Hilariously mid-2000s era Myspace throwback selfies… for charity

Last Friday, the San Francisco Shock posted a photo of Babybay, below, to announce that their star DPS player was starting an Instagram account. Two days later, Cory, the VP of Content for Shock’s parent organization, NRG, posted a photo in the same pose, with the hashtag #BabyBayChallenge.

A joke that spun out of control

When Babybay snapped the photo, he wasn’t thinking that it would become a viral fundraiser in the mold of the Ice Bucket Challenge. That wasn’t the intention when Cory posted his response either. Rather, as NRG/Shock’s Brettbox told me earlier today, it was a joke that spun out of control. (Brett is also the mind behind the “Hilariously mid-2000s era Myspace throwback selfie” description).

Once #BabyBayChallenge caught on through, Shock realized that they had an opportunity to be philanthropic, and ran with it. NRG/Shock had been looking for an opportunity to give back to the community for some time, and had asked their fans last year what causes they wanted the org to support. Adolescent mental health was the clear favorite, so when the decision was made to turn #BabyBayChallenge into a charity event, mental health became the cause.

Backing into a viral charity event meant that NRG/Shock had some catching up to do though. The organization has yet to select the charity beneficiary; they’re still vetting options and will finalize their pick today or tomorrow. They’ll also finalize in the coming days the amount of money per photo. The organization has some exciting plans to grow the #BabyBayChallenge even larger, and have already tapped their celebrity investors to get involved. Former NBA superstar Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal already answered the call.

Details

San Francisco Shock has selected National Alliance on Mental Health – San Francisco (EIN 94-2914709) as the beneficiary charity.

You can get involved by taking a photo in the style of Babybay’s original, tagging @SFShock, and using the hashtag #BabyBayChallenge.

Celebrity #BabyBayChallenge Photos

BabyBayChallenge

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Industry Overwatch League

Mayhem are digging themselves a hole that may take years to get out of

The Florida Mayhem are off to an abysmal start. Their only win is against Shanghai, the team at the bottom of the table. San Francisco Shock, who at the time had a 2-5 record, just thrashed Mayhem in a convincing 4-0. While individual players show flashes of brilliance, the team looks uncoordinated, and more often than not looks to lack mental toughness – the ability to close out rounds when they’re one battle away from a solid defensive hold – which has cost them many a map.

While several organizations are doing worse than expected, Florida Mayhem is in a uniquely bad position. Unlike other struggling teams, Mayhem has put next to nothing into infrastructure. Mayhem has only one coach (every other team has at least two), has done nothing to build a local fan base in Florida, is one of the quietest orgs on social media, and are allegedly phoning it in on building their academy team. Per over.gg, they’ve outsourced the job of building a roster to the Houston Outlaws’ parent organization. I’ve been told that Mayhem were courted directly by talented free agent rosters, and I’d be very surprised if the academy team they wind up with is stronger than some of the free agent teams that they’ve turned down.

Mayhem

Unattractive Destination

Mayhem’s unwillingness to invest in infrastructure isn’t just costing them this year. It’s going to cost them for years to come.

You don’t get to the top of any esport without believing that you’re one of the best players in the world. For a sought-after free agent, joining a team that’s playing badly isn’t a deal breaker, because the free-agent thinks that they have it in them to turn the team around.
Joining a team that’s run badly, though, that could be a deal breaker. If a free agent has a choice between an organization that makes resources available to help him be as successful as possible, and another organization that has demonstrated unwillingness to properly support its players, which one do you think that he is going to go for? Obviously there are other factors in play – desire to play with specific teammates, attractiveness of the home city/fanbase, etc. – but if Mayhem doesn’t catch up on staff very soon, it’s going to have a harder time attracting talent than they otherwise would.

If Florida Mayhem does become the “you’re on your own” org, they’re probably going to miss out on talent that’s good enough to be courted by multiple OWL teams. This means that to be successful, Mayhem will either need to scout out hidden gems (which requires staff, which Mayhem don’t have), or they’ll need to offer more money than other orgs to attract those top free agents (which sounds out of character for an org that’s shown no willingness to spend much yet).

That Other League

Mayhem shares ownership with Misfits, which fields, among other things, a League of Legends team in the EU LCS. Franchising is on the horizon for Europe, and it’s a fair bet that Misfits wants to be a part of that when it happens.

The Misfits ownership group just bought into a rival franchise and invested significantly less into the effort than any of its rivals. From what I’ve heard (I don’t know firsthand, since I don’t follow LoL), Misfits has put a lot more infrastructure into their League of Legends team than they have their Overwatch team. It’s quite possible, then, that the ownership group’s lack of support for Mayhem won’t hurt their chances when Riot considers potential partners for EU LCS franchising. However, it’s just as possible that the Mayhem situation will give Riot pause. It’s a sure bet that Riot will have more strong candidates than they will spots.

