Published May 14, 2018
“We thought we’d do well,” says UB junior Robert Sands III. “But only in my wildest dreams did I think we’d get this far.”
Sands is talking about Heroes of the Dorm, the esports tournament in which collegiate gamers brawl it out in Blizzard Entertainment's multiplayer online battle game Heroes of the Storm.
He is one of five players on ImprobaBull Victory, the UB team that beat out more than 300 others from North American universities to make it all the way to the Grand Final on May 12 in Burbank, Calif. There, before a global audience of viewers watching via Twitch livestream, UB finally fell, to Université Laval of Quebec — but not before covering itself in glory.
ImprobaBull Victory — made up of Sands (who goes by the nom de pixel “V8der”), Jianyu “sethlordson” Zhang, Allen “FantaFiction” Hu and grad students Marc “Markybotz” Coiro and Justin “Matzoballs” Goo — went 16-2 in tournament play en route to the final, knocking off the likes of top seed UC Irvine, Michigan and, in the semifinal, Cal Poly Pomona. Not bad for a team one Blizzard exec called “an insane underdog.”
UB’s learning curve was steep and fast, adding luster to its achievement. ImprobaBull Victory came together as a team only six months ago; Laval and several other opponents have been together since the competition started in 2015.
“Being onstage was such a great feeling, and being able to play in front of so many people was an experience I can hardly put to words,” Sands said of the semifinals and final, for which the competitors were flown in by Blizzard. The UB players each won a $1,000 gaming console for reaching the final four — nice, but not quite as nice as Laval’s grand prize: up to three years’ paid tuition.
That prize is proof of the burgeoning finances of esports, which is beginning to register on the general populace. Indeed, Sands and others on the team are considering turning pro as esports players, most of whom make modest livings, though a few stars can make big money.
But, Sands said, if he’s back at school again next year, he expects UB to be back in the thick of the 2019 Heroes of the Dorm tournament.
“We’re definitely proud,” he said of UB’s performance this year. “I feel like we’re also a little bit disappointed that we didn’t bring the tournament home. But definitely props to Laval — they earned it.
“My teammates and I were joking,” Sands said. “We may not be the champions of North America, but we’re definitely the champions of America.”