“Phoenix,” the theme for the 2019 League of Legends World Championship, is all about rebirth and leaving the past behind. Love the song or hate it, its message rings true for any competitive game; when the stakes are high, do you rise to the challenge or fall from grace?
This kind of intensity is a long way off for Cal’s League of Legends team, as the College Championship is three months away. Still, this year’s Division 1 roster is already training together. Three out of the five starting players are new additions, so the preseason will be critical for building synergy as the team prepares for the 2020 competition.
Patrick “LegendAchiever9” Visan and Lawrence “eXyu” Xu return to their roles as top laner and jungler, respectively. Mid laner Eugene “Eugenium” Tang, marksman Martin “PricelessWombat” Xia and support Jason “Jason Hu” Hu are newcomers.
“Everyone seems teachable and eager to learn, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop as players,” Visan said.
Xu agrees that new blood is a welcome change for the Bears.
“Last year we were complacent because we were very confident in our skills,” the sophomore said. “This year, I think we’re not as individually talented, but we’re more willing to work together as a team and I think that’s actually better.”
Tang, who swapped from jungle to mid this year, is ready to put in the work.
“(As a jungler), I was Grandmaster and I was playing against low Diamonds, but now I’m nervous I’ll get outclassed,” he said. “My teammates are all really, really good, so it’s a little (nerve-wracking) for me because I don’t want to let them down. I’m going to practice a lot.”
Cal’s competitive program also organizes five D2 (platinum-ranked and above) and two D3 (gold-ranked and below) teams. These teams often serve as training grounds for future D1 hopefuls, such as Xia, a senior who has been playing competitively since his sophomore year. His first team was D2 Brown, the lowest-ranked D2 team. Since then, he’s worked to climb to the top.
“The tryout process was pretty intense — it was somewhat stressful for me especially in the last week,” he said. “It was fun though. I’m really happy that I made it to D1. It’s been an interesting year. I started from the bottom and slowly made my way up.”
Last year, Cal placed third in the West Conference of the League of Legends College Championship. For 2020, Xu is aiming higher.
“As a team, I hope we can beat Irvine,” he said.
UC Irvine is regarded as one of the best collegiate League of Legends teams in the West. The Bears have never faced the Anteaters in a competitive series; in the 2019 Conference playoffs, Cal was forced to forfeit against them.
All students hoping for a spot in Cal’s competitive League of Legends program played a three-week tryout stage, with three-hour and six-hour periods on almost every Saturday and Sunday in September. In total, 80 students participated. Only 15 of the 80 were vying for a spot on D1, which requires an individual rank of Diamond II or above.
“(The level of play) has definitely risen. Every year, the average (ranking) of players who apply gets higher and higher,” said Cindy “cindy bot” Chang, Cal’s competitive coordinator. “It’s a lot harder to make decisions.”
With their new roster assembled, the Bears are raring to go. Their preseason prep will determine whether they soar or flame out early in the regular season.