This week, I had the special opportunity to interview a couple of Fusion University’s star players, ZachaREEE and Elk. They gave some insightful reflections about the current meta, their team dynamic, influential players/coaches in their lives, and future plans for OWL. Big shoutout to @itistaco for putting this together! Let’s get into the interview.
Texas: Thank you guys for joining me! Why don’t we start by having you guys introduce yourselves and tell us how you ended up with Fusion University.
Elk: Yeah sure, I’ll go first! I play main support for Fusion University. I got picked up alongside Zack after we played in a rather “meme-y” tournament called Overwatch Heroes Rumble 2017. We were both on that team and won the LAN over in Taiwan.
ZachaREEE: Hi, I’m ZachaREEE and I play DPS for Fusion University. It was around December when we finished the LAN in Taiwan and then we joined Fusion Uni right afterwards.
Texas: Great. Zack I know you played for Renegades before Fusion University. How did they discover you?
ZachaREEE: Well I’ve actually told this story to a couple people in my chat. Snow from the Boston Uprising used to play on a team called Team of Snow, which became Kingdom Esports which became Renegades. He still had a contact with their manager, Cameron. I was a good friend of Snows and used to just play comp with him all the time. After they started doing roster changes and stuff, Snow just recommended me, and then they tried me out.
Texas: Ok. What about you Elk? I know you played for Evil Geniuses and MEGA Thunder. How did you get involved with them?
Elk: So Evil Geniuses was an unsigned team before called Eastwind. I talked to the coach very early on in Overwatch and was kind of friends with him, so he brought me in when he was forming that team. We had a debut performance in the Alienware Monthly Melee, where we beat Selfless and NRG in the group stage and then we lost to Immortals. We were coming out of group stage in the upper bracket playing against Rogue! This was the most hyped we had ever been because we were so inexperienced at the time. After that, when EG kinda died down, one of the players we were considering picking up was Graceful; he had this offer to go overseas and play for MEGA Thunder. He asked if he was able to bring me with him. Then after a while, a lackluster performance from myself and the team, I came back to the states and looked for an NA Contenders team to play with.
Texas: Cool! I want to move into your individual roles. Starting with Zach, what attracted you to the DPS-Tracer, Genji position?
ZachaREEE: Being better than everyone at the role.
Texas: Gotcha. What about you Elk? Why support?
Elk: So for my first two teams I was an off-tank/DPS player. But up until after I signed with Evil Geniuses, I had been playing on a laptop with like, 40 FPS the entire time. Not even using external keyboard, so it was not a very fun transition. Mostly, the way I pick things up and the way I learn things is not in the mechanical perspective. I came to Overwatch from the perspective of chess or Magic the Gathering, rather than your traditional Overwatch pro player background, which is usually like Team Fortress 2 or CS:GO. The way I approach the game was not like “Oh, I want to play DPS,” it would be more of a tank or support role.
Texas: Ok, nice. Pivoting off of that, what are your guys’ favorite heroes and compositions to play?
ZachaREEE: My favorite hero to play is Sombra, but she’s not really relevant in the meta. I guess right now, Hanzo and Genji are pretty fun because me and WhoRU just kill everything.
Elk: Yeah, so I wasn’t a particular fan of Mercy. I think that especially Contenders Season 1, Mercy was my weakest of the support heroes. The reasons I didn’t like her is that a lot of the rewarding aspects of playing support and a lot of the time-based improvement you see, is a lot harder to see on Mercy because you’re a hero that is completely reliant on other people. That is uncommon for team-based games to the extent of Mercy. I think that has been an interesting transition, whereas now, I kinda like playing her because you can find rewarding things and different aspects of her. I think my favorite hero to play is still Ana, just because the sheer number of things you have to worry about on Ana are crazy. I like how there is an overwhelming number of things you have to be doing on her. I think Ana and Mercy are my 2 favorites to play right now.
Texas: Ok cool. What about favorite meta? Starting all the way back from Season 1 Competitive.
ZachaREEE: I am going to say I liked the Contenders Playoffs meta. You were able to run a lot of different comps: McCree, Pharah, Genji/Tracer, Sombra/Tracer, so it was a really diverse time. And we were good at running a lot of them, it was just really fun because we could just swap to whatever comp the other team wanted and I just felt so dominant, especially on Sombra.
Elk: Yeah so despite everyone being so happy that Overwatch is now out of “dive meta,” I actually really liked the the dive meta from an analytical perspective, because there were so much optimizing and communication that went into a good team playing dive successfully. It was really fun to be one of those things that you could incrementally work on and see the improvement over time. You could be like “Ok, our dives on Hollywood first point have gotten much cleaner, we’ve been taking much less poke damage at the entrance, we are focusing targets quicker, and swapping targets well.” I really liked that aspect of the meta, where you could break it down clearly throughout a fight and see where things broke down or what you were doing well. I think that meta was really good especially for a developing team, to see the improvement they were making.
Texas: Yeah, absolutely. Everyone knows a big part of the dive meta slowly fading from dominance has to do with the introduction of Brigitte. She has seen a decent amount of professional play so far, what role do you guys see her playing in the future of the game?
