Interview with Nomy and Aythen: Recent Wins, Thoughts on Overwatch League, and World Cup

Overwatch as an esport title stormed onto the scene before it was even fully released to the public, with a few minor tournaments and leagues being run during the closed beta. Since then, we’ve come a long way. Putting the Overwatch League aside, Overwatch’s esports scene has seen a steady growth since its full release.

We’ve already had multiple teams rise and fall. Players with big personalities and a World Cup that was, to say the least, an interesting ride. Now that Overwatch League is starting to grow into something that people actually know about, it is set to make its real step into the burgeoning esports world.

I got the chance to sit down with some of the players leading this charge into Overwatch’s bright future, Tank player David “nomy” Ramirez and Support player Athen “Aythen” Zhu from Immortals.

From discussions on their recent win in the Overwatch Carbon Series, the on-the-horizon Overwatch League, World Cup, and some changes to the game they’d like to see, the duo took the time to give their thoughts on the scene from the inside.

Carbon Series Win

Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

Immortals as an organization are a staple in the North American esport landscape, hosting teams in League of Legends, CSGO, Vainglory, two Smash players, and Overwatch.

While many fans will be familiar with NRG and EnVyUs, Immortals’ Overwatch squad may have flown under the radar of NA viewers until now. With a surprise win over tournament favourites LG. Evil in the Overwatch Carbon Series, the team cemented themselves as a top tier North American squad.

The biggest tournament showing for Immortals recently was taking it all at the Overwatch Carbon Series. With a lot of hype around LG. Evil, Immortals may have been feeling the pressure; but Nomy says the boys felt confident going into the series. “Personally we felt that we were confident, we were practicing and scrimming a lot… it just gives you more confidence and you just play better overall. I felt we had a big chance for winning a tournament.”

Aythen also commented on the team’s overall impression of the tournament, noting that the format and length threw him off slightly. “We didn’t really keep track, we were like, ‘Hey, we’re in the upper brackets for this.’ ‘Ohh, we’re in the grand finals for something,’ and I’m like okay. And then we all tried super hard and we won it and it was like, ‘holy crap.’” Going into the finals, Aythen noted too that the expected winner wasn’t them, but LG. Evil. “LG Evil was on a tear, and all of a sudden they just didn’t show up for the grand finals.”

A win is a win, but winning a premier tournament like the Overwatch Carbon Series isn’t just another feather in the cap for the team, it’s an added boost to their confidence. “We just came off a win at Overwatch Winter Premiere before that, and then we came off Carbon, and now we’re like ‘holy crap, we just won two majors in a row I guess.’ It felt good, we all were super happy with our performance.” With the up and down aspect of a young esport scene, it’s hard to place teams in a power ranking system. But given their recent performances, Immortals looks to be a stable force in the NA OW scene.

Overwatch League

Let’s face it, in comparison to the hype around any Overwatch tournament to date, Overwatch League easily takes the cake for having the most hype (and mystery) around it. From pundits in the scene curious to see how a franchised, city based system will work for esports, to fans eager to see some more stability in the scene, everyone is excited.

With that in mind, I asked the boys their thoughts on Immortals’ preparations going into Overwatch League. Nomy said that, “What we’re trying to do right now is grind a lot. We’re doing the boot camp as well… [we are] trying to make a similar Overwatch League experience.” While no one is sure how the Overwatch League will take form exactly, Nomy stressed that the team is doing their best to prepare and to make the transition as easy as possible. The one thing we all know is it’ll involve good Overwatch, and that’s something teams can prepare for in the now.

Another aspect that we do know about Overwatch League is that players will not be locked into their native region. This means we could see a full team of European residents represent an American city (looking at you, mysteriously-moves-to-Las-Vegas-Rogue).

With that in mind, certain regions may represent stronger talent than others. Aythen feels that, “the Koreans are going to be dominant seeing how strong they are in Korea right now, with our top NA teams going over and them getting smashed.” It seems that Korea, the esports juggernaut, is looking to dominant another esport title. Aythen feels that this is because, “They just respect everyone, and they all play on LAN as well right now, so they’re just getting that much experience over us.”

Is that doom and gloom for the West’s home grown talent though? Aythen isn’t convinced of this either. “Once the Overwatch League comes out and everyone’s on LAN, I feel like the Koreans are just going to start off super strong. Eventually we’re going to start catching back up, that’s how I see things going though right now.” The wildcard in the regional discussion? China. Aythen commented on the relative radio silence on the region, saying, “I don’t know about China. Nobody has really said much about China in general actually. Except for APAC, that was like a year ago so, so we really have no clue about them.”

