The USC Esports club ventured to the Blizzard Arena in Burbank to enjoy a Wednesday night Overwatch League match between the Florida Mayhem and the hometown Los Angeles Gladiators.
Consisting of 12 teams hailing from six U.S. states and three foreign countries, the Overwatch League is the first major global esports league with city-based teams. Los Angeles is home to two teams: the Gladiators and the Valiant. Announced in 2016, the league has finally seen its inaugural season in 2018.
The Overwatch League season spans from December through mid-August and operates on a stage basis. Over the course of the season, the 12 teams will participate in four stages consisting of 40 matches to record an overall record. In each stage, the teams record a stage record which determines the six teams that will compete in the stage playoffs for a $100,000 prize. The overall record, on the other hand, determines which teams will continue into the postseason. The championship playoffs, which will take place in July, will consist of six teams — three from each conference — who will compete for a $1 million prize.
The Gladiators dominated the match, clinching the victory by winning the first three of four maps. However, the shield was bested by the Mayhem in the fourth and final map of the match. The win improved their record to 3-4. Following a rough, winless week three of stage one, the Gladiators’ win was much needed.
“I think it’s good for confidence,” Gladiators support player Benjamin “BigGoose” Isohanni said. “Even though the last two matches, we played well on the first one, but on the second one we had some communication issues so we aimed to fix those in today’s match.”
Following the match, the Gladiators traveled across Burbank to the Guildhall esports bar for a meet and greet with local collegiate esports programs. Organizations from USC, UCLA and UC Irvine were in attendance to take pictures, get autographs and chat with players and coaches.
“It puts regular college students in touch with professional Overwatch,” Quiana Dang, the sponsorships manager of the USC Esports club and a freshman majoring in interactive media and games. “You don’t usually get a chance to actually meet the players … Here, you can actually converse with the players and have discussions about what it’s like to be a player. It’s a better chance to get players closer to the hopefuls in college.”
The booming professional gaming market has led universities to begin considering implementing esports teams into their athletic programs to serve as a method of entry for young players into the professional scene.
“For a college basketball player, [the college level] is a natural step,” Gladiators flex player Aaron “Bischu” Kim said. “I feel like [collegiate esports] are coming there, but people aren’t taking it as seriously. I definitely think there’s potential.”
In May 2016, the Pac-12 declared its plans to organize an esports league within the conference. Due to disagreements among schools and opposition from the presidents of Stanford and Colorado, the Pac-12 was not able to move forward with its objective.
Upset with the decision, 11 student leaders from schools in the Pac-12 founded the Pacific Alliance of Collegiate Gamers. The PACG includes teams from every Pac-12 school except the University of Washington. The organization plans to host esports events in a number of titles among the schools in the organization.
The season will commence in the middle of February and conclude with a conference championship in April. The league will operate on a round-robin system for league play leading up to the playoffs. Similar to the OWL, the members of the PACG are optimistic for the future growth of their organization.
“Most of the esports leagues are not well organized enough,” said Eric Yu, captain of the USC PACG Hearthstone team and a sophomore majoring in computer science games. “That’s what [PACG] wants to try to implement.”
Only time will determine the legitimacy of competitive gaming, but for now, the Overwatch League and the Pacific Alliance of Collegiate Gamers are taking huge steps forward in the esports world.