What to do now (i.e. where to spend now)

First and foremost, Mayhem need to increase their coaching staff. At the very least, they need someone with a strong mind for strategy and comps. It’s been an issue for the team since before the Overwatch League started, and it’s not Mineral’s strongest skillset. Many other teams have three coaches, and if Mayhem can find a strong candidate to help with things like opposition research and talent scouting (and driving the team bus), they should seize the opportunity.

Second, Mayhem has gaps in the roster that still need filling. Zappis played hitscan and projectile for NiP, Ana and D.va for team Finland, then off-tank for Gigantti. With Manneten being one of Mayhem’s best performing players, it’s likely that Zappis will be coming in as a second off-tank in tank-heavy comps, or as an option at DPS. However more pickups are needed. A second option at main tank that’s strong on Reinhardt, a second option at main support that’s strong on Mercy, and a second option on off-support that’s strong on Moira are all going to be vital to Mayhem’s success.

Third, Mayhem needs to up their social media game. They initially had something novel going, tweeting in English and Spanish, however they’ve been pretty quiet on social media in both languages since the League started. They need a full-time, Mayhem-only social media manager, and I’d go as far as to say that they should have two official Mayhem Twitter accounts – one in English and one in Spanish. I’d also recommend that Mayhem sign a few Overwatch streamers, the way that Cloud9 did with Mendokusaii or TSM does with Calvin. It’s an inexpensive way to get eyeballs on the brand. Emongg, for example, looks like he’s not going to be on a Contenders team, has a large following, and is a safe choice as a brand representative.

Finally, Mayhem need to start doing local activities in Florida to build their local fan base.  ChanManV organized a fan meetup in Orlando opening night; Mayhem should encourage him to organize more, and provide publicity and giveaways for his events. Additionally, they should organize events in Miami (where Ben Spoont lives).

Florida Mayhem Opinions Overwatch League

For Boston Uprising, Friday’s match could be the most important of their season

Welcome back! Last week I published the Overwatch League match previews for the opening day. Now, I’m back covering one more game taking place later on in the week. It might not look like much, especially with the juicy lineup on Saturday, but it’s the only game in opening week that could be season-defining.

This stage’s map pool and the league format are covered at the start of Tuesday’s article, linked above.

Uprising

Florida Mayhem hosts Boston Uprising

Dorado · Anubis · Oasis · Eichenwalde

Storylines: 

This is Boston’s easiest game this month. Can they seize it?
Commentators were panning Boston Uprising before they even played a game, and the team came into the preseason with a chip on their shoulder. Taking a map off of New Yok Excelsior and a win off of Shanghai Dragons shows that they have potential, however their January is brutal. They play Excelsior in their opening match, and after they take on Florida Mayhem, they have Seoul Dynasty, San Francisco Shock, London Spitfire, and Dallas Fuel to round out their January. For context, Excelsior, Dynasty, Spitfire, and Fuel are expected to be the top four at the end of the season, although probably not in that order.

With Mayhem looking shaky, Shock looking stronger than anticipated, and none of Dallas or the three all-Korean teams looking any less terrifying than expected, Friday’s match against Florida is Boston’s best opportunity to show what they’re capable of. In fact, aside from San Francisco, it’s probably the only game that can be expected to be competitive. If Uprising don’t show up on Friday, they could easily start the season 0-6, a devastating blow that could be difficult to come back from emotionally, let alone in the rankings.

While the season is 40 games long, six games is roughly a fifth of the season, and the middle of the standings is expected to be fiercely contested. Getting off to a slow start means that Boston will spend the rest of the season chasing their rivals, just one more stressor on top of having to build a team with little pre-existing synergy, speaking multiple languages, with a somewhat untested coaching staff. So yeah, a loss to Mayhem might not be season ending, but it could be season defining, especially if they lose to Shock in Week 2 as well.

Who is going to step up for Mayhem?
Florida’s best player during the preseason was Manneten, their off-tank. In TviQ and Logix, Mayhem have some of Europe’s strongest DPS talent, but neither showed up in a big way. While Mayhem’s January schedule isn’t as brutal as Boston’s is, the team is going to be in for a rough first stage if at least a few of their players don’t snap out of their slump in form quickly. The spotlight is going to shine harshest on Logix (more on that below), but Mayhem will need increased contribution from multiple players if they’re going to make it to the transfer window with a respectable point total.

Realistically, that’s probably their goal for the first stage. Even if Mayhem look like a completely different team in the regular season than they did in the preseason, they’re still hampered by their small roster size and small coaching team. Whether the goal is the championship (unrealistic), a 5th/6th place playoff berth (difficult) or just a decent 7th/8th/9th  showing (achievable), they’re going to need increased investment to pull that off. Somewhat counterintuitively, the Mayhem players will likely need to perform well in order to convince ownership to bring in additional players. If Mayhem look bottom of the barrel in the first stage, there’s less to gain from spending mid-season. If they look strong, however, they can justify getting reinforcements now and making a push in Stages 2, 3, and 4.

Mayhem’s goal should be wins against Boston, Shanghai Dragons, and Los Angeles Valiant. Houston Outlaws is probably too much for them, and London and Seoul are out of reach. Their February looks less daunting thein their January, and if they come out of the opening month 3-3, they could end the stage 6-4 or 5-5, a showing that would make the “spend now” approach justifiable. And with a six player roster, there’s plenty of room for that.

