Cal Overwatch locks in 2020 roster, sets sights on upcoming season

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This may be the season of skulls, spiders and ghosts, but don’t let anyone tell you Overwatch is dead! The team-based first-person shooter has been a mainstay for college-level esports since its release in 2016, and although university life looks different for many students this year, collegiate Overwatch will play on this fall.

Overwatch teams are made up of six players, who each fill one of three roles in the game: DPS (Damage), Tank and Support. At UC Berkeley, all six spots on the entirely student-run team are up for grabs at the start of the academic year. Overwatch coordinators Nam “Chári” Nguyen and Marcus “Marbull” Hong organized all hopeful players and ultimately made the final call on who would make it to Cal’s top team, Division I.

After a day of tryout matches Sept. 13, the DI Overwatch team is locked in and ready to compete.

The 2020 roster will start Andrew “splotchylime” Kim and Aiden “Fate” Baker in the DPS role, Osher “blueboss452” Lerner and Nathan “SEVENNN” Wu as Tanks and Lauren “astramin” Tang and Ian “KoalaTea” Anthoine as Supports. The team will also field Vinh “VonReinhardt” Luu (DPS) and Ben “spidey” Scalero (Support) as substitute players. Of the six starters, Tang, Lerner and Kim return from the 2019-20 roster.

“Back in high school, I would play in a few tournaments on and off, and I played against (Nguyen) in the summer of 2019 at the California State Fair,” Anthoine said. “That’s how I learned about the team, and I decided I’d try to join when I got in to Cal. I’d never actually done an official tryout, so it was definitely a new environment. There were many more people than I expected. It was honestly really fun to just play with some new people and see how it went.”

The tryouts featured surprise appearances from Matthew “super” DeLisi, a current Main Tank for the San Francisco Shock; Zuhair “Zeerocious” Taleb, DPS for Last Hope, a team competing in Overwatch Contenders Trials; and Ted “silkthread” Wang, former Flex DPS for the Los Angeles Gladiators.

Wang, who retired from professional esports to become a student at Cal this year, invited DeLisi and Taleb to help the Overwatch coordinators determine the tryouts process and the final DI roster.

“Originally, our plan was to have everyone play whatever hero they wanted in the tryouts games,” Nguyen said. “But (Wang, Taleb and DeLisi) suggested that we should have the teams play mirror comps. So after the first map, we forced both teams to play the same composition, which the pro players would give us. That way, it was easier to see which players were more adaptable.”

Professional Overwatch players are celebrities in their own right — particularly DeLisi, who is currently a defending champion of the Overwatch League — and they had never been involved in Cal’s tryouts before. Their advice was a highlight for many of the players who participated in the tryout process.

“Our current Main Tank player, (Wu), had actually not even been to Diamond before. But (DeLisi) recommended that we take this guy because he saw potential in him,” Tang said. “So Nathan was super f—ing over the moon about it. He was like, ‘I just started playing Overwatch two months ago, so this means a lot to me.’ ”

With its roster finalized, the Overwatch team has been practicing for the past two weeks, hoping to build its synergy for the Tespa Varsity Series, beginning Oct. 10.

“After three weeks of practice, the players are already a lot more comfortable talking and playing with each other,” Nguyen said. “In their first practice match, they weren’t coordinated in any way. They were playing the game like it’s 1v1; everyone was at different locations. Now, they’re a lot more coordinated.”

In the Varsity Series, Cal will compete against 23 other schools from all over the country. The tournament will be the team’s first serious practice, serving as training grounds for the spring 2021 Collegiate Championships, where the real competition will lie.

“A lot of the teams in the varsity tournament have been playing together for two semesters or for a year,” Nguyen said. “Half of our current roster is completely new, so my biggest expectation is to get in to the top three or four in the group stage in order to qualify for playoffs.”

Julia Shen covers esports. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @yinglol.