Interview with the YIKES! Support Staff : Part 3


They are some of the most underrated members of any team, always in the shadows behind each play, and arguably treading uncharted grounds in their day to day work. Support staff, in esports particularly, are often the lesser known factor on a team. While some have risen to quite a prominence within a scene (Tony “Zikzlol” Gray and Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi come to mind), their work is largely unexplored. I got the chance to sit down with the up and coming YIKES! Overwatch support staff, Head Coach Jeremy “Jerkkit” Wong, Player Development Analyst Zachary “Sovereign” Bent and Strategist Pirin “Kitta” Singapan.

For those unfamiliar with YIKES!, they are the same team that once represented Denial eSports. While under that brand, fans may have seen them with strong showings at Overwatch Monthly Melees and Rivalcades. As YIKES!, they’ve managed to one-up their Denial eSports performance and take first at the most recent Overwatch Monthly Melee. While the roster may have flown under some fans’ radar, that can’t be the case any longer, as they are poised to be a strong up and coming NA roster. While currently unsigned, YIKES! has shown impressive growth as a squad and are a team to keep an eye on.

This is Part 3 of a 3 part interview series. Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 here.


The Uncertainty of the Scene: Esports and… Car Sharing?

Overwatch’s esport scene is young, even in an industry that is itself quite young. It’s only officially been released for a year, and we’ve seen the growth of its esport scene from launch to now. But with this growth has come the biggest uncertainty, and also Overwatch’s (possibly) greatest feature: the Overwatch League. With hot topics like franchising, city based teams and a global league, Overwatch League has many fans excited and pundits questioning.

But, like a shadow, uncertainty hangs over the scene because of this venture. It’s almost unsurprising to hear a big team drop their Overwatch team lately, with many pointing to the leviathan costs of the Overwatch League as the culprit. Ninjas in Pyjamas, Dignitas, Splyce, the list goes on of ex-Overwatch teams. The scene has been abuzz with opinions, whether this marks the decline of Overwatch esports before it even begins, or whether this is just a herald of the times to come: put up or shut up. For the YIKES! support staff, it seems more like the latter than the former.

Esports… 2 Go? Yup, car sharing and esports share a lot of similarities for Jerkkit. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jerkkit remarked on the relative difficulty of commenting on the inner workings of a League that not many on the outside know enough about. Overwatch League, for all its hype, has been relatively silent on key aspects. “You can’t look at this from a very bystander or community or even a player perspective, because at the end of the day the decisions and the things and the information that Blizzard has provided the public so far is going to leave you in a very uncertain void.” Uncertainty is one way of summing up the community’s concerns. While many organizations have left the scene, but not permanently, it seems more a case of uncertainty in a young scene that’s driven away some key esport players.

But the trio isn’t one of those concerned with the future of the scene. Uncertain, yes, but not thinking it’ll go away. Jerkkit recalled a similar industry in his mind to draw out his analogy: car sharing (yes, hear us out on this one…). He brought up car sharing as an example of an industry that reached a certain point of growth. It was an interesting, hot topic amongst economist and venture capitalists, young and volatile, and also, not having a lot of money already in it compared to other industries.

Looking back to 2012, he discussed how Zip Car was the biggest and most successful of the car sharing companies around. But by that, it was meant that, “I’m talking about still running in the red, about 20% off on their books from being in the black, never mind making a profit yet, and there’s huge potential in the scene.” A lot of buzz, a lot of interest and a lot of potential, but not quite turning an easy profit for those involved. That should sound familiar to anyone in esports, and while it may not be as negative as that, esport teams are still running pretty lean in contrast to their traditional sport counterparts.

The Prophet Jerkkit, doing… something?

Surveying the landscape, Jerkkit felt that the car sharing industry was at a crossroads of sorts. “Unless someone comes in here with a big investment to really push Zip Car for ten times, hundred times more of the working capital that they have, they’re going to be stagnant and the industry itself is going to be stagnant.” Noting that without outside injection of money and working capital, a scene can be stagnant and severely hampered in its potential growth.

He noted too that it does this in a few ways: Not only by directly injecting money into the industry, but by forcing other competitors in the scene to figure out a way to remain viable. “Either find a VC firm or perhaps merge with another car sharing company to combine their resources, or it’s just going to come down to simply at the end of the day if you can’t undergo one of the two mentioned you’re going to be left behind.” It’s a go big or go home mindset, and one that happens in a lot of young industries.

But why does this relate to esports? Because they both share the buzz around the upsides and potential of the industry. Esports has gone from ‘nerds playing video games in their basement’ to ‘huge competitions for big numbers and big salaries in the public’s eye. With that it’s also caught the business world’s eye. Big money, particularly from traditional sports side, has increasingly found itself at the table with endemic organizations and game developers. That all makes a whole lot of sense. Esports has some of the youngest viewership out of any sport, it’s fast growing in viewership, and it’s red hot. For bigger players to come into the scene, invest some money, and dominate, that’s just sound business. “Overwatch today, that’s what you’re seeing. You can call me a conspiracy theorist if you want… I’m able to see a lot of trends happening before they come to fruition in reality.”


What Does this Mean for Esports?

“Sovereign: Wait, what was the question again…?”

Getting called out by your fellow staff support for being long winded… YIKES! Courtesy of xQc’s Twitter.

While Jerkkit’s tangent may have felt slightly off topic, he noted that it all intertwines with his answer: Blizzard’s project is seeing the trend of esports and riding that wave for the benefit of those involved, not just for Overwatch esports, giving to both, “A boost all across the board financially.” Noting that most organic esport organizations have been running the red, and he projected would be for years to come still, it isn’t sustainable in the long term. Professing that it may sound like conspiracy theories again, Jerkkit feels that Blizzard is probably deep into their discussion and negotiations with key players and heavy weights in the esport scene, as well as those in the ‘moneyed’ scene.

“It’s becoming the time now, it’s becoming more mainstream, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Blizzard was going around and discussing and having meeting with these big sports ventures and telling them we really want you guys to come in and buy out League spots and perhaps even boost the epsorts scene, partner with some of these orgs, and share some of the responsibility of pushing esports to that next level.”

Money in esports has increasingly become a topic in the forefront of many fans minds. For many of the major esports, the grassroot, rag tag team of no namers pulling off a miraculous run is becoming less and less a thing. With the involvement of money, in most cases (looking at you, Team Liquid’s League of Legends team…) improves the consistency and stability of the team. “At the end of the day, you gotta think about it now, go back to the micro level of hiring coaching staff and players, your salaries are naturally just going to be more. Because they have to be competitive.” Not just improvements for players, but support staff and all those ‘behind the scenes’ players in esports should be a good thing going forward for the scene. Money removes a certain stress and anxiety from an organization, and gives them the resources to perform at their top level.

“That’s going to create a lot more stability in esports. One, the ecosystem in terms of the financial support is. Players aren’t worrying about their financial issues anymore. They’re really focusing in on winning games and helping that organization that hires them under their brand to really become more marketable, to be more of a staple household name for a player for a specific title they play for. Like I said, it’s not just going to apply to Overwatch.”

Jerkkit highlighted Cloud 9 owner Jack Etienne’s game plan as one other organizations should emulate. He said to simply google search the name, and you’ll see multiple articles detailing Jack’s rounds of acquiring investors and funds for the Cloud 9 team.

“Everyone sees it. He’s making the right moves, whereas there’s other orgs out there that are not wanting to give up everything they built or perhaps even a large stake or a majority stake for that working capital to really boost their organization to where it really needs to be at… That’s going to be a really big danger for them, if they miss their chance, they will miss their chance at becoming that next level org that they’ve always dreamt and wished they were from when they first started out.”


Zach on the Natural Progression of this

Sovereign chimed in on the discussion too, agreeing with Jerkkit’s overall thesis: endemic organizations may be hitting the panic button, but not because Overwatch will fail. With the entry of massive goliaths of moneyed interests, particularly traditional sports teams, endemic organizations become either something to partner with or a stepping stone to enter the scene. “These endemic orgs are now the stepping stone, I will say this very… it’s the truth, they’re just stepping stones for these huge clubs.” Those in the traditional sports scene have taken notice of esports’ rapid growth and potential, and it’s only natural that the two would mix. Sovereign says, “This is becoming the next generation of sports. If you don’t see these household names being like legacy teams, you’re going to see them fade away.”

Sovereign, the Player Development guru, isn’t worried about players in these uncertain times.

While many are sympathetic to the organic, grassroots nature of esports, a true hallmark of many of its biggest brands and teams, it’s not necessarily a sustainable way to carry on a professionalized business. Sovereign noted that the trend for certain endemic owners to retain their sole ownership of the team isn’t just a detriment to themselves, but to the scene’s growth in sitting at the table of the big boys in sports. While this grassroots nature in esports is somewhat of a hallmark, for Sovereign it isn’t here to stay if esports wants to reach the levels of traditional sports. “That’s just not how sports works, that’s never how sports worked, and that’s not how esports is going to end up. You’re going to see them fade out.”

On the trend of players and teams being dropped by organizations, particularly under-performing rosters, Sovereign feels that this is actually a benefit to not only the the players themselves, but the overall ecosystem of Overwatch. If the players were already under contract and signed to teams outside of the Overwatch League, Sovereign explained, and a draft was held for teams who actually had spots in the Overwatch League, those players may not be picked up, or would be but their teams would demand financial gain. For those organizations feeling the cash burn, it’s a sign of the times and (hopefully) can lead them towards reaching out to get sufficient funding to remain relevant.


But What About the Money…?

While the information around Overwatch League has been relatively small in quantity, one of the biggest story lines out on it was the price tags. Reported or rumored, choose your preferred way of putting it, costs of League spots ranged between two million to a staggering 20 million. But Jerkkit felt that, given his previous ideas that bigger money was going to increasingly play a part in esports, this actually isn’t that crazy. “I mean, at the end of the day, let’s be real here. If you’re going to tell me that the Philadelphia 76ers, the Miami Heat, or any other professional sports org that comes and buys or partners with an esports team right now to get into this league, what is two million dollars? What is five million dollars? In fact, what is ten million dollars? Twenty?” Jerkkit stated that while to us, the general public, this is an insane figure, that perspective isn’t the same for these bigger, moneyed ventures.

Even more so for Jerkkit, in the case of traditional sports teams, these figures are nothing in comparison to their own teams. “Some of their rookie players coming into their professional sports teams have signing bonuses of those amounts. So… twenty million dollars, that’s a good tax write off if anything for these guys.” While many would reply saying that the rookie being signed to a team for millions is probably hailed to be their next star, and not a venture into a risky, volatile scene like esports, the point stands. For sports teams and investors, 20 million isn’t as big of a deal. But, Jerkkit mentioned, for teams still running in the red, 20 million is impossible.

As for the status of the Overwatch League and esports going forward, Jerkkit isn’t worried.

“The buildup, the anticipation is phenomenal. You have all the players who are not orged, fighting tooth and nail to make sure they’re on top of their game, to make sure they are on fire all the time, because they don’t want to be left in the dark when those teams are ready to pick up players again for their designated Overwatch League teams… I think Blizzard is doing all the necessary things it needs to do to really drive home and push esports as a whole in North America towards the mainstream segment of society. Because it currently isn’t still.”

Kitta chimed in as well, professing to not having much to add to the discussion other than a slightly dissenting voice. While she agreed with the other two that a deep player pool of unsigned talent is good for the overall scene, particularly if there is a formal draft to the Overwatch League, she highlighted some concerns over Blizzard’s lack of communication with its community. “For Blizzard to be successful they really need to value the community, it is their biggest asset to making their business work.” A strong community isn’t just important for a game to thrive, it’s probably the most crucial aspect for an esport to thrive too. If Blizzard can meet in the middle and provide for their community, while also developing the league without too much trouble, Kitta still feels the League will be a great success.


The Ever-Present Question: Overwatch League

Needless to say, when Overwatch League was announced, the ambitious project was at once hyped and then doubted. Sovereign recalled how he felt the progression to be expected: big money enters into the organic, grassroot scenes, and it becomes a highly professionalized league. While the Overwatch League brings a lot of exciting aspects to the esports scene, Sovereign also highlights how many feel it’s an impossible task. “The Overwatch League sounds amazing, the scope sounds amazing, but for anyone who’s been in esports, it sounds a bit unrealistic. To have like a global league where every region is playing in their own league, and they have this global thing going on.”

