Former eSports team goes to the big leagues

Mechanical engineering freshman Daniel Hendricks plays League of Legends Feb. 25, 2013 during an eSports LAN party. 

A former UTA eSports team is blazing a trail to victory.

Team Blaze, formerly part of the eSports club, has gone professional, said alumnus Patrick Smiley, the team’s owner and manager.

“It’s pure drive,” Smiley said. “Once you start competing against those other professional teams, those paid teams, you can call us professionals, you can call us amateur, but when you’re bumping elbows with some of the best in the scene, you’re doing something and you’re doing something right. So we consider ourselves a professional organization.”

Members of the PC-based team first came together under the name Team Dark Blaze to compete in Heroes of the Storm, a game developed by Blizzard Entertainment , said Eugene Tseng, management junior and team captain. The collegiate-level tournament, Heroes of the Dorm, took place in April, Tseng said.

Heroes of the Storm is a multi-player online battleground arena, otherwise known as an action real-time strategy game, according to the Blizzard website.

“We started here as just a couple of friends,” Tseng said. “We performed very well for a team that had just started that game.”

Although each member played similar games, the team began the tournament after only three days of playing Heroes of the Storm. They went on to rank 16th in the nation, losing to Arizona State University, who would go on to place second in the tournament, Tseng said.

“They had several professional players at the time. They were pretty big names in the scene,” Tseng said. “They mentioned that we were one of the top competitors going up until the [top four], and that before us they really hadn’t struggled at all against any team, and that, if we practiced and continued playing, we would have the potential to go professional.”

Motivated by the praise, core players from the tournament roster formed Team Blaze, Tseng said.

Now, the newly professional Team Blaze consists of three UTA students and two nonstudents, Smiley said. Their focus is to grow their name, he said.

“Currently the next step for Team Blaze is growing as an organization,” Smiley said. “We’ve had roster changes, we’re bringing in more staff, we’re trying to grow not only our social media presence, but just our marketing aspect. Really, it’s trying to perform at the highest level we can.”

Smiley is also looking for sponsors to support the team, which receives funding mostly from his own pocket, he said.

The team is working toward not only online tournaments, but offline competitions around North America, Tseng said. They put in about 4-5 hours of team practice a day and additional individual practice.

“Mainly we have to practice. We have to prepare,” Tseng said. “And we go into that mentality, where it’s that we have to achieve our goal, where it’s to be one of the top teams in North America.”

Their practice and dedication paid off when they placed fifth out of 92 teams in the North American Blizzcon qualifier in June, Smiley said. The qualifier determined which teams would compete for the top three in the world, he said.

“I wasn’t ready for the team to be this good this quickly,” Smiley said. “I had expectations. They blew away my expectations. Now they’re challenging me to really keep up with them.”

The end goal, Smiley said, is for Team Blaze to become a viable profession and see how far they can push themselves from their humble start.

“Everything has humble beginnings, and that’s kind of what Team Blaze is all about, is humble beginnings and seeing where we can go with our drive and our passion,” Smiley said. “We are really the underdog coming into this, and we’re consistently posting results.”

Now that they have moved from UTA, Team Blaze has not forgotten their roots as a former UTA eSports team, Smiley said.

“We’re always going to look back and say, ‘Hey, this is where we came from, this is where we’re at now,’” Smiley said. “Now, we’re just looking to grow on a more national level so we can channel some of that love back to the UT Arlington eSports community.”

eSports is growing and Team Blaze is bringing attention to UTA, said Kevin Muar information systems junior and eSports club president.

“I feel like it’s also really good publicity for the school and I feel like it just has a good outlook,” Muar said. “I feel like it only has good potential to bring to the school and the club.”

Players are not yet paid beyond a share of winnings from tournaments, Smiley said, but they aren’t in it for money.

“You don’t ever go into eSports looking to make money,” Smiley said. “If you’re not passionate about it, it’s not worth it. The whole community is about passion, about presentation and being a good gamer, basically.”

At the end of the day, the gamers are just students following their dreams, Smiley said.

“Once you start doing a little bit of digging, you realize that ‘This professional player sat three rows behind me [in class], and he still does,’” Smiley said. “Just because they’re professional doesn’t make them any less everyday, you-and-me. That’s what’s unique about it. Because at the end of the day, these guys are just students who happened to take their passion and be productive with it.”

@BeccaUTA

rebecca.hull@mavs.uta.edu

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