I got a chance to chat with Indy “Space” Halpern, starting offtank for the Los Angeles Valiant and we covered a lot of great topics from his background, stepping into his roster spot on the Valiant, Team USA, and more!
OWS: Let’s kick things off with talking a little bit about how you got into Overwatch competitively and what about the game appealed to you?
Space: I think when I first started playing Overwatch [it was] casually when it first came out. Just with some friends for fun, we stopped playing cuz it got a little boring. One of my friends still played during season two of Overwatch ranked and he told me to come play with him. At first, I played Zarya because she was super broken. So at that time I just played Zarya and eventually when he got off I would keep playing. I hit grandmaster that season and then after that, I realized that I was good at Overwatch and I could go pro. So I just kept playing and then eventually I got realized by top-level players that I was good at Zarya and from there I just kept playing offtank.
OWS: How did you get into the professional side of the competitive scene?
Space: At first it was just because Overwatch was so young of a game there was a lot of other players who wanted to go pro and the scene was small so a lot of teams would just form. I played rank and met one of my old teammates, his name was Mr. Squishy. He was like ‘Hey, do you want to make a team?’ I was like ‘Sure’ it was my first team ever in Overwatch and I was like ‘Why Not?’ you’ve got to get noticed somehow. So we would just play small tournaments and eventually when you would beat good teams other players would notice you. That was kinda when, after two teams with Mr. Squishy, I met xQc and he noticed me and said: “Hey come play for my team.” I was like “Sure, why not?” I didn’t have any other offers. So I joined xQc’s team with Danteh and Custa. That was our last amateur team and then it became Overwatch League. There was a really small Overwatch scene that everyone played in and I kinda got picked up into that scene by climbing the ladder.
OWS: Arc 6 was the team you were on with xQc, right? Did you go straight from Arc6 to Overwatch League?
Space: I had Arc 6, then the scene kinda died down and there wasn’t much to compete in. We were still waiting for offers as a team and practicing. I got an offer from one of my old coaches Legit RC to come play for Cloud9 in Contenders in Europe, so I did that. After Cloud9 when Overwatch League was about to start. In LA When we went to Overwatch Contenders finals I met a bunch of CEO’s and Owners for Overwatch League Teams and Valiant was one of them. They set up scrims with me and then I played after that.
OWS: You get signed by LA Valiant and the Overwatch League kicks off and you can’t play at first. Can you talk about how that felt transitioning from preseason to regular season and what it was like watching?
Space: In the beginning, a lot of players weren’t expecting that rule to stay – the 18-year-old rule – because of how much good players were under 18. A lot of Korean and NA talent was under 18. We didn’t expect them to keep that rule but they did, so I just had to sit the bench and work on my mechanics. In the beginning, it wasn’t that big of a deal because we had Envy who was an amazingly talented player. I kinda learned a lot from him just watching him play and Fate play. So it was really good for me to sit back and learn from Overwatch League and see how the scene grew. What teams were doing stuff good and what teams weren’t. Which players were doing really good and which players were falling off. So I learned a lot during the three months I was sitting out. So when it was time for me to play I just applied all that to my own play and it worked out really well for me.
OWS: When you first got to come on stage as a player in the Overwatch League, what was the adjustment period like?
Space: I think because Scott came in at the same time, Custa was picked up at the same time as me. Everybody had known we were going to start fresh with a new main roster. It felt like it was a new team playing. It wasn’t like the old Valiant and Space joined in, it was more like a whole new roster that all the players had to get used to playing with each other. We kind of just clicked off in the beginning. Me and Scott have past history playing together. Me and Fate used to play ranked all the time together. I watched him play scrims and I know what he does and I know what I do so we kinda just worked together and built synergy and the rest just clicked from there.
OWS: Could you go into a little bit of depth on when the Valiant roster was changing over, you were aging in so that was good timing for you. Was that an awkward thing sitting on the sidelines? What was that transition like as somebody newly coming onto the roster but having been with the team?
Space: It was definitely hard. There were times where I didn’t think Valiant was gonna work out because [of] all of the changes we were going through. It was midseason so I thought it was going to be hard for us to compete against teams that are building synergy and have been together the whole time. At the time I was just playing with the Valiant sister team just all of our subs together, scrimming against other teams, and scrimming against the main roster. So that was really good practice for me to see how they played and how we played. I felt like with the addition of Custa himself, I knew that he was a really professional player. He has a good mental, he doesn’t break easily, he doesn’t give up on stuff. So I knew with him coming into the team that if I played my strongest and made sure that our mentality as a whole wasn’t at a disadvantage that we would be fine competing against other teams. It obviously paid off all the hard work we put in from Stage Three.
OWS: How does it feel having gone through that transformation process and come out so, so strong as a team, obviously one of the top teams in the league. The vibe around the team must be much stronger?
