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valorant team
UH Esports’ VALORANT players and coaching staff. From left, top: Chris Shimabukuro, Kason Padilla and Nicklaus Kakazu; middle: Carter Suen, Justin Wong and Manalu Nakanishi; bottom: Johnny Ho

While other sports have their in-person competitions on hold due to COVID-19, members of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa esports team can continue to compete safely from the comfort of their homes.

UH Esports has two teams participating in the 2020 UCLA Esports Summer Invitational, sponsored by professional esports organization Evil Geniuses, where they will challenge 29 other schools across the country in online multiplayer games VALORANT and Overwatch.

“It is exciting to know that the University of Hawaiʻi will still be participating in a multitude of leagues and online tournaments during this unprecedented time,” said Kevin Nguyen, UH Esports program assistant. “Seeing the excitement and passion of these students as they put in the hours of practice can only be described as joy for me, knowing that these students have a sense of companionship as they play alongside each other. With these tournaments that are able to run through COVID-19, the students can make new friends and have fun during school.”

Playing through a pandemic

Although each player can safely participate in a national tournament from home, the team still experienced some unexpected difficulties related to COVID-19. Some students took breaks from playing to readjust before gaming with the team again.

“COVID-19 had the biggest impact on our personal lives,” said Overwatch team member Bryan McAniff. “Finding the time to play with our team while also balancing work-lives, school studies and family has been difficult at times. COVID-19 has only amplified the amount of time conflicts with our practice schedule, which forces our team members in a difficult situation to prioritize one over the other.”

Additionally, the iLab, where UH Esports practices and holds meetings and team bondings, was suddenly inaccessible due to stay-at-home orders.

“We’re also not sure if we’ll be able to make use of the iLab on campus next semester,” added UH Esports project manager Kason Padilla. “Being able to use a powerful PC with a reliable internet connection (in the iLab) is a blessing that players may not have at home. Being able to meet up to do in-person practices is a huge boon to team synergy and comradery that we’ll be sorely missing out on.”

If you have any questions regarding upcoming tournaments or how to try out for the UH Esports team, contact Kevin Nguyen at, or email Get the team’s updates on Twitter and Instagram.

Overwatch heroes

The Overwatch team will be competing on August 22–23, with juniors Alan Muneoka and Alexine Niro; sophomores Clark Acohido, Jonathan Valencia and Johnny Ho; and freshmen McAniff, Ethan Nguyen, Reuben Sablad and Justin Chow, who chose to attend UH Mānoa for the emerging esports program.

Their team is practicing three times a week against each other and other collegiate teams to improve their skills, communication and synergy.

“Our coaches, Justice and Chris, have been working with us to ensure that we are learning something each practice and have been encouraging us to practice on our own times to help maintain our game knowledge and game sense,” said Niro. “The team and I have been working and practicing very hard. Since I am the only girl on the main roster, I am excited to play with others and I would like to show that girls can play games just as well!”

The Overwatch tournament will be live streamed on UCLA Esports’ Twitch channel from 12 p.m.–6 p.m. PT.


VALORANT, which means to be strong and brave, is what the team proved to be as they challenged other universities on August 15–16. The students set up scrimmages against teams such as San Diego State and University of Las Vegas, Nevada, and increased their practice days from two to four times a week to prepare for the tournament.

“Our team fought against really strong opponents this weekend and ended up going 0-2,” recapped Padilla. “It was obviously disappointing, but the games were still fun to watch. I’m proud of the guys for all being there for the early 7 a.m. weekend call time, something that Hawaiʻi esports players have to deal with frequently for national tournaments.”

The VALORANT team included Padilla; juniors Cody Oshiro and Nicklaus Kakazu; sophomores Ho, Manalu Nakanishi and Justin Wong; and freshman Carter Suen.

Watch a replay of the VALORANT tournaments on the UCLA Twitch channel.

—By Janica Marie Pascua

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