With Johanna Fairies taking over as Head of Leagues for both Call of Duty and Overwatch, reporter Joseph “Volamel” Franco gives his insight. Also, with collegiate esports continuing to grow, […]
Riot Games announced that the Oceanic Pro League would be shutting down. This is a major blow to esports in the region, one that was already facing challenges due to its distance and internet infrastructure. Max Laughton of Fox Sports Australia jumps on the show to discuss the challenges Riot’s decision poses for esports in Australia and New Zealand and how competitors are in serious trouble. Plus, the San Francisco Shock have taken its second title in the Overwatch League. This puts the Shock a level above all other teams, and could lead to a dynasty. Reporter Joseph “Volamel” Franco returns to the show to give his insight on why fans will never see a team like the Shock ever again.
SPEAKERS: Joseph Franco, Imad Khan, Max Laughton
Imad Khan 00:01
What’s up everybody this is FTW with Imad Khan. I’m your host Imad Khan. And joining me today on this another league goes down under addition is Fox Sports Australia’s Man Laughton.
Max Laughton 00:10
Hey how you doing?
Imad Khan 00:11
And later on, we’ll have Joseph “Volamel” Franco to talk San Francisco Shock winning the Overwatch league Grand Finals for the second consecutive year. But first, OPL. Last week, Riot Games announced that it was dissolving the Oceanic Pro League in a statement right said that it quote does not believe the market is currently able to support the league in its current form, essentially, that it wasn’t attracting the kind of viewership necessary. players in the oceanic region will now be pulled together with the LCS in North America, meaning an Australian player will not take up an import slot. Riot Games will also hold a qualifying tournament for oceanic players for both MSI and Worlds 2021. So Max, how big of a blow is this to oceanic esports?
Max Laughton 00:51
I mean, it’s massive. It’s something you could sort of say coming just based on the way the landscape looks right now. But at the same time, it’s incredibly disappointing. Because Riot’s league was really the main organized League, we have a few tournaments, led by ESL, but still over here to have that sort of organized competition from a big organization. It’s rare here and and we need it because the realistic fact is teams can’t play teams from other regions unless they’re traveling. And that in itself is impossible. When budgets are so small.
Imad Khan 01:22
you know, this is something I think is lost on a lot of people, because I think they’re like the ubiquity of the internet, at least in Europe, or the United States. And how easy it is to kind of communicate is lost on just how the just the physical distance between, you know, Australia and even like Los Angeles, I remember one time I was interviewing a bunch of Splatoon players, competitive Splatoon players. And they were talking about just like how difficult it is to play with very high pings, because it’s not just like to distance. It’s the actual internet infrastructure quality. Can you go into some of that?
Max Laughton 01:52
Yeah, I mean, we’re a nation of bad internet. We’re very big. And we’re very spread out. It’s sort of the US to an extreme. We’ve got a little over 20 million people, mostly on the eastern seaboard. But even then, it’s an hour flight, say, San Fran to LA to get from Melbourne to Sydney, the two big cities. And that’s where all the OPL teams were based either in Melbourne or Sydney. And then a lot of people online, you’ll see on Reddit people saying, oh, why can’t they practice with teams in Asia, even in Japan, it’s not that far. Well, it’s still a 10 hour flight getting anywhere takes forever from here and, and that means the ping makes it almost impossible to realistically scrim with any opposing teams. What you’ll see is when Australian or New Zealand teams do go overseas, they’ll have to practice and base there in scrim for two, three weeks beforehand. And they’ll spend most of that time just figuring out how to catch up to the standard of overseas. So the problem is twofold. We can have the talent, but if they never get to play against that level of opposition anyway, then they’re falling behind when they do get their overseas chances and then they perform poorly and then they don’t get as many chances next time. So it’s a cycle that just
Imad Khan 02:55
And you know, when it comes to the opo I mean, what was kind of viewership and attention like in the region, was it? I mean, was it as poor as maybe Riot Games is suggesting?
