In sports, there are few better sensations than being able to spoil an opponent’s perfect or record-setting season. Imagine how the New York Giants felt after beating the New England Patriots — who had completed the first ever 16-0 regular season in NFL history — in the 2008 Super Bowl.
This past weekend, the Cal Overwatch team had its own opportunity to emulate the Giants — while the action occurred on a very different stage, the result was nonetheless the same.
In the Fiesta Bowl Overwatch Collegiate National Championship, Cal defeated heavily favored UC Irvine — which had completed a 16-0 regular season — in the finals in order to claim a second straight national title.
Cal vs. Toronto
Before the Bears faced off against the Anteaters, they had to overcome a daunting obstacle in the form of the University of Toronto in the semifinals. Cal defeated Toronto in a 3-0 sweep last year to claim its first ever national title, and the Bears expected Round 2 to be much of the same.
Toronto, however, came out with a sense of urgency and vengeance. Undeterred after dropping the first round, the Varsity Blues bounced back in the second and third rounds in order to claim the first map, Lijiang Tower. Cal couldn’t seem to find a way to stop Toronto’s David “Dimes” Huang, whose Pharah play continuously bombarded Cal from the air.
“To be completely honest, we thought Toronto were not that good, but in reality, their DPS were crazy,” said Cal’s Andrew “Quantum” Huang. “Their Pharah stepped up.”
Nevertheless, Cal was able to regroup on Eichenwalde. By running an unconventional composition based around Daniel “Alined” Lee’s Torbjörn and hiding in the small corners around the control point, the Bears were able to nullify Huang’s Pharah.
Cal dominated Toronto on the defensive end, preventing the Varsity Blues from capturing the control point. The Bears then easily captured the point on offense to win the map and even the series.
“Anytime you saw Torbjörn, it was practiced or scrimmed,” said Cal’s Kevin “SlurpeeThief” Royston.
With order restored, Cal managed to close things out on Volskaya Industries and Watchpoint: Gibraltar. It wasn’t the cleanest of series for the Bears, having dropped the first map, but they managed to grind their way to a 3-1 series win. The fact that the team had to work for its victory over Toronto served as a wake-up call for the team’s matchup in the finals against UCI.
Cal vs. UCI
UCI dominated UCSD 3-0 in its own semifinal matchup to make its way into the finals. UCI’s Chansso “Lootre” Park had his way, raining fire and fury upon UCSD’s players with Pharah and Widowmaker.
The experience that Cal accrued from playing against David “Dimes” Huang’s Pharah seemed to carry over to the UCI match. In order to counter Park’s play, Cal ran an anti-air composition centered around Soldier: 76 and McCree. The Anteaters lost a lot of firepower and the Bears ran over them on Oasis.
It was then UCI’s turn to adapt as the match moved onto Numbani. Cal pulled out the Torbjörn that it ran against Toronto, but UCI seemed ill-prepared for it. Facing adversity for the first time all season, the Anteaters continuously ran themselves into a wall. Cal was able to hold the control point and then powered its way to a 2-0 series lead with quad-tank on offense. If anything, Cal looked like the team that had completed an undefeated season, not UCI.
With their backs against the wall, UCI’s players aimed to make the series much more competitive on Temples of Anubis. Despite Cal’s best efforts to stall out the control points, the Anteaters managed to capture both of them with four seconds remaining on the clock. But Cal continued to outmuscle UCI, capturing both points with another quad-tank composition with more than four minutes remaining to force bonus rounds.
UCI’s insignificant time bank turned out to not be enough for the Anteaters to make any progress on capturing the control points. Cal needed only to cap a single tick with more than four minutes on the clock, but it would be the most crucial 34 percent of control the Bears captured all season.
UCI has a reputation to stand tall as an esports powerhouse. The Anteaters couldn’t simply roll over and allow the Bears to sweep them, shutting down Cal’s first four pushes. It was on the fifth attempt that Lee hit a crucial Pulsebomb, eliminating three of UCI’s players and winning the championship for Cal.
“I’m really proud of my players,” said Cal’s coach Kyle “Kyle” Feng. “They put in a lot of the work themselves, and they pulled through in the heat of the moment.”
Whether Cal was the underdog going in is unclear, as the Bears were the defending national champions, but UCI held the perfect record. Upset or no upset, the final scoreline was surprising nonetheless.
For Lee, Royston, and Gandira “Syeikh” Prahandika, who were part of Cal’s championship run last year, this year’s title marks the end of a two-year odyssey. Given the rapid changes that can happen to the meta-game in esports, it makes the feat of winning consecutive championships even more impressive.
“It feels incredible to have won two,” Royston said. “We put it a lot of work, so I would’ve been pretty bummed if we didn’t get it, but I’m so thrilled we did. The fact that it’s over, it’s bittersweet. I’m slightly sad knowing that I won’t be on the stage again performing like that, getting the adrenaline rush.”
For the other three players, Alexander “PaiGwut” Dam, Andrew Huang, and Isaias “izzyyyb” Barrera, winning this championship means just as much to them as winning two means to Lee, Royston, and Prahandika.
“It’s definitely amazing. Just seeing all our effort pay off so that we can show Berkeley that we’re to be taken seriously is amazing,” Barrera said.
It seems fitting that Lee, who’s been the face of the team for the past two years, made the championship-winning play at the end of the series. Lee and Prahandika have stated that they don’t plan to continue playing next year because they hope to focus on other activities, while Royston and Barrera will graduate at the end of the semester. Unfortunately, that means that the team has big shoes to fill for Training Grounds in the spring and next year’s season.
Nevertheless, Cal has cemented itself as one of the early dynasties in collegiate Overwatch. It can always look toward the fact that it beat UCI’s elite esports program as evidence of that.