While it sounds like a crazy venture, Sovereign thinks that Blizzard can still pull it off. While he said he was anxious for them to release some new information on the League (this interview was conducted before the big update from Blizzard on the Overwatch League), he feels that for now it’s only a good idea, one that needs to manifest quickly. Noting that Overwatch League is set to kick off sometime this year, that’s not a lot of time for it to formalize more into an actual league. While it’s mostly a lack of knowledge about the Overwatch League’s actual progress, given Blizzard’s tight-lipped nature with it, Sovereign, like many others, is going off of what little has been stated. It’s quite an uncertain, but hopeful time. “That’s kind of where Overwatch is right now, everyone is really scared but excited.”

Jerkkit, ever business minded, noted too how he felt that the big price tags of League spots was a positive, even with bigger organizations like Splyce, backed by the Boston Bruins of the NHL, may have balked at the price.

“Yea, it’s a sports org saying that, and a lot of people are saying that, isn’t that a concern? It is and it isn’t because you can look at it in two ways: You can look at it as they don’t value, but they see potential in the industry, they don’t see the value in a League spot being that high. But at the same time, if everyone does it, from their peers, whether they’re in the same sport, or in different sport with the same financial funding, how are they not going to want to jump in on this? You got to? Isn’t that the reason you got into this in the first place?”

The Overwatch League is also particularly attractive to traditional sports teams looking to enter the scene. Why? The infrastructure for a location-based team is already well established. Jerkkit noted that for endemic teams, this could be a difficult task to imagine. Where would you house your facilities? Are you going to need to provide your own viewing area for your fans? But for sports teams, this groundwork is already laid out. “It’s literally them unlocking their doors and letting the esport team and their fans in and letting them partake in these events.” Traditional sports teams are, in a way, already in the same business as esports: making the best, most competitive team they can, housing their fans and selling official merch to make a profit.

Jerkkit said that particularly that last point, merch, is a side of esports that has been sorely undervalued. While revenue sharing is a key aspect of the Overwatch League’s future plans, he noted that it’s merch that sets esports apart from its traditional sports side. For sports teams, he said, a lot of their profits come from alcohol sales, ancedotally recalling how you never really see lines at sports games for the merchandise booths, but you definitely will for any concession stand selling alcohol. While noting that bandwagoning, particularly when a team enters a playoff situation, can create a lot of merch revenue for sports teams, it’s not as present as their alcohol sales.

That’s different for esports. “There’s not a lot of bandwagoning. You either love esports or you don’t. There’s no in between.” Jerkkit attended the NA LCS Finals in Vancouver for League of Legends, and noted that the lines were, given esports’ relative young fan base, not for the alcohol stands. Instead, there were lines at merch stands, “these merch stands had, at times, [lines] that would reach to the next concession stand before the next merch stand.” It wasn’t like these stands have different merch either, it was just that the demand was so high. Having attended the NA LCS Finals that went to Toronto, it was the same story here. Merch and esports are a match made in heaven for organizations trying to make some money.

While merch stands dominate the scene now at live esports events, Jerkkit held that, if managed correctly, esports will soon have that aspect AND alcohol sales. Fans do get older, and eventually reach the legal age for drinking. “You factor that in later down the line… how much more revenue are you bumping from food and beverage.”

As if the potential merch sales and soon-to-be alcohol sales weren’t attractive enough, Jerkkit also highlighted a key element that esports has over traditional sports: enthusiasts. Fans aren’t just ‘weekend warriors’ of teams, or fans of convenience or fair weather fans that’ll tune in when a team is doing well. Esports fans, “If they’re not at work or school and they’re a fan of an esport, they’re watching a live stream of a player from their favorite team play, or just maybe community streamer, or something along the lines where they understand the game to a certain degree of level that translates them into an enthusiast.” Esport fans watch the game to see their favourite teams or players duke it out, to see amazing story lines play out from season to season, or just because they love the game to such a degree that seeing it played out at its highest level is joy in and of itself. Fans of esports, for Jerkkit, live and breathe esports.

That’s why Jerkkit remains optimistic about Overwatch’s future as an esport, and the League itself. If nothing else, for Jerkkit, it’s not Blizzard’s esport track record that inspires hope, but rather their successful business. “But their business sense and how they do business, that I’m definitely confident in. That’s what a League, a successful league, requires is a successful business with the right expertise to get together the right talent and organizations and sports owners under one roof and really spear head this in the right direction.”



This is the third and final part in a three-part series highlighting the behind the scenes forces helping YIKES! to their explosion onto the NA scene. The YIKES! support staff were full of knowledge, and I cannot thank them enough for sitting down and spending a whole two hours interviewing with me.


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Interview with the YIKES! support staff: Part 2

They are some of the most underrated members of any team, always in the shadows behind each play, and arguably treading uncharted grounds in their day to day work. Support staff, in esports particularly, are often the lesser known factor on a team. While some have risen to quite a prominence within a scene (Tony “Zikzlol” Gray and Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi come to mind), their work is largely unexplored. I got the chance to sit down with the up and coming YIKES! Overwatch support staff, Head Coach Jeremy “Jerkkit” Wong, Player Development Analyst Zachary “Sovereign” Bent, and Strategist Pirin “Kitta” Singapan.

For those unfamiliar with YIKES!, they are the same team that once represented Denial eSports. While under that brand, fans may have seen them with strong showings at Overwatch Monthly Melees and Rivalcades. As YIKES!, they’ve managed to one-up their Denial eSports performance and take first at the most recent Overwatch Monthly Melee. While the roster may have flown under some fans’ radar, that can’t be the case any longer, as they are poised to be a strong up and coming NA roster. While currently unsigned, YIKES! has shown impressive growth as a squad and are a team to keep an eye on.

This is Part 2 of a 3 part interview series. Part 1 can be found here.

On Being a Coach

Esports coaching is still very much in its infancy, and because of that coaches are still figuring out what exactly they can bring to their teams. For Jerkkit, it’s his life experiences. Being the self-proclaimed Old Fart of the group (don’t worry Jerkkit, I won’t let them know just how old you really are…), Jerkkit brings a certain life wisdom to the squad that many of the players, being young, don’t have access to.

“It’s the life experience, the professional experience that I’ve endured and went through throughout my life. Having that privilege to go through all of those transformative experiences, I can now bring this to the esports coaching field,” he says.

Coaching such young players means that, unlike in traditional sports, there is always a certain life coaching aspect to the day to day, a point that both Jerkkit and Sovereign highlight again and again. With his maturity, Jerkkit contributes not only an objective mindset, but “tying in the objective mindset comes to the competitive drive. The consistency and the determination. [The] thirst and hunger. The last thing I want to be doing where I allow myself to become complacent.” Not letting himself, the support staff, or the team become complacent, and stop growing, is a key aspect to his coaching objectives.

“You hear it all the time from very successful or very competitive individuals that make a name for themselves even in sports. At the end of the day it comes down to all those factors, and you have to consistently and religiously get better all the time.” For Jerkkit, getting the players into this mindset is their main goal. “Being able to come in, really hammer that type of mindset and persona home in that environment, it’s very beneficial for an esports team.”

Being true to the Old Man Father Figure, Jerkkit highlighted his time playing hockey as a kid, saying, “I played as a shutdown defensemen on our hockey team. When I messed up, my linemate would tell me. He’d give me an earful. You think people are ‘toxic’ right now in this generation in esports when these guys play together, yea perhaps in a memey way, but the profanity and the words you can’t take back after it’s said and done when you’re playing sports, you never have to take them back.” While being toxic to your teammates in competitive isn’t being endorsed here, Jerkkit highlights this kind of attitude being a positive when done right. Filtering out the words said in frustration, and focusing on what their critique is aimed at, will help players improve. In short, it’s focusing on the critique that focuses on, “where you really get critiqued on results, objective results, nothing else.”

I’m not a young man anymore… Courtesy of Blizzard.

“Jerkkit: It’s really tough, I think being able to come with that mindset, it really provides a very thriving environment naturally for everyone. Myself and Kitta, we’re the eldest in the group…

Kitta: I’m not quite there yet, just kidding [laughter]

Jerkkit: I’m the old fart, we’ll just put it at that. Her professional experience really helps support that type of mindset and the type of environment that I want for coaching. Even Zach, Zach’s just as old as the players, even though he sounds like he’s eons ahead of his actual age.

Zach (Sovereign): The hell!?

Jerkitt: Wisdom wise! Please!”

The coaching staff also brings another advantage to a team in not quite being their peers. Peer to peer critique can be helpful, but often times breaks down into, ‘well, what would YOU know, you don’t even play Tank?’ The trio prevents that by taking an outside, objective standpoint on things. Keeping the team level headed through rough times is another important aspect of the support staff.

In a key game to their OMM qualifiers (all mentions of OMM are referring not to May but April, as this interview was conducted prior to the results of May’s OMM), Jerkkit recalled how an opponent’s Sombra pick gave their team comp a huge problem. 

“On the fly, right away, it made me really stumped. The coaching staff, ourselves, we were just stumped,” he explained.

Due to being forced to watch the streams, delayed 45 seconds, and the distance between everyone physically, the support staff were scratching their heads on how to tell the team to counter the pick, what to change. But, the team themselves figured out a way to deal with it, coming up with the solution and ultimately taking the map to reverse sweep their opponents. Jerkkit accredits it to not only the team’s skill, but to the support staff’s work on keeping the team level headed.

For Jerkkit, that’s what he brings as a coach in these uncertain times of esports coaching. Life experience, having done corporate jobs as well as owning his own business, and keeping a level head in the face of adversary. “That’s the huge advantage I can give, not only to myself but this team, and especially the coaching staff as well. I think that’s what I really do bring in terms of coaching towards the team and this infancy stage of where esports coaching is right now.”


What Makes a Coach?

I asked Jerkkit about his objectives as a coach. Aside from the obvious points like seeing their roster do well and be a productive part of that, he highlighted a few of his tribulations in his earlier days. “Well, when I first started coaching I wasn’t sure I was approaching it with the right mindset or the right structure that I did envision in my mind. I think I really had doubts until the last OMM.” The addition of Kitta and Sovereign, with their shared princples and mindset, helped.

Being surrounded by like minded members, Jerkkit pointed to the fact that Overwatch is a bit of a beast to tame in terms of coaching. “As I mentioned before it’s very dynamic in the way it shifts and changes in terms of the meta and how the game is supposed to be played. The players need to be very adaptable. You need to be fluid with these changes and not resistant at all and thoroughly be coach-able as a player all the way through.” With the ever shifting nature of the game, from the three tank meta into dive comps, Overwatch demands a lot from not only its players, but its support staff. Players need not only be good, but be flexible in their positions and hero pools. It’s not just about being a good tank player, but knowing how to shift your focus into new win conditions. For support staff everywhere, molding talented players into these flexible players is a main task.

So how does one go about doing this task? For Jerkkit and the support staff, it’s about making a system. “When you look at a sports team, there’s a structure in place on how to develop players, how to develop coaches, how to develop a team, how to organize a team, and how to really establish what you want as a team. As an organization.” Given the dynamic flow of Overwatch, Jerkkit believes firmly it’s about building up strong players, rather than building up strong role players. For this to work, there needs to be a strong system, some way to #TrustTheProcess.

Because of this, Jerkkit describes himself as a ‘pseudoscience’ kind of coach “where I’m the one coming up with these really rambunctious, crazy out of this world dumbass ideas. But at the end of the day, that’s where Zach and Kitta really get to ground me and say whether it does or not [work], or if I’m just crazy.”

Rather than focus on what’s vogue now, or what heroes are insta-locks for most games, Jerkkit says head coaches need to look ahead; for players, too, it’s not just about being the best at one thing. “Fantastic players aren’t about being the only DPS carry, it’s you can DPS like Pizza on Pharah and frag out and hang with Mangachu and Talespin, some of the world’s greatest Pharah players, but yet you’re able to dominate on the ground with a strong Tank game, or a strong Solider 76 play.“


Staying Ahead of the Curve: Watch the Koreans

To stay ahead of the curve for how to play the game, Jerkkit looks towards the powerhouse in esports, South Korea. Namely the OGN teams in the Apex league. “We all understand that the Koreans are heavy adopters of creating the new meta always. I think that this particularly has to go to credit to the support staff of these teams.” Whenever the gap between Korea and everyone else comes up, it’s always about how to close it. How come the Koreans are so much better at the esports they set their minds to? What is it about the West that just falls behind?

For Jerkkit, it’s not just the skill of the players or the acceptance of esports in Korea that sets it apart, “It’s not just because the Koreans put a lot more time, it’s not just because the Koreans are so much more dedicated, that’s just one aspect.” The main aspect that he really hammered home for me is: “The players respect their coaches. The players are coach-able. They’re not trying to be coached, they’re not filtering out what you’re saying and what they think applies to them and doesn’t apply to them.” While Jerkkit has faced some of these issues with the YIKES! crew, not naming names of course, he says he can’t much blame them. The distance, and having never met in person, really put a damper on not only the confidence the players may have in their support staff, but also in the support staff’s own abilities.

