Hexagrams on OWPS: ‘I also really enjoyed the OWPS because it was such a fun region meta wise, they ran everything'
Robert "hexagrams" Kirkbride is quickly becoming a leading voice within Overwatch esports. With a myriad of casts under his belt, you may remember hexagrams from the Santa Monica stage of the Overwatch World Cup. Adding the Chinese Overwatch Premier Series (OWPS) - Summer and Grand Final to his ever growing resume, hexagrams found time to sit and chat with Esports Heaven about his experiences transitioning into a new region and some of his own personal favorite moments from casting the OWPS.
Let’s lead off with this; what were some of your first thoughts going into casting the OWPS? Was China a region that you’ve been keeping an eye on?
No, I hadn't really been keeping too much of a watch on the region. In general, there is always so much Overwatch happening that you're not going to be able to watch it all. On top of that, I had just completed Assembly Finland and then did the Santa Monica OWWC stop. I wasn't even really involved in the event until about week prior. But then we just grinded prep, and Jason had some experience with the teams. The first week was tough because we were still doing prep every night before the matches; but in a long tournament like OWPS you get a feel for the teams pretty quickly, and then you can start telling your own narrative. I was also really excited to learn a new region, and a new style, so I just looked at the whole thing as a great opportunity, to be one of the few English broadcasters now with a pretty comfortable grasp of the Chinese scene.
You mention narratives, what were some of your favorite? I know Miraculous Youngster had some serious storylines coming from OWPS Spring, do you think they matured nicely coming into OWPS Summer?
MY's story was largely centered around Leave and having to sit out of the Spring finals. Then, when we were watching early videos of MY, from even early in the OWPS Summer series, Leave was by far the most 'Western/KR' of the Tracer players (and anyone who has watched my cast knows I'm obsessed with Tracers). However, as the season went on for MY, I found a new player to love every week, to the point where we barely talked about Leave. I think the rest of the team started playing worlds better, literally every player has a map or a moment I will remember from them. YangXaio became an unstoppable force on DPS, Jiqiren's main tank became remarkable in how consistent it was, the support players, Creed and Zhunfanjun really came into their own, especially when it came to protecting each other, and I think LateYoung is BY FAR the best off tank in the region.
I agree 100%. LateYoung seriously impressed me personally and was a huge standout on MY. Speaking of, were you surprised that they dropped 2 games in the final? I know they came in as favorites, do you think 1246 just comes alive under the pressure?
Well, I announced in the 3rd/4th game that it was going to be an easy 4-0 for Youngster, so apparently, I was surprised.That said, the 2 maps 1246 won were Volskaya and Hanamura, which can be variable enough that it's not stunning to see MY drop a few of those, it's not a mode that they seem to love. And when you have players on that roster with the pure talent of S1mpfall, Samsara, and even how well Lando was playing, any single one of those players can just straight up win you a map. If you take out Lunar Colony, which wasn't in the pool, MY has been average on Assault.
Everyone loves sick individual performers, for people in the community that haven’t tuned in for the OWPS, could you recommend the community a team to watch out for?
Well, ViCi and 1246 are kind of known quantities, and you can see why because of the talent on those teams. I really like how well Miracle Team 1 (MT1) was playing towards the end of the season, and with a few changes, I think they could be a very good rising team. They beat former powerhouse LGD twice, they just happened to come up against the buzzsaw that was MY twice as well. YuanFang was a stellar Ana for the team, and Krystal is a top-tier hitscan who has gone toe-to-toe with the best DPS in the region.Also, Unturned runs about 6 heroes at a high level and is a huge X-factor for MT1.
This transitions quite nicely into “Hexagram’s Chinese Dream Team!” If you could take any 6 Chinese players and throw them on the same team, what would your dream team look like? Alternatively, if the Chinese scene does go through a roster shuffle, what roster moves are more likely than not?
Ha, that's a hard question—to try to cobble together individual skill—because so much of how good players look is because of their role counterparts. I don't think Creed and Zhufanjun look as godly on support as they did without each other. I don't think Jiqiren or LateYoung have the same kind of success with another tank pair. I'll take the easy answer and just take MY as a whole and add in Shy as the Zenyatta specialist.
Now, coming to you personally, how have you enjoyed casting outside of North America? Has this experience changed the way you look at Overwatch at all?
It made me really excited to see more international competition. It's so hard to gauge who is good without interregional play. I also really enjoyed the OWPS because it was such a fun region meta wise; they ran everything and that was a blast after watching so much dive comp in the last year. It also really helped me hone my storytelling because I can't fall back on the tropes I know with players I'm very familiar with, but instead had to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each team and by extension player.
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‘And I think the OWPS was how Overwatch was supposed to be played, from an adaptation and meta perspective.’
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So often there were picks and counter picks and just really well thought out strategies and plans. The teams which didn't adapt to new metas or strats fell away, and the best teams were the teams with the highest versatility.
Now I could be reaching, but do you have any clue why China - as a region - was so quick to really make the game their own? They seriously played everything. Any idea why that might be?
Jason might be better to answer that question; he seems to have a better grasp of the culture behind esports in China. I would guess that the increased roster sizes help. It allowed them to run specialists at different positions and that lead to specific map choices for different rosters, subs, etc.
With what you gathered from watching and reviewing the Chinese scene for the last months, talk to me about China’s chances come to Overwatch World Cup? Do you think that team could make some upsets?
Absolutely. I'm not certain of what caused LGD to play so poorly down the stretch (it actually might just be that MT1 started playing better and LGD overlooked them), but the WC roster is mostly the LGD squad. I think playing in the region sets them up well to run heroes (namely Doomfist) that the west has been slow to adapt. You will see Eileen and UnDead on the McFist combo in the World Cup, and I think it will be glorious.
To wrap things up, in a few weeks time we have the Seoul Cup featuring some amazing Starcraft and Overwatch exhibitions. What are some of your predictions on the Overwatch half of the event?
Yeah, then sOs for sure. For Overwatch, I will openly be cheering for Miraculous Youngster, but they have a tough draw with two of the best teams on the planet. They will definitely take some maps and earn some new fans. I was surprised when Lucky Future got invited. They have potential if they run the right compositions, but I don't think it is going to be close.
Well, that's all I've got for you! Thanks for stopping by and chatting for a bit. Let the people at home know where they can find you and what's next to come for Hexagram!
You can find me on Twitter at Twitter.com/hexagrams. And I can't officially announce anything upcoming, but as always I'm sure you'll see me soon.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLG’s of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment and @tempusrob