Welcome to the first entry into a new Game Haus series: the OWL Round Table! In these interviews, we sit down with a handful of Overwatch League stars to speak freely about OWL 2019, their goals for the season, and what we can expect from them in the months to come.
Our first participants need no introduction – they’re three of the league’s most memorable faces. Mitch “Uber” Leslie, Soe Gschwind, and Malik Forte have cemented themselves as some of the hardest working people in esports, and we had the honor of sitting down with all of them at the same time! Enjoy their insight on the inner workings of the Overwatch League in the free-form interview below.
Alright, let’s talk off-season stuff. What did you guys do? How do you spend your time without going insane? We see stuff on social media; You [Soe] were going all over the place, Uber’s over here, like, doing hip-thrusts-
Uber: I was. Repeatedly. In a mirror.
Malik: Are we excluding the World Cup? And BlizzCon?
Uber: Yes! No BlizzCon!
Yeah, like true rest time, when you don’t have to worry about this stuff. I’m sure you guys are even working in your off-season, but there’s gotta be some time where you just chillaxed!
Uber: What’d you do, Soe?
Soe: I rode my bike, ran in the rain… I cook a lot, but I do that all the time anyway, so there’s that. I spent time with my brother. Going go back to Europe to visit him was absolutely fantastic. Other than that, I played tons of Overwatch, really, Unlike the others, though, I’m a full time employee at Blizzard, so I had to go to the Irvine office pretty much every day.
Uber: Working? Like a normal person?
Soe: Yeah, like a real human being.
Uber: I’m kind of a one trick, really. I kinda see it as like, when the season ends, they just fold me up and put me in the closet, and then they roll me back out again when they need me. They wheel me to these events like I’m Hannibal Lecter or something. I’ve got the mask and all!
We had some real time off, but I tried to do some work with teams in the off-season, like Philadelphia’s homecoming event in Philly. I really wanted to travel and meet some local fanbases. Meeting the guys in Philly was great – they’re so hospitable out there. They even sent me a care package with a WaWa T-Shirt, because I got in the WaWa hat when I was over there.
— Philadelphia Fusion (@Fusion) December 1, 2018
So I was in Philly, then I flew back to LA, and then the week after that I was in Boston doing their collegiate event. I had done a couple of collegiate events through the year already, doing events with Harrisburg Uni and such. I’m pretty passionate about the collegiate scene. Having been through uni while trying to juggle my casting career whilst I was studying, I sorta relate to a lot of students in that situation – though I certainly never got a scholarship to do what I was doing, like these guys do.
And then after that, I finally got a huge break! I went back home to Australia, and I used a lot of time to work on my fitness. I definitely put on some weight towards the end, of course, but I was still trying to hit the gym five or six times a week and trying to eat really clean and stuff like that. That sort of worked? But yeah, I was definitely losing my mind the last few weeks. Like, I’m really keen to get back to work.
Are you at the point where you’ve had to swap shirts?
Uber: Oh, yeah, I’ve gone up a shirt size. I’ve gone up from a medium to a large. So there you go, there’s some personal information about me.
I did, too, but for different reasons…We’re not going to talk about that. What about you, Malik? What were you doing?
Malik: For me, it was a lot of fighting game stuff. Hanging out around the fighting game scene. Not commentating, but spectating. Kind of just sitting at the tournaments and just chilling. I was at EVO, and I played for a bit, and I got bodied very quickly. But it was still fun to experience it and that was awesome!
Aside from that, most of the off-season I spent working on music. Writing a lot of songs. I do this thing that we in the music industry call “ghost writing” – basically, I write songs for other people from their perspective, and then I don’t say anything about it, and I don’t mention who it is or anything like that, because you can’t expose people or anything. I spent a lot of time doing that. And I went home for a couple weeks, hung with my family, and just relaxed. Played a lot of games.
Way back when, you mentioned an initiative that you were trying to start up back home to cut down trees in your neighborhood. What’s the progress like on that?