The Apex league is the apex predator of Overwatch Esports. Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

“I can tell you this much: If you were in person, how much more of an effective role I would have for the team. I think myself and even the two analyst coaches as well, not being present in person, I think it takes away 80% of the effectiveness we can have towards our team. I’m running at max 20-30% capacity in what I could potentially provide to a team if we were all together, training together.”

The disadvantages of not being together in one concrete place abound. Not being able to discuss VODs together in a room, where everyone is honed in on the task at hand, makes reviewing gameplay harder. Time zone differences can make scheduling hard. Even the simple fact of knowing the people around you face to face, outside of the time spent together in game or on TeamSpeak discussing things, can be vital to improving a team. 

Getting the right mindset for improvement is another vital aspect that is considerably harder when you’re not there next to the players. “There’s going to be a lot of things as, you as a player, to have those resistances that Zach talked about before where they would say, ‘I’m a player, what, do you know more about the game than I do?’ That’s the thing. That’s where players really hinder themselves with that type of mindset. Not being able to accept criticism, objective insight about their gameplay that someone else sees.”

The importance of a third party, someone other than the player(s) themselves, looking over their VODs is vital to Jerkkit. It’s one thing to review VODs of yourself, but it’s another to have an unbiased opinion on where you went wrong in that VOD. Jerkkit himself said, “I’m going to look for the good stuff more than the bad stuff, that’s just being human, that’s just how life works. Even the greatest players, I can guarantee you, most of the greats of sports players will tell you the same thing. Michael Jordan had a coach. Tiger Woods has a coach. Why do all these great players in the world have coaches, when they’re the great players?” Without someone on the outside with a critical eye on where you could have played better, you’re hampered in your growth.

For the trio that’s the main focus, outside of just pure results. Establishing the coaching structure and infrastructure to see Overwatch produce the greatest players it can. It’s not just a goal for itself, the trio sees it as an almost ethical duty to the scene. “But at the end of the day as a coach I know my underlying responsibility, not to just myself or my team or the two other coaches and analysts I work together with. I think… you have a responsibility to really set a foundation, a new standard when there isn’t one set. And if you’re not making that prerogative or your main goals, then why are you coaching in the first place?” 


On Being a Strategist

Every support staff needs someone looking out for the next big strategy, or how to shore up weaknesses in game, and Kitta fills that role as Strategist for the group. The role of strategist in any esports is still being refined, but for Overwatch, it’s a particularly unrefined aspect. “The role itself is really unrefined because Overwatch is really in its infancy stages. And the design of the game incorporates a variety of different game genres.” Overwatch combines time sensitive objectives, class based heroes and an assortment of other features that give strategists a lot to work with. “There’s a lot to look for as an Analyst, and it’s really easy to get overwhelmed and side tracked.”

Kitta gave some insight into the overall system as well, saying that, “As the support staff, we’ve pretty much created a system, where we all have a pretty good understanding of all areas of the game. Each one of us has coaching experience, each one of us knows how the game works and knows how to deal with people and talk with people.” The emphasis on flexibility in role extends to support staff, it would seem, as well as players in the YIKES! group, and to good effect. Highlighting the three core areas for support staff, Headcoach/Strategist/Player Development, allows the trio to focus on their own areas while building up a strong system for a team’s success.

Instead of hamsters, Kitta’s tactical brain is probably just Winston. Courtesy of Blizzard

“So, although we have experience in all areas of coaching, I think it’s really important to establish roles of concentration in areas of a support staff so that we create an environment where we’re a jack of all trades and still a master at one.”

What drew Kitta to the role of strategist, having felt comfortable in multiple aspects of support staff? “It’s the most fun and the most challenging. With every aspect of the game, I think strategy is one of the most important factors that if you do not have in any competitive game, it’s going to be highly unlikely that you’re going to be competitive.” With the multi-layered gameplay of Overwatch and the ever-shifting marker for identifying the win condition of a winning comp, the strategist has a lot set out for themselves as a role.

With that in mind, Kitta’s main objective is to always have the winning answer for the roster. “My objective as a Strategic analyst is to make sure that we always have the upper hand throughout each game through tactics.” To develop these strats, it’s important to consider all the variables that go into an Overwatch game. Not just the complexities of the game play itself, but also, “Basic stuff like basic team foundations, things like coordination, synergy, attitude, all the way through to like player psychology.”

Kitta’s approach to strategy development? You could call it the Keep It Simple, Stupid method. “The other part of its success is to also simplify the strategy as much as possible. The same thing with motor-work, the less moving parts involved the smoother the operation’s going to be.“ With the intensity and craziness of Overwatch’s team fights, one can see why this practice would be more important than ever. Keeping the strats easy but effective is key. “My objective for the team is to just pretty much create a good template to where we always have the advantage in every single situation.”


On Being a Player Development Analyst

Sovereign, as the Player Development Analyst, is also at the cutting edge of support staff discussions. Occupying a position that is somewhat between his fellow support staff and the players, as a kind of bridge, he operates as the arbiter between the two.

In a lot of ways, Sovereign is limited due to the situation that the team is in, namely, not being together in one location. It’s been a hampering aspect for the team, who even through it have put up impressive results against top tier teams. But for Sovereign, in particular, he’s not able to do nearly as much as he would like to. For the moment, he joins in with the group, ”I think we all kind of take the same role at the moment, we want to help facilitate the best possible practice and results going forward in our matches, just in every facet of how we look at the game.“  

But given that, what are Sovereign’s objectives in the long term? “My goals as a player development analyst, I generally want to build a system where players trust me to help them go about explaining their feelings, not just their thought process and how they go about explaining it.” It’s become an increasing trend within esports to have serious discussions about players’ mental health and well being, as burnout and tilt are more and more apart of players’ day to day lives.

A good Player Development means you won’t have to say YIKES! to player-coaching relationships. Courtesy of xQc’s Twitter.

Sovereign says, in particular, “You know when you see a lot of players in teams where they just can’t really cope with a lot of the issues of being in a team, where they don’t really properly express themselves or their feelings at the moment. That kind of causes a lot of build up of tension and sometimes players just aren’t compatible at all, and that causes a lot of issues going forward when you want to practice in an effective way.” Of course, keeping the trade secrets under lock meant that Sovereign couldn’t go into full detail on how he goes about preventing these issues. (That, and Jerkkit silently saying ‘Trade secrets’ disapprovingly when Sovereign or Kitta would say ‘too much’).

Outside of trying to create not just esports players, but functioning humans, Sovereign also highlights a key point of his job: working to find the border between the support staff and the players, and bridging that gap. “You know, we have this border between the support staff and the players, and I kind of help bridge that gap between, where I’m trying my best to get the players to the point where they understand what we’re trying to achieve and helping the support staff where they’re maybe overbearing or overstepping.”

Sovereign believes that not properly identifying this border causes a lot of the breakdown between support staff and players. “For most teams, you see a lot of players where they don’t really like their support staff, because of how they go about trying to build a strategy or to build a system. They really just don’t know where the line meets.” Without properly understanding the relationship, and more importantly having someone dedicated to understanding that border and gap, internal frictions can lead to poor results. “I’m here to bridge that gap, and also facilitate a proper system of how to go about it.”


What exactly does a Player Development Analyst do?

It’s a theme almost anyone in the scene highlights, but nobody really has quite an idea of what they’re fully doing yet. Esports is a young industry, not just in the age of its players and people involved, but also in best practices. “It’s something you can’t just get a degree for and you kind of already know the boundaries on how everything works. Esports is a really unique thing, these are a lot of undeveloped kids and teams where they don’t really know what they’re thinking.”

Focusing on how to go about this is difficult. “Trying to facilitate a better environment for those players is something that is unchartered territory, where a lot of the coaches who do this they can see the benefit, but outside of that it’s hard to tell organizations or like a team that hasn’t gotten the benefits of it how it works.” Unlike in support staff positions, like Strategist or Head Coach, the results are not as immediate or as quantifiable. Results are not guaranteed right away, and the focus is on developing a better working relationship that will lead to results, rather than the reverse. “It’s that bridge in between, where you don’t see the benefit pay off immediately, it’s something that you have to constantly work on.”

For Sovereign, the main task isn’t to make better players per say, but better people, and the player part will follow. He is working closely with the players and the support staff, too. “Where the player is a better person rather than being a better player, and that facilitates everything afterward. They’re a better teammate, they’re a better person outside of the game, and when it comes to the game they start thinking a lot better about how to go about things.” It’s an ongoing process, and not one that reaps immediate benefits. While the results are difficult to quantify, helping players develop into people and better teammates sounds like a pretty good venture for any team.

But it’s not all about results for Sovereign. Sure, everyone wants to see a team play well, and none more than the support staff, but these are still young players making their ways in the world. Furthermore, being that bridge between support staff and players is vital, “I still think it’s one of the most important roles going forward in esports, because like I said you have a lot of undeveloped people who are coming into esports who don’t really have that one person to talk to outside of their coach.” Being the bridge and that third party that will listen to the players’ needs is the position Sovereign hopes to fill. “I’m that bridge, I’m just there to help, that’s it.”



This is the second in a three-part series highlighting the behind the scenes forces helping YIKES! to their explosion onto the NA scene. The next part will get their opinions on the esport scene in general for Overwatch. Check back soon for Part 3!

You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Jared

Interview with the Support Staff of YIKES! Part 1

They are some of the most underrated members of any team, always in the shadows behind each play, and arguably treading uncharted grounds in their day to day work. Support staff, in esports particularly, are often the less known factor on a team. While some have risen to quite prominence within a scene (Tony “Zikzlol” Gray and Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi come to mind), their work is largely unexplored. I got the chance to sit down with the up and coming YIKES! Overwatch Support Staff, Head coach Jeremy “Jerkkit” Wong, Player Development Analyst Zachary “Sovereign” Bent, and Strategist Pirin “Kitta” Singapan.

For those unfamiliar with YIKES!, they are the same team that once represented Denial eSports. While under that brand, fans may have seen them with strong showings at Overwatch Monthly Melees and Rivalcades. As YIKES!, they’ve managed to one-up their Denial eSports performance and take first at the most recent Overwatch Monthly Melee. While the roster may have flown under some fans’ radars, that can’t be the case any longer, as they are poised to be a strong up and coming NA roster. While currently unsigned, YIKES! have shown impressive growth as a squad and are a team to keep an eye on.


Your past experiences in esports


As I said above, coaching and support staff in esports are still relatively young in the scene. We’re not talking about traditional sports coaching, where there exist literal handbooks and strategies. I asked the team about their past experiences and how they informed their current positions. For Jerkkit, it wasn’t anything officially esports related that’s helped him become the coach he is today. Rather, it was his past experience with business that molded his coaching. “I was able to manage a lot of people development programs that we created within our company as head of directing for our HR department… helping them to develop skill sets to become more effective individual for themselves. I guess you could say ‘life coaching’ would be more exact.”

For Sovereign, his experience in the scene dates back to CSGO. Sovereign, however, eventually moved on from the CSGO scene, finding the amateur scene’s focus too heavily centered around the mechanical side of the game, rather than the bigger picture. “I moved onto MOBAs, I started playing DOTA, the Warcraft 3 MOD, the glory days. It was interesting because a lot of people had a lot more outlook into the game, they didn’t just focus on the mechanical side of everything, and the community fostered a better esports environment than I’d say CSGO at the time.” Eventually Sovereign found himself focusing on League of Legends, citing the ever important reason that, “I settled on League because the majority of the time it was my friends saying, ‘let’s play League.'”

One thing’s for certain, a better team logo won’t be possible.

From there, Sovereign found himself increasingly invested in the scene. Eventually, around Season 3 or 4, he was doing VOD reviews of games, trying to bring a professional, objective view. At this time, League of Legends, like many esports, was still fully figuring itself out and how to best utilize non-player support staff. Sovereign submitted his VOD reviews to a few teams, citing the GMs of both Liquid and Enemy as ones he remembered, eventually hearing back from Enemy to help them in their Spring Split in the Challenger Series.

How did Sovereign’s first gig work out? “We got into the Challenger Series, we bombed completely, [laughter] it was an awesome experience. But it was an experience.” With a foot in the door and a taste for esports, his focus also changed. “I wanted to be a coach at that point, I was like, ‘ok an analyst is cool and all, but I feel like I have more of a personal outlook on how to go about things.’ So a coach kind of fits that description.” Dipping back into CSGO, Sovereign found some mild success with one on one coaching, but was never able to crack into the scene fully because he didn’t have the connections. With Overwatch on the horizon, Sovereign shifted again to enter the burgeoning esports scene there.

