This Saturday, Cal will be playing for a National Championship.
Just…not on the one you expect.
Instead of the gridiron or the hardwood, these Bears (8-2) will be traveling to Greece, to Nepal, or even London – all virtual battlegrounds on which the Tespa Collegiate Series: Overwatch Championships will be taking place, with the winning team taking home a little over $7000 in scholarship money per player.
For the uninitiated, the game itself is simple enough – six players on each team work together, and depending on the map, aim to accomplish one of three objectives; one game mode, both teams will fight for control of an area; in another, they’ll attempt to escorting a vehicle through checkpoints while the other team tries to stop them, and in the last, one team will attack an area that the other team is tasked with defending, not unlike football.
To that, throw in unique 26 characters to pick between, each with their own special skillsets, ultimate abilities, plus various synergies and team compositions – and then the midterms, classes, and practice schedules that the Cal Overwatch team members are tasked with juggling…and suddenly, the magnitude of making a national final gets a little larger – and yet, when faced with this exact same situation last year, the Bears won it all, besting University of Toronto to take the prize money and the title.
Support player Isaias “IzzyyyB” Barrera is one of three new members attempting to help the Bears repeat this Saturday, starting with their opponent in the semi-finals, which will once again be University of Toronto. A date with UC Irvine or UC San Diego would await in the finals, should they get that far.
The good news is he’s pretty confident they’ll get that far.
“I’d be pretty surprised if we lost to Toronto,” Izzy said. As he described it, there was an initial moment of doubt when the team was shaking off the rust from needed winter break, but hard work has righted the ship, and Izzy believes that the latest round of character re-balancing works to the team’s advantage.
“We’re playing compositions that favor us, favor the kind of heroes we like to play…[If we do beat Toronto] we presume we’ll play UC Irvine, and we’re pretty confident we’ll beat UC Irvine too.”
Despite the prospect of his first live finals, Izzy felt sure that when the time came, the Bears would be just fine.
“It’s a running joke within the team…Berkeley sets you up for failure,” he joked. “You walk into a midterm, there’s nothing more stressful and nothing more nervewracking than ‘I’m here with one hour of studying, let’s see how it goes’. We’re used to the pressure.”
“You know, my parents never took it seriously,” Izzy said about his video-gaming prowess. “I came to Cal, I played CSGO here and I didn’t tell them about it. Recently, I went home for winter break, and I said hey, we’re in the semi-finals of this huge Overwatch tournament and we’ll get $50,000 of scholarship money if we win.”
“They were like, wait, what?”
But after explaining the team’s intense practice regimen and -- of course – assuring them it wasn’t affecting his academics, Izzy’s parents were onboard. They’ll be in the audience on Saturday.”
Izzy admits that the thrill of winning a championship, at least for him, doesn’t come mostly from representing the Berkeley banner, but moreso to reward the efforts of his comrades, particularly Daniel “Alined” Lee, who plays a large role in organizing practices and planning.
“We really don’t want to let the rest of our team down…and they’re, obviously, into ‘oh, we gotta represent Cal.’”
Saturday will be the last time all six of them represent Berkeley at the tournament level, because next year, the Bears will be replacing a majority of their roster again. To any prospective tank players (one spot will be open), support players (both spots will be open), and DPS/flex (one spot will be open), Izzy says:
“For all you closet gamers at Cal – I used to be one myself – it’s a really good opportunity to play Overwatch for your university, or any competitive esports for your university, because most of the teams are part of a tournament that offers scholarship money. If you are able to win, you have a cool $3000 dollars in your bank account at the end of the semester…and if you’re not able to win, you’ll make some really cool friends in the gaming community that you wouldn’t have known existed at your university.”
“I wouldn’t have even known any of these guys played Overwatch went to my university…you make really good friendships that’ll last a long time. And you’ll always play video games.”
P.S. Check out the full audio to our conversation below!