Malik: I actually went home and did it. We’re having a crazy tree growth problem in my neighborhood. It gets so cold that branches start falling off the trees onto cars. We even had a couple people who were unfortunately killed by them, too, so what we wanted to do was raise some money to get these trees cut down. The government won’t do it, because it’s on privately-owned property, so me and some friends got together and got a few trees cut down so they wouldn’t pose a threat to anybody. It was kind of interesting walking outside of my house – the house I grew up in – and looking up and actually seeing the sky, and not a tree. It was pretty cool.
Their growth was that extensive?
Malik: Yeah, that extensive. That’s pretty much all I’ve been doing – besides waiting for this season to start!
Okay Soe, I wanted to go back to something you said. What’s your favorite dish to cook?
Soe: I love making pasta, but like, from scratch. Pasta-pasta. Because, there’s so many different things you can do with pasta, like, literally anything goes. Just yesterday, I made a really nice batch of fettuccine with sage inside of the pasta, which gave it a really nice flavor. I made a sage butter sauce to go with it, with some olive oil too. That was really delicious.
Malik: Did you guys hear that? That’s my stomach.
Uber: I’m out there eating 5 meals a day and I’ve had none of them so far, so i’m just mad hungry. That sounds amazing.
Peanut gallery piping up over here.
For any of you, what’s the storyline you’re most looking forward to this season?
Soe: Shanghai winning a game.
That might have to wait a bit…
Malik: The redemption arc, though!
Soe: I know. Tragic. Maybe Vancouver, too?
Uber: I think they’re underrated a bit. I equate them with Hangzhou in terms of teams that don’t really care about what people are playing right now. Some coaches are saying what they’re doing is very… intuitive? It depends on who you ask, they sort of look better or worse. Obviously, we know Fearless won’t be joining Shanghai off the bat straightaway, which I definitely think will be a blow for that team. They’ll have to cover that position – no way around it. It’s not actually that common to see a regular main-tank substitute for a lot of teams, though. I think, Paris Eternal is one of the few that actually has that. They’re rotating theirs.
For me, I wanna see what the Titans could play. Vancouver’s first games are a Korean Contenders team versus teams that have been in the Overwatch League ecosystem for at least a month or two. Obviously they’re gonna be here very fresh, and they don’t have a lot of time to acclimate, or get scrim partners, or settle in. It might be the rawest take on a Korean Contenders team that you could probably find.
Lastly, I’m interested to see the Boston Uprising. I think last year was a testament to the strength of the coaching staff. Obviously, they have now some new faces on board in that regard, coaching staff and player wise. They made a great team out of a very disparate bunch of players with very little experience, and they’re going to have to do it again this year. Again, people have lower expectations, but I’m really high on what they’re able to produce from these young, untested players so far.
Malik: Redemption arcs, that’s where I’m at.
Uber: We just living that anime life, aren’t we?
Uber: And then we got the tournament arc next week, it’s gonna be great.
Come on, guys, the Overwatch League is NOT an anime, alright? Sheesh.
Soe: Have you seen the Spark?
Uber: HASHTAG BANG!
Soe: I’m serious there, with the Spark. I really can’t wait to see them play. Mainly because I want to know who they’re actually fielding. Are they going for synergy over, raw talent? Is it NoSmite over Guxue? I would argue against that, but Ria and NoSmite have pre-exisiting synergy. They’ve been such a hyped tank duo, so I want to know how they’re gonna handle that.
Uber: What redemption arc we talking about? We talking about that Shanghai one?
Malik: I mean, there’s Shanghai, but there’s also like–
Soe: Mayhem, Dallas…
Malik: And NYXL, even. Everyone was expecting them to win, and it looked like they were gonna, and then they disappointed a lot of their fans when they didn’t make it to the playoffs.
Uber: That’s putting it lightly.
Malik: Yeah, that’s putting it very lightly.
Uber: Pretty sure they set Waypoint Cafe on fire – not literally, of course, but they were mad!