Max Laughton 03:05
I think it’s good for Australian standards, but certainly not compared to global standards. I think the peak viewership was around 50k, for the most recent LPL split. So it’s okay, and they get some sponsors. And they have some guys who are relatively big in the gaming scene in here being on the broadcast. But even still, it’s just so hard to get mainstream attention. The main way it happens is from sporting organizations buying teams, you had legacy you did so well, relatively speaking, at Worlds this year, they’re owned by an Australian rules football team Adelaide, and that, in itself has given them some mainstream attention. But even then that’s that’s a story that mainstream media does the will look at these crazy video gamers, they’re making money playing video games, isn’t that crazy? That’s the best you can get in many, many cases. So it’s always difficult for them. And while the League has a bit of a foothold, he can only get so far.
Imad Khan 03:56
So then his Riot’s assertion kind of true in that the region just hasn’t developed yet for a vibrant esports market.
Max Laughton 04:05
Yeah, it’s a realistic view. It’s something that they could fund it if they wanted to, I’m sure they have the money from other ways. But to invest in OCE it’s an investment and it’s a long term plan, you can sort of see the potential because we are a very intense market. I mean, when you have tournament’s here, when you have to go to these events, the CS events that IM Sydney’s have been the biggest ones, we have a really intense crowd and we love our esports. But the problem is you have to spend so much money to try and get return on that investment, and so much time. And if you’re not going to be able to fly these teams overseas to get them more experienced, they’re not going to improve and the talents not going to get good enough to be up to that level.
Imad Khan 04:43
Now, I mean, you do bring up a good point that the region is super competitive in sports, right? Whether it be cricket, rugby football, and you know to like from what I’m hearing is that that also translates into esports locally. I mean, what can in the region do at a local level to try to spur up more and more interest?
Max Laughton 05:02
Yeah, I think it’s about having real groundswell of competition at that lower level. And that’s what you need. Because the problem that the OPL had in a lot of ways was they, they actually cut some of the funding coming into this year. And that made it hard because you can’t be an esports player full time here, unless you’re based outside of Australia. So getting funding to that level where players can commit full time, instead of just being university students who do it as a side hobby would really help. And and then it’s just more competitions at local level and getting better and working together as a community. Otherwise, it’s hard to say how we break out of the pure tyranny of distance, it’s the biggest problem that will never ever be solved until someone figures out faster planes or cheaper travel. I don’t know how they do that.
Imad Khan 05:44
But you know, there’s this thing that, you know, I think of a country like South Korea, which also has a relatively small population, but has very good infrastructure and then can produce some very high quality talent. So is this I mean, to what extent is this an issue of, you know, a country just being small, or it just not being able to produce enough talent?
Max Laughton 06:05
I think it is it there is an infrastructure problem in Australia, I think about 10 years ago, the government tried to invest in a big internet fix, basically to install stuff. And to do so they use the exact same wiring that we’ve been using for decades, because they didn’t want to spend too much money. So that was a big problem. And so to this day, Australia has bad internet compared to what you would think from a first world country. And so on a very basic level, we don’t have the technology, we just don’t have the investment. We don’t have the history of doing all of that stuff. And that’s a cultural thing, as much as anything, certainly compared to South Korea and regions like that. So, yeah, it could happen. But it’s not something that’s ingrained in us to be technologically advanced. I don’t know why it just happens that it is.
Imad Khan 06:50
I mean, you know, illustrate for me kind of what the ping might be, if you know, people are competing between Auckland and Melbourne.
Max Laughton 06:58
Auckland to Melbourne might be okay. Even then it’s still not going to be great. But if you’re going from any other region to Australia, you’re looking at 200 plus, in most cases, it’s realistically impossible. And, again, nothing you can do unless there’s investment in the technology to get that fixed.
Imad Khan 07:16
I mean it so is there any rumbling from, you know, politicians, maybe younger politicians that are moving up kind of the ladder and trying to really fund better and internet infrastructure in the country?
Max Laughton 07:27
Not at the moment? I don’t think obviously, the priorities of all the governments have changed at the moment of the last year. But even then, there’s a there’s a bit of growth from some left wing politicians that you’d follow. But for the most part, I think most people don’t even recognize as the problem, nevermind how to fix it.
