AVRL on the Asia-Pacific region: '...APAC will undoubtedly be one of the strongest regions in the world.'
Last week, Esports Heaven had the opportunity to talk to Kevin Walker, who is a caster and an analyst, part of the English broadcast crew for the Overwatch Pacific Championship. Better known within the Overwatch community as AVRL, he has experience as commentator in six different esports titles, having been in the casting business since 2011. As a notable figure within the Oceanic community, fans selected him to be part of New Zealand’s committee for 2017’s World Cup event.
You started playing competitively Brood War in 2005, but can you explain how did that happen? By that time WarCraft 3, CS and the original DotA had all been way more popular in the West than Brood War.
Brood War was the first esport I followed but I don’t know if it’s fair to say I played it competitively myself, I more or less floated around C grade on ICCup so I wasn’t really a good player or anything. The esport scene for Brood War was the most developed at the time, far more so than WC3, CS or DotA and I was extremely impressed and captivated by the professional scene in South Korea, which blew everything else out of the water and really set the precedent for esports as we know it today.
You got into casting as an analyst, because of your experience in high-level Team Fortress 2, but what made you stick to it past TF2’s lifespan?
After I quit competitive TF2, one of the aspects I really enjoyed but couldn’t pursue fully was the broadcasting side, which I got into through providing analysis when I wasn’t playing a match myself. When DOTA2 came out and I made the switch over, casting was definitely something I wanted to pursue further as I really enjoyed the analysis side of games with strategic depth. DOTA2, to this day probably still, has by far the greatest strategic depth of any game I’ve played or casted, which really gave me the springboard to progress myself as a caster. Learning about all the intricacies of a game and really being able to appreciate the incredible skill displayed by players is something I get a lot [enjoyment] out of in casting.
You've casted six different games, what makes each of them special and fun to watch? What challenges does each present?
Team Fortress 2 - Very fast paced gameplay with extremely high individual skill cap. Still the most fun I have ever had in a competitive game, I just wish TF2 was more successful as an esport.
DOTA2 - Extreme strategic depth, very high learning curve but incredibly rewarding to watch and play once you get there.
Hearthstone - Very fun game with lots of surprising moments. The game has a rather slow pace, which gives you more time to really dive into the deeper strategy involved at the highest level of play. Outcome of games may not always be consistent due to the game’s design, but it’s not nearly as random as people make it out to be.
Overwatch - My current home and a place that I hope will continue being my home for a long time. The spiritual successor to TF2 in my heart, which combines elements of both TF2 and DOTA2, for me personally. Getting into this game was an absolute no brainer. Probably the fastest paced game I have casted (yes, faster than CoD), but still has very intricate macro strategy that can often go over people’s heads. The most challenging game mechanically to cast as well, due to the limited amount of time to read situations with very little downtime between fights and decisions.
League of Legends - I only dabbled in this briefly. It’s an exciting game that really keeps you engaged even during slow periods as, much like DOTA2, there are always macro decisions being made throughout the game. I actually appreciate and enjoy the individual micro play of LoL more than Dota, but I still believe Dota to have greater overall depth.
Call of Duty - I did one season of CoD:IW, which lasted roughly 2 months. Probably the most different game to what I’ve traditionally done. The game has a lot of variation in gameplay as certain game modes (Hardpoint) can be extremely fast, some (S&D) are extremely slow, while others (Uplink) are completely bizarre and are unlike any game I’ve done before. Certainly tests your range as a caster.
How does casting and analyzing for a title that you've played at a reasonably high level compare to doing it for one that you haven't?
It’s obviously much easier as an analyst, casting a game you have played at a high level. When you’re a player you learn through hours of gameplay all the small details of a game that someone without the experience will never know. This was extremely apparent between my ability to cast something like Overwatch, which I’m very knowledgeable about, to CoD:IW which I didn’t have a lot of time to learn. However, it does test your ability as a caster to be able to transition from games and be able to pick up and crash course yourself in a short amount of time particularly if the game is new.
You played briefly with Gnb and Rqt Haws, of the well-known Fusion Girls and now Blank lineup. What were their strengths as individuals back then and how has their play evolved since your time together?
First, really strong leadership from both of them, which still carries on to this day in Blank. They are very meticulous and organised players who keep very detailed information and stats on not only their own performance but the performance of all their opponents. Our original team, which you can still find on Liquidpedia, was called “Untitled Spreadsheet”, due to the fact they curated an extremely detailed Google Sheet, which cataloged information on just about everyone and everything.
Their ability to study the game and identify what is required to win and progress further is uncanny. Ever since Untitled Spreadsheet, they have always stayed at the top of the Oceanic scene, either at the #1 spot or the #2 spot, both on the same team and separate teams. They are without a doubt two of the smartest players to come out of Oceania.
Speaking of Blank, many fans know of their win-streak and famously they scrimmed Korean teams, even when they were back in Oceania, but with them playing in less popular regions not many have actually seen their games. What made the team so much better than everyone else?
Their ability to understand how to progress further allowed them to always stay ahead of the curve in Oceania, eventually they had to scrim beyond here to improve any further. After winning some Taiwanese online tournaments and scrimming Korean teams they really skyrocketed beyond any other team in the Oceanic region. They are very [well] suited to the current triple DPS playstyle predominantly running ieatuup on permanent Tracer. He is by far the “star-player” of the team, who consistently has the ability to bring back a losing game for Blank no matter how dire the circumstances (with a grain of salt). As they play against Korean teams the majority of the time, they definitely take a page out of the Korean scene to mold the basis of their own gameplay.