Malik: I know there were lots of tears over there, so I’m wondering to see how they’re gonna bounce back from that. Especially with them having Fl0w3r now, a guy who everybody was talking about when he had his World Cup performance a couple years ago. People were like, “When that guy gets to the League…”
Uber: Ages ago now, when you think about it.
That’s ancient history.
Malik: I know, I know, it is. And people were like, “He’s gonna be nuts when he gets in the League!” Well, now he’s here.
Soe: Yeah, but the thing is, this last year he hasn’t been performing well. He’s not played as well as he did before that.
I literally just talked to Saebyeolbe and JJonak about that too. They were like, “Don’t worry about Fl0w3r. Worry about Nenne. He’s the real deal. He’s the person that’s gonna put us on his back.”
Malik: That’s another thing I’m looking for: the surprises. Players that many people don’t have on their radar that are just gonna farm like crazy.
Uber: I think the flex DPS players and flex supports are gonna be really interesting this year. There are comp swamps happening much more in between fights than they are between maps, right? Based on the way a map’s structured, like King’s Row for example, you might play triple DPS dive on first to try and take the point, but then you’re gonna switch to GOATS through the streets.
So your setups and your comps are determined much more by the topography of the map, I’ll say, which is gonna put pressure on your flex supports and flex DPS players especially. You know, like, a lot of teams have the setup where the hitscan player is playing Zarya. Now, is a player like SoOn, for example, going to be as good at Zarya as he is Widowmaker? I would say probably not, actually. I think that that would be a struggle for him.
There’s much more emphasis now on players having these big hero pools. The veterans from year one in the Overwatch League will have that developed, especially the players from Contenders and stuff like that. We’re gonna see that aspect of teams stressed a lot when they’re switching not only between composition variants, but to polar opposite compositions, like GOATs to dive. So you’ll move to a comp with more aggression vs raw durability, and the mindset change has to come with that too.
And some of these teams have language barriers, right? We talk about that all the time, like, “Oh, language barriers this, language barriers that,” but the reality is if you have a language barrier in your team you literally can’t make on-the-fly decisions effectively. You actually have to plan beforehand to make those on-the-fly decisions, which is like trying to plan for an earthquake to happen right now – knock on wood. So these teams will have to find a way to be able to do that effectively.
I’m gonna be like a limpet to that concept as the year goes, because I wanna see teams get put in compromising situations and see A.) if they manage to get out of them, and B.) How they manage to do it. The Florida Mayhem, for example. Tviq might be playing a fair bit, but it’ll be one Tviq and five of his Korean teammates. How does he fit into that, how does that mesh?
Malik: I think a lot of players who are in that situation are gonna be interested to observe. Take Kyb for instance, who’s on Guangzhou. There’s gonna be a lot of that happening. And not every team has a Bischu or somebody to be a liaison.
Uber: Yeah, that’s a great example of a team that can make on the fly decisions, maybe with slight input lag from translation.
Soe: But isn’t it funny that every time you talk to a team about that, they claim that there’s no issue whatsoever? Like, “We’ve never had comm issues,” but then we’ve listened in, and it’s bad.
Uber: That’s like every team winning every scrim. That’s a PR thing.
Uber: You can actually get it out of them.. Don’t ask a leading question – I did this with BEARHANDS the other day, great guy – I said to him, like, “Hey, bro. Let’s be honest here. Y’know, you got a couple players who aren’t speaking Korean on this team. Is it hard to make those on-the-fly decisions?” If I give him something to work with, he’s like, “Oh yeah, it is.”
But then every coach says, “But every team has to deal with that.” If I ask them “How are scrims going?”, every coach will say they’ve won every scrim since forever. Like, I’ve pressed coaches to the point of probably irritating them by saying “Look man, you can’t just keeping telling me everyone is great in scrims.” And still, under duress, coaches will say “I can’t tell you who is gonna be the best out of the top 10 teams right now. The top 10 teams are very close, scrims are inconclusive.”
There are some teams that won’t scrim the teams they’re playing in week one, either. The Shock opted to not do that, for example. Some teams wanted to do that just because – the Gladiators, for example, wanted to try and scrim teams they were gonna play in the first week because, hey, the meta is gonna change a lot between now and the start of the season.
Soe: But also, if you watch a lot of the scrims it looks like a lot of the teams are just throwing random things out there. Swapping players in and out like crazy. Watching scrims this past week was really inconclusive – even to try and figure out what teams’ starting lineups would look like, because they kept swapping everyone in and out.
Do you think they even know at this point?
Soe: Actually, I don’t.
It’s basically a mix of them trying to keep their scrim partners happy, but also in the dark, right?
Soe: It’s a good mix of all of that, exactly.
Uber: And trying to keep your scrim partners happy is such a strange concept, mind you. Let’s look at a team like the Washington Justice. They probably don’t have a strong presence on paper right now, and I’d say in scrims that they’ll be a little further behind other teams [because of it.] You kind of want to keep those partners happy so they want to keep scrimming you, though. Like, last year, the Shanghai Dragons had a situation where they had a limited pool of teams to scrim with, because the fact of the matter is that if you’re so much better than the team you’re scrimming, the only team that benefits is the team that’s worse. You’re not learning anything from those teams.
I’ve noticed some teams go really hard in the paint, like, hammer and tongs when they’re scrimming – Guangzhou for example, are really trying to nail down their GOATS right now. Some teams really just try to nail down individual play. Some teams just try a ton of different stuff in scrims to see what works. London, in my opinion, the way they’ve often scrimmed is with an eye towards developing their synergy and being reactive and reflexive. So some teams will say, “Oh, London just get in there and do crazy stuff, and it works.” Some teams say “Ah, they’re trolling us!”, when in reality they’re still winning these scrims in their own way.
Each team has that different approach, and each team’s coaching staff is structured differently. Do they have individual position coaches, for instance? Like, let’s talk Dallas, who have a bunch of position coaches, right? But for the Paris Eternal, every coach is a Head Coach. If you go down the line and ask them what they do, they’ll say, “Head Coach, Head Coach, Head Coach.” And then Washington has one Head Coach, and (as the way [Wizardhyeong] put it to me,) “A horde of analyst minions” that crunch all the numbers for him. It all filters down from the coaching structure, because they can often influence their scrim style, their play style, and how individuals operate inside the matrix of a team.
Malik: The infrastructure is very important here. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so everyone has to pace themselves throughout the entire season and fit themselves into all these different systems as they need to. We focus a lot on the gameplay and what the players do when they’re out there on the stage, but a lot of it happens behind the scenes, or like Mitch said, within the system the coaches and support staff put in place to help these players reach their maximum potential.
So the public have been operating under certain preconceptions in the weeks leading up to the season. People think this team will be great, that team will suck. Which of those are wrong right now?
Uber: I think a lot of people are very high on the LA Valiant right now. I do this all the time, and always kick myself for it, but I’m a little uncertain about how they will function now. I think Gunba was a very strong part of their infrastructure – Daemon also, as a coach. They’ve added coaches since then (Packing10, for example,) but they’ll have to find their way into the Valiant’s system and see how they fit there. But, y’know, what’s Kariv doing? Is KSF in the main roster or not? Is Izayaki looking as good as everyone says he is? Does their tank line function as well as it used to? I think people have them up as high as they do because they did win Stage 4, like, fair enough.
Malik: They lost SoOn, also…
Uber: Yeah, great point, actually. SoOn’s no longer in that roster. I don’t think I’d call him a strategic mind, but he was very mechanically skilled.
Malik: The raw talent was there, which is essential.
Soe: And he was very vocal, too.
Speaking of Shanghai – after speaking to a lot of these teams, they all feel like Shanghai would trend towards 6th-7th in overall standings. And everyone wants to believe that this team is gonna improve, but Fearless not being here is gonna effect that, to be honest. In a perfect world, y’know, some people are telling me Shanghai make the top 4. I’m like, “Fam, say it ain’t so! You can’t get me G’d up for that.”