Imad Khan 07:44
And then, you know, I think a lot of focus is obviously given to Australia and New Zealand. But what about some of the other, you know, Oceanic countries, whether it be like Fiji or Samoa? Is there any kind of rumbling for esports in those countries?
Max Laughton 07:56
Not a huge amount. I think it’s still very much a growing thing, but it’s nowhere near where it would be inside Southeast Asia. I’m not sure whether that’s a cultural thing, a technological thing, or a combination of the two. It’s just not a huge amount going on outside of Australia and New Zealand.
Imad Khan 08:10
And then, you know, what if the reaction has been from the players?
Max Laughton 08:13
Yeah, I mean, they’re understandably upset. And the weird part was Riot saying that they’re still going to hold tournament’s so that we can qualify to MSI and Worlds next year. And the question being how exactly a team is going to be good enough to do well, when you consider that we have a league and they still don’t make it into groups, you know? Legacy have said they’re going to commit to next year and other teams, I believe, are going to also commit to next year. But the realistic scenario is they’re going to have to be organizing games against each other unless there’s another tournament scene that pops up. Otherwise, they’re going to be nowhere near the level when they do get those chances, and it’s going to be even less funded than it has been in years gone by.
Imad Khan 08:51
Yeah, yeah. It’s really hard to imagine that, you know, just two teams that play in two separate teams that just playing two separate cities, that they’ll be able to have kind of the competitive practice to really take on, you know, the top teams in the world.
Max Laughton 09:05
Yeah, no, it’s it’s not realistic. It’s, it scrims at best for them. So I don’t know what they’re gonna do.
Imad Khan 09:10
Yeah. Has there ever been discussions within these teams to essentially relocate to, let’s say, Los Angeles, or even like a Seoul and just scram and practice out of there, and then I guess fly back for Australian competitions? Was that ever kind of? Or was that just seen as too expensive and too unrealistic?
Max Laughton 09:28
For the OPL teams. I think it’s been too unrealistic. We’ve had teams do that. The most notable big and CS with the Renegades team that’s become 100 thieves. They’re being based in the US for a few years now and doing quite well because of it. You’ve also had Fnatic in Rainbow Six Siege that have done so well in Australia and say they’ve done quite well on the global stage. They’ve moved to Japan and base themselves over there. So that’s the realistic plan. If you want to be taken seriously on a global stage, you have to get out of Australia while sort of still representing them and that’s the depressing reality.
Imad Khan 09:58
so you know if League of Legends was just, you know, had its leg cut off in, in the Oceania region. So I mean, what are the other esports that are still kind of hold holding up the region?
Max Laughton 10:09
Yeah, it’s it’s those teams that do well internationally that we can say, hey, they’re from here, almost. So Seige, we’re doing reasonably well, CS, we do quite well, per capita. But league was probably the biggest because of the IPL because of the official status, having that league and having the trip to worlds that it credited the league with other than that the Dota scene is not very big. And other things are, you know, they have their, their fans, and they have the players that do quite well. But it’s still very difficult to get over there without the funding. And then that makes it so difficult to compete on the global level.
Imad Khan 10:40
Yeah, I can imagine that games, especially like fighting games where you need like virtually no ping, where you have to essentially be playing next to the person. Maybe online, that doesn’t work. But I mean, locally is there kind of like good scenes coming up where people are practicing and you know, are creating some kind of real warriors.
Max Laughton 10:55
Yeah, the couch warriors guys do fantastic work on a local level. And we have some pretty big fighting tournament around here and that, and that’s great to see and you go to that at PAX that they have some fantastic tournament, and we have a local version of Pax and, and that can be great. And we get players coming from around the world to fight in Australia and get some global recognition. And that’s fantastic. That’s, that’s the way it can work when you have just those one player esports. And if you’re going over to Vegas for a big tournament or whatever it may be that can work so that the less expense that’s needed, the easier it can become.
