For the second article in our “Believe The Hype” series profiling teams going to Blizzcon, we go into a narrative dive about Team France and the kind of dedication personal and professional growth can inspire.
It’s three o’clock in the morning when my first alarm goes off; there’s no sunlight at this hour, only birds chirping in the distance. I stumble to the kitchen, make toast, then plop down at my laptop. The matches of the final Overwatch World Cup 2018 group stage begin at a reasonable time in Paris, but in America, it’s the middle of the night.
I woke up for Team France.
I’m a born-and-raised American who happens to be ride or die for the French World Cup team. The Parisian crowd waving flags and donning berets for their players spoke to my soul, even from across an ocean. I have no excuses, however; no French runs in my blood and the only words I know in the language are swears. The only reason I have for supporting them is, simply, “I’m charmed and I love them.” And I’m here to get you on this hype train.
People wonder why Team France is deserving of the sea of fans screaming their nation’s anthem before a match. There’s an assumption about this team that I hear from a lot of Overwatch fans. They’re arrogant, people say. When they play, viewers think they don’t care about the outcome, because they already know they’re going to win. A smugness is normally attributed to the French, and it’s been effectively stapled to the heads of this team.
I want people to look deeper, beyond the smirks and eyebrow raises they display in front of crowds. If you peel back the hard crust of your average baguette, they’re soft on the inside. As cliche as it sounds, this softness comes from friendship. A good portion of the French World Cup roster previously served as the backbone of Rogue, a dominating team in the pre-OWL competitive world. These players have years of friendship between them, and it shows in their cohesion and ability to mess with each other. A good example is their Parisian bootcamp 4-stack focusing uNKOE on the other team.
The tank duo of Team France are the only members who were not on Rogue. It’s hard being the new kids, but I think they’ve managed just fine. You have BenBest, who is a sort of quiet model-esque cryptid, and Poko, who is a loud model-esque cryptid. BenBest has managed to stay off the radar of Overwatch TMZ and achieve a level of success as main tank on Contenders team Young and Beautiful. Additionally, he takes the best selfies on Team France, which counts for something.
Poko’s fame has come from his iconic D.Va play on Philadelphia Fusion and map-wiping “Poko Bombs” as much as it has from his quirky behavior. The dude owns Fish Flops and a banana button-down shirt. He may or may not have worn them at the same time. There’s something deeply charming about a guy who owns his own weirdness and something impressive that he can turn it into a “brand”.
NiCO, the artist formerly known as NiCOgdh, is the team’s DPS substitute, Genji specialist, and bonafide founding member of competitive Overwatch. Caster Andrew “ZP” Rush mused during the France stage that he remembered NiCO being a part of his first cast. He’s quiet and unassuming, except for when he’s Dragonblading through enemy teams.
Dallas Fuel member and fellow Genji enthusiast aKm was a star DPS on Rogue. There’s very little he isn’t able to play at the highest level. With that level of skill, he gives off the vibe of a person that walks with a swagger into any room. Thankfully, that’s pretty untrue; aKm is self-aware and funny enough to see the humor in some of his exploits as DPS. He’s even leaned into the meme his Genji play has become.
aKm is undeniably tethered to Dallas Fuel teammate and local “toxic” support uNKOE. He’s served as a centerpiece of Rogue, of the OWL teams he’s been on, and now Team France. The thing about uNKOE is that he’s like a fine pinot noir: you have to get acquired to him to appreciate him. The charm of uNKOE comes from his ability to be blunt, honest, and hilarious. His comments leave no prisoners. Before becoming accustomed to Team France, I thought he was toxic. I’ve since realized he’s telling the truth, just in a very sharpened way.
The only other person aKm is tied to more is his brother, Winz, who is also the only Frenchman more of a meme than him. Despite being a member of Rogue and a Lucio specialist, he’s garnered the reputation of being the only person reclining on a moving cart. (See: “I am on ze payload, what is ze problem?”) Despite this, in the 2018 World Cup he’s shown up and performed better than expected after not playing professionally for a year. Also doing better than expected are Coach daemoN (Baemon, if you’re familiar with Valiant) and Rogue’s Lanf3ust, GM. Together, they fill the role of parents trying to whip their unwieldy brood into champions. A 5-0 map count from Paris is a good indicator of their success.
And then there’s SoOn. Oh, SoOn. Anyone who knows me, even casually, knows SoOn is my favorite player in the entire league. During the Overwatch League, I fell for his sneaky Tracer backcaps and stayed for the dinks of his Widow headshots. He was my gateway drug to the LA Valiant and Team France as a whole. If anyone embodies the wrong assumption people have about Team France, it’s SoOn. Those who don’t know him think he’s cold, aloof, or serious. They aren’t aware he also regularly bursts into song on stream and trolls players in ranked with an alt account and a terrible Russian accent.
Having followed his journey, I’m prouder of accomplishments beyond kill/death ratios. As a regular viewer of SoOn’s streams, I’ve heard him discuss how uncomfortable live interviews make him; he’s shy, he says, and the level of pressure has an effect on his English skills. The nerves make him seem overly serious, focused only on the game. It’s obvious if you’ve seen a few of his impromptu OWL interviews.
But then there was the Paris stage.
After a stunning 4-0 over Team United Kingdom for the stage’s last match, Malik handed SoOn the mic to say something to the Parisian fans. There was a beat of silence. I worried. But then there was joy. SoOn thanked his home crowd for being so supportive, and yelled for them to be “louder, louder.” To see him joyful, beaming, and leading a wild, victorious crowd despite his fears was one of my favorite esports experiences thus far. I bawled my eyes out at 11am American time.
For me, watching Team France has been more about the personal gains than the professional ones. I could sit here and give you a list of illustrious statistics: the history of Rogue, their 2017 World Cup maps versus South Korea, their undeniable record of the Paris Stage. But it’s about growth.
I saw SoOn come out of his shell. Saw Poko put on his serious face, Winz redeem himself from the memes, AKM and Unkoe prove they’re more than toxic codependent friends. France is a team that are so wrapped within each other that they do it for each other. Across OWL teams, across oceans, they work together for themselves. If that’s selfish, I appreciate selfishness, and I’ll stay appreciating selfishness.
I woke up for every one of Team France’s matches that stage. Five o’clock, coffee brewing. Seven o’clock, sun rising. I set alarms, I took naps, I lost sleep.
I’d do it again.