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Promise: “My time in Overwatch is most likely over, but I’m not ruling out the option to continue working in Overwatch. I’m just exploring different pathways in esports.”

Volamel 2019-11-15 08:31:02
  After a respectable 2019 season with the Los Angeles Valiant, Marvin "Promise" Schröder has left the team with his future in esports on the horizon. After assisting in the Valiant’s remarkable turnaround from a 0-7 start to making a stage playoff appearance in Stage 3 and being able to nearly secure the last play-in seed, Promise is actively looking for positions in and outside of Overwatch in both coaching and non-coaching capacities.  Promise spoke to EsportsHeaven about the strategy the Valiant employed to turn around their season, the dichotomy between the Overwatch World Cup and Overwatch Contenders, and what he plans to do in the near future.
First, I want to start with your time on the Los Angeles Valiant, a team that--from the outside looking in--looks to be built around a centralized system. Could you walk us through not only the system and the team dynamic but the approach the staff took to helping the players trust the process you’ve built? My first day of work with Los Angeles Valiant was in Week 1 of Stage 2 literally on matchday when they played the San Francisco Shock. I met a group of players unsure of themselves after a series of losses. The mood in the practice room that day didn’t feel great and I already knew this team wouldn’t be easy to handle as a coach. I’ve been friends with Packing10 already in our EU Contenders days and after getting dropped by Mayhem he really came in clutch to extend my career, without him I probably would have quit and just went back to working in my old IT job. The staff all very much agreed that the first thing we have to do is to restore the faith in themselves and more importantly the trust in their teammates to have their back in every situation.  Packing is someone that values communication more than anything else I’d say, so that was the starting point we used. We really drilled certain key phrases into them, removed clutter in comms and made sure they understand the strategy. After that, it was really just about slowly getting small results, win a couple of maps in scrims, start doing better and better.  After Stage 2 the players knew that we still had some issues to fix, but we were on our way to success, scrims were going well for the most part and players started opening up again both in-game as well as in reviews. That approach of small goals that eventually lead to a bigger success is what we kept throughout the season and has helped us turn the team around throughout the year. I had a lot of fun coaching that year despite being thrown into an unfamiliar role since I had never done much one-on-one player development prior to joining Valiant. You mentioned on Twitter that you were a part of the Valiant’s open tryouts as they looked to restructure going into the 2020 season. What was that process like and was there anything eye-opening about that experience? I didn’t really have any eye-opening experiences, I thought that the open tryouts went exactly as I expected them to go. We were pre-planning the tryouts very early and came in with a clear plan on how to run them. I think one of the major points we put emphasis on is providing every single open tryout block with one of the Valiant coaches watching, we valued not only our time but also every players’ time that signed up for open tryouts regardless of how small their chances might have been.  We pre-filtered a lot of the candidates by simple metrics like age and previous ranked placements, so we were able to drastically reduce the numbers from the start. A lot of players showed promising mechanics that could easily be developed but lacked significantly in scrim experience. There is a massive difference between a player with scrim experience and one without; the comms are different, they play around their teammates differently and generally have way better game understanding. All in all, I think they were worth it, although most players that made it through were Contenders players for the reasons above. Now I’ve got to ask about the Valiant’s new main tank, Sanglok "Dreamer" Song. This is a player that almost no one saw coming. Could you shed some light on who he is as a person and where his strengths lie? I think Dreamer is a classic case of a player going under the radar, I think Dallas Fuel’s main tank Trill is another great example for that. Very little exposure to Overwatch League’s audience because of Contenders already not being watched by the majority of Overwatch League fans as well as Australian Contenders being a minor region getting very little attention overall by Overwatch League teams. That’s why I think open tryouts are great because you get to see these hungry players that just need a platform to prove themselves.  Dreamer stood out in tryouts with great comms despite being a Korean player as well as good mechanics on all main tanks he played. He gelled well with various off-tank players he was put into a team with and was constantly able to adapt to the different play styles of each off-tank player. I genuinely hope he exceeds in Overwatch League and manages to silence some of the fans that don’t even care about Contenders but somehow still have an opinion about him. You’ve mentioned publicly that you felt that rookie players were not receiving high-level coaching. Do you worry that could slow down the talent pipeline for the future? Have you thought about ways the community, as a whole, could help fix this? I don’t think there is anything the community can do about it. Coaches, especially in Tier 2 and Tier 3, are overall bad, and I don’t mean this in a bad way because everyone starts out bad; I certainly was a terrible coach in my initial attempts. Some coaches try their best to improve themselves and usually end up in Overwatch League at some point, we’ve seen quite a few coaches move up, but a lot of other coaches don’t do that and seriously harm players careers by giving wrong advice.  The veteran players that have played in Contenders for a while can form their own opinion and can generally tell if a new coach is right or wrong but especially the rookie players with little experience can’t. The only thing that could really solve that problem would be to generally support Contenders as a whole a lot more - make it a viable career path so that resources can be invested into upcoming coaches so they can learn as well.  