Esports team for the win

The University of Utah’s esports team was locked and loaded for a national championship.

The U’s varsity esports team is only two years old and its “Overwatch” squad already headed to its first national collegiate championship as one of the final Elite Eight teams in the popular first-person shooter video game.

The squad of six starters and six backup players traveled to Houston for the first ESPN Collegiate Esports Championship, held May 10-12, 2019, at the George R. Brown Convention Center. It is the only national collegiate esports championship in “Overwatch,” and all of the matches were broadcast live on ESPN’s Twitch channel at twitch.tv/espnesports.

“The biggest thing for us to win is to keep a clear mind. Our team is very unified this year and that will be our greatest strength,” said the team’s head coach Evelynn Le, as the team headed into the championship weekend. “It’s amazing how well they are doing, and I’m looking forward to see how they will perform. I’m sure it will be beyond my expectations.”

Set on a technologically advanced, highly stylized future Earth, “Overwatch” is an online multiplayer first-person shooter from developer Blizzard Entertainment in which teams compete against each other across varying playing fields. Depending on the mode of play, the player objectives may include escorting a payload from one point to another or to defend and control an area on the map. Each player in a team of six can choose from a roster of 30 characters and control one of three different types of classes known as “Damage hero,” “Tank hero” or “Support hero.”

The ESPN Collegiate Esports Championship involves tournaments in five different online multiplayer video games, including “Street Fighter V,” “Hearthstone,” “StarCraft II” and “Heroes of the Storm,” in addition to “Overwatch.” Winners each receive scholarship prize money.

Regular season play for the collegiate championship of “Overwatch” began in January and initially involved more than 550 college teams across the nation. The postseason began with the top 64 teams that were whittled down to the final eight. The U’s “Overwatch” team is 7-0 in regular season play. The single-elimination ESPN tournament began with the quarterfinals, semifinals and then finals.

“Evelynn Le is running a really good program, and these players have gotten a lot better in the last year,” said A.J. Dimick, director of the U’s esports program. “They have gone from an upper-tier team to an elite time in that time, and I’m very proud of them.”

The U’s esports team consists of four squads, each for the games “Overwatch,” Hearthstone,” “Rocket League” and “League of Legends.” It is the first college-sponsored varsity esports program from any school in a Power Five athletics conference (Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern).

The team and the U’s esports program are sponsored by the university’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering video game development program, which has been ranked the No. 1 video game design program in the nation for three of the last six years by the Princeton Review.