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Saturday, April 20, 2024

UC Davis team snags first place in UC-wide esports tournament

The Esports club’s Valorant Gold and Blue teams both win big prizes for the Aggies 


By SONORA SLATER — campus@theaggie.org


On Saturday, Jan. 14, the UC Davis Valorant Gold team (Val Gold) placed first in a UC-wide esports competition located in Santa Monica, and the next day, the Valorant Blue team (Val Blue) won in the online Pacific Esports League grand finals. The teams are part of the larger Esports club at UC Davis, which also includes teams that compete in playing Rocket League, Fortnite, Starcraft II, Overwatch and other games. 

Valorant is a first-person shooter video game with five players on each team, in which the goal is to plant a “spike” on the other side of the map while simultaneously keeping the other team from doing the same on your side. Val Gold and Val Blue are somewhat equivalent to varsity and junior varsity teams, according to Val Blue Team Captain and fourth-year computer science major Joseph Yousofzai. There is also a Valorant White team at UC Davis, which is an all-women team.

The majority of esports tournaments take place online, Yousofzai explained, with two seasons each year split by semester. Each team plays weekly matches within their league, and depending on how well they do, they can compete in playoff competitions — some of which involve scholarship prize money. 

Chris Tran, a third-year computer engineering major and the captain of Val Gold, said that all of the UC esports teams were included in an online qualifier for the UC Esports Initiative (UCEI) event, but only the top four were invited to play in-person on Jan. 14 in Santa Monica. 

“We were the lowest seed of this tournament, so winning it all, I didn’t expect,” Tran said. “The first team we played was [UC Riverside], which was ranked No. 7 nationally in collegiate esports. So honestly, going into it, I was like top four was pretty good anyways. I felt like we could beat them, but I wasn’t going to beat myself up over it if we couldn’t.” 

The tournament was originally arranged as a double-elimination bracket, but Tran said that later the format was changed so that the winners of the semi-finals went straight to the grand finals.

“It kinda worked out for us, if I’m honest,” Tran said. “But I think we would’ve won regardless just because of how we were feeling that weekend.”

 Tran went on to say that the matches were tense, especially with the added pressure of playing in front of a crowd onstage, but that the moment they won made the stress worth it for him.

“We went to a super neck-and-neck overtime match in our second match, so my heart was racing, and there were a lot of emotions,” Tran said. “[But] to see us finally win something like this […] feels like a culmination of everything we’ve been doing the past two years. To have this happen was honestly beautiful.” 

Irwin Dang, a first-year biomedical engineering major on Val Gold, expressed similar feelings about how significant the win was.

“I’m truly proud of where we’ve gotten,” Dang said. “It’s unreal.”

Tran said that having played on the team since his freshman year, he’s enjoyed watching new students like Dang join the team and getting to help them grow as players.

“I really looked up to [my captain] as a role model,” Tran said. “Now looking at the freshman [on the] team, it’s weird because two years ago, I was like [Irwin]. Now he’s calling me old, and that’s what I was doing to my captain two years ago. It feels like deja vu playing with newer people and helping them learn the game and teaching them what I know.” 

According to Yousofzai, recruitment for the Valorant teams happens at the very beginning of each school year, with the applications opening up to anyone who has reached certain skill levels within the game and has the time to commit to the team. 

“On the surface, it might look like we don’t do a lot and kind of just play video games for fun, but we actually do commit a lot of time throughout the week,” Yousofzai said. “I would say five or six days out of the week we are doing something team-related, whether that’s practicing together, watching over a recording of a previous game or playing in a tournament or a match.”

So what’s next for the team?

“It feels really weird, winning,” Tran said. “You’ve had the moment that you feel like is everything you’ve worked for, and then you’re like, what now? Right now, I want to prove that we’re the best California school — that it wasn’t just a one-off.”


Written by: Sonora Slater — campus@theaggie.org