It’s one thing to have big plans for the league, but it’s another to deliver on those plans. While Overwatch League has been touted as having a model more akin to the (now) quite prosperous North American style leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB), whether it’ll succeed in esports is another thing. Nomy is confident that it’ll do well though. “I’m not sure how fast the Overwatch League is going to blow up, but it looks like Blizzard is doing everything they can to make sure this is going to be the next big thing.” With Blizzard’s backing and its long tenure (however up and down for fans) in esports, it seems that all cylinders are firing for the Overwatch League to burst onto the scene.

Aythen sounded a more somber tune to the question though. “With spectating right now, I feel like it’s going to be a bit for the Overwatch League to blow up… That’ll definitely help viewership. I don’t know if it’ll blow up as much as LCS, actually I don’t see it blowing up as much as LCS and CSGO the first year. Probably until they fix spectating issues… It’s kind of hard to watch right now.” Spectating in Overwatch has been a concern for the game since its inception, with some fans finding it difficult to follow the action. Others have been concerned with the rather abrupt, shifting nature of the camera work.

FPS games occupy a unique space where spectator mode is a much more nuanced art rather than an intuitive science like in MOBAs. It’s not just about adding indicators for viewers to keep track of key information, but finding ways to properly capture the action accurately and easily for viewers is a big issue. An issue that, hopefully, will be fixed and fine tuned with time.

Nomy, Tank player for Immortal’s Overwatch team. Courtesy of Immortals.

For fans of League of Legend’s Korean league, the LCK, the departure of Erik “DoA” Lonnquist and Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles from the broadcast was a saddening blow to the scene. For Overwatch fans, it turned out to be the best thing confirmed for the Overwatch League to date.

Touted as some of the best casters in the game, not just for their understanding of the game itself but for adding colourful commentary, both Nomy and Aythen seemed hyped for their arrival. For Nomy, “Bringing them over [Doa and Monte] to cast it, I think they’re one of the best currently right now for Overwatch casting. They make the game very entertaining, very easy to watch. That’s something that a new audience really needs.” For a game as complex and multilayered as Overwatch to succeed, casting is going to be key, and who better than some of the most veteran casters around.

Aythen echoed Nomy’s praise for the duo. “In OGN, Doa and Monte, they put in work casting the game and everything, learning about the game. Them transitioning from League to Overwatch, they’re putting in just as much effort. They’re really good at their job, and that’s going to definitely help.” Doa and Monte’s transition from League into Overwatch seemed a smooth one, and Aythen rightfully points to their work ethic in a lot of ways. The effort the two put into their casts and knowing their games in and out, as well as the players and larger narratives is what sets them above other casters.

Regional Esports Teams

NOTE: Image of potential teams for the Overwatch League, this image was already confirmed to not actually indicate which cities they had in mind. In case anyone missed that.

The other aspect Overwatch League has going for it? A unique approach to engaging fans. By basing teams in geographic locations and locking them in for that area, Nomy feels that casual fans or new fans to esports will be drawn to their local teams. Citing his own experience, “Me for example, I don’t watch soccer that much, but my city in particular has a soccer team. So it’s impossible for me not to get hyped when they play, so that’s just going to help normal viewership get familiar with the game.” While the current reach of soccer to a more casual crowd is probably quite high compared to Overwatch, Nomy’s point stands for more casual esports fans too. We could see fans of esports in general flocking towards their local Overwatch teams when they’re playing, and it’s a smart move to create an easier engagement for more casual fans to choose their teams.

This doesn’t mean for Nomy, though, that fans will give up long standing commitments to teams or players to jump ship to regional teams. “Of course certain organizations already have their own particular fan base, so they’re always going to follow their organization no matter what. Some fans will just come because of the players individually.” While this will probably be the case, it isn’t bad for the regional model either. It’s good for both sides, as more casual fans or new comers to esports have ways to find their favorite teams (local, regional teams) while more established fans can still cheer on their favorite organizations or players.

Courtesy of Blizzard.

World Cup Talks

Of course, the biggest event for Overwatch (ok, maybe debatable, but easily the biggest/only from Blizzard themselves) was the World Cup. Last year was a mix of expectations and well… memes.

Korea formed a team. That team won. Nobody really batted an eyelash. They also went undefeated. So there’s that. And while the teams themselves weren’t filled with no-namers, there was a definite random feel to some of the national rosters.

What did the Immortals duo feel about the World Cup? They loved it. Aythen only lamented that he wasn’t apart of the first USA team, but hopes to be one day. “It’s really cool in my opinion. Seeing what regions are strong, who has the best players, and seeing like your favourite players playing on a team with your other favourite players.” On top of that, he noted how it’s a lot of fun for fans of the scene. Seagull on a team with Liquid members? It could happen. “Now you [see] it’s happening on stage at World Cup, and now they’re fighting for their country. It’s super cool.”

