The sweetest words you can hear after becoming champion are three, and three alone: back to back.
Those are the same three the Cal Overwatch team earned after besting University of Toronto and UC Irvine on Saturday, finishing 3-1, then 3-0 on their way to repeating as Overwatch Collegiate National Champions.
While E-sports is a burgeoning, and often confusing field for new spectators, this article and our occasional coverage should be understood as yet another arena in which Berkeley can display the excellence of its student body – this is our 9th e-sports title since 2009, spread across four different games.
(And also, there’s a lot of scholarship money on the line, at nearly $7000 each for the winners.)
Coming into Saturday, the Cal Overwatch team of:
· PaiGwut – support (new, senior)
· izzyyyb – support (new, senior; check out our interview with him from earlier this week!)
· Quantum – tank (new, sophomore)
· SlurpeeThief – tank (returning, senior)
· Alined – assault/flex (returning, junior)
· Syeikh – assault/flex (returning, senior)
were considered to be slight underdogs to UC Irvine, whose e-sports program is supported by the administration and actually has scholarship money, as well as an on-campus arena dedicated directly to that endeavor.
In order to even get that far, though, the Bears had to get past University of Toronto after some first map hiccups – the same was true in their quarter-finals match against University of Delaware, which they also won 3-1 – to force an all UC final.
But then the rout was on, basically as soon as the teams launched, with nearly every Cal player taking the spotlight at one point or another.
Here’s a short writeup on the game itself, and then let’s take you through the action:
At its core, Overwatch is a 6 vs 6, objective-based shooting game. Depending on the specific map, that objective will change, but the main goal will always be one of the following: a) both teams are working to maintain possession of a small area (Control), b) one team is attacking an area of the map, and the other attempts to defend both for the allotted time (Assault) or c) one team is escorting a payload — think a cart — to several checkpoints of the map by standing near it, and the other is attempting to stop them within the time limit (Hybrid/Escort).
There are 26 different heroes available to choose from, including dwarf engineers, robot monks, teenagers in mech suits, each with their own playstyle. A successful team will pay careful attention to its hero composition, striking a careful balance between survivability, situation specific usage, and attacking power, while also being reactive to the opposing composition.
Map One – Oasis (Control)
Objective: Teams fight for control a small area on the map, which results in an increasing meter. The team that fills their meter to 100% first, wins. This game mode is best of three.
Oasis’ open skies would have appeared to favor UCI, who boast a talented Pharah player in Lootre. Their gameplan would be to use that character’s flying abilities in order to drop rockets down onto Cal, who would, in theory, be too occupied on the ground by the rest of the team to deal with the aerial threat.
The Bears would be prepared for this tactic, though, and opened Oasis with two anti-air characters to shoot from range: Syeikh on grizzled war veteran Soldier:76 and Alined on cowboy McCree, plus IzzyyyB’s robot monk Zenyatta to help amplify damage done to the Pharah. They would win the first team fight handily behind this tactical decision, and then two others on their way to 99% possession. UCI put up a fight to flip the point over to their control, but Cal won round one thanks to this Earthshatter ultimate by SlurpeeThief:
In essence: a giant hammer knocked all the Anteaters to the ground, where they would be stunned for roughly two seconds. That window would be all Cal – Syeikh and Paigwut specifically -- needed to cleanup and get the last 1%.
On the second round of Oasis, UCI tried a different strategy by going “big” with four tanks – think jumbo personnel in football – which Cal countered with three tanks, plus Syeikh on Junkrat, a peglegged rodent and demolitions specialist. Because the Anteaters would have to play close together to support the beefy, but slow-moving tanks, this would allow Syeikh to drop bomb after bomb into their cluster of players.
They would win the initial engagement here, too, and Cal’s three tank combination of SlurpeeThief (playing the hammer-wielding Reinhardt), Quantum (playing as a tiny Korean girl in a giant robot D.va), and Alined (playing as Russian weightlifter Zarya) ends up outplaying UCI’s four anyway.
