Correction: The original version of this article contained an error. Because of UCLA’s performance at UC Irvine this weekend the group is no longer guaranteed to compete in the Collegiate StarLeague playoffs. They still have a chance to advance, depending on how they fare in the last set of three online matches of the West Division.
Fifteen screen-lit faces in a dark room stared at a projected display of science-fiction military violence.
Jeff Lindquist, a graduate student in mathematics, gave play-by-play commentary like a general in a war room.
Featured on the display, dozens of insect-like alien units marched toward a second, smaller group of bipedal alien soldiers, tearing through their equipment and shredding their bodies into thousands of pulpy giblets.
The shrieks of the soldiers were muffled only by the applause of StarCraft @ UCLA members. They were watching footage of Lindquist’s win against a USC player in a StarCraft game on Jan. 14.
Hoon Jo, a third-year geography student, pointed at Lindquist with a smile.
“He’s our hero,” he said.
This weekend, UCLA’s StarCraft team traveled to Irvine for a league competition with 12 other colleges ““ a weekend of computers, headsets and furious mouse-clicking.
StarCraft is a highly popular computer strategy game in which players manage the resources and movements of entire armies in real-time in science-fiction environments.
“It’s like high-speed chess in space,” said Terry Chen, a second-year environmental science student and co-president of StarCraft @ UCLA.
Chen and second-year physics student Michael Skuhersky created the club as a way to organize a better StarCraft team to represent UCLA. At meetings, club members play matches, watch footage of tournament games and discuss strategy.
Prior to fall 2011, StarCraft @ UCLA existed simply as a group on Facebook. There were no meetings and players rarely, if at all, played with each other in person.
This setup made coordinating competitive teams particularly difficult, Skuhersky said.
While the primary goal is to meet other StarCraft players, the club also serves as an outlet for co-presidents Skuhersky, Jo and Chen to coach members and choose the best to compete in tournaments.
The most significant chain of tournaments is associated with the Collegiate StarLeague, the largest college-based StarCraft league in the United States, with more than 240 schools competing this season.
Compared to previous seasons, the expectations for UCLA at this season’s tournaments were fairly high, said Timothy Young, head administrator of the Collegiate StarLeague.
This is the first year where the structure of the club allows for a more organized team, he said. The club has earned a reputation among Collegiate StarLeague for being a close-knit group, Young said.
“Everyone loves (UCLA’s) athletic teams and their StarCraft team should live up to that as well,” Young said.
This weekend, the team’s highest-ranked StarCraft player, Evan Ball, played in the second match against UC San Diego. Last March, the fourth-year mathematics/economics student won a StarCraft tournament hosted by USC in which professional players participated.
Ball, even with a solid start, eventually lost the match against UCSD. He removed his headphones and walked out of the conference room without saying a word.
Though UCLA scored a few wins, that defeat was among a series of losses that no longer guarantees them a spot to compete in the Collegiate StarLeague playoffs. UCLA still has a chance to advance, depending on how they fare in the last set of three online matches of the West Division.
But as a team, the gamers remained upbeat. That is because the StarCraft club is more about the joy of playing StarCraft than winning tournaments, Chen said.
“For me, the priority is just to have a closer-knit group with a shared experience,” he said.