Mayhem

Who to watch:

Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez
DreamKazper does not have a reputation as an elite Pharah; he’s much more known on hitscan. However, TviQ’s Pharah looked strong on the first part of Dorado during the preseason, and Oasis is the most Pharah-friendly map in the game, so DreamKazper is very likely going to have to spend time on her (or at least defending against her). If DreamKazper and Uprising can’t shut down TviQ, Mayhem is going to exploit it to great effect. However, if DreamKazper is able to win this positional battle, chances are very good for Boston taking the whole series.

Andreas “Logix” Berghmans
The Belgian Tracer specialist is considered one of the best DPS players in Europe, and his online performances towards the end of last year were impressive. However Logix was shut down hard in the Contenders LAN finals, and didn’t look his dominant self in the preseason either. While there’s room for improvement across the board, Mayhem needs a strong showing out of Logix most of all. If he continues to struggle, Mayhem are going to be in for a rough five weeks, and a reputation for not performing at LAN can’t be good for him personally either.

Prediction: 3-2 to Mayhem

Mayhem couldn’t have asked for a tougher opening game, and Boston aren’t faring much better in their opening either. Both teams will look to this, their second match, as an opportunity to grab a win and close out their opening week on a strong note. Boston came out looking stronger than many pundits expected, and Florida worse, but I see Mayhem scraping out an ugly win here. Mayhem need to rediscover their form, while Uprising need to build it. With such little time to work with, I believe that the former will be easier than the latter.

Boston will likely look to dive Florida’s supports tirelessly. Both Zuppeh nor Zebbosai spent quite a lot of time in the preseason waiting to respawn, and they simply look awful running Mercy without Pharah. Mayhem, for their part, will probably look to exploit Pharah, as they’re going to be confident that they have the better one, and there are plenty of places across the map set to run her. Ultimately, it’s the advantage in this position that has me giving the match to Florida. That being said, I wouldn’t put money on either team winning, especially without seeing how each team responds to their opening match Korean onslaught.

Analysis Florida Mayhem Overwatch League

Overwatch League match preview: Opening Day

Welcome to the first Overwatch League match preview!

In this feature, I’ll go over who I think is going to take each match and why, what the storylines to watch are, and who you, as a neutral fan, should be looking out for. These are incredibly time consuming to make, so depending on the reception, I’ll probably only do them for each week’s key matches going forward.

Week1-Banner1

Before we get started, some general notes:

This stage’s map pool: Escort: Dorado & Junkertown | Assault: Anubis & Horizon | Control: Ilios & Oasis | Hybrid: Eichenwalde & Numbani | Tiebreaker: Lijiang

Playoffs: When I refer to playoffs, I’m always talking about the end-of-season playoffs, not the end-of-stage ones. Six teams make it into the end-of-season playoffs. Most analysts, including myself, see the top four slots as all but locked up by some ordering of London, Seoul, Dallas, and New York, with a bunch of decently strong teams all gunning for the last two playoff spots.

Format: Outside of the playoffs, every game is a four map set (one of each map type). A score of 3-2 indicates that the first maps went 2-2, and a tie-breaking fifth map had to be played. A score of 2-1 indicates that one of the maps tied (most likely the Assault, although it’s also possible to tie on Hybrid).

San Francisco Shock hosts Los Angles Valiant

Dorado · Anubis · Ilios · Numbani

Prediction: 3-2 to Valiant

What a way to open the League! This looks like it’s going to be a tight match between two solid teams with playoff aspirations. I don’t see either team as having a significant edge, but I’m giving it to Valiant. The team in green is coming into the League with an established core – the former Immortals – and since neither team has had ample practice time, Valiant’s pre-existing synergy is going to be important. Additionally, I think that Shock might have shown a bit too much of their hand in the preseason.

Storylines: 

Redemption for the Preseason?
Valiant beat Shock 3-2 in the preseason, however Shock came into the match having just played another game (filling in for the absent Philadelphia Fusion), and later claimed that exhaustion played a part in their loss. With both teams coming into this rematch fresh, will Shock be able to get their revenge, or was Valiant the better team all along?

Can Valiant shut down Babybay?
While Shock is by no means a one-trick team, the preseason made it clear that they are a team that is currently built around the Babybay, who put on an absolute clinic on Widowmaker during the preseason, and was known before OWL for his strong Soldier:76. If Valiant is able to focus him down and keep him from dictating fights, Shock could be in for a rough night.

Who to watch:

Nikola “Sleepy” Andrews
Aside from Babybay, the most impressive player on San Francisco Shock has been Sleepy. He came into the League as a relative unknown, but his Zenyatta was one of the strongest in the preseason. As Philadelphia Fusion’s Boombox can attest, strong Zenyatta play can quickly catapult a player from unknown to “household name” status, and if Sleepy plays in Stage 1 like he did in the preseason, he’s going to be one of the League’s first breakout stars.