In the recent weeks, Blank lost to ahq and Flash Wolves. Has something changed in their play or have others adapted?
Blank haven’t really tried anything new. It’s more so Flash Wolves and ahq catching up to them. Neither Taiwanese team can currently run triple DPS effectively so FW have fallen back to 2/2/2 and ahq have gone back to triple Tank. Blank are generally less practiced against what both of those teams are bringing, especially against ahq’s triple Tank, which really showed in their latest performance against them. Both FW and ahq also play Overwatch professionally full time, regularly scrimming Korean teams with a wealth of practice specifically against triple DPS, which Blank regularly run.
Please summarize for us the playstyles and strengths of ahq and Flash Wolves.
ahq are most comfortable on triple Tank, focusing on protecting their main DPS player Dizzy who primarily runs Soldier 76. Their flex DPS Cowman unfortunately doesn’t stack up against the other top DPS players in the OPC, so much of their win condition relies on reaching maximum potential with Dizzy’s Soldier. ahq’s most common composition runs a permanent Soldier and D.va, with your standard supports and everything else built around that core. Dizzy himself while very impressive, suffers from a weak hero pool which limits him to playing Soldier 76 and McCree, or a weak Tracer. This effectively pigeonholes ahq into sticking with their current composition, unless they either widen his pool or improve Cowman’s mastery on his DPS picks.
Flash Wolves currently favour running 2/2/2, while they still experiment with triple DPS. Their flex tank KMoMo is behind the curve when attempting to play either Genji or Soldier for the time being, which limits their success in triple DPS. Both Zonda and Baconjack are extremely impressive DPS players, Baconjack is widely considered the best Tracer in the OPC along with ieatuup. Zonda is an extremely flexible player who has the widest DPS hero pool in the tournament while still maintaining relative mastery across the board. Currently, much like Blank, their power drops when moving their main Tracer player on to anything else, therefore Baconjack plays permanent Tracer on basically every composition. Zonda typically flexes between Soldier and Genji with his results on Soldier being far more consistent overall (this is more due to meta than his own ability). Jongie is also currently my #1 pick for Winston in the OPC which really puts FW ahead of the curve when executing dive.
Initially it looked like Hong Kong Attitude could challenge for the top 3, but they seem to have fallen off a bit and Machi haven't been looking too good versus the top teams either. Realistically, how much can each of the two challenge for a spot in the playoffs?
In their current state I would unfortunately have to say neither team can realistically make playoffs. ahq, FW and Blank are just so far ahead of the competition right now that I don’t see HKA or M17 catching up, unless they have a major breakthrough in the next few weeks, which by then may still be too late due to the amount of points they would need to accumulate to actually break into top 3.
It is obviously hard to say without having seen them play Korean squads on LAN, but how do you think ahq, Blank and Flash Wolves would do if they were put in APEX?
I think they would all do reasonably well, particularly against the APEX Challenger teams. I know Blank regularly beat Challenger teams in scrims if that’s anything to go by.
What about individual players?
Ive named a few of them already in above statements, but these are players who also regularly go toe-to-toe with Korean teams in both scrims and ladder as many of them are current Top 500 on the Korean server. Zonda in particular is #16 on the Korean ladder at the time of this writing.
Despite the high prize pool (~$272,240 USD), it's hard to get people interested in OPC with the tournament having neither the best, nor the most popular teams. What are the reasons fans should tune in for the tournament and be interested in the region?
I think people need to consider that APAC will undoubtedly be one of the strongest regions in the world. This might sound crazy and I’m not trying to be biased, but as of right now, Asia has the largest tournament scene in Overwatch and that’s a fact. While NA and EU are in a drought, Asia is saturated with top tier tournaments with constant competition. Consider that APAC is a region close enough to Korea to be consistently playing against them, even if it’s informally. This is something teams in NA and EU do not have the opportunity to do and as Korea currently is the highest skilled region in the world, APAC are directly exposed to that consistently while NA and EU sit back on their own. This is by no means trying to discredit the Western scene, but people need to seriously stop underestimating APAC and take us more seriously, because I guarantee there will be good reason to.
Last, but not least, can you share with us any information on how the process for recruiting the New Zealand's 2017 World Cup team is going?
New Zealand has some very talented individual players that I’m currently scouting out. I don’t want to give away too much info before anything is locked in, so for now I’ll keep it a surprise ;)
The final words are yours.
Thanks for having me here for this interview. My hope is that more people can take an interest in watching other regions, people always complain about a lack of tournaments, but honestly there’s plenty of tournaments in the Asian scene to watch for those who want to. Obviously I’d love for more people to tune into the OPC so if you haven’t yet, give it a chance and check it out and I would highly recommend a match where either FW, AHQ or Blank are playing against each other.
Saturday: 14:00 CST
Sunday: 14:00 CST
The match schedules can be found in here.
The next opportunity to catch the Overwatch Pacific Championship is on May 19th, 19:00 CST (time zone converter). The matchup will be between Taiwan's ahq and Flash Wolves, who are respectively the number one and three teams in the league, going into it.
About the author:
Hello readers, I go by the ID RadoN! My introduction to esports happened in 2009 and I’ve been following different titles within the industry ever since. Esports that I watch regularly are Overwatch, CS:GO, LoL, QL with the occasional SFV and DOTA2. If you wish to reach out, follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on esports, you can find me on twitter at @RadoNonfire.