It’s worked out well so far for himself and the team, with Jerkkit breaking in saying, “Thank God for the lack of your connections in CSGO. Worked out for myself, the guys, and Kitta too I’m sure [laughter].”

Kitta, like Jerkkit, comes from a slightly less esports-sided background. While always a gamer at heart, starting off in Star Wars Galaxies (the failed MMORPG based in the Star Wars universe), and eventually moving into the juggernaut of all MMOs, World of Warcraft, her experience was informed more by non-esports related things. For Kitta, the focus was always on PvP in MMOs, as, “one thing that I found fascinating with them was the PvP, we actually had to think like two steps ahead.” Strategy and planning were the name of the game. As many familiar with PvP in MMOs know, it’s not just your mechanics but also understanding what to do against certain opponents in certain situations.

Like many, when Overwatch was announced, excitement about the new esports scene attracted many to the game, and Kitta was no different in that regard. Kitta started out as a player, moving to a more IGL role and eventually, due to time restraints, taking a step back and focusing more on coaching. She started off by coaching a tier two team, while also working a lot on the analytical side of things. For what drew her to the coaching and support staff life, she cited, “I have a strong military background, I’ve been in the Marine Corps for several years, and so I have this burning desire to lead people and help people and coach people.” While her previous team eventually disbanded, Kitta found herself quickly on the YIKES! team as the Strategic Planning Analyst.


Past relationship with Denial eSports


Those who have followed the scene, particularly in North America, know that rosters being dropped and picked up by organizations has been a hot topic lately. Fans of YIKES! may remember the squad when they were under Denial eSports, and I took the time to ask the trio what exactly went down between the two parties there.

Jerkkit recalls how Brice “Gingerpop” Breakey approached him about joining the team, after having worked together as IGL (Gingerpop) and head coach of another project. They had been playing under Denial, and Jerkkit was on board. Jerkkit recalls how, when he first joined the team, the squad presented quite the interesting challenge. Those familiar with the likes of Félix “xQc” Lengyel won’t be surprised to learn that the larger than life personalities of the players was an interesting team dynamic, while it also felt that the players were largely on a very subjective mindset. They focused on how they viewed the game to be played. Quite different from the team that managed to take first place at the most recent Overwatch Monthly Melee.

Courtesy of Liquidpedia.

The main reason for the mutual separation of Denial and the current YIKES! team? Each party’s goals and hopes didn’t align. With Overwatch League looming over the entire scene, the YIKES! team felt they had it in them to make it into the League, and while they felt Denial were a good step for them as a team, the two couldn’t see that being a possibility together. While the severance left no bad blood between Denial and YIKES!, a point Jerkkit stressed, they all felt they needed the chance to make it into the Overwatch League. “Going forward, we have all the pieces in place now. Everything from the players and coaching structure.”

For the next organization that YIKES! hope to represent, for the support staff, it’s about showing off their particular style and approach to coaching. “We really want to be able to exemplify our style of coaching and how we want to develop the players into becoming the best in North America if not the world.” While the roster has definitely shown up as of late, most notably with a first place showing at the most recent Overwatch Monthly Melee (note: interview was conducted prior to the finals, and thus any reference in quotations to the OMM  is referring to the results of April’s OMM and not the most recent one).

Denial eSports, while not the permanent home for the roster, gave the squad one of its strongest assets: longevity of the roster. “With Denial eSports that’s what really helped set us in position for where we are today. If we did not go through the transition of Denial and the players being signed under that specific org, we wouldn’t have had one of our team’s biggest strengths: which is a roster that has been able to keep the majority of the roster together for 5-8 months.” The ability to have trust in your fellow players, alongside knowing them and building strong connections with them, is an invaluable aspect of YIKES! roster overall.

Something that’s plagued the roster that other teams at their level have had is the ability to practice together under one roof. Scheduling scrims late at night, to accommodate players’ schedules and jobs, has its toll on the team, and the support staff is hampered by the distance. A long day of streaming for Félix “xQc” Lengye can lead to sub-optimal scrims, while Derek “Pizza” Johnson cutting back hours at his full time job to get an extra scrim block in, are among some of the difficulties the roster has had.

Overall though, Jerkkit felt that their experience under Denial was only a boon for the team. It allowed them to, “build character for our roster, for ourselves as coaches too, it really tested our mental fortitude.” As the team pushes forward to higher heights, they set their sights on growing and learning from their time with Denial and hope to find an organization that can give them the assets they need to take their next big step forward in the professional scene.


Hopes for YIKES! going forward?


Every team dreams of making it in the “big leagues,” and while that term isn’t quite accurate for many esports, it still holds true; every team reaches a point where they’re good enough to make it, and just want the chance to prove it fully. I asked the trio their hopes and aspirations for the squad. Not much of a surprise, given that the Overwatch League is materializing more, the unsigned roster hope to find an organization that can back them. “You’d love to have the financial support, the infrastructure, the equipment, the tools, when you need them you can get em.”

Zachary “Sovereign” Bent, Builder of Humans.

Any support staff dreams of having access to the tools and equipment to improve their roster, particularly if that equipment isn’t something they have to stress about. Jerkkit noted the increasing complexity and difficulty of tracking Overwatch. With its ever changing meta and chaotic gameplay, it can be difficult for the team to get the kind of data they’d like. Noting his team’s struggles with the Tank meta, and their prowess in the more dive comp meta, “With those types of changes that shift so fast in Overwatch, it’s not like CSGO where there’s a set meta and set way or foundation to play the game. It’s not really going to change in a 180 degrees when a patch releases. That’s not the case for Overwatch.”

Sovereign’s hopes for the roster were a little more pointed. “I hope to build athletes. That’s my end goal. I want to facilitate the proper system of building an athlete that can play any game, not just Overwatch. I want to see them grow into humans [laughter] that are functioning.” Noting that in many esports scenes, early pro players had a tendency to fade into the background once they retired, not bringing away much from their esports career except having perfected their skill in a game.

Without structure to their lives, or aid from their teams in growing them outside of their game, many players drift after their careers without any real help from their previous teams. “I want to change that. I want to build, I want to structure the bridge and making/filling in between obviously playing the game but also living a life. It’s something I want to bring together. So once they’re finished playing their games, once they begin wanting to coach, analyst, shot caller, caster, or whatever, they can do that. They wont fall apart once they’re not a player. I want to build a human that functions.”


Orgs needing to be flexible


On the topic of their future, the trio noted the need for organizations to be flexible and have strong backing for the future of esports, particularly with Overwatch. “When we need something done we need something done and it needs to be done now. The org needs to be able to support that.” Fans of the scene are aware of the increasing involvement of Venture Capitalist and traditional sport teams backing esports. With this in mind, many of the endemic teams may fall to the sideline unless they can secure financial backing as well.

On the note of endemic organizations, Jerkkit signaled a slightly counter voice to the prevalent opinion on certain endemic teams dropping their rosters in light of Overwatch League. Rather than laying the blame at the feet of Blizzard or the structure of the Overwatch League, he highlighted that, “while they did build esports to where it is right now, a lot of them [endemic organizations] aren’t evolving to the next step.” Without evolving, increasing their own funding and stepping up what they can offer their players, Jerkkit thinks they may fall behind bigger competitors. “You see a lot of orgs just pulling out entirely, they don’t have the funding, or the initial man power at the moment to facilitate their teams, so it’s hard to say where they’ll be in five years if they don’t start getting with the program.”

Jerkkit, the Old Man of the group and Head Coach. Also side hustles as a good mafia boss man for movies.

While it may sound like doom and gloom from the Old Man of the group, Jerkkit feels it isn’t a negative aspect of the way the scene is going. “I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a post-apocalyptic thing, this is how business works at the end of the day, and you’re going to start seeing a lot of it faze out.” While it’s yet to be seen whether these endemic teams are down and out, it doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the Overwatch esports scene like some have thought. For YIKES! though, it’s about focusing on the here and now, and progressing steadily on their own gameplay.

For Kitta in particular, it’s about having access to the basics and fundamentals that an organization needs to provide, things, “like proper places where we can all train together. Because without having those utilities, it’s quite a challenge to get everyone that are scattered all over NA to come together, but we still do it.” A common concern from the trio was this aspect of having to strain not only themselves, but their players, due to the lack of funding and ability to come together under one roof to practice. It’s no surprise then that the hope from a new organization is that they provide those basic assets.

While Kitta was a later addition to the support staff, she notes that coming from her tier two team to YIKES! was a massive change of scene. “Everyone has developed this like really strong relationship, where they become more of like a family. So coming onto this team, that really attracted me, and their eagerness to learn to thirst to win, not to mention their professionalism as well. Each player has a specific characteristic that makes the roster what it is.”


Flexibility of players’ abilities


Flexibility in organizations and support staff isn’t the only thing that Overwatch requires of its pros to be flexible in. Players, too, can’t find themselves too complacent on one or two heroes, or even on their particular role. While some players have heroes that are like pocket picks, heroes the opposing team might not expect them to be on, it’s more so that players need to be flexible in their hero classes overall. It’s one of the few games where a player’s role, Flex, is literally to be the hero the team needs in certain situations and certain comps. But for the YIKES! crew, it’s not just about one player, but all their players, needing to have that flexibility or depth to their hero pool.

While a player may be the off tank role for their team, they should be comfortable enough on other heroes to help their team in a pinch. For Jerkkit, it’s about being good enough so your team can have trust in you. “That’s the key factor, that trust level of being able to count on one another. ‘Ohh, he’s on this hero now, even though that’s my main, but I play this other hero we need right now.'” For an example, he highlighted how the roster can rely on Pizza, normally known for his Pharah play, to fill the role of D.Va or Roadhog for the squad. Tactically, however, he may value Indy “Space” Halpern’s D.Va, or prefer that hero on Pizza for the higher game sense he shows. It’s about flexibility with strats, but also knowing that you can trust the players beside you to do their role for the team on whatever hero is required.




This is the first in a three part series highlighting the behind the scenes forces helping YIKES! to their explosion onto the NA scene. The next part will detail more of each support staff’s particular profile, while our last part will get their opinions on the esport scene in general for Overwatch. Check back soon for Part 2 and Part 3!

You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Jared

CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS Part 2

Welcome to Part two of our CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS. For the first part looking at the build up and protagonists of our CLG story, check out my article here.


The Split

Not many fans of CLG were expecting much from the Spring Split. Eyes were glued to how the new rookies would integrate into the squad, whether the veterans could teach the new kids how to play the Rift in the LCS, and truthfully if they’d manage to scrap their way into Playoffs. First was the surprise win over long time rival and new home of star ADC Doublelift, TSM. Then, the honor of being the only team in the Spring Split to actually take a win off of the (almost) undefeated Immortals squad (with a cheeky baron steal into Darshan backdoor win). CLG surprised everyone with a 13-5 split, narrowly passing Cloud 9 in Week 9 with Team Liquid being… Team Liquid… and securing fourth place.

Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

It was the split that even the most faithful were cautious in hoping for. The team meshed together as a unit, and countless interviews with CLG players highlighted this. The story line was never about one star player winning games. Rather, it revolved around which player would the team elect to carry them this game. We saw stellar performances obviously from the likely culprits: Darshan with the split pushes that the other team could not answer, Xmithie with the Smite wars and overall map control, and Aphromoo leading his lane to dominance.

But it wasn’t just the vets. Viewers caught glimpses of greatness with Huhi, as he broke out the Aurelion Sol to great effect, still drawing bans against that pocket pick. And Stixxay came up huge when the team needed him most. His triple kill in the final fight between the long time rivals took the Finals for CLG and sent them to MSI. In many fans’ minds, it was clear that the CLG management knew what they were doing, maybe even better than they thought.

But back to the story lines. What a roller coaster of a split. While some looked to CLG’s playoff as a result of other teams failing expectations, that shouldn’t detract from the accomplishment at hand. They didn’t take it because Huhi or Stixxay were amazing diamonds in the rough. It wasn’t the steadfast veterans, the grizzled familiar faces after the roster shuffle, that carried the CLG banner to victory. No. It was the team. They came together, they held each other up, and most importantly, they never stopped believing in each other. The rag band team of veterans and rookies took the split, and ultimately the finals, to propel them further than even they had hoped for: representing their region at the second most important Riot tournament besides Worlds.