Space: Well before me, before Scott, before the additions. A lot of analysts, commentators, and other teams just looked at us as if we were bottom of the barrel, or just in the middle of the high-level teams and that we would just beat lower tier teams but we couldn’t compete at the highest level. So a lot of us took that to heart and we wanted to prove people wrong. Me specifically coming in for stage three, I didn’t really listen to any of that. I knew it was gonna be different when me and Scott joined. So it didn’t affect my play, but I wanted to help my teammates break past that barrier of being known as mid-tier players, or a mid-tier team. So that was good motivation for us, to show everyone we were a top tier team. With the addition of Moon coming in, he also made the atmosphere much more professional. He made us take practice much more seriously. All of the changes made Valiant a much stronger team.
OWS: What did it feel like winning Stage Four after all of that hard work?
Space: It was a little unexpected. We were doing really well during the regular Stage Four. We won all of our matches and they were convincing wins. Then coming into Dallas, we didn’t have much prep for Dallas because we didn’t have any VODs of them to watch, so we kinda just winged that match. So after losing when we wanted to go 10-0 it hurt the team a lot. We didn’t want to lose to Dallas specifically, but we realized they counter-stratted all of our strats. They made sure they were prepared because that was their stage playoffs match. We took the loss to heart, we wanted to go 10-0 really badly. We also realized if we prepped with the two days that we had before the playoffs that we could take the whole thing. That was really re-motivating for us that we wanted to win the whole stage four after losing to Dallas. Luckily the Gladiators picked us instead of us versing Dallas because we were pretty sure we would lose that matchup. So we beat the Gladiators and then we beat New York right after. It worked out perfectly for us cuz we didn’t have to play Dallas, who are our hardest counter basically. I think after losing to Dallas that was when it all clicked.
OWS: You mentioned Dallas being a hard counter. Can you talk a bit about why you feel they counter you so well?
Space: I think Dallas realized within probably the last two weeks of Stage Four that the most important match for them was our match because if they lost to us there was no chance of them making Stage Four playoffs. So they kind of just didn’t worry about the other matches and just watched our VODs and specifically prepped for us. When we went back and watched the VODs we saw that they counter-stratted all of our positioning, and they counter stratted basically all of our comps that we play, they counter stratted all of it. So even if we were prepared for that match we felt like Dallas was just the better team. We didn’t worry about it too much, after losing it hurt a lot but we realized that was Dallas’s everything match. If we looked past that we could win the next matches. It was kinda unfortunate timing for us because we had been winning all of our past matches and got a little complacent with the Dallas match. Where Dallas was coming really close in all of their matches and this was the most important match for them.
OWS: If you had more time to prepare for that match and prepare for Dallas specifically, how do you react to that? Dallas studied your VODs, knew what kind of positioning and what strats you liked to use. If you got to spend some time watching them would you have altered your strats? What is that preparation process like?
Space: Dallas specifically, they’ve only been playing tank comps. A lot of Brigette, Seagull on Dva, and a lot of OGE Reinhardt. So we scrimmed them before and know they’re only good at 2-3 comps. They play a lot of Brig on Mickie and sometimes Zarya, Triple Tank, a lot of heavy tanky comps and brawl comps. What we had been prepping for in the past was more dive-ish and more double sniper. Dallas was definitely the odd team out, if we had more time to prep we would have looked for counters, or learned how to play their comps and just played it better than them. Since we just came into that match with nothing, we just played our normal comps that get rolled by theirs. It was playing to lose basically, we couldn’t really do much. Even though we know what they played we tried to play counters in the match but it’s tough to play counters when you don’t have any practice on it. It was just a really hard match overall.
OWS: So you start playing that, you get a map or two in and you go back to the dugout to discuss what to do. You don’t have practice on counter-comps, or mirror comps, so what is that discussion like as a team?
Space: I think we just go over what we feel like is making us lose. We’re a really strong team mechanically and strategy wise. So when we lose a map we just look over it like “Why did we lose?” and you can see “Oh, he carried really hard.” “They got a 5k blade” or “They got 3 Junrkat tires.” stuff like that, or their Dva was in our backline the whole game. Coming into the next map we play to counter that. I think the biggest thing is if we know that they can’t do that again on the next map – say they play Sombra on Horizon, we know they can’t play Sombra on Lijiang so we don’t worry about that. We just focus on the next map. It’s a really important thing coming into the next map, even if you lose, you have to focus – they can’t do that to us again on this map. It’s a fresh map and just play like we’re 1-0, or we’re 2-0, or like the game just started. So that’s usually what we do, and usually what we focus on. Even if you lose one map or your down two maps, focus on the next map and think like it just started basically.
OWS: The Valiant have been one of if not the most active team with regard to a lot of community initiatives and community outreach. Things like “Be Valiant” and the “Girls in Gaming” Summit. Can you talk about how you as a player are involved in those, your feelings about being a part of a team that’s so forward thinking with regard to involvement with the community?