ZachaREEE: Right now, the only people playing her are DPS players flexing to her to force the other team off of Tracer, or a support that is getting dominated by a Tracer player and you can’t retake, so you just swap Brigitte. She’s not really a fun hero to play in my opinion, but she excels at shutting down flankers and keeping your back line alive.
Texas: So if you want to slow down the pace of the game, basically.
ZachaREEE: Yeah. She can also pocket a specific hero, like McCree, Tracer, or Zen, as well as keeping your backline alive. Or you could just run triple tank with Brig, Moira, Lucio and run into the other team.
Texas: For sure. Moving on from the meta/hero stuff, who did you guys look up to or work with in Overwatch to better your gameplay? Did you grind the game by yourself, were there certain teammates or coaches you looked to for feedback?
ZachaREEE: The person who I looked up to the most when I was a Genji player was actually WhoRU, who is on my team right now. I would usually watch VODs of Lunatic-Hai and see what mechanical stuff he did. Aside from idols, people who I worked alongside to improve was Corey from Gladiators Legion. Pretty much every time we found something interesting or that we could improve on, we would bounce ideas off of each other about play styles and stuff. Our ex-coach Aero, who was really great at giving me feedback, helped me out, and made sure I was just dominating when we were playing in Contenders.
Elk: So it’s interesting. Normally, my approach to learning things is very open. My parents actually make fun of me for it- I ask a lot of questions about everything possible when I am trying to learn a new subject. I just try to absorb as much information as possible and let my own judgment decide what is right and what is wrong. I think in Overwatch, that mindset helped me a lot in the Tier 3 and 4 scenes. Just getting everyone’s input on everything about the game, so that when you get to somebody like Aero, who was great coach for Fusion Uni, really helped us achieve our 8-0 season. He can help you construct all of that information you have into very usable strategies. So I can go to him and say “we are having trouble on this map and these are the ideas I have.” He would break them down into concise ideas and help explain them to other people. He would also develop constructive ways to help the team as whole instead of just me thinking about different comps to run. So I definitely think coaches who are receptive to player feedback and responding to their ideas to help them figure out what they want to do inside the game is a really good quality. I’ve had a couple of coaches like that: Sword for Last Night’s Leftovers and especially Aero. I think he is the best coach I’ve had.
Texas: It’s great that you mention Aero. You guys consistently won over a long span of time, which is hard to do in Overwatch. Most teams in OWL have gone through their fair share of peaks and valleys. Could you guys discuss how he helped develop your play style and influenced you as players?
Elk: It’s interesting to hear you use the word ‘consistent’, we would consistently be winning, but the way we were winning was always different. I think the thing Aero did really well with us, is just making sure everyone was on the same page. So when things did get chaotic, we would still be concise about how to play. A lot of our plans were about enabling Zack and WhoRU to pop off on the DPS roles and making sure Alarm was able to stay alive. In a way, we created those chaotic fights that couldn’t be planned because we knew we would respond better than the other teams. So consistency is just a funny way to hear it described.
Texas: Yeah, I meant the kind of ‘consistency’ in the sense that you guys won consistently, not necessarily play style. Because you guys did win a lot, you were the best Contenders team!
Elk: Yeah, I definitely attribute that to Aero, I think he did a really good job of figuring out what everyone’s individual style was and how they could fit into the team during that dive meta. We had a lot of map 5s in the regular season, but every time it got to that map, we were the kings of Control maps in Contenders. We had only dropped 1 Control map in the entirety of the regular season, when we played about 15-16 over the course of the season. That style of chaotic fighting was playing largely to our strengths as a team.
Texas: Awesome. Well we went over your strengths as a team, but what about weaknesses. What were some of the holes you guys saw in your team over the course of the season?
Elk: I would probably say communication was a big issue. Just because of the language barrier, it was very hard for us to respond to hard pressure. For example, when we played Envision, they focused WhoRU and made sure he wasn’t able to play the game. Because of that language barrier, at that point it was just on Zack to try to do as much as he could. It was hard to talk through as a team about how we could support him better in that moment, and that takes a lot longer with translators and coaches to get his full opinion out and then figure out a good fix. Basically if someone was getting focused, we would put a lot of our resources into WhoRU, Zach, or Alarm, who were playing the 3 most dominant roles at the time and we would just hope to out-mechanic and outsmart the other team.
Texas: Obviously the language barrier is a tough element to overcome, how did your communication with your position partner evolve over the season? WhoRU for you, Zack and Alarm for you, Elk.
ZachaREEE: We had keywords like “flank” and “duel”. Alarm didn’t know what any of those words meant at first, so we would teach him specific words that we needed him to know. So I would be like “Alarm, I’m dueling!” and he would know to give you Harmony Orb. Then I would also call “Tracer flanking you,” and then Alarm would know he needs to be ready to react. Then when I said “I’m flanking,” WhoRU would know to set up for a dive, stuff like that. We would just make sure all of our callouts were relatively simple, so they could communicate effectively and make sure they were engaged and incorporated into our system.
Texas: Interesting! To close out the team-based aspect of the interview, what was your guys’ favorite moment or match from this past season?
