North America's best collegiate Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams will fight for the Collegiate StarLeague crown this weekend at the Ultimate Media Ventures studio in Huntington Beach, California.
The CSL finals are the culmination of half a year of online action, with four schools remaining in contention for each title and their respective $30,000 scholarship prize pools -- $10,000 of which goes to the victors.
The event marks the East Coast's largest delegation to a CSL LAN event to-date at two teams per game. That being said, the rest of the continent is fielding the best they have to offer as well.
Here's what you need to know about the teams competing this weekend.
Rochester Institute of Technology vs. McMaster University
McMaster and RIT meeting in the semi-finals is a rematch between newcomers and veterans, respectively. The two schools faced off in the American Video Game League semis earlier this month, with RIT coming out on top -- only to finish second to the University of British Columbia at AVGL's finals in Long Beach, California, earlier this month.
All eyes are on RIT, which has the advantage thanks to previous LAN experience and will hope to claim its first major title. After all, the team has had its best season yet with a 7-0 finish in the notoriously difficult Conference 1 group of CSL, and RIT has a spotless record in the playoffs so far.
At the core of RIT is star mid laner Will "Evadin" Dickinson, ranked 56th on the national leaderboard for the game. Evadin's versatility and mechanical abilities are matched by few in the collegiate scene, and he's often clutched victories from the jaws of defeat. When you add in an ingenious drafter in Carter "Eradicate" Kerstetter, you get a recipe for one of the most dominant collegiate rosters in 2018.
McMaster, on the other hand, doesn't have the most well-known squad, but it proved it's no slouch during the quarterfinals by eliminating University of British Columbia, the returning CSL Dota 2 champion that also swept RIT in the AVGL finals. And McMaster pulled off the upset in its first CSL season. Offlaner Lucas "Luki luki" Shanks and his teammates' amazing coordination sets them apart from the flock.
"RIT definitely have a strong team, but hopefully we can pull through," Luki luki said. "I would have a lot more confidence if they weren't in the tournament, but now we just need to do our best. We don't plan on going down without playing some decent Dota."
UC Davis vs. Stony Brook University
On the other side of the bracket, UC Davis is looking to follow up on its playoff success from last year, while Stony Brook is riding off the momentum of its 7-0 regular season run.
Though Stony Brook scored two more wins in the regular season compared to Davis, the latter eked out its playoffs berth in the Conference 1 group up against heavy-hitters like RIT. UC Davis has looked a tad shakier in playoffs compared to its opponent, including dropping a game to Marietta College, but captain Thinh "ch0c0b0" Le believes in his squad.
"I think its reasonable for us to beat SBU and reach the finals," ch0c0bo said. "The four teams attending, I believe, are about the same skill level with slight differences."
Stony Brook, member Khalid "HeRoN" Husain said, said the matchup and finals come down to execution in such a close field.
"For us, we expect to win and hope that we can play the level of Dota we know we're capable of," HeRoN said. "I think it's important to just focus on ourselves and play the best we can; as long as we put our best foot forward and put the effort in, I'm happy."
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Robert Morris University vs. Virginia Commonwealth University
The RMU Eagles head into the tournament hot off a first-place tie in its regular season group, a second-place finish at the AVGL finals and a clean CSL playoff run so far. VCU, in comparison, finished undefeated in its group but bombed out in the Round of 16 soon after -- only to get a new lease on life following SUNY Binghamton's disqualification and a down-to-the wire series with UC San Diego.
While the reinvigorated VCU has players with professional experience in the ESEA Mountain Dew League, RMU team rep Liam Newhouse believes the odds are on his side's favor.
"I don't think we will have any issues in this match," Newhouse said. "Even though we lost AVGL, we were still very happy with how we played. I think nerves got to some of us, so we weren't able to play at our best performance individually, but we played good as a team. With our practice these past few weeks, and if we play like we did at AVGL, I think we can win the title."
City University of New York-Baruch vs. UCLA
Unlike the other matchups, defending champion CUNY Baruch and UCLA stand on similar ends of the spectrum. Both teams met in the semifinals last season, too, but they took some time to get going this time around. Baruch finished 5-1 in the regular season behind UC Santa Cruz in its group, and UCLA netted a middling 2-4 record.
Despite those regular season struggles, both teams seemed overcame shaky playoff performances to make it to Huntington Beach.
"Our team's expectation is first and first only," CUNY Baruch captain David Han said. "We won the CSL tournament last year in Toronto. Anything less than first place would be a disappointment."
Half of the Bruins' playoff series went to match point, where a minor misplay could've ended their run. However, UCLA captain Devin Fung believes that if his team is on-point, they could finish "second or third." He remains optimistic that his team will do well because of the reason for their successes so far: the element of surprise.
"The reason our team has been successful is probably because we don't know what we're doing," he said. "If we don't know what we're doing, how will they know?"