Sweet, sweet victory. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

From “Unlikely” to “Runner-ups”

The now (in)famous power rankings going into MSI 2016 didn’t have CLG doing much. At their brightest, CLG were a dark horse roster, one that could make some upsets and maybe see themselves get into Playoffs. But they weren’t expected to do much. If they showed up, it would be mildly surprising. If they flopped, it also wouldn’t be too shocking a revelation. They weren’t the dominant (domestically) G2, the juggernaut SKT T1, or the stacked Royal Never Give Up. Heck, they weren’t even as hyped as the LMS’ representatives Flash Wolves. The Flash Wolves didn’t mince words with their expectations of CLG, with SwordArt’s comment towards them simply being, “We don’t actually have any preparation. Because CLG is the worst team besides IWC teams.” Ohh the irony.

Worse than an International Wildcard Team you say? Well that’s awkward for you. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

In true CLG fashion, they did the exact opposite of what the pundits and critiques expected them to do: they thrived. I’m not one for taking phrases from others, but man did ESPN writer Tyler Erzberger put it perfectly for CLG’s mantra, “Respect all, fear none.” This was a roster that didn’t claim to not prepare for an opponent they felt was weaker, because they knew they had to do that to every opponent they would meet. Their record tells the story of group stage well. They had a 2-0 record against Flash Wolves and G2, and a 1-1 record against SKT, RNG, and BAU Supermassive (I mean, it is CLG, Wildcards are pretty much confirmed their kryptonite…).

Of course, in a perfect kind of story line, the team that looked down on CLG were the ones facing them in the Semis. The Wolves had to look across the Rift at the team they felt was as strong as an IWC team. Still, even with their group stage performances, many were timid to cast their vote in favor of CLG. Sure, they had bested the Flash Wolves, but that didn’t paint them as clear favorites going into their confrontation. Keen observers would’ve had the two as neck and neck, equal parties, and that the battle would most likely be a back and forth series.

It was, in a lot of ways, a clash of styles, and a clash of ways to play League of Legends. Flash Wolves brought strong talent and mechanics in their games. Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan in particular found many advantages in his laning phases that put the Wolves ahead. Of course, CLG, on the other side of the spectrum, trusted in each other, in their own style: teamwork and macro plays. CLG played the maps out like an ebb and flow of a tide, and ultimately came out on top of the Wolves in a 3-1 series. The under-looked team, practically spit upon by SwordArt’s comments, came out convincingly on top to move onto the Finals of MSI, the first time any North American squad had done so at a Riot International tournament.

To Face a God

It was only a befitting ending. Sports animes aren’t Mary Sues. It’s about learning, about hardships and about trying to take those lessons and bringing them into the next competition. So when CLG lost 3-0 to SKT, not many were surprised. It’s the narrative any time a team faces SKT, whether it’s in region rivals like KT Rolster or pre-exodus Rox Tigers, or the latest crop of non-Korean teams hoping to make a dent in the armor that is SKT’s record internationally.

Heads held high to face the gods. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

It was a bit of a miracle run overall, and while they did lose it all in the end, CLG weren’t completely outmatched. Like any good team, they had their shining moments against SKT. In the first game, far behind SKT and ultimately completely outplayed for the first half of the game, CLG almost made the comeback against the Gods. Through smart play and a cheeky hide-and-then-five-man-dive-poor-Faker-and-Wolf, they almost mounted a convincing lead, but ultimately lost to the superior skill and experience of SKT.

On the back of a strong comeback that ultimately fell short, CLG started game two strong, with a 3K gold lead on the Korean giants at the 14 minute mark. The rest of the game was a back and forth, punch for punch game where both teams matched each others plays, with the game being swung in SKT’s favour during a decisive team fight victory. For all the hype and near moments of excellence, CLG eventually dropped the game, unable to withstand the onslaught.

Game three was probably the finale of the series everyone expected, but no NA fan hoped for. It was a lashing, as SKT showed masterfully how to rotate the map and pick off CLG members who seemed completely caught off guard. Outside of a prolonged fight that showcased a lot of CLG’s strength at the 32 minute mark, it was hard to say they stood much of a chance. Ultimately the bloodiest game of the set, and really the most one sided, SKT walked away heads held high, sitting on top of the world of League of Legends.

Murica. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG, on the other hand, walked away beaten but not broken. They still stood toe to toe against the team favored to take it all, the team who ultimately would take Worlds again, and then would end up taking MSI again too. It’s hard to imagine a world where the rag tag team, compiled of a couple of rookies, would be able to take down that dynastic of a team.

But it’s not the victory that makes the story line. It’s the sheer run of it all, a team from NA, going up against multiple opponents who not only were touted to outclass them as a team, but were supposed to outclass even their region. It was the first time an NA team made it into the finals of a Riot international tournament. What an amazing run from a team whose only talent was in working together, in picking up where their teammates faltered.

It wasn’t big roster moves and long time rivals TSM. It wasn’t storied Cloud 9, the wunderkids of the NA LCS, with their opening split of dominance in their minds. No, it was the roster that had every single NA LCS fan, even the most faithful of CLG fans, scratching their heads at the off season. They took it to the finals of MSI and brought recognition back to their region. While the ‘best’ story line is highly subjective and up for debate, the Spring Time of Dreams CLG are at least in the top five for League of Legends esports. And it’d be a damn good sports anime plot line too.


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CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS Part 1

When people say what draws them to esports and sports, you’ll often hear two philosophies: to watch the best of the best play their game at the peak level of competition, or for the story lines that weave themselves on and off the playing fields.

This piece is for the second group. This article started in my mind as a joke, as I was looking back with a friend on past NA LCS splits playoffs and remembered just how insanely storybook like Counter Logic Gaming’s (CLG) run to win the Spring Split in 2016 and their performance at MSI was. In my mind, it was the greatest sports anime style narrative we’ve yet to see. (Rivaled by Cloud 9’s Cinderella story to Worlds in S6, mind you.)

I mean, THIS happened so anything is possible folks…

What do I mean by this? Well, think about it. Long time team, they had just come off a big win but now were thrown into question, lots of pressure on the roster, and a bunch of faces old and new, veterans and no name rookies, who managed to stick it to the pundits and win it all.

Hell, even the archetypes are there: the Leader (Aphro), the Cutesy dopey one (Huhi), the Downplayed ace (Stixxay), the Steady and silent one (Xmithie), the Pretty one (Darshan), and the Mr. Serious Coach Guy (Zikz… kind of).

The narrative practically writes itself folks. There were ups and downs, moments it looked bleak and others where they shined as a team, not as individuals. They coalesced, they backed each other up on and off the rift, and they showed that team work meant more than flashy players and big transfers. They also lost in heart breakers, they had to buffer themselves to the community’s constant criticisms, and ultimately to have faith in each other.

With MSI behind us, and the NA LCS ultimately losing their top seed at the next Worlds, lets take a look back a brighter time for North America, a time where, funny enough, the team representing the region was not seen as the best team there. They were criticized harshly going into it, and many felt that perhaps they would not be the best showing for the NA LCS internationally. It turned out, they were. This is the first part of a two part series, so be sure to check in tomorrow for our dramatic conclusion!

The Set Up

I still remember the shock of the off season between Worlds 2015 and the NA LCS Spring Split 2016. Losing  Eugene “Pobelter” Park seemed like a blow enough. Pob was, as I always said, a solid, if not uninspiring, Mid laner. The perfect fit for CLG, who often had… on and off Mid laners. That was fine. Maybe the team had some crazy import in mind, right? After all, Faith has always been part of the CLG fandom. But that wasn’t all.

Then the unthinkable happened. Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng traded in the blue and gray for the black and white of long time rivals TSM. Why not top it all off with picking up two almost unheard of rookies in Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes and Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, and CLG pulled a full CLG and went counter to everyone’s expectations. They finally found the solution, the team that got them that coveted NA LCS Finals and Worlds appearance. It was supposed to be the Golden Age. Then they decided to remove two key players and replace them with untested rookies.

The rag tag team of dreams, NA’s hope at MSI. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

The scene was left scratching their heads, as eternal rivals TSM looked to rebound after an off performance during their last Summer’s playoff showing, having gotten arguably the strongest ADC in the West from the very team that beat them. TSM’s rivals, of course, were left with two rookies, Stixxay having been promoted from CLG Black, while Huhi was reportedly scouted in Korea for his talent. But they both had big shoes to fill, and while being surrounded by some of the most storied veterans in Top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero and Support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black, CLG fans felt that maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to pull out a playoff win in Summer.

Alongside the player changes, CLG brought on a new head coach by the name of Tony “Zikzlol” Gray, now a household name as arguably one of the best coaches in North America, there was a lot of new faces and questions mixed with hopes.

Nobody expected that the team would amount to much in Spring. Even CLG didn’t. A win on domestic soil seemed a great showing, but the impressive showings didn’t end there: they also went on to place second at Riot’s Mid-Season Invitational, after showing up against international teams and only falling short against Korean juggernauts SKT. Then again, what would a good sports anime be without the unlikely happening?

Our protagonists

Archetypes in Anime aren’t really set in stone. Sure, there are tropes and there’s kind of constant themes throughout, but archetypes are always kind of murky grounds. Some will disagree with the ones I find almost ever present. Some will say I forgot some. Hell, it’s even likely you’ll disagree with my identification of the players in their archetypes. That’s fine, I’m not claiming objectivity here. But if I were writing the show, this is how I’d envision the players.

Darshan: Even his teacher calls him Zionspartan… but fans now call him Darshan, and arguably last Spring was some of the best times for the one they call Darshan.

He was a monster in the Top lane, eloquent in the lane swap meta, and a menace when left to split push to victory. If fans of the NA LCS had a dime for every time Darshan would split push to win with Fiora or similar split pushers, they’d have a lot of dimes. It wasn’t quite the Flame Horizon in the Top lane, but it was pretty damn close, and many of the W’s in CLG’s Spring Split could be chalked up to the dashing Darshan.

Darshan, probably thinking about how to style his hair or like the next song to cover… Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

Of course, it’s not just about how the players played, but their place in our overall story, right? Darshan could’ve been the kind of Clutch Player, the one who shows up when the team needs him the most and somehow pulls off the victory. But I think the other side of Darshan plays out more in my mind: He seriously was the pretty boy of the group. Amazing facial hair and style aside, he also sings amazingly. If he were to walk onto stage, I feel like he would have to have a flower background and a close up zoom in, as his eye sparkled or something. Next to Huhi, Darshan would probably have the most fanart of himself if we’re being totally honest.

Xmithie: Xmithie has been a staple in the NA LCS since his time way back in Season 3 with Team FeaR and Team Vulcun. He’s been a stable force in the scene, never quite as strong as some of his flashier compatriots in the Jungle, yet Xmithie never failed though to remain a rock and foundational piece for many a team. Hell, he was the unchallenged Best Lee Sin NA for a while folks…

Over the shoulder eye brow raising smoulder. Courtesy of Riot Flikr.

But more than that, Xmithie fit into the CLG story line as that Steady and Silent one. For the entirety of the Spring split and into MSI, Xmithie put in production for the team, helping his lane mates get ahead and maintaining overall map control.

He was there where and when the team needed him and read the game to know who to set up and get ahead. In some ways he was like a tactician for the squad, if not for Aphro’s obvious influence in that department. He was, however, always the quietest member it felt like. He wouldn’t be the player dominating a scene in the show, but he would show up at the right time to help a fellow player. The strong, silent type that always held a place in your heart for his sincere concern for his fellows.


Huhi: Huhi came in as a heavily scrutinized player, always at the center of criticism for the team and seemingly always the one that had to go. Still, through all of this, it seemed like the bubbly personality of Huhi persisted on. While notorious for his pocket picks like Aurelion Sol, Huhi’s performance on the rift has always been polarizing. He’s either the one surprisingly carrying his whole team on his giant space dragon back, or the one that’s the anchor for the early game of the team. Huhi was always a polarizing player, but he was never a negative player.

If you don’t find this image heart warming and wholesome, I ask you kindly, but firmly, to leave. Courtesy of Yahoo Esports.

It was his off the rift presence that was the perfect fit for somewhere between the comedic relief and the adorable one of the group. Just check his Twitter, and see the beauty that is the HuhixHaru.

It was, however, I think Huhi’s defining feature in my mind of his overall positive attitude in the face of adversity. He always seemed happy, always ready to try and prove himself again, and never daunted by opponents or critics. He would keep the team cheery and would offer his positive attitude to the team atmosphere.

Stixxay: Fans of CLG may have forgotten this, but Stixxay was considered once one of the weakest members of CLG for a time. Not many should be surprised by this, as stepping into the shoes of ace ADC and Best in the West Doublelift is definitely a tall task. But Stixxay never seemed fazed by those who didn’t believe in him. He was always stepping up, and I think the shinning moment of his Spring career was the Tristana play that propelled them to their victory over TSM and onto the MSI tournament.