People didn’t know about Hangzhou, either. I think their strength is gone now. The information on them has gotten out, especially after the various discussions about them on podcasts, and even here amongst us. They’re looking very good now, but that would have been a misconception a couple weeks ago.
I don’t know why people are ranking Vancouver so low. I’ve said, “Well, look – you still have a team with a fully fluent, well practiced communication structure, and yeah they’re getting here a bit late, but if they hit the ground running and play their game-“
Soe: And it’s not like we’re playing on a really established meta right now, either. For them, having that synergy will actually put them ahead quite a bit.
Uber: Also, Philly! Philly never played GOATS in the Overwatch League. They looked very good at playing DPS-centric compositions. I saw them play GOATS in their showmatch against New York, but they didn’t have noise-cancelling headphones, and they had a crowd yelling behind them. They’d also just started playing GOATS in general, to be fair. I’m probably the first person in line to be confident in Philly, and I always expect them to play well, but I don’t know how well they’ll take to a meta that requires you to play well (and switch quickly between) tank heavy and DPS heavy compositions on the fly. I just haven’t seen evidence to suggest that they’ll be as dominant as last season. Obviously there are a lot of changes to make, though, so we’ll have to see.
What’s something you can give to the fans as we get ready to start this season? Like, “You can expect ___ from me as an insider, caster, commentator, etc?”
Malik: I’ll start. For me, since I’m gonna be making the move to the desk to give this man [Gestures to Puckett] some relief, I think my one objective this year will be to show the human element of the Overwatch League a little more than we did last year. I feel like we were still trying to get things going and find our comfort zones last year, but now that we’ve all done this for a while, getting more of what’s going on with the players and the human element of what these guys are going through on the day to day is gonna be very important to me. That’s my objective.
Uber: What I always want to say to fans on a personal level, while we’re here indulging ourselves, is that you can expect me to continue to treat casting the way top players treat playing. I will continue to strive to be the best caster, ever. For myself, really, but for you guys too, if you enjoy that sort of thing!
Malik: Like, of all time?
Uber: Literally, of all time. So no one mixes me up with Bren in the next award show…
Soe: That’s a big ask. Bren, Mitch… you look so similar!
Uber: I know, I know… White guys these days!
Malik: You guys are the exact same, man.
With that hair, man, you almost look like Sideshow Overwatch!
Uber: OH COME ONNNNNNNNNNN! I do not have curly hair, for the record. Get that in the recording – [Uber leans directly into the recorder] I do NOT have curly hair. Also, I don’t look like… well, how do I put this nicely…
Soe: Ace Ventura?
Uber: I don’t look like I weigh less than 90 kilograms.
That is true, I guess.
Uber: I’m chunky. I went Big Chungus mode for this season. Let’s go!
Speaking of weighing less than 90 kilos… [Motions towards Soe]
Soe: Thank you very much!
Uber: Isn’t that a bit presumptuous, Brandon! Goodness!
Soe: It’s 52 kilos, for the record. Which is less than 90. Good maths there.
I wasn’t gonna ask! Quick maffs as usual, though.
Soe: But seriously. Just like Malik, I’m going to be making a transition. I’m not an insider anymore, I’m gonna be an analyst, which is a big step for me! It’s something I always wanted to do.
Uber: Even though you’ve been a caster for like, 10+ years.
Soe: Oh yeah, I’ve casted video games for many, many years – which a lot of people don’t know.
Uber: Do you want him to dig up the old Warcraft stuff?
Soe: Let’s not… In all seriousness, I’m super excited for this opportunity, and I’m very very eager to learn. I have a great bunch of people around me to give me feedback and help me be the best I can be every single day. I want to do justice to the great Overwatch we’ll be seeing on stage, with my analysis before and after the games. I’m very excited about that.
Malik: We just want to do right by the community.
[We at The Game Haus would like to extend an extreme amount of thanks to Uber, Soe, and Malik for taking the time to sit down with us! Best of luck in the coming season!]
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