Written by Volamel
With upsets a plenty and South Korea taking home their third gold, this year’s Overwatch World Cup was one for the history books. Kicking off the festivities in a big way, Team UK defeated Team USA in dominant fashion. This result comes off the back of many pundits praising Team USA for their performance in practice. While their chances seemed good to advance, Team UK had other plans for the hometeam. Directly after the massive upset I spoke with European Contenders commentator, Thomas "Tridd" Underwood about the World Cup and his thoughts leading into Contenders Season 3.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted after the match between Team USA and Team UK on Friday afternoon.
Here we are with Tridd at BlizzCon. This is immediately after Team UK dominated Team USA in the World Cup. In the press conference Team USA admitted that they looked past Team UK and were not prepared. What are your thoughts hearing this just after such a strong performance from Team UK?
I’m feeling pretty great to be in the home of the brave and land of the “free.” I’m not going to lie, I did not expect this outcome, I think if you look at everything on paper you would go, “The USA is looking really good this year.” You can’t underestimate how important the Overwatch League has been as a development tool for these players. When you see six players on a [national] roster compared to the one player that Team UK has that is a stacked roster! And it’s something you should definitely be concerned about. We’re watching the match and Map 1 on Ilios happened and Team UK didn’t get a single kill, I was like “... everything is going according to plan. I better suck it up, we’re in an NA crowd, we are the underdogs. Everyone knows it, it’s not that bad if we lose.”
Then we lose Ilios. We had a little more resistance, but okay. Then King’s Row happened. The offensive got stopped just short of Point B and that wasn’t ideal, typically you can complete King’s Row, so we’ll probably lose that map as well. I mean NA were spawn camping us. Little bit disrespectful to have random flanking Zarya's and Reinhardt's try and use their ultimates to build up the stagger, but that’s more of a focus on the mental game. You want to try and get them emotional. The irony was that the UK rose to the occasion.
[The UK] didn’t get tilted and when you look at maps three and four, that’s exactly how I would describe how NA was playing. They looked completely rattled in a series they should have 3-0’d. The moment the series was won for the UK was when the USA stopped trying to run counter-GOATs and tried to mirror GOATs, because you are not going a mirror matchup against a European team! It’s their bread and butter, it’s all they play in Contenders, for the most part. Finland, France, the UK, [you have to] counter [them], not mirror them.
When it came to Volskaya A, we saw Team USA run some odd compositions. Now at the press conference Team USA mentioned that they were not prepared and had not prepared for the UK at all. How much of a factor would you say the lack of preparation played in this match? Did the USA feel like they underprepared to you?
I don’t know if it felt like a lack of preparation because at the end of the day [Team USA] were able to adequately deal with GOATs compositions at their own group stage. Team Canada and the US were able to handle that from the other four teams because that’s all they were playing. I looked at that and said, “Cool! They have a good read on that. They can deal with it.” And everything was looking good at the beginning.They were running things like Pharah; the new Pharah is great at breaking down tanks and breaking down shields due to the direct damage hit now [having been] increased. You’re not relying on the splash damage to build the ultimate charge quickly and Hydration did that.
Looking specifically at the Volskaya matchup, I don’t think there was anything wrong with the composition or the preparation, there was just a lot of confusing plays. You had people like Sinatraa poking and peaking to long on sight lines against a Widowmaker. I think Zachareee choked a little bit. I think he had an underwhelming performance, compared to what we usually see from him. So I think he’s going to feel a little hard done by that and it happens sometimes. I just think that isn’t the level that we see from that guy most times.
When you put him on something like a Genji and I was watching his blades, he didn’t get much value sometimes. He’d get booped away or stunned up or locked out, there always seemed to be good responses to deal with Zachareee. I think it was less about the specific compositions and it was more some players are letting the mental game affect them. I think that with more preparation, Team USA could have had more refined responses to what the UK was doing, but for the most part, it was less about the game plan and more about the mentality. That’s just my impression from watching the game.
Obviously, we are at BlizzCon 2018 and the Overwatch World Cup is just an auxiliary component to the event as a whole and during the opening ceremonies, we got a little something from Team 4. We got to see the new Overwatch hero, Ashe. What are your thoughts on her so far?
I am so excited to see what professional players can do with Ashe! The problem with my involvement with Overwatch is that I find it hard to look at it as a fan. I’m terrible at DPS so I won’t be playing that hero any time soon. That fact that we have a rocket jump, something that’s a little more old style, like something that we’d see from a game like Team Fortress 2 (TF2)—a lot of these players come from playing Soldier from TF2. That same rocket jumping mechanic directly translates over from and I can’t wait to see what these TF2 veterans are going to do with this hero. In terms of the dynamite, it looks like they're building on the kit element they added into the new Torbjorn to burn through that armor a little bit quicker. Notice a trend here with their reworks and new heroes? Everyone is burning through tanks and resistances. I think it’s time to shake things up a little bit. Ashe, like all heroes, will take a little bit of time to figure out, but I’m really impressed.
