During the second week of the Overwatch League, I had the pleasure to sit down and talk to Dallas Fuel player ZachaREEE. We discussed his personal life, the mark he wanted to leave on the league and his thoughts on his place in this meta.
On the first day of the Overwatch World Cup I spoke to arguably Switzerland’s most popular player in their small Overwatch pro scene, Luca “Luux” Locher! He spoke about what it’s like being the best player in Switzerland, how viable Mei is in competitive, and what has been the biggest change in the Overwatch Community since the beta.
I sat down with Felipe “liko” Lebrao, one of South America’s best Overwatch players during the Overwatch World Cup. Even with Brazil’s run over, ending at a solid 3rd place, it gave them a good chance to showcase their skills and make a case for South American Esports. Liko had a few thoughts on being a middle-of-the-pack team, on the South American scene as a whole, the weight of representing one’s country and the difference in skill from Contenders to the World Cup.
Overwatchscore Staff Writer Garrett “Mash” Fuller got together with Los Angeles Gladiators Coach David Pei to dig into the details around his thoughts on the Overwatch League, building the Gladiators roster, and being the only city where they need to compete for fans with another Overwatch League team.
The history of professional Overwatch has been tumultuous. With highs reaching the clouds and lows reaching cavernous valleys, players and consumers have had a lot of concerns over the last year. Perhaps one of the most encompassing issues has been the turnstile many endemic organizations have been going through in regards to fielding Overwatch rosters. Indeed, many industry experts were, and still are, convinced that Overwatch was going to be a case study of the “esports bubble”. That is to say, the same general hype that inflates a title dissipates, leading to the bubble “bursting”.
On the surface, it’s natural to ask yourself how a scene can stay alive with big organizations jumping ship, such as Denial Esports. Unable to reach a common ground and understanding with their roster, Denial opted to part ways amicably with their Overwatch team. The superstar lineup, including Canadian Overwatch World Cup tank, xQc, has stayed strong through everything, enjoying success at Overwatch Monthly Melee, and, most recently, at Overwatch Contenders season zero. Now known as Arc6, they join the ranks of many other unsigned rosters hoping to make some waves before Overwatch League starts.
I recently spoke to Arc6 analyst, Kitta, and their head coach, Jeremy Wong, about the climate of professional Overwatch. Regarding Overwatch League, the folks at Arc6 remain mostly positive of Blizzard’s revolutionary esports league.
“When I look at the overall progress with Overwatch League on a business level, it’s very interesting but it’s nothing unusual with other businesses that I see up and coming,” Wong says. “They generally develop into a success, but that is dependent on capital. And where is that capital coming from? Based on what I know and what’s been given to the public; if you’re a player, a coach or a spectator, things look grim. When you actually start to look into the business side of things – When you look at what C9 (Cloud9) and teams that have, or are in the process of, receiving their funding, it doesn’t look bad at all. When you’re talking about bringing in big sports brands or VC firms that really have an interest in esports going into the future, I think there’s a lot of interest in Overwatch because of the things Overwatch League is going to provide.”
Consider Immortals for a moment. Not only did they have an exceptional Overwatch roster, but Noah Whinston, their CEO, had been busy trying to bring in money so that they could afford the Los Angeles Overwatch League spot. Their most recent partnership was with AEG, a live entertainment investment company. Now that they successfully worked with Blizzard and investors, they can sit back and wait for the benefits of Overwatch League to kick in. Ok, well, they’ll probably be playing in tournaments or something, but you know what I mean. Jokes aside, Overwatch League aims to bring about change to the esports industry, and people are, indeed, interested.
Jeremy went on to say, “I think its end goal is great. You’re just going to see the ecosystem of esports in general has followed what Blizzard does at that point. If they’re the first bringing that sort of money into the scene, they’re the first to help endemic orgs meet these VC. This is just going to boost everything from marketing to exposure to broadcasting rights, because a lot of these teams have broadcasting deals with networks, that’s going to automatically give exposure to the scene. You’re going to see player salaries go up. It’s definitely going to be more sustainable as a career path for players, coaching, or even industries that could possibly support esports.”
The localization that Blizzard is trying to bring to the scene has dominated discussions as of late. Making an esports team part of a local business ecosystem is unheard of, and though some remain skeptical, it will create brand new opportunities for anyone interested in investing in the industry. Imagine driving through Miami and seeing Misfits Overwatch League billboards advertising a charity event or something. It’s very likely to happen if things go smoothly.