Shanghai Dragons hosts Los Angeles Gladiators

Dorado · Anubis · Ilios · Eichenwalde

Prediction: 4-0 to Gladiators

I want Shanghai to do well. China is a massive market, growing esports power, and has been one of the most active regions for Overwatch since the beginning. However, what we saw from Shanghai in the preseason was less than encouraging. They had little pre-existing synergy and very little practice time, and it showed in their lack coordination. Gladiators is going to come into this much more polished, and it’s going to show. The map type most forgiving to teams that haven’t built coordination is Control, but Ilios and Oasis are both strong Pharah maps, and Gladiators has two noted Pharah experts.

Storylines:

Can Diya carry?
The biggest bright spot for Shanghai during the preseason was Diya’s Widowmaker. Right now, Widow is quite strong on quite a number of maps, including at least parts of all four maps Shanghai chose. With limited time to build strategies, it’s quite possible that Shanghai have set themselves up around empowering Diya, and if he pops off, it could be a more competitive match than I predicted.

How good is Gladiators, really?
Gladiators beat Spitfire but lost to Valiant. Yes, it was the preseason, with rusty players and awkward forced substitutions, but that’s an odd spread. Gladiators is a tough team to place, both on paper and based on their preseason performances. I personally have them as bottom third, but I also think that they’re going to look strongest earlier in the season, so if they want to place well, a strong start is vital.

Who to watch:

Joao Pedro “Hydration” Veloso de Goes Telles
If the preseason is any indication, Hydration’s role in the team might not have been what people were expecting. A projectile DPS player with a strong Pharah and Genji, he actually spent a decent amount of time on tanks – specifically Orisa and Roadhog – swapping in and out for Bischu, who played only D.va. Where Hydration gets his playtime, and who is sitting on the bench while he’s in game, will tell us a lot about how Gladiators is going to play going forward. This team might wind up running solo tank, and possibly even triple tank, more than most others.

Dallas Fuel hosts Seoul Dynasty

Junkertown · Anubis · Ilios · Numbani

Prediction: 3-1 to Seoul

The best game of the week closes out the first day. EnVyUs, who became Dallas Fuel, won OGN APEX season 1. Lunatic Hai, who became Seoul Dynasty, won seasons 2 and 3. These are storied powerhouses that dominated 2017. Between their storied history and their current form, Seoul is the team to beat in the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. While they looked mortal during the preseason, Dallas looked vulnerable as well, losing more maps in less matches. In the end, Seoul is just on another level at the moment, and I expect them to come out with a win, albeit a hard-fought one.

Storylines: 

Will we see the streamers play?
Although both are skilled players, there’s still a decent contingent of people that think Dallas signed Seagull and xQc just to grab their massive fanbases. While Dallas seemed to relish the more aggressive tank play xQc brought, Seagull hasn’t clicked as well thus far. In a match against an opponent that will brutally capitalize on every misstep, will Dallas fall back on their old core, or will we see Seagull and xQc get significant play time?

What is Seoul’s ceiling?
Seoul could lose to Dallas. They could just squeak by. Or they could crush the boys in blue and put the rest of the league on notice. They’re going to pull out all the stops against Dallas, who look to be by far their most difficult opponents in the month of January. Without the constraints of the preseason (hiding strategies, forced subs), we will finally be able to see what Seoul is capable of.

Who to watch:

Je-Hong “ryujehong” Ryu
Throughout much of 2017, ryujehong was considered one of the best players in the world. His Ana was so dominant that it pushed the developers to change how ultimates work. Now, with Ana out of the meta, he might not even be the best player on his team. While he is a force to be reckoned with on any hero he plays, the fact is that everything else is a significant step step down from what he can do on Ana. His team has, in the past, tried to force Ana when she wasn’t in-meta, to varying degrees of success. It will be important to see which hero he spends most of his time on, and how Seoul plays around that.

Analysis Overwatch League

Around the Watch archives: 18 interviews with Overwatch League players and staff

For the past ten months, Around the Watch has interviewed players, coaches, managers, and influencers. Many of the people we interviewed have since found spots in the Overwatch League, and with the preseason beginning soon, now is the perfect time to revisit those interviews.

AtW

Mendokusaii

“I’m pretty jacked and people don’t mess with me but I’m pretty scared of Gods” (Jan 25)
Mendo joined us from South Korea, where he was representing Cloud9 in Season 2 of OGN APEX. Cloud9 narrowly missed progressing out of the group stages, and after departing Korea, Mendo became a full-time Overwatch streamer for Cloud9. He’s now with the Houston Outlaws.

Numlocked

“I want to know how the hell you win a game of Earthshatter chicken” (Feb 8)
When we spoke with Numlocked, he was representing NRG. Picked up right before Season 1 of OGN APEX to be their Lucio player, he also represented the org at MLG Vegas. After NRG failed to qualify for Contenders Season 0, he departed, eventually joining Envision for Contenders Season 1. He now plays main tank for Los Angeles Valiant.

