Amid the clatter of keystrokes and mouse clicks, a row of desktop computers display a flurry of gunfire and explosions. This is the UCLA “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” team preparing for its match against USC ““ the rivalry officially going digital.
“I’m excited that we get to play USC in a rivalry,” said Easton Morris, a second-year economics student and captain of the UCLA “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” team. “Mostly the rivalries are for the athletes, and I think it’s cool that we get a rivalry between gamers.”
Nvidia, a renowned graphics processing unit maker, is celebrating the release of Treyarch’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” by hosting the first-ever “GeForce GTX Call of Duty Rivalries” competition, pitting some of the most storied rival colleges against each other. “Call of Duty” is a long-running first-person shooter franchise and “Black Ops II” is its latest installment. UCLA will compete against USC in a PC four-person, last-man-standing team death match in the De Neve Plaza Auditorium on Saturday.
The winners from the first round along with two wildcard teams will be flown to Nvidia headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., on Jan. 19 to face off in a grand finale for a chance to win a complete PC gaming system from Maingear equipped with Nvidia’s latest GPU. The winning schools will also receive hardware donations for their game design or computer science departments.
The UCLA Game Lab, managed by David Elliot, pooled potential players from Facebook groups, via email and through general word of mouth. The resulting team contains no students from the Game Lab itself. Instead, it consists of a mix of competitive and noncompetitive first-person shooter players, Elliot said.
“We have a team from very diverse backgrounds, which I think is an advantage. It’s a fallacy to think that people in computer science would all be good at video games,” Elliot said.
About eight players practiced together to establish a ranking and to choose a team of four players and one alternate. The final team includes Morris and Gibson Han, a second-year business economics student.
Morris, an avid gamer who has prior experience playing the first-person shooter “Counter-Strike” competitively, will lead the team. He went to the “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” launch party and has been playing the game since its release.
He said playing “Call of Duty” on the competitive collegiate level is a new experience.
“When I played “˜Counter-Strike’ it had already been around for a long time, and it felt like I was late coming into it,” Morris said. “It’s really cool to be a part of this because it’s the first time for this kind of collegiate play.”
Han said he counts this tournament as his first overall experience playing in a video game competition. He has played most of the previous installments of “Call of Duty” and said he is excited to try and win the prize.
“For me, the underlying factor and motivation is the computer,” Han said.
The team is diligently practicing for the competition, playing practice matches with alternates and with players online, and working to generate a team dynamic.
“Mostly we meet in the game lab and practice some map playing, try to work up some chemistry,” Morris said. “That’s what it comes down to at this level ““ how long we have been playing together.”
Han echoed the sentiment.
“”˜Call of Duty’ isn’t about team strategy,” he said. “It’s more about the execution of every member on the team.”
Other than the game itself, the venue presents an unusual challenge for the team. The event is expected to draw around 250 to 350 audience members, Elliot said. This competitive environment is a novelty for most of the players, who are used to playing in their own homes without visible spectators or opponents.
For Han, the environment presents a significant hurdle.
“It’s frightening,” Han said. “It’s nerve-wracking. … It’s hard to explain. I usually play at home, so I don’t like people watching over me when I’m playing.”
As the competition nears, the team goes in with high hopes, although they will be careful not to underestimate the USC team, Han said.
“At first the people were inexperienced,” Han said. “But it looks like we have a solid team, and a good shot at winning.”
Email Huang at [email protected]
Update: UCLA ended up losing the round, but team members said they found unexpected camaraderie with their USC competitors. Watch the video to get a feel for what the tournament was like: