There are few World Cup rosters as stacked as the United States squad. With more talent to choose from than almost any other region, Head Coach Aaron “Aero” Atkins had quite the difficult task – trim down the ocean of American talent available to him into one seven-man squad that could overcome any foe. (By “any foe” I mostly mean South Korea.) A grueling series of tryouts and team exercises brought the pool down to just a dozen, and then a little over half that – a crack team of veterans, and one outlier. A kid, you might call him, but hardly a pushover. A back-to-back Contenders Champion with a long list of tournaments under his belt. In short, exactly what this team needed – a proven star with flexibility and a mean punch to back it up.
Enter Zachary Lombardo, otherwise known as ZachaREEE. The colorful nickname is a good preview of the controlled chaos this kid can bring to bear. In an instant, he can switch between a variety of DPS heroes to fit the mold his team requires of him. Whether it’s for Team USA, Fusion Uni, or the fabled , Zach has proven time and time again that he’s got what it takes.
ZachaREEE’s path to pro is one of the longer ones we’ve seen from what I call the “second generation” of Overwatch pros. He wasn’t around in a major way for the earliest OW competitions, where Hex, Slasher and ZP crackily casted over KyKy’s Cloud9 and a Mickie-less, Seagull-less EnVyUs. He was only 15 at the time, and joined his first team (Renegades) in late April 2017. Renegades as an organization is long gone from the Overwatch scene, with most of its original players scattered to the winds – only Liam “Mangachu” Campbell and Douglas “PrimoDulce” Perks are still actively competing in tournaments. Despite being his first team, Zach freely admitted to me that it wasn’t quite his favorite. Instead, he chose his team from the Overwatch Heroes Rumble, a small third-party tournament held in Taipei.
Which of your past teams is your favorite, and why is it ?
Ha! Yeah, Sun With Face Clap was definitely my favorite team, actually – mostly because we were a band of misfits. Everyone was really good friends, and we had the freedom to run whatever types of strategies or comps we wanted because the Overwatch Heroes Rumble wasn’t exactly a full on competitive tournament. So we were very relaxed and even pulled out random strategies like Reaper/Junkrat/Hanzo/Orisa on Junkertown.
Seat-of-the-pants plays have always been ZachaREEE’s forte. When given the chance to limber up and have some fun, nothing can stop him – and he knows that well. He’s done his best to carry that mentality into Team USA, and oddly enough, it might be just what the team needs this year (if only in small doses.)
So it’s nice to be able to relax and play a bit loose – is that the same mentality the US World Cup team has as well, or are you guys taking things more seriously?
The US world cup team definitely does like to take it loose and relax when we’re all together out of game, (and some times in game, too.) When it comes down to actually practicing and playing matches, though, it’s all business. We focus on winning and being clean with our executions.
So what sort of preparation has the team been working on in the weeks leading up to BlizzCon? What’s the main focus for Team USA?
Team USA has very good synergy, and all the guys work really well together and have a lot of mechanical prowess and experience. Right now the meta is a relatively blank slate, so we’ve been focusing a lot on figuring out a strong identity for us and coming up with unpredictable strategies.
Which person (or people) decides the flow of a fight the most right now? Like, who’s the carry player? Does that answer change when looking at Team USA specifically, or can you say the same for almost all teams right now?
I’d say it’s fairly even across all roles right now. Every role can carry. Ana can win a fight with anti grenades, Sombra and Doomfist can win fights with combos, hacks and EMPs, and the tanks can all carry with their ults or mechanical outplays.
So the team has its goals locked down, and they’re is gelling together nicely. Great! At this point, I wanted to shift gears and bug ZachaREEE about his experience on the path to pro. He’s played at almost every level of competition available in Overwatch, after all. I figured he’d be uniquely suited to talk about the scene and how it’s grown.
What is the main difference between playing on an Academy team vs. an unaffiliated team like Renegades?
Academy teams obviously give you a lot of benefits. You have some joint resources with the OWL staff, like coaching help and security in contracts. Not to mention, the names are more reputable and will get your face out there a lot better than unaffiliated teams.
Has T2 grown in a good way? What can Blizz do to improve its growth?
Note: This question was answered before the recent changes to the structure and format of Contenders as a whole.
I’d say that over time, with the Academy system stepping in, the T2 scene has improved and provided more stability for players. That said, I do believe that it could be better. Production can be improved and more effort could be put into talking about story lines for these players that are grinding to become known and get into the Overwatch League.
What is “coachability”? Do you consider yourself a coachable player, and how can someone become more “coachable”?
Coachability is kind of just having an open mind and being open to criticism. I’d consider myself very coachable, yeah. I’d say for people to be more coachable, they should be willing to see other peoples’ perspectives and reason with them before pushing their ideas aside and being 100% positive that they are wrong and you are right.
How’s free agency going? When will we know more about your future?
Free agency has been going fairly well! I’ve had teams that requested me to tryout that I’ve accepted, and others that I’ve said no to. As things move forward and I find where I fit best the public will know about my future, but for now it’s still a work in progress.
Not the answer I was hoping for, but hey. Progress is progress, and I’m not about to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong, y’know?
Seeing Zach’s answer on players’ stories made me reconsider how I approached our line of questioning when talking with pros. Yeah, these guys are insanely skilled and have tons of insight. Their gameplay, mechanics, and strategy are all crazy good. Thing is, they’re also people who have some really cool and unique stories! I decided to dig a little deeper on that with my next few questions.
Do you consider yourself a trash talker? If so, have you always been that way?
I’d say I’ve been a bit of a trash talker for a long time, but ever since I entered the Overwatch scene I’ve kept a bit more to myself. I liked to keep quiet and have less of an outgoing ego so players and teams would see me as a good person and be more interested in me and how good I am as a teammate. That said, when people do throw around some comments or trash talk me, I’ll usually retaliate. I’m confident in my skills. Overall, though, yes – I do like to trash talk, whether it’s all in fun or if I really mean it.
Have you taken some downtime since the group stages in LA? What’s that been like?
I’ve been taking downtime since I’ve gotten back from LA, yeah. I’ve been home in Florida, exploring and going to Disney World and things like that. While we have breaks from practice, I’ve also been trying out (and enjoying) games like League of Legends, Rainbow 6 and Slay the Spire.
A question that’s popped up a lot lately has been about your hair. You’ve got quite the mane, my man. What’s your haircare routine? Any tips?
I use coconut milk shampoo and conditioner because it helps with my curly hair and keeps it from frizzing as much. I also use a bit of leave in L’Oreal hair gel after showering to shape it. That’s it!
Alright, Zach. The final and definitely most important question. Pineapple on pizza – yes or no?
I haven’t been much of a pizza guy recently, but I do enjoy pineapple on pizza. It’s all up to personal preference!
I’m pretty convinced at this point that ZachaREEE is one of the brighter stars on the horizon for the Overwatch League. Not only does he have a good head on his shoulders; he has great hair on that head. Not only does he have sensible gameplay strategies – he also has sensible tastes in pizza toppings. This kid has it all. Keep an eye on him when Team USA takes the stage at BlizzCon this weekend, and when Zach makes it to… well, wherever he’s going.
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Featured Image Courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment