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Reflections from the Finals

Volamel 2019-10-07 07:10:47
  During the preamble to the 2019 Overwatch League media day press conference, league commissioner Pete Vlastelica mentioned the word ‘reflection'. And he was right. It wasn’t just the 2019 Overwatch League grand finals, it wasn’t the rubber match between the two, undisputed best teams in the league, it was so much more. It was a highway marker for one of the biggest undertakings in esports history and it was a personal highlight not only for the players who were about to step on stage but also for the staff and talent that have brought insight or entertainment to the thousands watching from across the world. With a storied history stretching back into the beginnings of Overwatch’s competitive history, Lee "Twilight" Jooseok revealed a candid stretch of his journey to the Overwatch League grand finals. “The first team I played on was BK Stars and I was young and it was early on in the journey obviously,” he said. “I thought that I just needed to do well myself, I didn’t think about my teammates. When it came to my mentality, it wasn’t as strong as before but as I moved to Conbox and RunAway I developed a strong sense of team.” His teammate, Seo "SeoMinSoo" Min-soo, sat quietly next to him. When asked about his individual journey he deflected in a very humble way. “It wasn’t so much how I individually developed as a gamer,” he explained. “I was lucky enough to be apart of a good team. Then I could focus on what I could do for the team in the game to better them.”      As a former journalist, content creator, and now a member of the coaching staff, Harsha Bandi has seen nearly everything Overwatch has to offer, but what exactly lead to him making that decision? “I’d definitely say it’s been worthwhile,” he said confidently. “It’s not something I think about that often, but sometimes I’ll just sit down and reflect on everything. I’m working with a team that I used to sit down and watch all the time at like 3 a.m. or I get to be in this league that I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to be in. So it’s cool to look back on those things and think about them--but you don’t get that much time for reflection [smile]. The season is super hectic and you always have to focus on the next match, we’ve had a lot of time recently because we’ve had the two-week break but otherwise it’s not something I think about that much.” I pestered him if he missed or would ever make a return to journalism and content creation. “No,” he chuckled firmly. “Recently the Overwatch community has been better about consuming content like it’s gotten bigger naturally so that’s definitely cool, but I definitely don’t miss grinding like making videos, writing articles, and all that stuff. It’s definitely hard and it’s work that doesn’t get appreciated that much, I’d say.  “So getting to work with a team has been a much better experience, it’s more rewarding. Some people like the grind and it’s definitely worth putting out things that you're passionate about but just from my perspective, I thought it was what I wanted to do and once I transitioned over, I realized it wasn’t,” he laughed. “I just kinda had to find it basically.” Someone who has found a beautiful fit within the Overwatch League community has been content creator, Chinese correspondent and Overwatch League interviewer, Emily Tang. After transitioning from traditional media she explained the difficulties of working in the esports space. “I would say that the transition was a little difficult but not because I was suffering or anything. Like, learning how to play a video game? That’s entertainment for most people. So I wouldn’t say it was difficult in that aspect. What was difficult was that playing Overwatch is like learning another language.” She explained that having to learn all the heroes and all the different game modes, plagued her at the start, but she muscled through.  “I also came from a background where my parents didn’t let me play video games.”  She waved as if she was greeting the room, ‘Hi, I’m Chinese, if you didn’t know.’” “A lot of the Chinese gamers will tell you that the only reason why they are here, playing video games professionally is because their parents don’t supervise them, like at all,” she explained. “My parents were very strict and I wasn’t allowed to play video games at all. The most difficult part was understanding the game, learning how to play on PC--I’m kind of a controller person--and getting the players out of their shells.”  With a tenure in esports that reaches back to the dawn of the millennia Overwatch League host, Chris Puckett shared his reflections on his journey to Philadelphia.   “I’ve been really fortunate that I didn’t have to go back and finish my marketing degree,” he said. “For those who don’t know, I was a pro player before there was money, so I decided to run tournaments so that my buddies could win more money. It turned into something amazing, we had people like Dr. Pepper, Converse, Stride, and Hot Pockets come in early and they were the early adopters. Even Redbull! They really believed in what we were doing and every single show, everyone’s goal was just to make it better than the last and that hasn’t changed over the last 15 years.”     “With Overwatch League, it was great working with Call of Duty, but they’re were geniuses to create this city-based model. They created something no one else thought would work and they created fan bases among local squads. The league was playing in Los Angeles last year, but the Blizzard Arena was always full of different groups of fans flying in to support their teams. I think it’s incredible the route we’re going. We got a sample of it with our first Homestand in Dallas to see that sold-out crowd and to see that true passion of the home team who booed the LA Valiant when they came into the arena!” “I think we are going to see a lot more of that in 2020 and the teams are not only going to get more popular, I think esports is as well. I think that esports, as a whole, is now in the pop culture scene. Everyone knows what I do for a living. I don’t have to just tell them I’m a producer and shy away from the gaming part. I get to embrace it fully and I think that’s the greatest part of my career is not only am I financially successful because of my passion, but I’m also still absolutely loving my job every day and it’s constantly a challenge that we’re all working on to make better.” Joining Puckett as the veteran precedence on the Overwatch League desk is a woman of many hats, Soe Gschwind-Penski. After working in a number of Blizzard Entertainment titles and games all across the board, Soe is a positive force and frontierswoman in the esports space.  “I think as everyone that has been working in the esports and competitive gaming industry it’s been a challenge from the very get-go because we were trailblazers. There was nothing like that before and very much like Puckett, I started when there was nothing really! We started when the main prize was a sleeve for your coffee mug. Yay!” “And none of the ‘talent’ there did it for any payment. We didn’t even have hotel rooms. I was sleeping underneath a spotlight because they didn’t have heating in the venue and we didn’t have hotels. So that was just kind of our life, but I couldn’t have been happier,” she said beaming.  “I was going somewhere every day where I could talk about my passion, and live my passion, and share it with other people who shared the same hobby. And that hasn’t changed. After all those years, it’s still the same thing--just way bigger on a much different scale. But, in essence, I’m still coming to work, doing my job alongside people who are very good at their job and just as passionate about it as I am, and I get to broadcast this to the world. I’m a part of something very big and I’m very, very grateful for that.” And last, but certainly not least, fan favorite interviewer and South Korean correspondent Danny Lim shared his tale from transitioning from the K-pop industry to the esports sphere and how his parents viewed his new profession.      “Well, I was born in Korea,” he laughed. “I moved to Los Angeles when I was nine-years-old, I’ve lived in L.A. ever since then. Before esports I was mainly in the K-pop industry as an MC or a host and as a translator. But starting last year around Stage 2 I joined the league as an editor and a video translator. I think my first player Q&A was back last year with Fearless from Shanghai Dragons. And thankfully, a lot of people liked it and then the broadcast contacted me and wanted to use me as a translator for post-match interviews when Soe was doing them!” “To be honest, I’m not sure that my parents, to this day, fully understand what I do. They don’t know what ‘esports’ is.” Puckett playfully heckled from the sidelines, “So you make the games, right?” “I basically tell them that I’m doing the same work as I did before, but it’s in gaming. Which is kinda true. And I’ve been a gamer ever since I was little, but I was never a competitive gamer. It was a lot of single-player games, stuff like that. As soon as I started in the Overwatch League and learned about Overwatch...” He paused. I interjected and asked if he was off to the races with competition and everything that surrounded it. He leaned into the microphone and with a comical but serious tone said, “Yes.” Bantering back and forth with Puckett for a moment Danny revealed that he was almost Platinum on Overwatch’s ranked ladder. “2400! I’m getting there! I’m getting there! With the help of the ‘Puck-fist.’”  Right as the conversation tailed off, Puckett wanted to add one last thing on Danny’s behalf.  “I have to say though, Blizzard got so lucky for Danny. He is one of the best translators and hosts in the game and he was editing our film behind the scenes. No one knew who Danny was and we used him one time and he crushed it! And shoutout to that producer that was like ‘I need this guy’ and stole him away from the backstage crew and we got to use him on camera.” “Danny, much love buddy.” 
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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