It isn’t difficult to lump the following into a single group: basketball, baseball and football – oh my! They’re all sports. Players go head-to-head in competitive games, either individually or in teams, but only one prevails. Every sport has its own set of rules and athletes must abide by these rules while implementing personal skill and overall strategy to ensure the win.
Social implications insist these sports require a field or court, a ball and tons of sweat. But the UC Davis StarCraft II team battles the traditional model of sport as fiercely as they battle within the critically acclaimed real-time strategy computer game.
“We have over 60 people on the UC Davis team,” said Wesley Leung, a junior managerial economics major.
Founded two years ago by Brian Eller, a third-year UC Davis law student, the team sends five of its top players to participate in the Collegiate StarLeague, a league of over 140 schools that compete throughout the school year. During the season, the team focuses on practicing for and promoting the weekly games.
“The team has been around for years, but we just recently became a club through CSI [Center for Student Involvement],” said Byron Dover, a first-year computer engineering major. “Once the weather gets better, we plan to table in the Memorial Union. We want to get a lot of the campus involved,” he said.
Currently, UC Davis ranks fourth in the Immortal Division, one of the eight divisions in the league, with a 12-4 record.
“[Immortal] has perhaps the strongest teams of any division,” Leung said of schools like Berkeley, University of Toronto and Indiana University. “This season is our best performance thus far and we hope to continue our progress.”
The league plays StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, which was released in July of last year and is the second game of the franchise.
“Like any sport, StarCraft II is highly competitive and requires a diverse range of skills,” Eller said. “It combines the strategic thinking of a chess player, the bluffing and reading skills of a poker player, the manual dexterity of a piano player and the split-second decision-making required of a quarterback dropping back to pass,” he said.
In South Korea, StarCraft is a countrywide sensation – it’s a professional spectator sport, or e-Sport more generally, and top gamers play in arenas and rake in the $100,000 range every year. Entire television channels exist solely for broadcasting professional StarCraft matches. Big name corporations like Samsung and Intel support StarCraft tournaments.
But anyone can enjoy StarCraft II from the comfort of their homes, on a Windows or Mac.
The goal of the game is to tactically defeat your opponent, whether that be to destroy their base or to starve them from additional resources, said Donald Opa, a senior psychology and human development double major. Opa is the team’s “ace player.”
“When an intense league match requires a tiebreaker, I am the person the team sends out to secure the win,” he said.
Any league game can get very intense, said Cedric Bailey, a recent UC Davis alumnus with a B.S. in neurobiology, physiology and behavior. As current team manager, he strives for his players to represent UC Davis with good manners and respectable attitudes. But the gloves come off when competition is stiff.
“We’ve been known to deliver a healthy amount of trash talking,” he said.
Just like football stadiums and hockey rinks, StarCraft matches are filled with spirited, adoring fans. But StarCraft enthusiasts root for respective teams in a specific way – for Davis, students would yell “Aggies fighting” to show support.
“Basically, it says you want that person to really push themselves to win out against their opponent,” Bailey said.
Despite similarities to traditional sports, StarCraft – and the world of e-Sports in general – is heavily criticized.
“Nobody considers it a sport because there are no physical capabilities tested,” Leung said. “I’m not saying this because it is debatable whether sports require physical activity. After all, it is interesting to note that NASCAR is considered a sport by some and the driver just sits there.”
To the members of the StarCraft team, mental capability is just as important and worth the competition.
Timothy Gandionco, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, said he has heard plenty of e-Sport criticism, most of it urging players to stop wasting time and focus on something real like work or education, he said.
“It’s not possible for all of us to study all day for good grades, or to be part of an athletic team, or to find a worthwhile job,” Gandionco said. “But it is possible for everyone to find an escape, and this game is ours.”
If you would like to escape with the UC Davis StarCraft team, or would like more information, visit ucdstarcraft.com or their Facebook page.
Eller encourages students to join the club and team.
“We have weekly practices along with an assortment of other events, and players of all skill levels are encouraged to play and meet with us,” said Eller, who believes e-Sports will soon boom in America, despite popular disagreement.
Eller said even the chief legal counsel of Blizzard Entertainment, maker of StarCraft II, does not mirror his sentiments. But a major broadcasting network’s support, he said, could be the cure.
“If people can watch poker on ESPN and love it, I have no doubt people in our country can easily follow StarCraft and enjoy it,” Eller said.
Though StarCraft is not played outside on a court or in a field, perhaps there’s still plenty to break a sweat over. After all, the feat of annihilating an alien species while defending your own race from destruction makes touchdowns and homeruns sound like a day in the park.
MARIO LUGO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.