Partially all Overwatch League coaches with experience are at fault as well (me included) since we provide little to no help whatsoever. I’ve been trying to take part in various amateur communities of coaches trying to improve themselves and at least provide assistance by answering questions and giving my opinion, but it’s not enough to help the overall scene. Speaking of the talent pipeline, one large topic I wanted to dive into was the dichotomy between Overwatch World Cup to Overwatch Contenders. Do you think the Overwatch World Cup exposes more rookie talent to the public then compared to Contenders? If so, do you agree with that power structure? I’m getting increasingly angry with the community and the World Cup as a whole because it’s this one weird event in a year where some talent that has been good in Contenders for months finally gets some eyes on them but in a lesser competitive environment. Yes, the World Cup has, on average, a lower level of play than Contenders has, simply because a lot of these teams don’t even practice until Overwatch League is finished since some teams have Overwatch League talent on them who are understandably busy during the season.  So some of these teams come into World Cup with little practice but somehow the community takes the World Cup as the measurement whether a player is ready for the Overwatch League or not. The level of play between team varies and there certainly are really strong teams; I don’t think I have to tell anyone that someone like Team USA who is stacked with Overwatch League players is obviously a good team. I wish people would watch Contenders more. There are players and teams putting months of work in to showcase their talent and literally nobody cares. Why do you think that is the case? Is it the idea of scarcity that attracts more people to watch the World Cup or do you think it’s more of a nationalistic or tribal type of thing?  I think it’s a combination of a nationalistic type of thing because it’s much easier to get attached to Team USA as an American - as well as the entire event being way more advertised and brought to the attention of the community, plus the combination of the event happening at BlizzCon which, in itself, gets people's attention. I understand why it’s more popular and gets more attention but I don’t agree with it. The next logical question is how to counteract this, and I want to open the floor to you. How would you change that power structure? This also comes off the back of XL2 stepping away and potentially more teams doing so in the near future. How do we get more eyes and attention on Overwatch Contenders to keep the pipeline not only filtering players and staff up but set them up for success? The easiest way to make Contenders sustainable is to change the format which Blizzard already did and I have to say before even actually seeing it executed, I already like the new format a lot more than the previous ones because there is not incredibly long downtimes in between seasons anymore.  But as long as Contenders is as unsustainable as it is for Overwatch League teams, I can’t see a way to make Contenders more attractive. It’s incredibly difficult to find sponsors that are allowed in Contenders which makes it hard to finance academy teams. Initially, most academy teams had housing provided to them, but a lot of teams realized really quickly that it’s unsustainable and changed to a remote model where players play from home but even that isn’t really enough unless you pay players extremely low salaries.  So I think a combination of easing up on the sponsorship restrictions as well as providing more exposure to Contenders as a whole by, for example, tweeting about it, putting it in the launcher, and adding some sort of reminder in the game itself would do the system a lot of good. The problems are too deep for the community or the teams to solve them; that’s up to Blizzard at this point. Last but certainly not least, what is next for you? Are you still hellbent on coaching? Are you interested in moving laterally? Where do you see yourself doing in the next few years? I’m still exploring options to coach Overwatch right now but I’m putting in significantly less work and attention than I would have done previously. I’m actively pursuing opportunities in the general esports industry, as well as pursuing opportunities with teams in other games like League of Legends. I see a shaky future ahead for Overwatch and I’m not sure whether it’s going to work out or not, gambling on the success of Overwatch League seems unreliable at this point.  I think Blizzard did a great first step with the most recent patch where they finally did what pro-players begged for so long, which is to just try huge patches. Throw some stuff around and see how it goes. The game needs drastic changes and I really don’t enjoy the game at all anymore ever since they introduced 2-2-2 lock-in Stage 4. I don’t mind 2-2-2 lock as a whole — I actually think it’s great for the game — but you can’t balance the game for no 2-2-2 lock for multiple years and then introduce it without a major balance change. Of course it’s gonna break the game and make it unenjoyable.  I’m saying that as someone looking at it from a coaching perspective, I’m sure there are people that don’t mind the change at all. I also think they chose the worst time possible - right before Stage 4 and right when the Stage 3 meta was in an interesting place with various teams developing their own style and different teams taking different approaches to the game.  My time in Overwatch is most likely over, but I’m not ruling out the option to continue working in Overwatch. I’m just exploring different pathways in esports. I’m looking back at a lot of awesome memories, made some great friends that are still killing it in Overwatch League and I’ve helped shape the path towards Overwatch League for various players. Overwatch has a lot of potential and I’m hoping it will stick around because it could be such a fun game.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs 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.

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