Flame

“What’s it like having a small, oddly well-mannered personal army?” (Feb 24)
Although he initially planned on being a pro player, Flame quickly transitioned to analysis. At the time that we spoke with him, he had already become one of the more well-known analysts in the scene, and had landed his first desk gig at MLG Vegas. Although his plan at the time was to land more desk analyst gigs, fate (and OpTic Gaming) had something else in mind. Flame is now the General Manager for Houston Outlaws.

IDDQD

“I’ve played with Rogue before, I know what they’re packing ;)” (Mar 16)
IDDQD’s best tournament results were in 2016, when he was a member of fnatic. With them, he reached the semifinals of both the Atlantic Showdown and the Overwatch Open. He was also the captain of Team Sweden in the Overwatch World Cup that year. When we spoke to IDDQD in early 2017, he was already a member of NRG. He went on to become the only player from NRG to transfer to San Francisco Shock when the former became the latter.

Jake

“Winston was the first hero I ever played” (Mar 31)
Few people have been on more podcasts than Jake, and he’s been on AtW twice. The first time was back in March, when his team had just been signed to Luminosity Gaming as “LG Evil”. As LG Evil, and as Hammers Esports before then, the team had a series of strong showings in the first half of 2017. However, despite qualifying for Contenders Season 0, their 7-8 finish meant they didn’t make it into Season 1, sealing LG Evil’s fate. Jake is now with Houston Outlaws.

Surefour

“Korean Winstons are Master Baiters” (May 5)
One of the biggest names in Overwatch, Surefour was the star of Cloud9 all the way back when they won Agents Rising, a tournament held three days after the game was released. We spoke to him in May, during a lull in high-level competition (TaKeOver 2 would be the following month). He continued on with Cloud9 until the Overwatch League signing period, when he was picked up by Los Angeles Gladiators.

Bishop

“Kaiser will be our Main Tank for Cloud 9….HYPE!” (21 May)
Bishop competed as a player for KongDoo Panthera in OGN APEX Season 1, but transitioned to coaching shortly after their group stage exit. When we caught up with him, he was the coach of Cloud9, who had just signed popular RunAway player Kaiser as their new main tank. When C9 bought into the Overwatch League and became London Spitfire, they signed much of the KongDoo Panthera roster, and Bishop became London’s coach.

xQc

“He had a golden Reinhardt hammer and he said ‘Why did you add me?'” (June 8)
A double-feature, we spoke with xQc and Dahun, then of Yikes!, shortly after their win in the May edition of the Alienware Monthly Melee, and shortly before they rebranded as Arc6. A few weeks later, the team would narrowly miss out on Contenders Season 0. The team disbanded after the BEAT Invitational in July, giving xQc more time to spend on his immensely popular stream. xQc is now with Dallas Fuel.

Cwoosh

“I don’t remember much of the TaKeTV after-party but people tell me it was great” (July 3)
As the title suggests, we spoke with Cwoosh right after the TaKeOver 2 LAN. At the time, Cwoosh was playing for Movistar Riders, a team that never got quite the recognition or publicity that their strong results deserved. Movistar disbanded seven days after this episode of the podcast was published, and Cwoosh went on to join Misfits, making the transition to main tank in the process. Misfits became the Florida Mayhem, bringing Cwoosh into the League.

LegitRC

“Mini” Doomfist Episode (July 12)
Unlike most episodes of Around the Watch, this wasn’t actually an interview. Instead, the hosts decided to dedicate an episode to the newly released hero Doomfist, and we were lucky enough to have LegitRC and Noukky stop on by to share their thoughts as well. LegitRC is best known as a coach of Selfless. He, along with Selfless’s founder Brad (and AtW co-host Harsha) are now with San Francisco Shock.

Ookz and Josh Kim

“Korean KBBQ vs LA KBBQ, it isn’t even a question” (July 14)
Ookz was the head coach of Immortals, and Josh Kim the team’s manager, when we spoke with them in mid-July. The news had just broke that Immortals would be representing Los Angeles in the Overwatch League, making this the first podcast with confirmed members of an OWL team. Although we didn’t know the name at the time, Immortals is now Los Angeles Valiant.

Coolmatt69, Rawkus, Jake, Sinatraa, and Kyky

“If you can’t call your teammates a bitch, you can’t win a tournament” (Aug 17)
We had the entire USA World Cup team on, right after they qualified for the finals at BlizzCon (including Adam and FCTFCTN, who sadly aren’t in the League yet). The team’s chemistry really shined through in the episode, one of the most joke-filled we’ve had. Rawkus, Jake, and Coolmatt69 are now on Houston Outlaws, Sinatraa is on San Francisco Shock, and Kyky coaches Dallas Fuel.

Coolmatt69, Bani, Boink, Clockwork, and Muma

“Everyone expects Mercy to get nerfed so there’s no reason to scrim live” (Sept 30)
Yes, you’re reading that right, Coolmatt69 was back just five episodes later, this time along with the rest of FNRGFE. The team had just finished qualifying for the LAN finals of Contenders Season 1. At the time, Coolmatt69 and Muma were rumored to have been picked up by Houston Outlaws. We didn’t know it then, but all five players would go on to be picked up by the team in black and neon green.