From Zero to Hero in no time flat. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

In a lot of ways, Stixxay would seem our protagonist for this show. The young kid, stepping into the ace role for a team, under heavy scrutiny by fans and pundits, and with a kind of self confidence in himself and his team that felt slightly above what one might feel was warranted. He and Aphromoo set out to prove everyone wrong, the young gun under the mentorship of the leader and brain in the botlane duo of Rush Hour.

Interviews with Stixxay showed this side time and time again: he felt he was good, damn good, but not in a pretentious way, not by putting others down or overstating his point. He felt he had the mechanics and just needed the time to ripen and he could match Doublelift’s legacy. Well, as a spoiler, it seemed he wasn’t too far off, and while a discussion of whether he’s ‘better than’ Doublelift or not would be a hotly contested debate, it’s safe to say that the rookie has proved himself, long before gaining the moniker of Big Dixxay.

Aphromoo: If ever there was a franchise player to match the level of Doublelift, it could be argued that it would be Aphromoo. Support, as a position, occupies a unique role within League of Legends: they’re both the ones to set up the plays and their lane mates success, while also generally tasked with the shotcalling role. In short, the best Supports are often the ultimate altruistic leaders. Aphromoo is no exception to this role either, often being praised as the driving force behind CLG’s success, being the leader the team needs on and off the rift.

There are certain players whose reputation transcends their on the Rift abilities. Aphromoo is one such player. Courtesy of Riot Flikr.

It’s the perfect plot line too. The mentor, the veteran, the one left behind the famous departure of lanemate Doublelift. Aphromoo had to prove himself not only mechanically as a player, but to prove himself to the team captain and mentor everyone believed he could be. He was given the untested, gifted, and highly coachable player that was Stixxay, and their role in the team ultimately became the lynch pin for their success.

While Darshan was known for his split pushing, Huhi his pocket picks and Xmithie for his selfless jungling style, it was the Bot lane duo that often was tasked to face some of the best and strongest opponents and carry. If it’s not a saying, it should be, that behind every God ADC is a Support who whipped them into shape, and look no further for proof of this then the Lethal Weapon duo that is Stixxay and Aphromoo.

Zikz: An untested team needs a leader, but it also needs a coach. Zikz stepped into the role of Head Coach before the roster was finalized, replacing William “scarra” Li and being promoted from Head Analyst position. Fans will remember Zikz for his simple, elegant style, a classy suit and non-distracting hair gave him the appearance of a largely non-menacing coach. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Zikz has established himself in the coaching role, holding one of the longest tenures as such, in a position that largely has seen more revolving doors than an European Super Team.

“Ok guys, if we destroy their Nexus first we win. Break!” Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

So how does Zikz play into this story? Well, he’s the behind the scene coach, the one who propels his team, prepares them to the best he can, and then sits there and watches as his work and tactics unfold before his eyes. Zikz was always there with his team, laughing, encouraging, being one on one with many of the players, and arguably a lot of CLG’s success can be placed as a fact of his impressive coaching. He was a strong Runner Up for the Coach of the Spring Split in 2016, and is a constant contender for the best coach each split.

He also plays the role of the coach who not much is known about. He’s been a relative silent force in CLG’s presence, and while this fits that narrative well of the behind the scenes coach who is stronger than he comes off, it also gave him the kind of mysterious aspect to him. All he needs is some glasses to push up his nose menacing when a team falls into his well laid trap and he’d be perfect.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 everyone!

Is That a Jojo Reference? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr and bad MS Paint skills.

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WaWa’s Bootcamp: How two friends created Overwatch’s greatest coaching resource

I had the pleasure to sit down with the two founding members of WaWa’s Bootcamp, the fast growing free coaching center on Discord, and get inside their thoughts on the success of their coaching methods and Overwatch’s esports scene in general. We talked about how WaWa’s Bootcamp started, their goals for the community, and some pretty exciting details about Wawa’s Boot Camp Amateur Rising Tournament.

WaWa’s Bootcamp: the Story so Far

I remember how I first came across WaWa’s Bootcamp. My friend sent me a message late at night, which I got in the morning, saying he was super excited because he got invited to a coaching community on Discord. I was immediately intrigued.

I wouldn’t say I’m the most competitive player out there, but self improvement is always my goal. I joined and saw the community completely explode over the span of a few weeks. I wasn’t surprised, to say the least. Free coaching, done through an intuitive model like Discord, with some amazing coaches? It was the perfect storm.

WaWa, founder of WaWa’s Bootcamp, practicing for his second big idea: WaWa’s Doggy Overwatch Bootcamp.

So what brought about WaWa’s Bootcamp? WaWa said it all started among a group of friends. WaWa said he’s naturally a competitive gamer, and when he and CreamPuff (his partner at WaWa’s Bootcamp) started Overwatch, WaWa said, “As we were playing I said, ‘Hey, I really want to get really good at this game. I want to get better.'” From this grew a small, phone based community app of close friends and others they met in Overwatch who wanted to improve themselves too. By working together with others and taking constructive criticism, they rose through the ranks. Wawa’s Bootcamp was officially born.

“By using that structure… let’s give back to the community by helping those who aren’t able to access the resources or don’t know exactly what it takes to get to the level we’re at [Grand Master],” WaWa said.

Most big projects begin with a strong belief in something. For WaWa and Creampuff, it was, “That everyone has the potential to reach at least GMs, all it takes is the appropriate game knowledge, education and sort of someone to mold your path out for you.”

It was with that in mind that WaWa’s Bootcamp began, hoping to connect potential players looking to improve themselves with the right resources to improve their play. From posting VODs of your own play, getting coaches to review those VODs, or just finding yourself a team to play with, WaWa’s has created the atmosphere and environment for players to better themselves. It also gave regular Joes access to some of the best coaches in the scene.

Behind the Scenes

But what is it that WaWa and Creampuff do at WaWa’s Bootcamp, exactly? Well, their roles, like many early projects, are not clear cut. As I was interviewing the two WaWa noted that they had just hit their 1600th member, estimating that when I had joined a month ago they were at 700 members. To hold down such a growing community, the two stick (largely) to two kinds of roles: WaWa manages relations with coaches and pros, the kind of communication with outside members to draw them in. Creampuff, on the other hand, handles much of the ‘internal workings’ of the server.


Creampuff, co-founder of WaWa’s Bootcamp, is definitely the professional of the duo.

“We have a system where we work together to handle the internal and external part of the community,” Creampuff said.


Of course, in a busy start-up community roles often bleed into each other. Both WaWa and Creampuff have filled in for each other multiple times.

“It’s more like we help each other out, there’s no specific exact roles that we do. It’s just a matter of making sure we keep this community active and engaging with the students.”

As the project grew, so did the staff. In the early stages of WaWa’s Bootcamp, the two were running off two hours of sleep a night. By the second week, they had upgraded to five hours of sleep at most.

While running and maintaining a Discord server may sound easy enough, WaWa’s Bootcamp was more than just a Discord server, but a whole structured community in the making for coaches and students. More staff, they noted, were needed to make it “more sustainable.”

The Community Itself

What are the hopes of WaWa and Creampuff for WaWa’s Bootcamp? ”

“We sort of want to become the central hub for people to access information on how to get better in a free manner,” they explained

While pros and pro coaches are not necessarily always available, the duo believes that the fundamentals should be available to everyone.

“Sort of like how school is free at an elementary level, we believe that the basics of Overwatch and the foundation should be free to the public.”

Given Overwatch’s complexity and depth, it makes sense that some of the fundamentals aren’t self-evident.

The way going forward though? A central website. While a Discord server has its obvious benefits, like easy access to voice communications and a chat for almost any subject related to WaWa’s Bootcamp activities or Overwatch in general, it has its drawbacks. Finding content, like instructional videos and guides, can be difficult to maintain.

“Overall our next step is to work on a website, and from that point on we wanna to see how much we can grow and think more of what we can expand on to make ourselves accessible to pretty much everyone in the Overwatch Community.”

Anyone in the server will notice the long list (92 and counting as I write this article) of pro players on the server, from teams like CLG to Immortals, EnVyUs to Evil Geniuses. I asked the two what the response has been like from professionals within the scene?

In short? Great, but in an indirect way. The two noted that, before fans got too excited, the majority of the pros on the server felt they could not commit enough time to their students with their current busy schedules. WaWa wagered that roughly 20% of the pros he’s contacted were able to coach students, while the remainder found themselves too preoccupied currently with their pro player lives. But, while, “The rest are too busy at the moment… they want to stay so when they have more free time they can actively help more.”

The pros also expressed their interest in taking part in future tournaments and events with WaWa’s Bootcamp, another reason to lurk around the server. The pros that were interested in offering coaching also felt that their students warranted strong dedication and for them to be offering their best to their students, a key reason for some to decline to offer their coaching for now. They felt it would be unfair to their students to not give them a certain amount of hours (some even listing an exact number.) ” I’m really glad that that was the response for why they weren’t able to take part in the tournament. Because it’s just considerate towards the students, and I’m really glad that they had the students in mind above anyone else.”


Wawa’s Boot Camp Amateur Rising Tournament: Showcasing the Talent of the Coaches

With the central focus of the community being on coaching and improving players, it’s no surprise that the first tournament from WaWa’s Bootcamp was focused on showcasing the coaching muscle of some of their star coaches.

Creampuff brought up that the inspiration behind the tournament came from the fact that in the scene “right now coaches are brought onto teams as their 7th player to ring, or to kind of hold their place, instead of going in as actual coaches for specifically coaching”. To change that, and show just how much coaches can improve players, they decided to start the Wawa’s Boot Camp Amateur Rising Tournament.

For WaWa, coaches play a very important role “because ultimately I do believe the education aspect of gaming plays a huge part in the improvement of players. Ultimately getting the pros better than they are currently”.

An example of Danny “Atomicgoofball” Nguyen work for Niles Paul of the Washington Redskins. Imagine this, but with Reinhardt charging, or crisp Pharah blue and gold…

Eight coaches were selected, and each given a team of players ranging between Platinum and Diamond to coach over a three week period. After the three week period the tournament begins in earnest, and the teams are pitted against each other to see which coach was able to mold their team into champions.

“You can think of this like the ultimate fighter challenge of Overwatch.”

For those interested in the process of coaching, there’ll be an extra bit of a treat: “We’ll be recording through the videos and their voice channels of what they do and the methods they take to help improve the performance of their students.”

The grand prize for the winning coach? Nothing less than a custom pair of shoes from renowned sneaker artist Danny “Atomicgoofball” Nguyen, an artist who’s current clients include M. Night Shyamalan among many other high fliers, featuring their favourite hero or the hero they main, whichever they’d prefer.


The Overwatch Esports Scene

Overwatch as an esport has been all the buzz since its release, coupled with its constant status at the top of PC Bars in Korea many have signaled a bright future for the title. I asked the duo their thoughts on Overwatch’s competitive scene as it is and their hopes and hesitations with the Overwatch League.

WaWa thinks that the scene isn’t done justice currently in either department of the attention and coverage it garners.

“One thing’s for sure, my personal belief is that Overwatch competitive scene doesn’t have the attention that it deserves. Compared to other games like CSGO and League of Legends, I would like the pro scene to have a little more attention from the public,” he said.

Not just public attention, but WaWa also noted the slow start for some bigger organization to dip their toes into the scene. The mystery of Overwatch League’s exact details, mixed with the ups and downs of an esports early stages, the hectic nature of Overwatch have been aspects contributing to the relatively slow growth of the investment side of the scene.

For Creampuff, he sang a more optimistic tune about the state of the scene. Drawing likeness to CS:GO’s explosion, Creampuff is hoping that Overwatch League will help the scene explode too.

“It’s relatively small but it is growing. What I’m hoping for is for it to take off like CSGO. CS was always kind of big, but a lot of companies weren’t really invested, but now it’s growing like crazy, with bigger companies going in,” he explained.

While CS was always a force within esports, CS:GO brought the FPS into the limelight of esports and easily a top contender for viewership at any tournament. While Overwatch doesn’t have the history that CS had behind it, it does have the hype around a bold new approach to esports leagues, one that hopefully will become more concrete in coming months.

The two also felt that recent ventures by non-endemic groups into the scene is a sign the times are changing for the better. Creampuff noted recent expressed interest in Overwatch League by the New England Patriots.

For WaWa, “I think it’s awesome that sports teams are taking an active role in the esports scene because it’s starting to mean people are taking esports a little more seirously.”

While traditional sports and non-endemic sponsorships have been on the rise in recent months within the esports sphere, esports has also seen increased public awareness.