Jeremy also brought up some interesting thoughts regarding the future of Overwatch esports, and the esports industry in general:
“Jack (Etienne) at C9 has been successful, and I really admire that he’s been able to keep his cool during this whole transition and has found solutions to really get the funding he needs to keep going and create that really successful brand that has exposure. These big sports players are going to come in with their money. If you’re one of these endemic orgs that doesn’t want to hand over part of their ownership or their equity for that investment because for, whatever reason, you need to own the entire company, you’re going to get phased out. You’re not going to be in the game in three to five years from now. You’re just going to get muscled out, it’s that simple.”
Though only sources close to the endemic organizations that dropped their Overwatch rosters know the details, one can’t help but wonder if stubbornness factored into their decisions. In regards to Overwatch League, Immortals (Los Angeles), NRG (San Francisco) and Misfits (Miami-Orlando) all have traditional sports investors, and both the Boston and New York slots are owned by the New England Patriots and New York Mets, respectively. There’s big money in esports, and the investments will only get bigger as the industry evolves, forcing endemic organizations to make some careful choices with their brands.
While Overwatch League discussions can’t be avoided these days, the coaches at Arc6 also talked a little bit about team versatility and player psychology, and how that all factors into their analytics and approach to each individual match.
“I think what separates the North American teams from the Korean teams is versatility,” Kitta says. “With the North American teams, a lot of them tend to run compositions that they’re comfortable with and they kind of lack that versatility. They run that composition over and over to where it becomes habitual, and when it comes to analyzing, it’s very predictable what they’re going to run. And everyone thinks, ‘Well, okay, if we’re good at this composition, no one’s going to beat me.’ But with this game, what people don’t understand is that every composition can be countered. The international teams, Korean teams – Envy and Rogue got that experience where they got to see, ‘wow, what is Lunatic Hai running? It doesn’t make sense, but it works!’ And when you actually look into the theory behind it, it does make sense. So I think to be able to compete at the same level as EnVyUs, you have to break out of that comfort zone. You have to be able to run odd things because if it makes sense, it will work. So I think when it comes to analytics, that’s what makes it challenging: when you have to keep guessing what the enemy team is going to be running.”
With the dive meta so prevalent at every level of play, it’s easy to see how this could play out. It’s also why you’ll see teams like Arc6 start using off-meta heroes like Sombra in situations that might make you scratch your head a little. Or perhaps why one team might have a dive composition with three DPS to out-damage the opposition.
“Another thing that separates NA teams from teams like EnvyUs and Rogue is player psychology,” Kitta elaborated. “People don’t really look into it or analyze it, but once you look into it, you tend to pick up patterns of players. With that, you can exploit it as well. That’s what we’re trying to enforce in our players. That’s something we did at Overwatch Monthly Melee, especially through Selfless (disbanded esports team). That was successful and that proved that when you’re analyzing, you can’t just look at compositions and strategy, you have to look at everything.”
“The one thing I think that really lacks in the North American scene than everywhere else is that we get really complacent really fast,” Jeremy added. “A lot of players will get their jobs, they get into it, they do really well, and then some teams literally fall off. They don’t adapt or adjust the development and growth of their own playstyle. It’s exactly like Kitta said: It’s that player psychology that you can really tap into. I don’t think a lot of teams are doing this in North American Overwatch. I think it’s important that you have people looking into that like myself as a coach and an analyst like Kitta, where we understand that.”
Korean teams have long been known to take action in regards to player psychology. Most recently, Lunatic-Hai benched one of their star players, Whoru, because of “ego issues”. In today’s world of social media and streaming, I’m sure many teams around the world will have to take psychology into consideration. It’ll be interesting to see if any Overwatch League teams will have wellness programs for their players on top of the benefits that come with insurance.
Overwatch is a young game with a lot of room for improvement and development. The esports scene has had its struggles, but with the industry growing and franchising taking over, perhaps Arc6’s progressive approach to competition will become the norm. Imagine a world where esports organizations have highly specialized coaches, trainers and support staff like traditional sports teams. If the trajectory keeps on the way it is, it’s only a matter of time.
Jeremy and Kitta would like to mention WaWa’s Boot Camp, a place where aspiring players can sharpen their skills with some of Overwatch’s best coaches and star players. Follow them on Twitter and check out their stream!
“Jeremy and Kitta spoke with Damian in early June. Amidst the rampant panic and speculation, their comments were rational and would go on to reflect the realities of Overwatch League and its interested parties.”