Cal Starcraft looks to return to championship form

Cal Starcraft in 2016 Left to Right: Conan "Suppy" Liu, Alan "Abstinence" Yao, Vincent "BubbaGump" Escueta, Kevin "Goky" Seo, Hewson "hewston" Ju, Fred "Oodi" Lee, Jono "Arka" Disenhof, Nick "Silky" McNeese.
Hewson Ju/Courtesy
Cal Starcraft in 2016 Left to Right: Conan "Suppy" Liu, Alan "Abstinence" Yao, Vincent "BubbaGump" Escueta, Kevin "Goky" Seo, Hewson "hewston" Ju, Fred "Oodi" Lee, Jono "Arka" Disenhof, Nick "Silky" McNeese.

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The winningest esports team at Cal, Berkeley Starcraft, is also one of the smallest. “Starcraft II,” widely considered by many to be one of the first esports through earlier iterations of the game, hasn’t experienced the same level of growth as other games, such as “League of Legends,” “Overwatch” and “Counter Strike: Global Offensive.” As a result, Berkeley Starcraft is in a similar situation to that of the Cal Dota 2 team.

After three national championship runs, the most recent being in 2016, the team has been somewhat reduced to mediocrity, going 2-2 during the fall half of the season and currently sitting at 1-1 in the spring.

The Bears will most likely make the playoffs, but team coordinator Hewson “hewston” Ju doesn’t expect anything higher than a top-four playoff finish.

“Playoffs, we’ll make for sure,” Ju said. “We’re hoping to finish in the top four.”

While a top-four finish may sound impressive, it would be subpar compared to the history of success that Berkeley Starcraft has experienced, especially considering the fact that the collegiate “Starcraft II” scene only consists of 21 teams.

Unlikely most other esports, “Starcraft II” is a one-on-one game, and an excellent “Starcraft II” player must be knowledgeable about every facet of the game. It can be much more intense, as the entire weight of the game is placed on a single individual instead of five or six. This can make “Starcraft II” much more intimidating and mentally taxing.

“It’s hard to get into, and people often get scared off,” Ju said. “I’m trying to encourage more newcomers to come develop this passion for the game.”

Ju hopes to revitalize what is not only a waning player base at Cal, but a shrinking competitive scene at both the collegiate and professional level. He feels confident that he can get more people involved in the competitive “Starcraft II” team here at Cal and to do so, he’s decided to give every team member some playing time during the fall — when the stakes aren’t too high.

“Even though it’s a small player base, the people who play are extremely passionate, and they’re more likely to get better at the game,” Ju said.

Ju’s goal is for the team to return to the form of its 2016 championship run. That year, Berkeley Starcraft had an extremely deep roster. Ju is seeking to redevelop a large pool of talent, and the transformation of esports at Cal should help with that.

“The players enjoy that esports are taken more seriously at the collegiate level, such as having jerseys, being casted and streamed on Twitch, and Caltopia,” Ju said.

Looking forward, Cal still has three matches against teams from University of Florida, University of Waterloo and University of Chicago.

Ju noted that Waterloo has traditionally always been a tough team and a national title contender. That matchup should serve as a opportunity for the Bears to diagnose where they can grow and work towards their desired championship form.

Despite the smaller presence that it might have in the present day, Berkeley Starcraft is still one of the school’s most successful esports teams. Nothing can change that fact that the team’s three past championships have contributed to the high pedigree of the Cal esports program. The goal for the future is to raise the bar even further with a fourth national title.

Lawrence Zhao covers esports. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @CelticsWpn