Elk: I’ll go first, I know mine. Map 5 against Toronto Esports in the Contenders finals, it is 1-1 on Control, we are on Oasis: City Center, and we are down 99%-0%. I make the call for Zack to go McCree because we were getting snowballed and McCree is a good counter to the Moira/Sombra/Tracer. I’m on Lucio and I have Sound Barrier, and normally if you have McCree, you want Mercy for the damage boost and the pocket is really strong (Zack adds that McCree can usually get resurrected pretty easily as well). It was this awkward position where giving up a support ultimate like that is such bad tempo, that you just have to stay on Lucio for the Barrier. In the end, we manage to come back and win it, 100%-99%, playing a comp we had never played before on a map we had never played any hitscan prior to that one. Everything was completely on the fly and we managed to accumulate 100% without wavering. I think that was my favorite moment as a team, thinking “oh my god, this is insane.”
Texas: I remember missing that game, and then seeing Twitter and Discord absolutely erupt. I went back and watched the VOD and was blown away. Such an insane match. What about you Zack?
ZachaREEE: That same match against Toronto Esports, on Horizon Lunar Colony. Against them, every single time I called my EMP, everyone followed up on it correctly, which just felt good. It gave me that sense that everyone on the team was just in sync, just reacting to Sombra so perfectly. Every hack was getting punished by me and WhoRU. If I got an EMP, we would capitalize on it every time.
Texas: Great. Let’s move on over to Team USA. You two, along with BeastHalo and Crackinlackin were selected to try out. Can you give us any insight as to how that process has been so far? Being together with the guys, playing against OWL talent, etc.
Elk: It made me realize that the gap was a lot smaller than I thought it was. It also has been a really good experience obviously, because all those guys have that experience coming off of Season 1. To get feedback from them and how they understand the game, and how I can factor that information into my own opinions.
Texas: Who is your support partner?
Elk: It started off as Sleepy, then I was with Rawkus shortly, and now currently with Sleepy again.
Texas: How is it playing with them?
Elk: It’s really interesting, because I’m not used to my flex supports speaking English. I think playing with Team USA, the comms were more loud than Fusion Uni, we usually leave room for Alarm and WhoRU to communicate, so it is a little more organized. For Team USA, the first map, everybody is just screaming and everybody is trying to do everything, it was definitely a lot of fun to play.
ZachaREEE: It has been pretty enjoyable, because I’ve been playing with all my friends, pretty much. It’s a lot of people who I used to compete with and scrim against for about a year. So playing alongside them sometimes instead of against them has been a blast. I like seeing how I stack up against them as well.
Texas: So for the summer, do you two have any plans to make that leap up into Overwatch League? If you guys get picked up, will you jump on it? Does it have to be a certain team?
Elk: I want to be in Overwatch League. I was one of the few people on Fusion University who was actually eligible in Season 1 to picked up, and was not. So I definitely want to get into OWL as soon as possible, but the signing period is still after the next season of Contenders. After that, I will definitely be looking into OWL.
ZachaREEE: Pretty much the same thing, but I wasn’t eligible. I’m still 17, and I was 16 when I was signed to Fusion Uni. I’ll be 18 in January, but I’ll be old to play in Season 2, so we’re cool. I don’t really have a team that strikes my eyes, every team has their advantages and disadvantages. Right now, I pretty much want to make the top 7 for World Cup and do well in Contenders, and then just ride that into the league.
Texas: As we approach the end here, do you guys have any advice for any aspiring pro players who are on that Path to Pro? I know it’s hard to give Overwatch advice on such a wide scale, but is there anything that catches your eye in Tier 3 or 4 scenes that maybe most teams don’t see or think about?
ZachaREEE: For individual players, be confident in yourself. A lot of the game is a confidence battle, like if you’re a Zen and you aren’t confident in killing Tracer, the Tracer is going to kill you more than she should. You also have to manage the overconfidence though, and not look down on other players, you have to make sure to respect their game and not get cocky.
Texas: Any shoutouts or thank you’s to close?
ZachaREEE: You know, I’d like to thank my mom. She’s kinda like the nicest person ever and just helps me out with literally everything. I’m in LA right now and I was like “hey mom, I want to go to LA.” I told her “if I got you all the details by tomorrow and I pay for it, would you be ok with it?” and she said “I know you want to, as long as you keep me updated and send me pictures and stuff.” So she has always been super supportive.
Texas: That’s so good to hear. What about you Elk?
Elk: For me, I think I have to go with Aero. He was so talented at figuring out what a player needs to improve and providing that structure for them to capitalize. I think Aero, by far, has been the best coach I have had in that regard, I think you can even see it in the Dallas Fuel’s performance in Stage 4. I’m grateful I was able to work with him for even a season of Contenders. Hopefully in some future season, I can have a coach like him or work with him again.
ZachaREEE: You know, I would add Aero to my list of people I would like to thank too, he was really good at making sure I was happy when I was playing. He always knew stuff I could work on or fix, and kept my confidence high.
Texas: That does it for my questions. Thank you guys for joining me, it was a pleasure. Good luck to both of you in the future!