Super and Sleepy

“DhaK said he would cook for us” (Oct 7)
Shortly after they were announced as players for San Francisco Shock, Around the Watch snagged an interview with super and Sleepy. Super, who will be sitting out the first few months due to age, was well known from his time on Hammers Esports/Luminosity Gaming Evil. Sleepy, on the other hand, was virtually unknown before his singing. He had a stint with Tempo Storm early in 2017.

LiNkzr and Big00se

“We were peaceful people, we just farmed and collected stuff in the woods” (Oct 14)
We spoke with three members of the Finnish team Gigantti right after their Contenders Season 1 win: LiNkzr, BigG00se, and Davin. Although Gigantii arose from the ashes of Ninjas in Pyjamas, none of them were on the original NiP team; LiNkzr was previously best known for his time on Dignitas, BigG00se from Alfa Squad, and Davin from Cyclones. LiNkzr is now on Houston Outlaws, BigG00se on Los Angeles Gladiators, and Davin isn’t in the League yet.

Custa

“The Dallas Fuel roster is essentially meta-proof” (Nov 11)
When we interviewed Custa, he had just been announced as eighth player for Dallas Fuel (behind the original EnVyUs six and Seagull). Custa was a member of the old fnatic roster that competed in the Overwatch Open and OGN APEX Season 2, but flew under the radar in the months since fnatic disbanded. We spoke to him about his trail process, and got his thoughts on the BlizzCon announcements: Moira and Blizzardworld.

BEARHANDS

“I really want to play against Houston to settle community rankings debates” (Nov 20)
Before becoming the general manager for New York Excelsior, BEARHANDS was a Blizzard employee, working on tournament format, and serving as a liaison between Overwatch’s esports and development teams. We picked BEADHANDS’ mind about NYXL’s selection process, branding, and vision for the future.

Brad, LegitRC, and Harsha

“We get 20 texts a day from Danteh asking like ‘How do I brush my teeth?'” (Dec 3)
In what may be the last ever episode of Around the Watch (although we all hope that’s not the case), we spoke with Brad, LegitRC, and our very own Harsha, now a member of San Francisco Shock. Brad was a co-founder and co-coach of Selfless before folding the organization and moving to Shock. LegitRC, also a co-coach of Selfless, followed Brad to San Fran, and Harsha was “officially” announced right before the podcast.

Interviews Overwatch League

Pro PUGs: A Path Forward

Earlier this week, 113 Overwatch League players piled into a ballroom for the inaugural Player Summit, a series of presentations on the league format, conduct expectations, and life as a pro. Presenters included Jeff Kaplan and professional baseball player Trevor May. Holding the event was a deft touch on Blizzard’s part, and the reaction to it has been almost universally positive.

Player Summit

However, one thing that emerged from the Player Summit that wasn’t met with a warm response was the news that Blizzard would be prohibiting players from organizing pick-up games (PUGs), which they had been doing in the weeks leading up to the Summit. Additionally, when playing in regular games, they would only be able to queue up with a maximum of one other OWL player.

According to former-pro and O.W. moderator Eric “PapaSmurf” Murphy, players complained about the new rules, and Blizzard has promised to change them. It’s too soon to know what Blizzard will come up with, but it’s unrealistic to expect a complete reversal of the policy.

The argument for pro PUGs

High-level players have been unhappy with ranked play almost since it was unveiled. Common criticisms of ranked include the skill discrepancy between the pros and some of the players they are put on a team with (for example, diamond players in the same game as Top 500 players), and “one tricks” (players that only play one hero, regardless of whether the map or the enemy composition calls for that hero). Players voice those frustrations on stream, and their fans then amplify those complaints on the forums and on reddit.

However, as Houston Outlaws coach Tae-yeong “TaiRong” Kim pointed out on Twitter, the issue with ranked goes deeper than just an unpleasant playing experience; there’s little relationship between ranked play and professional play. As we saw in the pro PUGs, professional play involves significantly more communication, coordination, and strategy than would be possible in ranked play. PUGs also allow players to choose maps that are relevant to them and skip ones that aren’t in the upcoming stage’s map pool. Finally, pro PUGs ensure that each team has the proper number of players for each role; they’re not going to get four main tanks on one side and four flex supports on the other. For these reasons, pro PUGs make for significantly better practice than ranked play does.

Pro PUGs also appear to be a more enjoyable experience for fans. The pros themselves are happier, the level of play is higher and more consistent, and since the pros all know each other, fans are treated to their humorous interactions with one another. More fans tuning in means more subscriptions, which means more income for the players. Players were understandably excited about growing the PUG project, as well as growing their streams. A specialized Discord for coordinating PUGs had already been set up, and there were plans in the works to track wins and losses across games.

The argument against pro PUGs

Judging from the reactions on Twitter while the PUGs were being held, Blizzard employees enjoyed the pro PUGs just as much as other fans did. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t arguments against having them. While Blizzard hasn’t officially stated the reason for the ban, there are a couple of sound-looking options.