Lootre and the rest of the Anteaters attempt to adjust by going back to Pharah, and at one point, attempt a Rocket Barrage ultimate ability onto the Cal team, as seen here:
Izzyyyb, Paigwut and Alined make that all go to waste in an explosion of color, using two support ultimate abilities, plus a Graviton Surge to:
- provide the team with temporary shielding (that’s the green waves by Izzyyyb),
- keep the team healed up (that’s the purple and yellow beam by Paigwut),
- immobilize UCI by using the power of gravity, where they are free to attack the Anteaters, helplessly frozen into place (that’s the other purple stuff, courtesy of Alined).
That play, and then another Earthshatter from SlurpeeThief in the final team fight give Cal the win on Oasis.
Result: 2-0, Cal (100-37; 100-0)
Map Two – Numbani (Hybrid)
Objective: This game mode consists of two phases. In the first, the attacking team fights for initial control of a point. If they are successful in gaining control, they gain access to a payload, which is the second phase. Once they have a payload, they must escort it through a series of checkpoints to complete the map. The defending team attempts to stop them from reaching the checkpoints. The teams switch sides so both teams play offense and defense.
Now up 1-0, the Anteaters were faced with something had rarely seen all season – a deficit. UCI, who was undefeated up in matches until this point, would face quite the uphill battle if they lost this map, because they’d now be down 2-0 in a best of five.
Cal would begin this map on defense, and then block UCI from even unlocking the payload. Behind a somewhat unconventional defense and little used dwarven engineer Torbjorn (played by Alined), they would prevent the Anteaters from even gaining access to the payload at all. After four minutes of attack, UCI could not pass phase one – unlocking the payload – and only managed to complete 90.5% of that first objective, meaning Cal’s offense would only need to get 90.6% to win – reaching the second phase of the game would be unnecessary.
They’d do exactly that, without too much trouble.
Perhaps the biggest highlight here comes on Cal’s defense round, when UCI looked like they might still have a sliver of hope:
Here, what you’ll see is UCI in red, fighting to try to capture the point with five members visible (the sixth, Lootre, is coming back from spawn). Berkeley has just lost SlurpeeThief, so they’ll have five members of their own. Needing a big play from Lootre – or anyone – to help keep things going on offense, UCI charges in with their Dragonblade, only to be immediately eliminated by Paigwut. This, combined with some sharp shooting from Syeikh and his Tactical Visor ultimate ability, essentially end UCI’s last hopes on the attack.
A few short minutes later, they go down 2-0 instead.
Map Three – Anubis (Assault)
Objective: Attacking team fights for control of two different areas on the map. The defending team attempts to stop them. Points are tallied for how many areas you gain control of over eight minutes (if you have time left over, you go again.)
UCI tries the quad tank strategy again, and catches Cal offguard with it this time. By snagging a couple of early kills to start the fight, they take the first point about 90 seconds, and enter the second point with 6:00 left to go. If they can take the second point quickly, they have time left over to run the map again, and things would appear to favor UCI at this point.
Not so fast, says Alined. He switches onto Mei, a character with freeze abilities that make it an ideal choice against tank strategies, but also on defense, for killing time. And kill time they do – by the time UCI gets the second point, they have hardly any time left in their bank at all, thanks to key ultimates like this Blizzard that flip a bad 6 on 4 situation to even strength, and then force a retreat:
This six minute defense makes it readily apparent how Cal actually outclassed the Anteaters by a large margin, even bullying them back into their spawn room during an aggressive defense:
SlurpeeThief was also incredible on this map again, using several more well-timed Earthshatters to help turn away UCI offensives. When UCI finally finishes the map with both areas, that makes it Cal’s turn to attack, and they tie it 2-2 with 4:30 left in their timebank, meaning they will get to attack again for the tiebreaker, needing only a small chunk of progress to get the third win, while UCI will have only a minute.
We’ll fast forward through the tiebreaker round to the Berkeley side of things, with time running out; both a draw and a fourth map seeming likely at this point, until this happens:
Alined, playing British speedster Tracer comes up absolutely huge. The angle makes it difficult to tell exactly how, but the Anteaters are all forced into the same corner where his timed explosion goes off, killing three UCI players and slamming the door on their chances.
That play would secured nearly $50000 and the trophy for the Bears, and is one of the clutchest things I’ve ever seen, personally. Not a bad prize for playing some video games, eh?
Congratulations again to the Cal Overwatch team! We’ll be working to get some interviews with them later this week. Stay tuned for this, and future e-sports coverage at CGB!