Space: I think it’s really great. I think it’s really good to attach the community to players and get them more involved with the scene. Every time we meet fans we’re set up with meet and greets or to go to places to meet fans with our community outreach it’s always really fun. To meet my fans or my teammate’s fans. It’s a good experience for us, a learning experience, how to socialize with our fans. How to keep ourselves at a higher standard. Because at all times people are watching us, and they look up to us. There’s people’s kids that want to be just like us. Or there’s adults that want to be like us. It kinda opens my eyes, in the beginning, I just played at home with my Grandma next to me, my Mom, and my two dogs. It didn’t really matter that much to me I was just playing games. Now I’m in front of people, I’m in front of crowds, people look up to me now. It’s kind of big for me. Every time we do something like that it’s a learning experience and I’m really happy to be a part of it.
OWS: Your team is leading the way in outreach, doing a lot of great events. Are you planning on taking a bigger part in that? What are your thoughts on where that could go?
Space: I think we have a lot of big plans coming into the offseason. There’s a lot of stuff that we want to do as an organization to bring the fans closer. The org tries to keep it secret so that nobody spoils anything, and so our players are prepped for when it comes. I think our social team has a lot planned and I like being a part of it personally. Sometimes I might be lazy, I don’t act like I’m a part of it but I definitely do like it. I hope eventually in the future when my fan base gets bigger, that I can do things with just Valiant, just me. Like Scott basically is the Valiant leader in PR, he does basically all of our PR stuff. I’d like to do something with Scott, or do one of my own things like that. I do like what Valiant is leading into.
OWS: Can you talk at all about preparing for the playoffs and what that’s like? Is it similar to regular season prep?
Space: The meta basically changed since the new Hanzo. We were playing on old Hanzo in Stage Four, and now everybody is practicing new Hanzo. It is definitely a new meta and we’re still learning what’s really good on some maps, what’s not good on some maps. There’s been a lot of composition talks and VOD reviews so far. What we think is good, what is bad. What teams we can counter with stuff and what teams we can’t. I think with playoffs ahead of us knowing what teams are going to play. It gives us a small amount that we can just focus on. We know we have the potential to play Gladiators so we can play something to counter them. We have the potential to play Boston, we know what they play, what can we do to counter them? I think that’s been really good for us. We’ve been working on a lot of theory-crafting around that. I think the meta as a whole is all new, every team is just grinding on playing things nobody has seen before.
OWS: Are you still scrimming with other Overwatch League teams?
Space: Yeah, basically every team that’s in playoffs has been scrimming against each other. We’ve played every team basically so far. I think all six teams are scrimming against each other and at the same time, they’re also doing internals. They’re scrim Contenders teams to keep strats secret from Overwatch League teams. We have our sister team to scrim against if we ever want to, to play some strats, see what’s good against what.
OWS: Can we talk a bit about Team USA for the World Cup?
Space: I think the process so far is almost about to end, the trials for Team USA. At the start of Overwatch League I didn’t think I’d get this far into Team USA trials. I thought 100% that it would just be CoolMatt. In the back of my mind, I knew that if I played well in Overwatch League my chances would increase for Team USA. So basically every match that I played, I played really hard for the future. Which was Team USA, and obviously finals, playoffs, etc. Individually, if I showed how good I really was that a lot of people would notice me. Now, my Team USA spot is almost secured, the head coach really likes me, thinks I have a lot of potential to be an even better player. Some players have been dropped, we’re really far into the trials. From where I came from as just not that big of a deal in the North American scene to now being known as probably the best offtank in NA and one of the best in Overwatch League has been really good for me. I just want to keep working harder to get past the playoffs and get to the final. Playing for Team USA would be an absolute honor for me.
OWS: What’s your relationship like with Aero? What do you think of him as a coach?
Space: Aero is definitely different from any other coach I’ve worked or played with before. He’s much more involved within the game. He knows a lot about Overwatch, I’ve realized. There are some coaches that are good coaches but don’t know much about the game. I feel like Aero has both, he’s really smart about individual players – he knows their weaknesses and their strengths – and he also knows a lot about Overwatch. That’s kinda a win-win situation in a coach. He’s a really rare breed of coaches since the game is so young not a lot of coaches have put the work in to get at the level he has. I think all of his work in the past, changing his teams from basically nothing to really improved teams and some of the best in Contenders and Overwatch League is purely off how much work he puts in and what he learns from his players and watching scrims.
OWS: What are your first impressions on Wrecking Ball?
Space: He is definitely the oddest hero in the game I think. When I first saw the video I wasn’t expecting him to be an actual wrecking ball. I thought he was just going to roll around, or that was his ultimate or something. His mechanics are super wonky, and different from any other hero. So as a team we don’t really know where he fits in the game. Individually I don’t really know where he’s going to fit in. It seems he has a really high mechanical skillcap. If you master Wrecking Ball you could be a really good player with him. I think at the highest level he’s going to be a super odd hero to play. I’m definitely going to play with him more, and practice on him more. I think since he’s such a wonky character and we don’t know what to expect from him you can definitely catch people off guard with that kinda play. I think he’s kinda like a Doomfist basically, or a Mei. Heroes that people just pull out randomly and they specialize in, that’s what I think Wrecking Ball will be.