Redbird Esports player Chaz “GiG” Salazar has played Overwatch at the highest level, competing for the Overwatch League’s Los Angeles Valiant in 2020.

But Overwatch is in flux. Pro players and casual gamers alike are awaiting the release of Overwatch’s sequel, which was first announced in 2019. An early version of the game will be made available to a select number of players in late April of this year, but a final release date is uncertain.

With the future of professional Overwatch unknown, Salazar, a 24-year-old California native, decided he would return to school to continue his education while continuing to play the game he loves at a high level. When it was time to pick a program, there was only one answer: Redbird Esports.

“It’s the best,” Salazar said. “I wanted to go to a bigger school. I value the social aspects and networking college provides. And I wanted to go to a good team so I could keep my skills sharp. This school has the best team. It’s a win-win for me.”

The economics and finance double major has always been a highly competitive person. He played football throughout high school, but a combination of injuries and a burgeoning passion for esports led him to forgo offers to play the sport at the collegiate level. He grew up playing games, but mostly sports simulation titles like Madden NFL and NBA 2K. When he saw Overwatch for the first time, he was immediately interested in trying it.

“I first saw my brother playing Overwatch, he was running around as Mei, freezing people,” he said. “It looked so unique.”

Salazar was drawn to the deep level of strategy needed to win and move up the online ranks. He also likes the fast pace of Overwatch. Players are consistently in engagements with the opposing team and need to make split-second decisions to win the battle. As he started playing, he found not only did he love the game, but he was getting good at it. He knew he had what it takes to play professionally and decided to go all-in on pursuing that dream.

“How I’m built is that if I do anything, I’ve got to be the best at it,” Salazar said.

Chaz Salazar playing Overwatch
When Salazar was looking for a program to continue his education and play Overwatch at a high level, Redbird Esports was the obvious choice.

Salazar’s parents were not initially sold on the decision. As Salazar started moving up the ranks, playing in tournaments, and bringing home prize money, his family started to understand how potentially lucrative the gaming space can be.

“You don’t think gaming can give you the lifestyle it can give you when you first start,” Salazar said. “When you’re in your nice apartment in L.A. near the beach, you have a good contract, you have the popularity, sometimes you have to sit back and think, ‘Wow, I was playing some games on my console, and it turned into this.’”

Ever the competitor, his favorite part of being a professional was playing in the biggest tournaments with the most on the line.

“You’re there with all these people—other players and fans that love the game. It is an unmatched experience,” he said. “It’s really hard to explain how blissful it is.”

When Salazar was thinking about making the move into the collegiate scene, Salazar was approached by Eric “Wheats” Perez, a Redbird Esports’ Overwatch coach and a well-respected member of the professional community. Redbird Esports was coming off a dominant fall season and was looking to rebuild the roster after several members of the team returned to the professional ranks.

“Once you are in the pro scene, it is a very niche community,” Salazar said. “I’ve known Wheats for a while, and he asked me if I wanted to come (to Illinois State). And I said, ‘Why not? If the team’s good, I’ll be here.’”

Overwatch head coach Megan Lomonof ’05 said that Salazar’s pro experience has provided critical leadership as the team looks to build on its success from last semester.

“‘GiG’ is the leader of the team both in communication and experience, having come to the team with both Contenders and Overwatch League experience,” Lomonof said. “In collegiate, he adds even more value in person with his mindset for both respect for academics and physical fitness which positively impacts his and his teammates’ performance.”

Salazar said he and his teammates are on the same page as they set their sights on the Overwatch Collegiate Championship.

“We want to win,” he said. “If you work hard and want to win, I can’t help but love you.”

Redbird Esports currently supports Overwatch, League of Legends, and Rocket League at a varsity level. They also support a number of other game titles at a club level including Rainbow Six Siege, Call of Duty, CSGO, Fortnite, and more. If you want to stay up to date with the Redbird Esports program you can follow their announcements and updates on Twitter. They also stream the majority of their competitive matches on their Twitch channel.