Before the USC Valorant Cup began last Friday, before a team of UCLA first-person-shooter veterans called Project A wreaked havoc on USC’s home turf, sauntering through their final match against USC’s JV League of Legends team dropping only two of 26 rounds, we headed to the tournament Discord server to ask the six teams who signed up to tell us about themselves. We needed some material so Michael Ahn and Dylan Palacios, our two casters, had something to talk about before the first match.

Project A was the brainchild of Will “GuBear” Gu and Parsa “SE7EN” Pandar, the coaches for the varsity Overwatch team at UCLA.

“This team came together because we all like fps games, and hate matchmaking. Also I hate League and Overwatch. Overwatch sucks,” said SE7EN.

Their team had players with a lot of experience in first person shooter games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive among others. Skills in those games help a great deal with navigating Riot Games’ new shooter, Valorant; a game still in beta with elements of CS:GO and Overwatch with its character abilities and onus on aim and team cohesion.

Project A began their tournament run strong, beating teams like Pickle Rick With No Brim, The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Seen, and UCLA counterpart Gold Nova II handily with scores of 13-6 and 13-4 respectively.

We didn’t stream their first round though, instead focusing our attention to the battle of the USC esports teams. The USC JV League of Legends (LoL) team faced off against the squad from varsity Overwatch. Confusingly, the coach of USC’s LoL team, Joe Jacko, was not only on the Overwatch roster, but became their figurehead as the team donned the title of “Joe Jacko Fanclub” (JJF). Quiana “jaru” Dang described their team with this short essay:

Quiana
Quiana "jaru" Dang discusses the origins of "Joe Jacko Fanclub"

JV League had less of a back story, but their message was clear nonetheless.

“We are here to crush and to crush only. Our opponents do not stand a single chance for we are pure gamers,” said Hovanes “Hovz” Terovsepyan. “We also have some insane chemistry.”

It was a battle of the eloquent and the minimalist, Nabokov vs. Bukowski, fps vs. MOBA. Those analogies may be a stretch, but alas, Joe Jacko Fanclub got smacked 13-5 by their friends from the Rift.

The JV team started off strong, thwarting off attempts from JJF’s namesake, Joe Jacko, from making flanks, while punishing the team with superior positioning. JJF made a semblance of a comeback in the first half, getting a few rounds on the board thanks to prime pincer plays coming out of Joe Jacko and Kenneth “Havoc” Peralta.

But that was about it, and the heavy hitters of The “Bunkers” Ngo and Matt “hesheshesh” Wu mowed through the rest of the match with their superior aim and positioning.

After a quick break, we turned our virtual cameras towards a match between Gold Nova II and Pickle Rick With No Brim, Funniest Thing I’ve Seen. Ashley “Big Lots” Kim said “PLEASE DO NOT shorten our name to “pickle rick,” that is humiliating, at least call us “no brim.””

According to Big Lots, No Brim met through Minecraft hunger games, and Nathan “Rogue” Sarti added that “we all love Captainsparklez [A popular Minecraft YouTuber] and met each other on his sub discord.”

Gold Nova II was comprised of players from both UCLA and USC, who “didn’t have much history together except we like to shoot people in the head,” said Dhevyn “pronkymaster” Lao. He meant in the game of course, there weren’t any genuine murderers playing in the tournament (so far as we know).

They vowed to defeat Gold Nova II. It didn’t quite happen, but the match was close. Both teams were neck in neck for a while until the tide turned at 9-9, where Maxx “Boomer” Iwamasa was quickly taken out and Rogue and Big Lots were the only two remaining players left against the bulk of the Gold Nova II team. Both players hovered around the back of the B capture point, looking for sight lines and trying to stay alive to keep the team’s economy in check. But they were eventually taken out, putting Gold Nova II in a big economic advantage going into the final stretch.

Their fate then was sealed. Gold Nova II asserted their dominance as they convincingly won each successive round with many frags coming out of Nicholas “Chaewon” Ng and Darren “darreb” Chang, ending the game with a scoreline of 13-9.

Recalling last Friday’s match, Big Lots mentioned “It’s possible that Gold Nova II outplayed us in every way imaginable, but just know that the next time we play them we’ll actually turn our monitors on.”

Rogue lamented the single match format, saying “one off games are very common especially in best of ones. If it was a best of 3, I don't think they would stand a chance.”

But winning isn’t everything “and maybe the real $150 prize pool was the friends we made along the way <3. Even if I am no longer on speaking terms with them after that questionable performance,” Big Lots said.

Gold Nova II took the stage again in the third set of matches of the night, facing off against Project A. The first round ended in some technical difficulties where a couple players had some network problems, but the match soon restarted and Project A came out guns blazing against Gold Nova II, putting four quick rounds on the board. Gold Nova II began a semblance of a comeback after a strong round 5 where Pronkymaster, Johnny “Nhojyn” Nguyen and darreb got some clean kills as they pushed into Project A’s A point. With four players vs. two, it seemed like an easy victory, but Ethan “ethan” Chen, perched in the room above the point, nabbed three kills and almost managed to defuse the spike before it went off. The narrow victory for Gold Nova II put them at 1-4, desperately trying to maintain a foothold on the match.

The comeback never materialized aside from a few more rounds stolen from the eventual champions. Project A won the match 13-4, solidifying their spot in the grand finals.

Things were much more chaotic on the other side of the bracket in Group B, which held JJF, JV League and a team of solo queue signups who named themselves Pickle Rick With a Yankee (PRWY), as an openly provocative act against the other Ricks across the bracket. What happened in Group B was borderline nonsensical, with scores that confused the casters and frustrated the organizers.

As written earlier, JV League beat JJF quite handily, seeming confident against the team of Overwatch veterans. JJF then edged out a 13-10 win against PRWY, in theory classifying PRWY as the weakest team in the bracket. These scorelines prompted us to switch up our programming, vying to show the match between Project A and Gold Nova II instead of showing PRWY play against JV LoL. It should have been an easy win for JV LoL, but ended up being a slugfest that barely saw PRWY edging out a 13-12 victory over the LoL players.

Even though JV League lost to PRWY, they still had a higher score differential, and moved up to the finals against Project A.

The grand final was played in a best-of-three format, where the first team to win two games won the tournament. It was a slaughter, aided by the jeers coming from the peanut gallery of UCLA fans in the Twitch chat.

UCLA fans swarm the chat
UCLA fans swarm the chat

Project A walked through the map without much consideration of the players on JV LoL, walking into capture points without much preparation, even pushing while on defense.

JV League won two rounds of 26, and according to SE7EN “they’re a LoL team, the fact that we lost two rounds is kind of an embarrassment to us.”

Hovz had “not much to say honestly. It was pretty apparent that they were better than us.”

Maybe next year will see USC make some moves in Valorant, but for now we wait to see if the game will be recognized by collegiate esports. There’s still a lot of guns.