This year, PAX AUS was dominated by esports. The exhibit floor was awash with tournaments, player meet and greet sessions, merchandise, and casual games. Everyone was chasing the high of a chicken dinner, a victory royale or a GGWP. Everyone that is, except for a handful of university students. They were chasing a plain old victory and the cash prize that accompanied it.
Beats Fan Club, a League of Legends team comprised of five university students, had traveled to PAX AUS to compete in the University Esports League (UEL) finals. Backed by a range of sponsors, the UEL gives Australian TAFE and University students the opportunity to compete in League of Legends, Overwatch or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments for cash prizes. Beats Fan Club was very familiar with the UEL – they won the League of Legends tournament last year.
Gian “Styled” Leon, who plays in the bot lane for Beats Fan Club, was confident the team would repeat their success. “When we entered this tournament, we knew that anything but winning would be a bad result,” he said.
Given the resumes of the individual team members, it is hard to disagree with Gian’s prediction. David “Beats” Nguyen-Dang and Michael “Minhcam” Cam, who play in the top lane and jungle respectively, competed for Chiefs Academy in the 2019 Oceanic Challenger Series; Gian competed for Avant Academy; mid-laner James “Halo” Giacoumakis competed for Mammoth Academy, and Support player Jordan “Kpop” Hazeltine has competed for a range of OCS teams since early 2017. Once rivals on the rift, now a mere best-of-three series stood in their way of a joint victory, a novelty check, and a trophy.
Their experience as competitors gave Beats Fan Club an edge over their opponents, but it wasn’t as easy as walking up to the enemy nexus and blowing it over. Prior to the finals, only Kpop and Beats had met face to face (such is the nature of online teams), and playing in a LAN tournament posed other unexpected challenges. “Playing on the ASUS/Hive stage with the casters yelling and the crowd right in front of us meant that we couldn’t hear each other,” recalls Gian.
The ability to keep your emotions in check and cope with pressure is critical to success in League of Legends. This is something that Curtin University student, Gian understands well. “I don’t usually feel too much pressure when I’m playing on stage or in front of a crowd,” he says. “However, the fact that we couldn’t communicate effectively during the game was really problematic. This tilted us and was the reason we lost the first game.”
In qualifying, the team didn’t lose a series, and they were not about to start now. Relying on their individual skill as competitors, the team were able to bounce back to a two to one victory. For the second year in a row, Beats Fan Club earned the title of UEL Champions.
For these five players, the UEL provided an opportunity to hone their skills during the competitive off-season. Gian views every tournament experience as an opportunity to grow. “Every tournament is a stepping stone. For example, the OCS is a stepping stone into the OPL,” he explains. “Hopefully I can perform well individually and I can perform well as part of a team in the OCS next year… and then, who knows…”
“The thrill of competition and that strive for perfection keeps me going, but it’s also about balance. For me, it’s all about keeping a schedule – University in the morning and League at night.”
Like a typical Uni student, Gian assures me that the $1200 cash prize would be spent on food. And RP. It’s all about balance.