Cal League of Legends does not take losses lightly. In the past two years, the Bears have only suffered defeat to two teams in the College League of Legends tournament: UC San Diego and the University of British Columbia.
The Bears evened the score against UCSD in February, taking down the Tritons 2-1 in the third week of the 2019 tournament. But UBC evaded them, beating the Bears 2-0 in their regular-season matchup.
On March 16th, Cal got its second chance at retribution. As the fourth seed going into the playoffs, the Bears were matched against fifth-seeded UBC for their quarterfinal best-of-five series.
The games were tense, with both teams struggling to keep their seasons alive and increase their potential tournament winnings — prizes start at $1,000 per player and doubles for improvement, going all the way up to $8,000 per player for first place.
The series went to a nail-biting fifth game, but Cal kept its cool and edged out the victory.
As Pyke, Cal’s game five support, might say, “Another name off the list.”
Game one went to Cal fairly easily, with Cal marksman Steven “Issys Cutie” Dai and support Robert “Roflcopter” Lemons dominating UBC’s Kalista/Jarvan bot lane. Jungler Lawrence “eXyu” Xu roamed the map on Riven, snowballing his team’s lead. UBC was too behind to find the teamfights it wanted, even with the potential combo of its bot lane.
Game two was messier than the first game, with five total Baron attempts between Cal and UBC before the Bears finally came away with it after 30 minutes, breaking open the game to put them up 2-0. Cal support Lemons hit critical Thresh hooks and clutch lanterned teammates to safety multiple times, often initiating or turning the tide in his team’s favor.
As the game went on, mid laner Aaron “isthatthem” Olguin and top laner Patrick “LegendAchiever9” Visan became unstoppable on Swain and Gangplank, respectively, burning through UBC’s health and making up almost 60 percent of their team’s total damage dealt to champions.
Cal was looking to end the series with a sweep, but UBC changed up its strategy to stay in the running. Jungler “Kazahana” chose Karthus, switching from his Rek’Sai pick of games one and two, and top laner “IE” picked away the Riven jungle that Cal jungler Xu had found so much success with.
Early game misplays by Cal in the jungle gave UBC the upper hand. The Bears couldn’t peel IE’s Riven off of their back line, and with Karthus cleaning up in every teamfight, UBC took game three.
Still at match point, game four began with a Karthus ban from the side of Cal and Lemons picking Blitzcrank, his usual champion in a pinch. UBC gained a lead through the jungle once again, and Cal was put on the back foot. Even with a Blitzcrank support, Cal wasn’t able to find the targets it wanted to pick.
A 24-minute flash-Malzahar ult from mid laner Olguin onto UBC’s Janna support won a mid lane inhibitor for the Bears, and they went to Baron soon after to try and get more from the play. But with most of UBC still alive, Cal got completely wiped after securing the buff.
Still, the Bears hung on, and they went bot to siege UBC’s inhibitor turret. Top laner IE, again on Riven, flashed in to knock up two Cal players, giving an ace to UBC and allowing the team to take an inhibitor and Nexus turret.
After respawning, Cal mid laner Olguin teleported into UBC’s base to take a Nexus turret. But it was only a matter of time before UBC regained control — the team caught three of the Bears at Baron as they attempted to get vision control in the jungle. With Baron-empowered super minions, UBC tied the series at 2-2.
In game five, things looked bleak for Cal. Just like in games three and four, UBC got an early lead, outrotating for objectives and building a 5,000-gold lead by 25 minutes of game time. The Bears were often split up, searching for a way to stall out the game.
In the end, Cal’s scaling champion picks (particularly Olguin’s Kassadin) brought the match back. As UBC was knocking on the door of Cal’s base, Lemons landed a Pyke hook on UBC’s Irelia. With that first threat neutralized, the Bears won the teamfight and destroyed an inhibitor. One Baron later, the game was over in the blink of an eye.
As the Nexus exploded, the Cal players jumped out of their seats. The relief in the room was palpable; no one wanted to end their 2019 season on a loss in such a close series, especially against UBC.
Cal is slated to face the UC Irvine this week in the semifinals. UC Irvine is the defending champion of the national college championship, and the Bears know that it’ll be a tough match.
“We had a close set against a team (UBC) that was much worse than Irvine, and they’re one of the best collegiate teams for a reason,” team captain Lemons said. “So I imagine we will have to just play incredibly bloody matches and hope to pull it out over them.”
Even with Cal’s taste for revenge temporarily satisfied, the team’s list might just get longer.
2019 College League of Legends overview
The 2019 College League of Legends tournament is the collegiate League of Legends competitive esports league, sponsored by Riot Games. Cal is playing in the West Conference of the tournament and is now in the playoff stage, along with UC Irvine, the University of British Columbia, Arizona State University, the University of Washington, California State Polytechnic University – Pomona, and UC San Diego. The seven teams will compete (from March 16 to March 30) for part of the $100,000+ scholarship prize pool.