Imad Khan 11:27
And then I guess last question, I mean, what do you think 2021 is going to look like three sports in the region. I think
Max Laughton 11:32
it’s gonna be similar to what it’s looked like the last few years we’ve had our teams that do quite well when they get their chances. But there are fewer and fewer chances being given to these teams. There are talented players, we see them going over and competing in LCS and Overwatch League and other competitions like that. But if they can’t get scouted, if they can’t show off their skills, then they can’t get the opportunities in the first place. So the fewer and fewer chances we get the fewer and fewer chances come after that. And after that the cycle repeats
Imad Khan 11:59
Well, something I’ll have to keep an eye on. Thank you so much for jumping on max
Max Laughton 12:02
Imad Khan 12:02
And now I’m joined by Joseph “Volamel” Franco. Last weekend, the San Francisco shock returned to the Overwatch league Grand Finals to take the tournament over Seoul dynasty. This is only the third season for the Overwatch League and the shock have already taken two of its titles. Not only that 2019 MVP j Sinatra one left the shock earlier this year to pursue Valorant. Joseph, you wrote a piece earlier this year for GG Recon in which you said that the Overwatch league would never see a team like the SF Shock ever again. It seemed a little hyperbolic at the time, given that the game is only in its third season. But with two consecutive championships, clearly they’re doing something right. What do you think that is?
Joseph Franco 12:39
Well, I said number of things. This is this is one of the most dominant collections of talent from a top to the bottom, whether it be the coaching staff down to the bench players. Or you have somebody as a critically acclaimed as Rascal kind of sitting on the bench becoming, you know, one of the most prolific champions in the game, what they’re doing right. In a hyper, but I think this is more hyperbolic than the article, this is like, this is everything they do they do it all. They don’t have like a weak link, they seemingly can leap over any obstacle that is put in front of them. And yes, this sounds cliche, but it’s true. Like this is it seems, you know, flowery and colorful to say art in motion, but like, again, like we won’t see another team like this. And then to your point, yeah, this is the third year of the Overwatch League. But we’ve had, you know, years of Overwatch before this, and we haven’t seen teams like this, we’ve thought we’ve seen teams like this with you know, team Envy early in the game’s development. And we’ve thought we saw this in South Korea with Lunatic Hai but that obviously proved to be a little short for the world, or at least in the grand scheme of history, but the Shock really don’t seem challenged. When you can throw money at the best players that money can buy, like the Philadelphia Fusion and still come up short. Shanghai Dragons much in the same way, you know, attempting something similar, but you really can’t capture whatever it is that makes the Shock, the Shock, and I’m still trying to grasp what that is.
Imad Khan 14:21
Well, you know, one thing I wanted to expand upon is that like you said, they lose these, you know, high caliber players but still are able to perform. And I look at you know, Coach Park “Crusty” Dae-hee and you know, he was there for the 2019 season and for the 2020 season. You know, he’s kind of this lodestar for the team that kind of immovable logic that has been there, I mean, how critical is he as coaching talent to the success of not only the Shock today but moving forward?
Joseph Franco 14:52
Oh, this is this is the architect this is you know, not not the player but like the the kind of role of the builder for this team. What what really kind of is funny and kind of ironic to kind of go back to season one where we first got introduced to Crusty and and Striker funnily enough on the Boston Uprising, a team that historically now looking at them in year three is historically bad, you know, poor even, like long long term bad play. They had a perfect stage under the tutelage of Crusty under the careful, you know, DPS, a serie that Striker brings to this roster they let those players go they kind of recoalesce on the Shock and two championships are born from that it’s it’s it’s really no surprise to me that that Crusty is doing as well as he is it’s it’s a really, it’s a shame that, you know, it didn’t work out on Boston because they had, you know, the golden the golden egg the golden geese as sideshow put it so aptly one of the commentators, but yeah, this is this is paramount moving forward. He’s already building for the future and has said as much with their Japanese American player Taiyo, yeah, it he’s the best coach on the best team. Again, one of the what will be a legend in the game. And if he continues on the trajectory, he might just become a legend in the overall kind of esports scape.
Imad Khan 16:22
Yeah, you know, I think the other interesting thing about the shock is that their willingness to bring on players who are under the, you know, the age to become competitive, but using them, you know, in that incubator stage to continue to develop, I mean, that’s how we got a Sinatraa. And, you know, based on, I mean, is that something that they’re still continuing to do, that they did in 2020, or that are going to do in 2021.
