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Interview with captain of eLevate Overwatch team: “I feel pretty confident that we can go in and shake up the scene. Even if we are slow out of the gate, in the long term, we will be a premier team!”

Thank you for talking the time to do the interview. First, tell us a bit about your gaming background. Where did you start and build up from there.

Basically, my gaming career started with the original Call of Duty on PC way back, when I played on a really crappy computer, and I was just getting acquainted with multiplayer. I ended up playing on a team called Masters of Respawn in TWL rifles only. After that, I played a bit of Call of Duty 2 but not really in a competitive nature as I really liked the original Call of Duty better. When CoD4 came out on PC, I decided to go full blown competitive gaming. I played on a couple of teams in the first couple seasons. Back then, the biggest leagues were CAL (Cyberathlete Amateur League) and CEVO. A lot of people don’t even know what CAL is nowadays, that shows my age. In the first season, I bounced around a couple of teams, and then I got a chance to try out for a team that was called Shadow Gaming. We got picked up by an organization that was called Hostile Faction, that payed for everything. We ended up being in Cal-M and then CAL folded. After that, it was just CEVO. We won second place in CEVO-A and got moved up in CEVO-P. Then, I kind of took a little bit of hiatus from the whole competitive gaming scene, and went to college. I played new released games here and there, but I never really got back in the competitive scene until Battlefield 4 was released and I joined V2. As the first season played through, the scene slowed down in North America drastically and a lot of the top teams pulled out. A lot of the best players moved to different games like CS:GO because the game was not up to standards and the netcode was completely messed up, which made the game unplayable at times. I stepped away for approximately 6 months and then came back when a couple of the old guys I played with messaged me, and I said ’sure, why not? I’ll come back and play, I’ve got nothing else better to do’. Plus, the game was a lot better. ESL picked the game up and it was a success in Europe. I formed a team and then we got picked up by eLevate. We won a lot of tournaments and we had a couple of chances to head to ESL ONE. However, we were never able to beat the best team in SA at the time, Dexterity, to qualify since NA and SA shared the spot. When we played BF4, we ended up becoming the top team in North America and top 4 in the world, with over 20 top 3 finishes. It was a good experience and all the guys that I played with, I still talk with. That led into kind of waiting for that next game, and that is Overwatch.

 How did you get into Overwatch?

After Battlefield 4, I took a management position within eLevate. I did social media for a month and then, I became the chief marketing officer. I did all their marketing and social media and all that fun stuff.  I went to Pax East 2015 to cover our Halo team and that is when they had a massive Overwatch booth, right in the middle of the event. Honestly, when I saw it, I had not really heard of the game, but it struck my curiosity and I got to play it. It was the only thing I waited in line for the entire time I was there. It was so interesting to me and as I started playing it, I started liking it. I thought to myself, ‘this is actually a lot of fun and there are a lot of different things you can do. Most shooter nowadays, at some point become pretty bland’. Overwatch is different because there are so many characters and metas can change frequently. I’ve never seen that in a FPS game.

Overwatch is still a novelty for a lot of people. Did you notice any differences compared to other shooters and eSports?

Yes, definitely. I think the biggest difference is that kind of MOBA feel. The way that I would describe it to people is a crossover of your basic first person shooter with League of Legends. You have different champions in League of Legends, and you have different heroes in Overwatch. So, it’s that same concept, where now you have to strategically play the game with your characters. There are hard counters between characters versus a basic FPS game, where all you really need is individual skill and basic strategy. I don’t have to worry about hitting you a million times when I play Call of Duty or CS:GO, but I do in this game. In Overwatch for instance, if I am playing versus a Winston, the big gorilla, you’re going to have to hit a lot of shots on him and do mass amounts damage in order to kill him. While doing that, you have to worry about 5 other players and the strategy they are using. It’s a totally different style of game. So, it’s more over a crossover of a MOBA and FPS versus your basic FPS.

If anything, what would you change or add to Overwatch to make it a better game for the pro scene?