Courtesy of Blizzard.

Nomy was equally hyped for World Cup, but for different reasons. Having been chosen for Mexico’s team last year, he noted that the new format of fans voting on a national committee will legitimize the competition a bit more. “This year it looks there’s a lot more organization, it looks like right now it’s just going to be who is the best of the best to see which region is the strongest so this year is going to be a lot better than last years in my opinion.”

This will be in stark contrast to last year’s national team for Mexico, Nomy noted. “The first World Cup, the people who got into the team were the people who had a lot of fans on Youtube or Twitch. We couldn’t say that they were the top competitive players if that makes sense.” The move to voting being restricted for fans will hopefully see a shift away from it coming down to a popularity contest. It sounds like that would be a step forward for certain national teams. I mean, unless you were Korea, who probably don’t need any help in that regard anyways.

Some changes to the game 

Let’s face it, we’re not perfect yet. Overwatch still has a long way to grow, and that’s largely to be expected. I asked the duo what their thoughts were on some possible directions of change that Blizzard could address to improve their experience with the game.

Of course, being pro players, one would expect a comment on the matchmaking system in Overwatch. Aythen didn’t hold back in his comments on the system as it is, saying, “I feel like matchmaking is inflated to all Hell right now, and it’s just… it should be a grind like it is in League. You shouldn’t be able to get top rank in a day or two. That’s insane.” Aythen found that the ability to climb so quickly in Overwatch’s ladder made play at the higher levels feel less consequential. Once you reached Grand Master, there wasn’t much room to grow, and for players at the top tier of Overwatch, that wasn’t hard to get to.

Aythen, Support player for Immortals. Courtesy of Immortals Twitter.

Outside of just the relative ease of climbing the ladder, what else did they feel needed to be changed? Saying goodbye to Flex Queue and bringing a more stable format like Solo Queue and Duo Queue. Both players agreed on this being a big issue, with Aythen saying, “We really don’t want to see 3-6 stacks anymore. I don’t think anyone wants to play against that when you’re solo. It’s just not a fun experience, and I don’t think it does much competitively in a game like that.”  While it may be fun to queue up with multiple friends in competitive, it isn’t necessarily fair to players trying to hone their skills.

Nomy felt the same way about including Solo Queue in Overwatch’s competitive scene. “If you really want to be the best competitive experience, Solo Queue is the way to go. That way you will get the fairest matches possible, everyone is focusing on their character and their role. I think that will really help and boost the game in a competitive aspect for the ladder.”

Nomy also highlighted a reoccurring theme of concern over the spectator mode in Overwatch, particularly for newer fans to the scene. While he didn’t know exactly how to go about it, he had one suggestion that was close to heart: Reinhardt. “Seeing the shield of the other Reinhardt is kind of important. There’s like a shield management battle for example, so adding some cooldowns or ability cooldowns to the thing so that there’s something you can see to track that.”

 

For the memes

Nomy

If you could remove one hero from the game forever, who would it be?

It’s hard to say this but removing one of my favorite heroes, Roadhog. Getting hooked feelsbadman

If you could BE one hero from the game in real life, who would it be and why?

Reinhardt, I like how he protects people that are close to him, I try to do that with my family and friends IRL, but being a big dude with huge armor would kick ass!

Courtesy of… having too much time on my hands, and MS Paint Skillz.

What’s your favorite skin for any hero?

Safari Winston, you can’t beat that mustache.

If you were stranded on a desert island, which teammate would you want with you and why?

I would choose Verbo, being the main shot caller of the team, he always has a play before the gates open. We would survive on that island, eazy peazy.

 

Aythen

If you could remove one hero from the game forever, who would it be?

In the original headshot, Aythen actually had his arms crossed just like Lucio. It’s fated.

Mmmm, that’s a hard question. If I had to choose it would probably be Mei because I hate her ability to stall out points with Cryo-Freeze. I hate how much health she has and I also hate her ability to slow people into a stun for a free headshot.

If you could BE one hero from the game in real life, who would it be and why?

I’d probably want to be Lucio. Speed boost in real-life would be sick and skating on walls would be so much fun! Hahaha.

What’s your favourite skin for any hero?

It would have to be the new Blackwatch Genji skin. That skin is super cool in my opinion. I hope the heroes I play get awesome skins like that 🙁

If you were stranded on a desert island, which teammate would you want with you and why?

It would most likely have to be Hyped. He’s like our team mom and he is really smart about a lot of things, so most likely he knows random stuff about survival.

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