First and foremost, PUGs split the pros out of the player base. While it’s true that pros would not be playing pro PUGs exclusively, they would likely be giving pro PUGs preferential treatment over regular ranked games. Since the original Krusher99 video, Blizzard has been selling the community a vision that anyone could become the next pro; that you, yourself, could be Krusher99, with the big contract and the ogling fans. Pro PUGs, which are open only to players with histories in the professional scene, undercut Blizzard’s “it could be you” marketing.

Additionally, there’s been some suggestion that the two OWL player maximum, as well as the ban on pro PUGs, is an effort by Blizzard to prevent other high-level play from diluting the OWL brand. It’s not the strongest argument at the moment, as there is some stellar talent left out of OWL that will be tearing up Contenders in a few months, but Blizzard is putting in place policies meant to span years. Once there are more teams and scouting has improved, the brightest stars will almost all be in OWL, and Blizzard wants there to be no question in fans’ minds that the Overwatch League is the place to go for high-level Overwatch play.

Room for compromise

Blizzard and the pro community have butted heads before, on such things as hero limits, tournament formats and map pools, hero balance, and components of the ranked play experience. As the owner of the game, Blizzard has the upper hand in these discussions. At times, they’ve been very receptive, and at times they’ve been the opposite.

Had there not been several weeks of pro PUGs before the Summit, banning them might not have been as big an issue. However, once players and fans saw how good pro PUGs could be, simply axing them was bound to elicit pushback. Blizzard’s reported willingness to come to the negotiating table immediately is a positive sign, both for this issue, and for player-league relations in the future.

Here’s what I’d like to see as a compromise solution:

Blizzard will embrace pro PUGs as a regular source of high-quality Overwatch content, but create specific broadcast windows for them. Players will be able to play PUGs whenever they want, however during match weeks, they will only be able to be broadcast them on days that games are not being played. Once Contenders starts, players will not be able to broadcast PUGs while Contenders games are being broadcast. During playoff weeks (both end of stage and end of season), players won’t broadcast PUGs at all. During the OWL offseason, players will be able to broadcast any time or day they want, except while Contenders games or other major tournaments are on air.

Overwatch League players will make a conscious effort to include Contenders players in the PUGs, ideally with four to six of the twelve players from Contenders. This way, Blizzard will be able to use pro PUGs to showcase the talent pipeline. The increased exposure for Contenders players might also make Contenders spots more valuable to organizations looking to get into (or back into) Overwatch.

During the regular season, Overwatch League players will be permitted to queue up with up to two other people, and they can both be other Overwatch League players. During the offseason, there will be no restrictions on who players can queue with.

Blizzard and Overwatch League players will form a working group to have frequent, candid discussions about the issues in ranked play and how to improve them. Blizzard will make a good-faith effort to act on the most feasible solutions that the working group develops. Pro players, for their part, will tone down their public criticism of ranked play. This last part isn’t a suppression of freedom of speech; its office politics. If Blizzard is working on improvements suggested developed in partnership with Overwatch League players, those players need to do their part to create an environment where the community isn’t breathing fire down the developers’ necks.

The compromise above would allow Blizzard to protect the Overwatch League brand and promote Contenders, while also allowing players to play in a format that’s more appealing to them and more conducive to building a streaming audience.

 

 

Opinions Overwatch League

Guide to picking an Overwatch League team

Whether you’re new to Overwatch, new to watching competitive Overwatch, or a relapsed fan that wants to know what the heck is going on now with all the new teams, welcome! I hope this guide will be helpful.

Heroes

I want to follow the team that’s going to win the first season

Everyone wants their team to win. There’s no shame in rooting for a team that you think is going to be successful, especially if you don’t have a local one to cheer for.

At or near the top of many lists is London Spitfire. The all-Korean team is a fusion of players from recent APEX and APAC Premier champions GC Busan, perennial APEX strong-finishers KongDoo Panthera, and two additional players. Their biggest challenge will be integrating all of their talent and balancing playtime. With birdring, Rascal, Profit, and Hooreg all on the same team, they’re always going to have a few world elite DPS players on the bench.

You’d be remiss not to consider Seoul Dynasty as well. Most of two-time APEX champions Lunatic Hai were picked up by Seoul, and their highly regard coach, alwaysoov, was brought on as well. Several talented players from other teams have been added to the mix, filling admittedly serious gaps in the former LH roster. With ample LAN experience, including against elite Western teams, the spotlight of the Overwatch League won’t faze them.

Finally, Dallas Fuel is considered by most to be the best team that’s not all-Korean (they do have one Korean, the immensely talented Effect). Formerly competing as EnVyUs, Fuel have proved themselves as elite competitors in every meta. When they won the inaugural season of APEX, they became the only Western team in any team-based esport to win a major tournament in Korea. With the addition of three new players, their vaunted flexibility will only increase.

I want to follow an American team

Even though three-fourths of the teams in OWL are based in the United States, there are no fully American teams, and that’s true whether you mean “American” as the country or the continent.