I would actually say… oh wow. This is a tough one because it really depends on what route they go. I think at the beginning, a lot of people were talking about having a one-character limit per side, and that is what I originally thought before I started playing the game, and now I don’t necessarily agree. Being able to switch characters’ mid game makes it unique. So, I would say, the number one thing would be getting a unified rule set that makes sense across the board. In order for a game to be very competitive and successful, you need to have viewership. Right now, they are using the stopwatch system.  I don’t like it because it changes the dynamic of the game and causes stalling strategies on defense, which only serves as a way to lower viewership in my eyes. So, I would say, unify a rule set that pro players and top tier competitive players can all agree upon. I would highly suggest Blizzard talks to the top players and current community figures who have great track records in other games to make a rule set. Look at Valve, they tend to listen to the community quite a bit and they take pro players ideas into consideration. It works, look at that games track record and history. So yeah, that would be the first thing: unify the rule set and get rid of stopwatch. 

Who is part of the team?

The roster is myself, Bawky, Fractal and Wintahhh. Those are the four people from our Battlefield team. Then we have, Vilevirtues and Emperic. Our team director is Ghosty, aka Mimi. Bawky and I we’ll be the primary DPS players, Vilevirtues will be the tanker and the other players will be flex and support roles. They all know how to play a lot of characters and they will have to mix and match depending on what metas we run.

Do the players in your team have a unique roll or do they play whichever hero they enjoy?

We have specific roles that certain people play. With that being said, we have one guy that plays the main tanking role. We have two main DPS players, and the rest are kind of support and flex. I have everybody work on specific characters when they are solo pubbing, and we have tiers on how well they know that character. The whole point is to get them to that last tier on 5 or 6 characters they’re going to be playing. You want to be proficient as possible with as many characters you can, just because you never know what’s going to happen in a game and you need to be able to adapt. Everyone has a defined roll, but everybody has to learn how to cross over from their role.

Who is your favorite Overwatch hero and why?

It’s actually Soldier:76, and it’s not the one I usually play the most. I play a lot of McCree and Widowmaker because I think I’ll be doing most of the Widowmaker-ing for the team. Soldier is my favorite character just because he is that old school style character. He is just like any other character you’d play in a FPS game, like in Battlefield or Call of Duty. He’s got an assault rifle and he can sprint. That’s pretty much your bare bones FPS player right there. Not to mention his ultimate is auto aim which is a hack in most FPS games. I find that hilarious.

Is Elevate competing in the Agent Rising tournament?

Unfortunately, we will not be competing at that tournament. We decided as a team that the travel cost is not worth it. Plus, lots of us did not have closed beta access to the game. The $5000 dollar first prize pool of the tournament would get split between 6 players, if you win, but it doesn’t necessarily pay for the cost of flying to California, especially with most of us living on the East coast. Plus, we need to be realistic, Cloud9 will be there and they will be incredibly difficult to beat considering we just started playing. As the game progresses, we’ll probably go to the majority of the LANs though.  

Who do you see as the Overwatch big dogs? Or is everyone on even ground because it’s fairly new?

This is where it gets really interesting. In our case, me and three other people come from the Battlefield team we had on eLevate. The European Fnatic Battlefield 4 team is actually the Reunited team in Overwatch. We know all those players really well and know how good they are. In my opinion, you give them a little more time to adapt to this game and they will be the best team in the game. However, right now, I would only consider 2 teams as the big dogs: Reunited and Cloud9. There are many other good teams but I wouldn’t classify them as top tier just yet. With the game coming out, we’re going to see an influx of new players, from different competitive backgrounds.  You’re going to see a lot of, what is considered, a top 8 or even top 4 team really starting to fall off in the competitive realm. I watched a lot of teams play and yes, they had the advantage of obviously playing the game longer, but I saw some major flaws in their strategies and their overall skill. You’ll see down the road what I am talking about as new players come into the scene and new teams form. A lot of the current so called big dogs are going to be knocked down from their podium and they are not going to like it.

Overwatch has taken a really aggressive stance on cheaters and are perma  banning them. Do you agree with Blizzard’s stance?

I am very blunt and transparent with cheating. I think it has zero place in any type of competitive game, especially if it wants to grow. I won’t go into details of previous games or how people got banned, but for this game in particular, I think Blizzard’s stance is a strong showing on their part. It is in our human nature to do whatever you can to be the best. You see athletes that take steroids just to gain a leg up on the competition. While this isn’t a direct correlation to cheating in video games, the idea is still the same. Hacking in video games gives you an obvious advantage and with many online based tournaments having prize money, it has to be taken seriously. If you want to keep a really strong, healthy competitive community you can’t allow cheaters or have constant hackusations being thrown around. That kills games. That kills scenes. That kills communities. I like their stance, I think it’s a strong one and I hope they stick with it. 

