Editor's note: Anthony "Schooled" Chen is the captain of University of California San Diego's Overwatch team, which will compete in the Fiesta Bowl Overwatch Collegiate National Championship on Saturday at Arizona State in Tempe, Arizona.
The Tespa Championship Series for Overwatch this year was far more competitive than it was last year.
As a player, it seems that collegiate teams are starting to take their teams way more seriously, and I can only imagine it becoming progressively more competitive as time goes on. What I mean by this is that teams are starting to get managers and coaches. They are starting to even poach players from community colleges to transfer with scholarships to play for them, and more important, students are starting to dedicate and put aside more time into practicing to compete and represent their school in collegiate esports.
But why the sudden motivation?
I believe this can be attributed to the importance of school support, and the increasing amount of scholarship money that is available. I don't have the credibility to speak on the value of school administration support, because I don't know what it feels like to have it. It used to be that UCSD, with our raw skill, could easily make the top eight collegiate Overwatch teams in the nation.
But the landscape this year has seemingly changed.
UC Irvine is poised to win the whole thing because of its players and because of the amazing school support that it receives. Unlike most of the schools who are dominant in collegiate esports, our school has not offered scholarship money to those who compete to represent UCSD online. Further, we are not blessed with an esports arena like Irvine has, a place where any of its competitive teams can meet and play together as a team at any desired time. I'm sure you can see how this can affect the motivations of our team or of any team, compared to the motivations of our more well-off rivals. As scholarship players, it is essentially their "job" to play, and practice, while we are trying to do this during the scarce times we are available -- and for fun.
To put this in perspective, imagine a basketball team that is able to play and practice with a coach in NBA facilities, versus a team that plays recreationally in a college school gym. This is what it feels like to be a normal collegiate team rather than a team backed by school administration.
Or maybe the skill gap closing could be the fact that Overwatch is growing as an esport and is no longer a "new" game that can be exploited by raw mechanical skill. By this point, whoever has put more time into the game will inevitably end up better than the rest, just like anything else. Some are just more motivated than others, and that is a big problem in collegiate esports, because one has to find the fine line between playing games, and focusing on academics and extracurriculars.
So yes, although I don't know what it feels like, I can tell that school administrations have made a significant difference in the competition of TCS this year. Schools are beginning to realize the growth of esports, and the attractiveness of what having a strong competitive team and gaming community can entail to prospective students.