WaWa brought up his first experience seeing esports on TV. “When I first went to Buffalo Wild Wings and started seeing esports games on TV, it was like [a] mind blown moment.”

Overwatch League: The Ups and Down for the Scene

If you hadn’t heard enough speculations, commentary, or opinions from pundits on the upcoming, mysterious Overwatch League, well… I don’t know what rock you’ve been hiding under. From rumours of prices to bid into the franchised league, to teams dropping their rosters in fears they can’t match these prices, it’s been a buzz in the esports media field in the past few weeks. So I decided to ask the two their thoughts on the Overwatch League that’s already made ripples thoroughout the esports scene before even really… concretely… being much.


For WaWa, there’s only two ways the Overwatch League will go: “I think it’s either going to be a huge hit that changes and revolutionizes esports across all games, or it’s just going to be really painful. I can’t see an in between.”

With the steep rumored price tag of slots in the league and the relative radio silence on some key details, WaWa also feels this points to the reason for many orgs to drop their current Overwatch rosters. Staple names like compLexity and Splyce recently dropped rosters, with Denial esports and just this week the announcement that Dignitas also dropped their roster.

Another possible reason for the recent exodus of medium sized esports organizations leaving the scene? Real sports teams investing into the esports scene.

“I think that’s probably why smaller tier gaming organizations are starting to feel a little threatened and wanting to back out while they can. In a war of attrition there’s no way they could win, they don’t have the backings or the finances in order to keep up.” While many look to traditional sports teams investing into the scene as only a positive, WaWa noted the kind of bittersweet nature of the move, saying, “I think it’s sad because you see organizations like compLexity all the time in different games, but they’re leaving one of the more rising popular games.”

Closing Statements

As our interview came to a close, I asked the duo for any final comments. WaWa highlighted how amazing it has been for himself watching the coach/student interactions.

“Everyone involved has knowledge that we spent hours and days and days of trying to retain so that we can reach the ranks that we are now, in terms of our coaches and pros. If feels good, it’s as much fun for the coaches as it is the students. You finally have somewhere to dump it all, it’s not just in your head, you can pass it on. I think it’s really nice seeing how our students look up to the pros and coaches and how the coaches enjoy communicating with the students, it’s just really nice to witness and students,” WaWa explained.

For Creampuff, it’s been the shear growth that WaWa’s Bootcamp has seen.

“It’s been a very interesting growth period for us. It’s crazy seeing all the students come in, and then the coaches, and then the pros, and then all the coaches fanboying over the pros coming in. The pros have been really good about it too, interacting, keeping in touch with us. It’s really crazy right now. Our main goal is to provide free coaching to anyone willing to learn. It’s crazy how that small idea became what it is right now. I’m very happy for where we’re at right now,” he said.

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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


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.



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.

An Interview with Immortals CEO Noah Whinston: Eyeing up Expansion?

Noah Winston is a big figure in esports, especially in League of Legends. He is someone who dropped out of college at the prestigious Northwestern University in order to become the CEO of Immortals. He is also someone who is outspoken about the fan experience and what he wants his organization to bring to the world of esports.

For Noah, this includes expanding the Immortals brand to many different esports, possibly even Dota 2.

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview the Immortals CEO and get some of his thoughts about expanding his organization.

Why Now?

Noah was introduced to League of Legends during the Season 3 World Championships by a friend. Even though he was not familiar with League, he was “engrossed in the experience”.

Immortals CEO: Noah Whinston

While Noah had always been a fan of esports he did not realize just how big it was. He decided then that he would want to look at it all as a fan first, So I think when I look at esports even before I started Immortals I approached this from a fans first perspective. I was a fan of esports before I ever thought about trying to do anything in it.”

Why Dota 2?

Dota 2 is an esport that has been around for many years and has plenty of support behind it. But, until recently, Noah had not really thought about getting involved with it. Like League, he was introduced and realized just how much the fans loved it.

“My first experience to Dota 2 was kind of the same way. I never watched a game of Dota, but I decided to hang out with some friends at TI6 in Seattle last year. Coming into the International and seeing this energy and this excitement around this game, you don’t need to understand the game itself to understand the feeling that the crowd has for it or that the fans have for it.”

Unlike some other esports, Dota 2 has a lot of support from its creators. Noah stated, “The only reason it is that big too is because of the massive support the community gives to that tournament through the Aegis and the crowd funding mechanisms that Valve institutes for it.”

This adds to the ecosystem of the game and the tournaments. For Noah, TI impressed him with its prize pool, which is a major problem for many esports.

“Obviously that ecosystem functions in a very different way than almost any other esports game. TI is the biggest prize pool event in the entire world for anything esports. It’s the culmination of an entire year of competition, everyone in Dota prioritizes performance at the International because of that prize pool and status. Because of that the International serves as this kind of hallmark event for esports outside of esports. Whenever TI happens, there’s always more and more stories around about how big this prize pool is.”

This caused me to wonder, what makes Dota 2 special in contrast to other scenes?

Dota 2 captures fan passion in a unique way relative to other esports games. It provides unique opportunities for those fans to directly engage with the thing that they love via the crowd funding mechanism for TI. I think of the esports out there, Dota is truly global in reach.”

Noah went on to mention the fact that these many different areas had very passionate fan bases. Unlike other esports he believed it was not limited in its reach.  

What the future holds for Immortals and expansion?

Next I wanted to know what Immortals future looked like. They are an org that is clearly on the rise and one that has a multitude of teams. While expansion is an option, Noah does not believe it’s the only one.

I think that we’re certainly not one of the organizations that thinks picking up more teams and more games are synonymous with growth. We do agree that being a multi-gaming organization is important for stability and reach, but at a certain point, and it’s a point we’ve reached, we’re more looking to grow vertically and not horizontally. We’re not looking to bloat by adding more teams in more games, we’re looking to kind of deepen our connection and our experience in the games we’re already in.”

This is an extremely interesting perspective as it seems that many org owners are always seeming to want more players and teams. Expansion is currently rapid in the realm of esports.

Noah says that they are trying to be opportunistic about their team and player pickups. He does not feel the pressure to add teams just to add them. For him, it is about finding someone who piques their interest.

“It’s More from the perspective of is there someone who so compels to sign them that we enter that scene. I think a good example is looking into our expansion in Super Smash Bros, both in 4 and Melee, where it was less of an approach ‘hey we really need Fighting Game players, like super smash bros players.’ It was more of an approach, “hey, Anti, Shroomed, these are guys are so compelling for me, both as an organization owner and a fan, and they fit so well with what we’re trying to do as an organization so well that we’re going to enter these games just for the privilege to sign them.”

This led him to Dota 2, saying, “I think that’s the approach we’re taking to Dota 2 right now. We’re still doing our research on the ground level, on the grassroots level.” For Noah, it is more about doing the research and making sure that it is something they feel will fit and something they feel they need.

“From my perspective what we’re looking for is a compelling reason to enter the scene. A team that compels us because we want them to be part of our organization so badly we’ll enter Dota 2 for them. Rather than saying, ‘look, Dota 2 is a great scene, we’re gonna compromise our values just to find any team that we can in it. That’s not to say Dota 2 isn’t an attractive enough game for us if we were a single game organization we may be taking that approach. But at the scale we are at now, it doesn’t make sense to enter other games just for the sake of entering.”

More specifically I wanted to know what was the “Immortals way” in regards to expansion. “I think that more for us it’s less of let’s try and find games to expand into and more of an if there’s a particularly compelling opportunity to take part in another game that’s something we’ll consider”

What would Immortals bring to the Dota 2 scene for Players?

This is a very important question for any esport. For many of them, the players are either respected and paid as well as they should be or are not supported in ways that make them feel like they can make playing an esport their career.

For the players, compared to a lot of the organizations in the Dota 2 scene, we provide a lot of stability and for lack of a better word legitimacy. We are a Venture funded organization with a long track record of treating our players well in other games, and especially with some of the drama that’s come from within the Dota community around players getting paid wages on time, getting their fair share of the prize money, etc., certainly that’s something we expect every player in our organization to be able to sleep sound about. To know they’re not being screwed over or screwed on their contractual options to their team.”

Noah also explained that his org takes the time to make sure that their infrastructure is solid. This means that they are organized, they know how to keep a player healthy through diet and exercise. For Immortals this helped the player and the org by keeping them at peak performance.

“Basically, we know that the players who play in our organization want to win. And we want to do everything we can to enable them to be their best selves.”

But, they do not just stop at helping a player with their current situation and career, they look towards their future.

“We also think about for them what happens for them outside of competition. What happens to a Dota player after he’s decided to retire, what are the education opportunity, what are the career opportunities available to them, and that’s something we really care a lot about.”

Dota is struggling to keep players on their rosters. This is causing players to feel that their future is insecure. Noah recognizes this and believes that its a problem that has to be remedied.

“We think right now there’s a lot of instability in Dota as a result of short-term thinking. If a team performs poorly at Kiev, they’ll probably make a big roster swap to ready themselves as well as possible for the International. If a team performs poorly at the international they’ll blow up their roster and try and rebuild from scratch. That amount of instability means rarely there is the opportunity to build long-term bonds between teammates, and there’s rarely opportunities to build long-term bonds between the specific rosters and their fans bases. And there’s rarely enough stability for players to really think not just about how am I doing the best that I can for competition, but how am I setting myself up the best to continue to live a life as a player, an influence, or outside of esports after I’m done competitively.”

The Fans

Lastly, I wanted to know what about the fans? While there is already great support from them for Dota and other esports, I wanted to know what more could be done?

I think a big part of our focus there is to create a fulfilling fan experience. Making it so that players feel close to their fans and that the fans feel as close to the players that they support so much. That’s done through streaming, through content creation, through social media, through meeting our fans where they are in their communities, and it’s done in building our own communities where our fans can interact with each other.”

“Our goal is to be able to create a fulfilling fan experience holistically. It should always be fun to root for Immortals and if we enter a game we bring that philosophy with us.”

The Dotasphere and Immortals

As you can see, it seems that Immortals are keen to expand into Dota if the right team or players are available. Interestingly enough, the right team may well be available right now. Up until recently, it seemed as if Team Onyx and Immortals were destined for each other. However, Digital Chaos messed up that idea by dropping the roster that took them to second place at TI6 and picking up Onyx.

With this in mind, the stage could be set to rescue the former DC roster, now named Thunderbirds and provide them with a home. With Kiev only a week away, Immortals face the decision to dive in or wait and assess the options. Based on what Noah has eluded to above the latter seems most likely, however, recent events could tempt Immortals’ hand.

Up until recently the amount of new organizations entering the Dotasphere was limited. However, with Mousesports returning and now Immortals declaring an interest in Dota, the future looks interesting. The only thing holding back other organizations acquiring teams is that lack of top level competition. Of the 16 teams attending Kiev, only one of those does not have an organization. With this in mind, it is easy to see why it may be off putting for other well-known organizations to pick up a Dota side.

It seems like the stars are aligning for both Thunderbirds and Immortals. Could we see an Immortals side at Kiev or TI7? Only time will tell and Immortals may not have long to make a decision.

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Dignitas Playoff Profile: The One Man Ssumday Army or the Unsung Duo to Victory?

 Setting the Stage


The return of the gold and black of Dignitas this split was a welcomed sign by some. Even more welcomed was their highly touted Korean imports. Bringing across the Pacific Top lane phenom, Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, and high flying (get it cause he played in Jin Air… sorry) Jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, Dignitas looked to come back in a big way. Of course, alongside this was the big news of financial backing from the Philadelphia 76ers. This was reportedly the swaying reason why Ssumday joined the team. Integrating these two talents would not only take time, but effort from the organization.

Will Dignitas’ games be another case of Ssumday and co., or will the rest of Dignitas pull their own weight? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

The rest of the Dignitas roster was flushed out with Apex Gaming’s Mid laner, Lae-Young “Keane” Jang, Canadian up and comer, Benjamin “LOD” deMunck, and the 2000 assist man himself, Alex “Xpecial” Chu. Many pundits at the beginning of the split described Dignitas accurately: the Ssumday and friends show, with the heavyweight Top laner often carrying his teammates. Dignitas won and lost games on whether their opponents could contain Ssumday or not.

But that was for the first half of the split. “Trust the process” seems to be the name of the game for Dignitas. After bringing in coach, David “Cop” Roberson, it seemed the process really took off. The team play between the Korean and NA players seemed to pick up too. Dignitas overall matured into a strong team, and while Ssumday was still easily the ace for the squad, games were won on the backs of other teammates. LOD, in particular, stepped up as a player, while Keane earned an insane nine Player of the Games, one behind Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen. 


