Elation, Ekali, Esports: Conquest 2018 thrives despite paused bonfire tradition

Against a backdrop of vibrant fireworks and electrifying music from EDM artist Ekali and rapper Tierra Whack, nearly 5,000 students gathered at McCarthy Quad Thursday to celebrate the 15th annual Conquest rally ahead of USC’s matchup with crosstown rival UCLA Saturday.

“I think [this year’s Conquest’ was different,” said Kira Stiers, co-director of the USC Concerts Committee. “We had a lot more interactive things, the experience was a lot better.”

The event featured a ferris wheel, multiple carnival games, a jousting arena and an interactive black light tunnel where attendees could write and draw on walls with fluorescent markers.

While USC Student Affairs and the Los Angeles Fire Marshal canceled the highly anticipated bonfire due to air quality concerns, the organizing comittee had alternative activities for attendees.

“Pie a bRuin” allowed participants to throw pies at cutouts of Bruin bears. UCLA’s analogous rivalry rally, Beat ‘SC, also got rid of its bonfire at this year’s iteration.

“I think it’s good that they’re being sensitive about the current situations and not putting a bonfire when there are so many fires recently,” said Kimberly Montana, a senior majoring in psychology and global medicine.

The night kicked off with a League of Legends tournament that ultimately ended in a tie.

Senior Keanu Concepcion, director of the USC Esports Union, said that the Esports competition would help “elevate” Conquest.

“We wanted to really kick [Conquest] off and show USC … we’re here to build up a community,” Concepcion said. “[The tournament] is to help showcase to students that we’re going to do Esports and gaming in a really big and fun way.”

Many attendees showed support for the debut of the campus varsity League team by cheering and shouting in the crowd.

“[The tournament] was fantastic, the players showed character,” said Gordon Bellany, USC Esports’ co-advisor. “You found out with a little adversity, what you’re made of — and they showed us that they were USC Trojans.”

After the tournament, the Song Girls kicked off the spirit rally with colorful and energetic performances set to popular songs, including “Lose My Breath” by Destiny’s Child and “Toy Soldier” by Britney Spears.

Other student organizations, including Trojan Dance Force, a capella group UnderSCore, dance team Breakthrough and USC Cheer also performed to invigorate the eager crowd.

Next, the Trojan Marching Band entered McCarthy Quad playing signature gameday cadences such as the “Fight Song” and “Conquest” alongside the Song Girls and Spirit Leaders.

Multiple athletic programs such as women’s rowing, men’s tennis, women’s water polo and men’s volleyball were introduced. The football team was later brought onstage and the rally ended with a firework show.

Rapper Tierra Whack, known for her debut album “Whack World,” opened the concert. To hype up the crowd, the rapper  chanted, “Crack kills, if it don’t get you Whack will” and performed several songs from her discography, such as “Toe Jam,” “Bugs Life,” “Pretty Ugly” and “Fruit Salad.”

Whack threw Red Bull into the crowd to engage with the audience. However, the audience wasn’t as responsive, according to Ishan Shan, a sophomore majoring in computer engineering and computer science.

“Tierra Whack was great, she really hyped everyone up,” Stiers said. “She’s just such a unique presence, I think people were really surprised.”

Ekali, a Canadian DJ with a SoundCloud following of 187,000, headlined the concert.

The set commenced with  his original song “Babylon.” He later remixed Post Malone’s “rockstar,” Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” and Sheck Wes’ “Mo Mamba.” USC Concerts Committee handed out LED wristbands, which flashed colorfully and in tune with Ekali’s music.

Gage Autry, a junior majoring in accounting, approved of the Concerts Committee’s bookings in the last two academic years.

“[Ekali] was pretty good,” Autry said. “They’ve been doing this EDM vibe the past couple concerts and I think it’s fun. It looks like a lot of people are having fun.”

Ashlynn Smith, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering complimented Ekali’s set, saying that he was able to get the crowd’s attention with his bright sets and charisma.

“I wasn’t expecting him to be as lit as he was,” Smith said.