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.

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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