The Players in the Jerseys


Probably the most hyped player to be imported in the off season, everyone’s eyes were on Ssumday, a staple for the KT organization in LCK for many years. He didn’t fail to deliver, having a dominant opening season in NA. There’s not much more you could ask for in a Top laner. Strong in lane, impact felt outside of lane, and someone who can carry the team on his own back if needed. Ssumday is definitely still the star of this Dignitas roster and should be showing up to prove it this weekend.

There’s an almost cliche team composition of picking a Korean Top laner and Jungler and it working well (see Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo and Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin for examples). With Ssumday and Chaser, that pattern continues to be effective. Junglers excel at getting their laners ahead, and Chaser will need to be on point to guarantee that Ssumday can be the tyrant of the top half of the map. Bot lane is another possible target for Chaser, with ganks on P1’s bot lane having possible massive gains if they can keep No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon down. Chaser will need to not only play smart, but creatively, and pick up on the opportunities to get his teammates ahead. If not, Dignitas may look worse for ware.

Maybe not the strongest Mid laner in the league, Keane is still a player you should never count out. Can he shore up his weaknesses for the playoff run or will inconsistencies haunt him? Courtesy of Riot Flikr.

Mid lane, as always, dictates much of the team fighting prowess of a team. Keane will need to show his more consistent side, or possibly bring some pocket picks or off meta choices to catch his opponents off guard. While I think many wouldn’t place Keane as the linchpin that Dignitas rotates around, both Phoneix 1 and Cloud 9 do place their mid as top priorities. Keeping the opposing Mid laner in check will be vital, as will be Keane stepping up his performance overall. His stats have him solidly in a middling position for KDA, Damage Per Minute, and Damage Percentages of his team.

The silent pickup from Dignitas was trading Apex’s Apollo “Apollo” Price for EnVyUs’s LOD. I say silent because the signing of two big name Korean imports generally overshadows a domestic swap of two lower tier ADCs. LOD, however, has come up big for Dig and has shined as a contender for best player on Dignitas. He’s stepped up in big ways for Dignitas in a meta that was hard on ADCs, but looks to carry that on into the playoffs. His partner, Xpecial, clocked his 2000th assist with Dignitas, and has also had a noticeable uptick in the latter half of the split. The duo look to show that this isn’t just a Korean team as the two North Americans have put up good performances.


The X Factor


What’s the X factor for Dignitas to pull off a deep drive into the playoffs? Their botlane duo of LOD and Xpecial. While it may seem like their star in Ssumday would have to pull off the big plays, I actually feel that the duo in the botlane can have more of an impact if they can manage to get ahead of their lane opponents. Arrow has been an absolute monster for P1, but their listed support of Jordan “Shady” Robison has me thinking Arrow may not play up to his potential. If the synergy of LOD and Xpecial can step up to the plate and best Arrow and Shady, Dignitas have a decent shot at defeating their first opponent on their way to the Semis against Cloud 9.

Can LOD and Xpecial show that they’re one of NA’s top duos? Or will they fail to make a dent against the monster, Arrow? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

If LOD and Xpecial can show up against Arrow, then they stand a chance against Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi and Andy “Smoothie” Ta too. ADCs have come back into a more carry based position, and a strong bot lane coming out of lane can sway the tides in the mid game. Ssumday should be solid in the Top lane against Derek “zig” Shao. Even against fellow Korean, Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, he stands a good chance of holding out. Chaser can possibly gain an advantage from the Jungle, being a more seasoned veteran than both Juan “Contractz” Garcia and Rami “Inori” Charagh. While Keane will also need to be strong or at least keep even with his opposite sides, it’s the duo in the bot lane that will have the biggest impact on their performance. If they step up, they can pull off a great run. If not, I don’t feel they’ll go deeper than Semis.


Predictions: 3-1 Dignitas over P1, 3-1 loss against Cloud 9

I’m skeptical of P1’s roster decision going into the Playoffs, and that’s why I give Dignitas the edge here. Starting Inori over William “Meteos” Hartman seems questionable. The team has galvanized around Meteos, but Inori is nothing to scoff at. Regardless though, Chaser should have the edge here, having trust and experience with his teammates. Ssumday against Zig should favour Dignitas, while Keane should be able to hold his own against Ryu. The big question is whether Dignitas’s bot lane can find advantages over P1’s. If yes, Dignitas should win their games cleanly. If they can’t, any win will be hard fought against a well positioned Arrow.

Dignitas will face a much stronger opponent if they move on and face Cloud 9. Cloud 9 retained all of their Worlds attending roster, except Meteos. They picked up Contractz, who seems streaky, but is still a strong Jungler. That means Cloud 9 should easily be the favourites here. Against some of the best laners in the league, Dignitas will be hard pressed to find advantages in the laning phase. While they have looked better recently, mid game should favour the C9 side with experience and communication. If Cloud 9 show up looking like a team that can take first place, Dignitas won’t stand much of a chance. If they show up looking like the roster that loses to Immortals, Dignitas might stand a chance at taking a few wins. Ultimately, C9 should take the series in either scenario.

CLG’s Playoff Profile: United They Stand, Or Divided They Will Fall

Setting the Stage

Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), the perennial contenders (or pretenders) of the NA LCS. They’re (almost) always in contention for playoffs every split. There is always some kind of hype behind them, but they often do the exact opposite of what everyone expects. They were the only NA LCS roster to leave the off season intact, retaining all the same five starters from over a year ago. Top lane held down by the one called Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, veteran long time LCS Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, hot and cold Mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, zero to hero ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, and team captain on and off the Rift, Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. It’s the same squad that brought North America some pride at MSI, and then proceeded to lose both games against Wildcard Cinderella story Albus NoX Luna.

Even his teachers call him… Darshan? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG’s path to the playoffs was one that could’ve (or should’ve), gone very differently. They had a rough start to the split, where other teams could draw on new players as an excuse. A strong surge in the middle and a wonky, long game three against EnVy make this CLG roster very… CLGesque. But they’re in the playoffs, and up against the hot and cold Flyquest. The record between these two doesn’t really help us in favouring a side. Both have beat each other in a 2-0 series. While CLG’s win was more recent, Flyquest looked stronger in their last week of games.


The Players in the Jerseys

What about the players themselves? Darshan hasn’t had quite the split he had last year, often winning his lane and split pushing CLG to victory. Oftentimes he looks as if he’s trying too hard to be too much for the team. Whether it’s the increased skill in the Top lane, a decline in mechanics, or a massive meta shift (the last one being quite likely), Darshan doesn’t seem to be as solid of a rock for CLG as he used to be. The bright side? Darshan has looked a lot more comfortable in the recent meta than in the first half of the split. If he can temper his aggression, become slightly more calculated in his 1 vs 1’s, or contribute otherwise, he can still be the Top laner CLG need. But that’s quite a few ifs.

Xmithie, the constantly underrated Jungler to the point of being overratedly underrated, has looked… uninspiring this split. Statistically speaking, his KDA is the lowest in the league for Junglers at a startling 2.4 (relative to, say, the highest being 3.8 on Galen “Moon” Holgate). He also ranks at the bottom for Kill Particpation, a vital stat for Junglers at a measly 63.1%. It could be the reason that CLG started so slow. Rookies like Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and Juan “Contractz” Garcia were on hot streaks, single handedly taking their teams to wins; but as these rookies have cooled down, and the meta shifts away from carry Junglers, we may see the steadier Xmithie return.

Stats aren’t everything, though, and Xmithie is still a strong player for CLG. He has experience and always seems to be where he needs to be. If it makes any CLG fan feel better, Svenskeren ranks only one place above Xmithie. That’s saying something. A Jungler’s role in League of Legends is one of tacticians, making plays to get your teammates ahead and out-thinking the other Jungler. This is something Xmithie has had multiple seasons of practice with.

There are a lot of stats to look at when thinking about Mid laners. Huhi is one of those players that isn’t necessarily understood through his stats. He often looks unstoppable on certain champs, and utterly lost on others. His stats are interesting, though. When you think of Mid laners, you want two things: damage output and CS difference at 15. On the first point, Huhi does pretty well. He places fourth among starting Mid laners with a Damage Per Minute of 559 (28.1% of CLG’s overall damage), putting him third overall for Mid laners.

On the second part, Huhi was dead last, only higher than the much maligned changing Liquid Mid laners of Goldenglue and Piglet. You can never count him out though. He can come up big for the team on certain champions, like Syndra and Aurlieon Sol. His damage output, even while behind in lane, is impressive. He also will play a vital role against Flyquest in (trying) to shut down Hai and possibly get inside the head of the veteran shotcaller.

From zero to hero, Stixxay’s journey with CLG has gone from fans criticizing him to praising him. Can he lead them into another Spring finals? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG’s botlane duo seems to be almost always the stable foundation for the whole roster. This is the case now more than ever. While the rest of the team fell flat some games, or looked completely bewildered, Stixxay and Aphromoo found consistency. It has put Stixxay in the spotlight. From a harshly criticized player, to challenging Aphromoo as CLG’s strongest laner, Stixxay has come alive this split. He is tied with Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi for second in Damage Per Minute at 546, and third in Damage percent at 26.9%. Remember, that’s all coming out of a split that was half dominated by Utility Ult ADC’s, too.

On the other hand, Aphromoo’s contribution to the team isn’t just on the Rift. Stats for Supports are always hard to read. His presence is known inside and out of the Rift, as a team leader and cool head for the squad overall. There’s a lot to be said for that, and a lot to be said about a Support’s ability to bring out the best in their ADC. Stixxay is performing up there among the greats of the league, like newcomer No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, and long time staple, Sneaky.


The X Factor

So what does all this mean for CLG? Well, pretty much the same as always. CLG aren’t expected to take it all, and a deep drive into the playoffs will give some hope to the Faithful. It’s a position they’re all too accustomed to, though. So what needs to happen for CLG here? What’s their X factor? Well, as lame as it sounds, they need to stand as a team again. That was this roster’s strength last year. Stixxay didn’t out-mechanic any ADC in NA of note. Darshan was great for splitpushing, yes, and Aphromoo was always Aphromoo, but it was the team that won that playoff. The X factor is for that team to reappear in this playoff run. Not just the strong talent that each player has shown off at times, but for them as a team to move and work together again.

This is a different CLG than last Spring though. Stixxay, as many have pointed out, has grown into one of the strongest ADCs in the region. Aphromoo is still hailed for his strength as a player and a leader. When Huhi is playing his best, he’s an absolute monster. Darshan can still pull off some insane plays. Xmithie still shows up and performs for his team. It was the roster that looked good as a whole, not as individual units. Some part of me wonders if that is for better or worse.

Can Huhi step up to the plate for CLG when they need him? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

As Piltover’s Sherrif says, “The whole is better than the sum of its parts.” CLG fans will need to see that team play again. The macro and teamwork-oriented style of play, while picking each other up. CLG seems too much like a team trying to always make a play. From greedy 1 vs 1’s for Darshan to awkward engages in the bot lane, CLG needs to get themselves back to their position of working as a team and thinking rather than just hoping the plan of attack works. While the obvious players to watch are Stixxay and Huhi, CLG haven’t relied on solo carries since the Doublelift days. They will win as a team.



3-2 CLG over Flyquest, 3-1 loss against TSM.

I’m not convinced that Flyquest is back to winning. I wonder more if it was the similar phenomena where teams just can’t seem to handle the ‘new kids on the block’ or not. That being said, you can’t bat an eyelash at Hai “Hai” Du Lam and his boys. They’re a strong roster, and whether that’s more off the back of Hai’s magic touch at shotcalling or as a genuine threat, they’re still tough and always a team that can show up and take the win. CLG seemed to play to the level of their opponents this split though, which might mean they’ll be firing on all cylinders against the mind of Hai.

Nonetheless, I think CLG will pull it out in the end. I just think they have it in them to take down Flyquest, but it really depends which CLG and which Flyquest show up. Hence my 3-2 win. I highly doubt we’d see a complete blow out either way. However, if either team comes to these games playing at their lowest, we might. If each team comes performing at their best, it’ll be a back and forth series. Both teams are underdogs to make it deep into the playoffs and will have that underdog identity hanging over their heads. For CLG, this will be old news. For the new (old?) Flyquest boys, this may be a new feeling.

TSM, on the other hand, I don’t see CLG standing much of a chance against. They looked absolutely horrendous against TSM (I would know, I had Huhi, Aphro, and Xmithie on my Fantasy team…). They didn’t seem to put up much of a fight in their most recent meeting. TSM had control the entire time, and with that in mind, I really can’t see this series going CLG’s way. I’m generous and thinking, hey, maybe they can squeeze one game out. If they do manage to pull out a win, it would possibly be an even bigger upset than their past two wins in playoffs against TSM.

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