the whole thing. Cal may prove to be challenging for us, but we are all very competent players,” said Liu, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering. “We are [set] to play NC State first, which we are confident that we can beat.”
The victors of the final tournament will go home with a full PC gaming system provided by Maingear Computers along with Nvidia’s latest graphics processing unit. The winning school will also be awarded hardware donations for the computer science department.
Hawes, the team captain and a junior majoring in computer science, was initially approached by Tom Sloper, the faculty advisor for USC eSports, about competing in the Nvidia event. Hawes talked to friends and quickly organized a team.
In December, the group of five claimed victory in the USC vs. UCLA Match Roundup, guaranteeing them a spot in the finals and earning them four state-of-the-art computer systems, valued at $12,000, from the Nvidia-sponsored competition GeForce GTX Call of Duty Rivalries.
“I have played some amateur competitive games in the past,” Hawes said. “I love competition and it always manages to get my blood hot.”
Liu joined after hearing about the competition against Bruin gamers. Seeking to bring the crosstown rivalry to a new, digital front, Liu quickly responded to Hawes’ recruiting efforts. Though the USC vs. UCLA Match Roundup was Liu’s first time competing, he said he felt like a pro gamer.
“It felt rewarding beating UCLA, because I participated in [the event],” Liu said. “But, overall, I appreciated their sportsmanship in the loss.”
For Hawes, who said he’s been gaming since he was old enough to hold a Game Boy, the win over UCLA felt like a tremendous victory.
“It felt pretty good and felt even better after we saw their pre-game trash talk in the post-event video recap,” Hawes said.
Hawed said he’s ready to taste victory again.
“Winning the match against UCLA felt great and, come Saturday night, I want to be feeling that all over again … but with a brand new computer to boot,” Hawes said.