Any thoughts on hackusations? Is there any doubt in your mind that pro players are already cheating this early on the game?

I’ve seen the hackusations of certain players already and it sucks seeing that being thrown around so easily. I never accuse anyone of hacking. I wait until they are proven to be hacking, in which case they are going to get banned. You have to remember that a lot of people are just really good at video games and have unbelievable aim. If, let’s say, there are current top players who played in the closed beta and they get caught cheating down the road, that is really going to hurt the scene and cause even more drama. I don’t like talking about it honestly or getting into details too much, because it’s kind of one of those things where it won’t be good for the long term health of the game. I hope that everybody that’s playing now is being completely honest and anyone who gets caught cheating gets banned and we all just move on.

Do you think Overwatch has the potential to become an eSports hit?

I definitely think it has the potential to be a hit but it will take time. A lot of games get hyped early and tend not to deliver, but with the beta that was just played and seeing how many people played it and enjoyed it, that is a really good sign to how this game can be effective long term. Honestly, if it is to become big, a good amount of questions need to be answered, such as, ‘can the community get big and can it avoid becoming toxic, as toxicity kills games and communities.’ Another important aspect will be Blizzard and what they want to do. How much are they going to put into this game? Not necessarily from a prize point perspective, which obviously helps but how often are they going to patch the game when something is clearly broken? Is it going to be numerous small patches that happen often? Is it going to be big patches that come out every few months? How often will we see new heroes? What kind of competitive system is going to be run with their backing? Another question is ‘how many sponsors can you bring in to support this game competitively?’. I am not going to lie, I’ve seen so many Overwatch commercials on my TV and I am pretty excited about what this game can become. They seem to be marketing it quite well, but its competitive future is just unclear right now. We do not have enough details for the leagues and the support they will receive. I am very optimistic though that this game will be massive.

Where do you see yourself and your team in the future in Overwatch?

The one thing that really helps our team, and you will notice this in other cases, is chemistry. We have 4 players on our team who have been playing together for 2 years and we have that mutual respect for each other, to listen to what each other has to say. If someone is not playing up to standards, we’ll let them know they have to get better or they are done. Yes, there is a loyalty between us, but at the same time, if you’re not playing up to a certain level and you’re not helping the team, then you’re going to get benched. The key really is to not replace too many people.  Everyone always wants that quick fix and they want to win now so they make roster changes regularly. It might work short term but long term it will fail, you need to keep a core together and build a team around it. Drastic roster changes are not the answer. In our case, I am feeling pretty good because we have that chemistry and two new guys that joined have a lot of knowledge. I am optimistic about where our team can be, even given the amount of time we’ve played this game, which is not a lot obviously compared to all the closed beta teams.  We have the ability to adapt really quickly, and we have the players in the team that have the time and the knowledge level to put in a really good effort even when we’re not scrimming. I feel pretty confident that we can go in and shake up the scene. Even if we are slow out of the gate, in the long term, we will be a premier team! We’ve done it every previous game we’ve played and, I think our chemistry is what’s going to help us more than anything because we’ve all been playing together for so long.

To wrap it up, where can people follow and watch you stream?

My twitter is @elevatepoko, my twitch channel is twitch.tv/JoePoko, and my Youtube is youtube.com/JoePokoTV. I am pretty vocal on Twitter nowadays and streaming will be a big thing that I will be doing. I have a couple of projects in the works and giveaways will be happening regularly.

Leaving aside hakusations and other speculations on how well the game will sell, it will be interesting to see the advantage that some teams will have in the unfolding of the announced tournaments. Will the teams that had access to the closed beta dominate and how will that advantage affect the outcome of the competitive play on the long run? For now, we have to keep an eye on the teams that will compete in the Alienware Monthly Melee online tournament on May 24th. The eLevate Overwatch team announced their participation in the tournament, among other teams such as REUNITED and Cloud9. The event will host 64 teams and it features a prize pool of $3,000. The tournament is played on North American servers but European teams are invited to join if they agree to play on the higher ping.  More details about the event can be found here. The first Overwatch big update will be in June, when according to game director, Jeff Kaplan, ranked mode will be available for all players. 

Nevertheless, just like Joe “Poko” Pokrzywa said, the competitive scene will change depending on the players and the teams that will join down the road. Besides the influence of Blizzard, the community will play a major role in the future of the game and it can become an important catalyst for its growth or it might cause its downfall.