As more details and teams continue to trickle about Overwatch League, interest in the professional scene appears to be at a peak. With that comes many significant questions, many of which the community is still figuring out how to answer. Slingshot’s Andrew Kim caught up with Aaron “Aero” Atkins, coach for the North American team FNRGFE, to talk about the status of Overwatch League and what it’s like for unsigned players.
Andrew Kim: Blizzard seems to really want to push the angle of using the ranked ladder as a viable way to become a professional. Do you think ranked can be a good tool for those players who want to go pro?
Aaron “Aero” Atkins: The system can be viable in the future, but currently no. Ranked play needs to improve a lot. I think something like a role queue would help it substantially. Overwatch as a game is focused on a hero or a role, and a role queue would allow for better practice. Blizzard also needs to make ranked something professionals want to play, as opposed to something they have to play in order to practice.
AK: What would be some advice you would give players who want to climb the ladder to be noticed by teams and join the Overwatch League?
AA: If you want to climb and want to be better, learn off-tanks like D.Va and Zarya. In order to do well as those particular heroes, you have to be a good teammate since their abilities focuses on enabling their teammates, rather than making carrying plays. Those players understand that it’s not about solo-carrying a game, but supporting the team to win.
AK: Recently Blizzard said that they have a direct line to the professional Overwatch teams. Have you personally been in contact with the development team? What was the experience like?
AA: We don’t talk directly to the development team, but they do have reps we contact. In the past I largely talked about new heroes and big reworks to existing ones, and it’s generally really putting in my opinion from the perspective of competitive play. Doomfist is a great example as a hero that’s hard to make work in solo queue but can work very well in pro play. If I wanted to write something up and give it to them, I will have the opportunity to. I think it’s very important to have this sort of active communication because there needs to be balance to all level of players regardless of Skill Ratings, but also for the professional scene as well. But it’s like everything goes through, and some pros were very against certain patches before.
AK: Many professionals have been entering the status of “looking for team” recently, as Overwatch League has started to take shape. What are your opinions on the state of some professionals who are in limbo going into OWL Season 1?
AA: I know Blizzard didn’t want to release information to make sure it’s all polished, but it did hurt organizations that went in early. There were also cases where some pros weren’t delivered what they were promised from their organizations. Right now, there are a lot of pros that were very good but just didn’t know much about their contracts. It’s one of those things where it sucks, it happened, but if you put in the work and mindset you can get into the league. I’m confident Season 1 will be successful, there are plenty of talented players right now, and I hope pros don’t leave and (that they) stick it out.
AK: The signing period for the OWL right now is very wide, perhaps in order to allow for free movement of players before Season 1. What are your thoughts on the signing window?
AA: I think having a large window is good because it gives time for players to work with organization to get out of contracts. If it was more rigid or punishing, I think it would have hurt Season 1. Most teams are also willing to work with players to find new homes. The big question actually comes between Seasons 1 and 2, what Contenders will look like, and can teams build their rosters between the seasons. I hope Blizzard is willing to put a lot of resources in Tier 2 play through Contenders, because it is the only way to make Tier 1 desirable in the long run.
AK: We’re seeing a lot of examples of Western teams participating in OWL signing entire Korean rosters, such as Cloud9, since Koreans rosters are highly desirable. Do you think this will do more harm or good in terms of teams in the OWL?
AA: if you’re a North American team and you’re signing a bunch of Koreans, it seems like you’re more concerned about Season 1, not the longevity of the region. The Overwatch League is about creating local brands and teams, and as resident of NA, I want to see more home-grown talent. Korean players are very good, but there’s something special about knowing someone from your own country and hometown representing their region or city. If you’re concerned about getting ahead early and winning, purchasing a Korean roster looks good, but not so great in the long term.
AK: But teams are incentivized to do well, as winning teams will be getting a larger share of the prize pool, yet like you said Blizzard wants to push for a localized team. Do you think these goals go against one another?
AA: I don’t think so. I think that they actually help each other out. I remember when I was younger I would watch the local minor league baseball games and two years later a couple of players were playing for the Phillies. That kind of comes back to importing teams; let’s say New York does purchase the Luxury Watch roster; can we see a native New Yorker playing for that roster in four years?
AK: If a team from the OWL approaches one of your players, would you be willing to part ways with them or would you try to push for the whole team to be signed for the league?
AA: One of the goals that we had when we came together was that everyone ends up finding a Overwatch home either together or not. We would like to stay together of course, since everyone works really well together and we all like each other, but if it comes down to it, OWL is the goal, and nobody will hold it against somebody else if they want to go to another team to pursue that dream.
AK: As a coach for Overwatch, what do you think makes your job different compared to other popular esports like League of Legends or Counter-Strike?
AA: I think the nature of Overwatch is extremely frantic and has a tendency where a lot of the set plays don’t go as planned, and the entire team needs to turn on a dime. The team needs to work really well at all times and needs cultivate player relationships in order to create that sense of trust when things go wrong and players need to know that they will be there for one another. CS:GO has those moments when a single player can ace the team by themselves with great play, but that’s incredibly rare for Overwatch. Players need to trust one another and understand how one another plays.