Heading into the regional playoffs, the University of California, Irvine had a choice to make. Coming off of a brutal series loss against Simon Fraser University, the Anteaters could have folded after getting punched in the mouth. Instead, they just got angry, and that anger has made them the favorite in the right half of the national title bracket.
Expectations were sky high for UCI last year, when, led by superstar ADC Jung “Youngbin” Young-bin, they looked like they would take the West by storm before he was picked up by Team Liquid and the team lagged in his absence. However, this year, Jung is back with other former LCS talents, Lyubomir “BloodWaterr” Spasov and James “lattman1” Lattman, giving UCI one of the most talented, experienced, and explosive teams in collegiate League of Legends. Rather than a setback, the squad turned its losses last year and this year into opportunities for growth.
In the regional playoffs, UCI regained their dominant macro ways, becoming a top two team among title finalists in objective control metrics. Only University of Texas at Dallas averaged more objectives seized than the Anteaters, and then only due to an extra game played during the regular season against decidedly weaker South Region competition. On defense, only Western U allowed fewer, but they failed to field the same explosive offense against the East. UCI’s number one ranking in average Objective Difference among National Championship finalists shows not only their high level of achievement, but also their ability to transcend their competition despite playing in North America’s second strongest region.
If the Anteaters want to transcend the hype that has surrounded their roster and infrastructure, they will need a strong national title run. Luckily, their side of the bracket has the most questions heading into this tournament. Their first opponent, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, have more questions than answers after being smashed in the East Finals and the second round of Play-Ins. UCI’s prospective second opponents are a Western University squad that has yet to play interregionally in Riot’s league this year and a Maryland squad that looks good, but must answer questions about the Big Ten’s competitiveness against the rest of College LoL. Overall, UCI are once again favorites, but they will need to prove that they can avoid another Week 6-esque slip-up as the 2018 season enters its final stanza.
Banner Image Credit: The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Matt Howard is the League of Legends editor for Collegiate StarLeague. He is also a Games Scholar who received his Master’s in History at the University of Houston. His thesis is a sport history of League of Legends esports and Web 2.0 culture. Find him on Twitter @EHyungNim.