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GCU Esports reaches quarterfinals of ESPN tourney

May 28, 2019

Lopes stun top-seeded UC Irvine before falling to Orange Coast College

By: Mack Drake/GCU Staff

When most sports fans think of upsets, one of the first stunners that comes to mind is the United States’ hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic Games.

Cue Al Michaels. (“Do you believe in miracles, yes”)

Perhaps not quite as dramatic, the Grand Canyon University Esports team pulled off a jaw-dropping upset of its own at the inaugural ESPN Collegiate Esports Championship.

GCU’s varsity Overwatch team, seeded No.18, shocked the gaming world with a 3-2 overtime victory over top-seeded University of California, Irvine to advance to the quarterfinals at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.

The victory propelled GCU into a showdown with Orange Coast College of California under the bright lights and big stage of ESPN. The Lopes went up, 2-1, in the best-of-five match before OCC turned the tables to pull off a 3-2 victory in the most competitive of the four quarterfinals, ending GCU’s tournament.

The tournament was eventually won by Harrisburg University of Pennsylvania, an all-freshman team who topped the University of Utah in the finals.

“It was a new experience for the team,” said GCU Esports Coordinator Albert Lee. “I think playing well in such a big tournament helped legitimize the team’s efforts, and showed everybody that this isn’t just a hobby or something they do for fun. The team was disappointed to lose (to OCC), but they are already planning for next year.”

GCU’s overthrow of Irvine was the surprise of the tournament. The event’s heavy favorite, the Anteaters field an entire team of scholarship players, and has a professional Esports player coaching the squad. UCI hadn’t lost a single series all year coming into the tournament.  

“Most people consider UC Irvine to be a top 8 playoff team every year,” Lee said. “Beating them was a thrill and gave us good momentum.”

Just reaching the Collegiate Esports Championship is a significant accomplishment. Over 400 teams from the United States and Canada competed in qualifiers hosted by Tespa and Collegiate StarLeague. Lee said the exposure GCU received from advancing to the top 8 and playing on ESPN will be a boost for the program going forward.

“Esports has been a hot topic all over the world,” Lee said. “From an admissions standpoint, it is a factor in appealing to prospective students. We’ve already received interest from outside students who watched us play on ESPN. Going forward, I think our JV and varsity teams will see a lot more recruits.”

GCU fields 17 Esports teams, with games ranging from Overwatch, League of Legends, Rainbow Six, Fortnite and Counter Strike, to name a few. The club plays in the GCU Esports Arena, which is scheduled to double in size to match the rapid growth of the sport and the program’s presence on campus.

The varsity Overwatch team is led by team captain, and student club president, Justen Johns. Ryan Wynia, Ethan Gunnerson, Kyle Gunnerson, Oscar Esquer and David Cho join Johns on the roster.

Esports is a rapidly growing industry, with many experts predicting the sport will eventually rival some of the more well-known professional leagues like the NFL, MLB and NBA. The global Esports economy is expected to top $1 billion this year, a year-to-year growth of over 26%, according to Jurre Panakeet of New Zoo.

To this point, Esports has been more known for its professional leagues and players. Competitive Esports at the university and high school level is still relatively new, but it is also gaining steam. Colleges all over the country are beginning to install Esports teams, even offering full-ride scholarships to elite high school players.

“The professional level of Esports has been around for around two decades,” Lee explained. “Esports at the college level is still new and rough around the edges. In the last six or seven years, younger Esports players are getting a bigger platform. There are more investors getting involved in the sport, and people are starting to view Esports as mainstream. It doesn’t matter what your age, race or body composition is, everybody can participate in Esports. I think that is one of the great things about it.”

Interested in joining GCU Esports? Contact the coach to learn more!