The Houston Outlaws gets you pretty close though; of their ten players, six are from the United States and one is from Canada. In Jake, coolmatt69, and Rawkus, Houston picked up half of the United States World Cup team. The organization’s branding – with a stylized Longhorn made out of revolvers, also feels the most “American” of any of the teams in the league.

San Francisco Shock also have a good number of Americans. Five of their nine are from the US and one is from Mexico (the only Mexican in the league). Two of those players, Sinatraa and super, won’t be old enough to play until mid-season. Sinatraa and dhaK, along with two members of the Shock coaching staff, are from the now-defunct Selfless Gaming, a team known for their extremely aggressive play.

I want to follow a European team

There’s only one team based in a European city, and it’s owned by an American organization, with an all-Korean roster and staff. So instead of them, let’s look at some teams with European rosters.

Florida Mayhem, formerly competing as Misfits, has an all-European roster with four Swedes, a Finn, and a Belgian. Although only one of Mayhem’s players – Zebbosai – was on Misfits when it they the Overwatch Open and DreamHack Winter LANs in 2016, this is a team of storied veterans. TviQ won several major LANs with Rogue. Zuppeh, Logix, and CWoosH have online tournament wins, Zuppeh with Ninjas in Pyjamas, and the others with Movistar Riders.

The next closest you’re going to get is Philadelphia Fusion. Of their 12 players, half are European, and one is Israeli (the nation competes in Europe in many region-based competitions). ShaDowBurn, the Russian Genji specialist, is probably the most high-profile European on the roster, but Fragi (Finnish) and Boombox (British) are also renowned. Snillo (Swedish) will be sitting out until he turns 18 in early March.

I want to follow a team with big streaming personalities

Seagull is one of the most popular streamers in Overwatch, and has become one of the faces of the game. He was recently picked up by Dallas Fuel. Fuel also picked up xQc, a tour de force of personality with a 5,000 subscriber community. Expect to see some of Fuel’s other stars, such as Taimou and Mickie, make appearances on stream as well.

The Houston Outlaws signed the popular streamer Mendokusaii (he calls his community “the Mendojo”). The org’s general manager, Flame, built his reputation with especially blunt match breakdowns, and has one of the larger Discord communities in Overwatch. Finally, while not one of the biggest names in streaming, Jake has recently started organizing and streaming pro pick-up games, and is known for his well-written Overwatch blog.

The owner of San Francisco Shock, NRG, was famous (or infamous) earlier in the year for signing a “Stream Dream Team” anchored around Seagull. While the rest of that team has departed, Swedish hitscan specialist IDDQD remains. He’s now joined by sinatraa, a popular streamer himself and star from the USA World Cup team.

I want to follow an underdog, but one that’s got a decent shot to surprise people

The consensus on both the Houston Outlaws and Florida Mayhem are that they’re middle of the pack teams. I have them fourth and sixth respectively, slightly higher than many analysts project.

Joining them in the middle of the pack is Los Angeles Valiant. The team is owned by Immortals, and many of the players carried over from one roster to the other. Immortals was in a slump when the changeover to Valiant happened, but Valiant has added several talented players since, including former Rogue players Unkoe and Soon. This is a strong roster with a high ceiling, and shows the potential to challenge the all-Korean teams and the Texas duo.

The consensus on Shanghai Dragons is that they’re a middle of the pack team as well, but also that they could have been much stronger. Not a single member of Overwatch Premier Series champions Miraculous Youngster is on the Dragons. There’s also not much overlap with the Chinese World Cup team. Still, while China is the region least known to Western fans, it’s had more high level competition than most other regions, and Dragons’ players are LAN veterans.

Finally, New York Excelsior is an underdog of a different kind. Expected to finish comfortably in the top half, they’re nonetheless considered the weakest of the three all-Korean teams. Many analysts have them fourth behind Fuel. I have them fifth behind Fuel and Outlaws. That being said, they have an incredibly talented roster, and Saebyeolbe is one of the top players in the world. If New York challenges for the title, it’s not going to be surprising.

I want to follow a real underdog – a team that people are projecting to be bottom of the table

There are two teams left that haven’t been mentioned. Grouping them together here feels almost wrong; there’s a lot of good things you can say about one, while the other has little going for it.

Los Angeles Gladiators have a lot of recognizable names, most prominent being former Cloud9 star Surefour. Both their tanks and their supports were respected duos before joining Gladiators. However, while this roster has the skill to challenge the mid-table, a lot of analysts are approaching it with trepidation. Gladiators is the latest in a long string of talented-looking teams built around Surefour, and none of the others have ever reached the expectations people had for them.

Most analysts, myself included, have Boston Uprising coming in last. In a league full of superstars, most of the players  (and coaching staff) on Uprising are relative unknowns. While it’s possible that a few of them could surprise us, the fact is that there are a lot of better players that didn’t make it into the inaugural season of Overwatch League that Boston could have been picked up instead. It’s a puzzling collection, especially since (per ESPN) Boston was the first team to commit to OWL, and had longer to build than most.

Analysis Florida Mayhem Overwatch League