And who can’t get behind the idea of B.O.B!?
The Overwatch World Cup has been an awakening for the European scene, do you think that will carry over to the new Paris franchize? How do you evaluate the team? Do you think people are sleeping on them?
I think it could be because if you look at the roster—and let’s say they picked up the two veterans of the roster, SoOn and ShaDowBurn—I don’t look at those guys and say, “these guys are a voice of leadership within the team”, right? And I think that’s the missing element that you have within the Paris roster, who is the big voice that pulls them together. Part of me goes: I know that Kruise is very vocal on Team UK. Is it going to be Kruise who’s going to come in and start leading the charge? Benbest has been calling for France as well. So, Benbest might be the person, but what happens when Lhcloudy steps in for Benbest? You don’t really sub out your main caller. There is a lot of questions I have about the Paris roster.
I have a love-hate relationship with that roster because I am personally invested in the players on that roster because most of them have flown through European Contenders. And I’ve been a massive Gigantti shill, so seeing people like Lhcloudy and Seita in an Overwatch League team gets me really excited. And it’s hard because you have to try and work out: do I, as someone who lives in London, support the season one winners, the London Spitfire? But the difference I have is that I’m missing the element of being invested in the players.
The players have shown an [interest] in their English language content working with Stylosa and what not, but I wasn’t someone who really followed Overwatch during the APEX era, so I wasn’t watching all of this pre-OWL Korean Overwatch. So I haven’t personally watched all of these stories, I’ve only read the cliff notes. KongDoo Panthera, GC Busan, throw them together and you get London Spitfire somehow. I’m missing that personal investment. Whereas [with Paris] I’ve seen them compete through Contenders and now they’re playing in the Overwatch League so it splits my view on who I back and it’s really hard. It would be really easy for me to go, “well, I live in London, so I back the London Spitfire, the best team in OWL” but a part of me is really rooting for Paris next year.
I don’t know yet! One of the teams will have to hit me with some merch or something.
With this upset and Paris entering the Overwatch League, could this bolster morale for someone of the European Contenders talent out there? I know some players are getting slightly gun shy with continuing, do you think some European success could help?
Absolutely, I think it’s about bolstering morale and it’s about lines of progression. Our only academy team so far is British Hurricane. The way that London Spitfire works—and I don’t knock London for this, but—if you have an all-Korean roster, what’s the likelihood that you promote a European player to that roster? So, the progression for a British Hurricane player is to either go to another team in Contenders North American and get promoted that way or they just go straight into Overwatch League. And I think we’ll see a lot of that because European talent have proven themselves.
But now, you get Paris, and Paris gets an academy team in Europe. Well, Paris can just straight up promote a player from the academy team directly into the Overwatch League without any diversion. That clear line of progression is going to be really encouraging for European players.
With this, a potential homecoming for Europe, with the UK success at the World Cup and potentially the Paris Overwatch League team, do you think this will entice brands to invest into the scene?
I think the UK winning won’t directly correlate to that. I think the UK winning is just a reminder to the rest of the world to stop ignoring Europe. We have some pretty good players, you know? I just want people to stop ignoring what Europe—and the UK—can do because it feels like that happens a lot of the time. I keep going back to Contenders Season 1 playoffs, we had North Americans laughing at quad-tank and we 4-0’d them in the Atlantic Showdown in the final. It’s like, come on guys, how many times do we have to do this until you start paying attention to Europe?
In terms of people getting invested in the European scene, that’s another whole aspect of esports that I don’t have to look at and anything I say will be pure speculation on what I think they should do. One of the things I know from other esports is that one of the reasons investment can be quite difficult in Europe particularly is that sponsorship budget is allocated differently.
Let’s look at North America and for example, we’ll use Sony. So you have Sony North America; they have an allocated marketing budget just for North America. Whereas in Europe, if you want to sponsor a team in a European league, it’s like, who do I go to? Sony UK? Sony German? Sony France? They have to work that out with several pieces and I think that's always been an issue with sponsorship. It’s all over the place, you have to bring all the parties to the table.
And I feel comfortable saying that the viewership or the return on investment for tier 2 Overwatch for a lot of these companies is not there yet. There is still work to be done. When people bring this up, it’s always the chicken or the egg argument.
Who caves first? Do the teams put the money in and then the investment is there and viewership comes? Well, they take a financial hit if they do that. Or do you have Blizzard do that; well, then they take the financial hit if they do that. We don’t know exactly what will fix the problem. There is a lot of work to do in European Overwatch, I just don’t know the solution.
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 to follow his thoughts you can follow him at @Volamel.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.