By Tommy Smeltzer
Photos: Cooler Master
Eagle Engineering students turned a casual pastime into $10,000 for their program in July when they won the Overwatch Cooler Master Invitational tournament at the ESports Arena in Santa Ana. This inaugural event featured the popular team-based video game Overwatch, which pits two teams of six different hero characters against each other in a variety of timed challenges. Esports, or electronic sports, is a growing phenomenon around the world with a global audience of over 200 million people. Revenue for professional gaming was estimated at nearly $500 million in 2016.
Cooler Master is a computer hardware company with offices in Chino, and specializes in components for custom-built gaming computers and peripherals. When they learned about the skills and experience gained by robotics students around the world, as well as the fundraising challenges teams face, the company decided to add their support. In getting to know teams it became obvious that there was a lot of crossover between robotics and gaming, so the Cooler Master Invitational was born. Business Development Manager Brandon Kovacic said, “Cooler Master is excited to have an opportunity to bring our passion of esports and technology together with robotics for this event. Giving the teams the ultimate esports experience while benefiting their STEM programs was our goal and with the help of the sponsors we were able to accomplish that.” They teamed up with LA Robotics, a non-profit that facilitates workshops, programs and scholarship programs across Southern California to solicit applications and select 12 teams to compete for a total purse of $40,000 in program grants. The tournament was live-streamed on the popular gaming site Twitch.tv.
The Overwatch teams in the tournament were comprised of students from 2016-2017 season robotics team rosters. Eagle gamers included Captain David Ardy ’17, Nicole Kuberka ’17, Daniel Brown ’19, Aaryan Wadwha ’19, Daniel Bedrossian ’19, and Ethan Mikahel ’19. Jonathan Huang ’19 was alternate. The team did all the work in getting accepted into the 12-team pool, and were guaranteed a minimum of $1,000. Connor Morse ’19 created video content and provided support critical to the team’s acceptance into the tournament.
While the Chaminade teammates knew each other well from robotics, many had never played video games together online, so it took weeks of practice and strategy development to hone themselves into a fine tuned machine in-game. “Two weeks ago, we thought we were going to come in here and get destroyed,” said Ardy. “Our highest individual ranking was mid-diamond, but some other teams in the tournament had top-500 guys. We also didn’t think we’d practiced enough as a team, but as it turned out, we were probably the most practiced team there. All that preparation and teamwork really paid off, but that’s just a normal process for our robotics team I think.”
The two-day tournament held qualifying rounds on the first day and a single-elimination bracket on day two. The Eagle Engineering team suffered their only loss in the second round of the qualifiers, and had to battle their way out of the losers bracket to secure a wildcard spot on day two, guaranteeing a minimum prize of $2,000. After two tough wins in the semifinals against Gryffingear, the finals pitted Eagle Engineering versus Code Orange in a best of five series. The Eagles squeaked out a win in the first round and then dropped the next two, setting up a dramatic showdown over the next two matches. The outcome was uncertain right up to the very last seconds. The crowd at ESports Arena erupted as the final seconds ticked down and the winner was determined in match five.
The money awarded to the team will help with registration costs and an upgrade to the team’s aging pit, the portable shop area they set up at competitions. With expansive program growth over the past several years, the team must raise approximately $20,000 in corporate sponsorships and private contributions each year in addition to their school budget to be competitive in all areas and serve the growing team with plenty of hands-on engineering and programming projects. “This takes a lot of pressure off of our fundraising efforts,” said Team Head Coach Tommy Smeltzer, “but we hope we will be able to enjoy this above and beyond our usual goals. There is a lot we need to do to stay competitive, so this money could do that if we are able to continue to get other gifts coming in.”
The entire broadcast of the tournament is archived on Twitch.tv. Eagle Engineering is a student-centered, competitive robotics program with a focus on a professional team approach to design, engineering, programming and business challenges. For more information on Chaminade Robotics and how you can support the team, please contact Head Coach Tommy Smeltzer.