Joseph Franco 16:48
It’s definitely unclear what the future plans are for the Shock, in a less age restriction way or age restricted way, I think they definitely are always looking forward. And I think that’s kind of what Taiyo represents, this new player, looking at somebody, you know, somebody like Twilight from the Vancouver titans of last year, you know, coming onto this team, because of their pedigree because of you know, the coaching staff success and the long term success of this team and this roster, they always have an eye for the future. And you have to kind of give that not only just across the but to the coaching staff at large, I look at the people who are the former Shock alumni that are you know, scattered amongst the league in terms of coaching staff, you’ve got, you know, big success from nine k who helps the 2019 shock win, now leading the Paris Eternal to an unprecedented kind of revitalization of the brand and that kind of roster, a team that really nobody saw, or very few people rather thought that they were going to do well, and they knocked it out of the park when a you know a monthly tournament and and had a, you know, surprising season very good season. So this is, as much as it is Crusty, it’s everybody he surrounds himself with it’s everybody who, you know, he hires, it’s such a Shock that kind of take the chance and pick him up in season one. But in terms of like moving forward in that plan, it’s it’s really, it really remains to be seen.
Imad Khan 18:18
you know, I think enough, not enough credit is being given to NRG Esports and Andy Miller because I think one thing that sets the shock apart at the formation of the Overwatch league was how much money they were willing to drop on players, right? And to really flex that, hey, we’re not hiding salaries, and we’re, you know, really showing that, hey, we believe in our talent, and we’re willing to compensate them justly. And, you know, that’s translated to I assume happy players, but also them being able to bring on talent that feels that you know, they have their back or that NRG has their back, you know, how much is the I guess the corporate end of Shock also a part of this team success?
Joseph Franco 19:01
Yeah, 100% you have to give the you know, the the greater org a lot of credit. In terms of just tangible things that like either are repeated or you know, shown that they all the players seem to be you know, taking care of which is is definitely something that has to be said, you know it you have to give them credit where credit’s due. They A wise man kind of imparted this wisdom on me once and saying, you know, it’s the people who choose the gatekeepers to those are the people you should be kind of holding on to and crediting. And it’s very obvious that Andy Miller has built a not only a strong brand, but a strong team around him to be able to, you know, create this and understand and identify the talent as it comes up and pick up somebody like Crusty and have Crusty, bring over Striker and snag Twilight and create this pedigree of winners so that I’m in the, you know, the next generation of team, you know, strives to one day play for the shock. You know, they, they really have done a great job. And you’re right, they really don’t see a lot of credit and they deserve it.
Imad Khan 20:15
You know, let’s talk about the MVP really quick. So Nom-joo “Striker” Kwon, you know, he’s, he’s the MVP this year, last year went to Sinatraa, when comparing the two players. Yeah, where did you feel that Striker stands?
Joseph Franco 20:28
Definitely as as one of the most dominant players at least and some of these final these final four matches during the grand final weekend. You know, we go back again to like season one. And we look at, you know, the talk of, you know, Striker being the greatest tracer player and the best tracer player, and that has returned in 2020. This is the, you know, he’s been a consistent DPS threat over and over and over on different heroes. He, you know, is he the most flexible? Is he somebody like a Profit? that remains to be seen, and that’s not what’s asked of him, but he is, you know, this, this person who you can just point in a direction, if that direction is open, if the metagame allows for him to just run amok. And that’s really what we saw. One of the big weaknesses that Seoul Dynasty had in this grand final was their kind of one dimensional style of play. We saw that challenged a little bit with them picking Benji but Striker being able to come out be one of the world class Tracer players be one of the world class Hanzo, you know, means pick all of these different heroes and really dominate. It’s it was, it was it was something special.
Imad Khan 21:41
Let’s end up on this question, you know, where if we’re looking at the shocker, the trajectory that the shocker going into, right, if they win, you know, a third championship, they will essentially be compared to like, Michael Jordan’s Bulls at this point, right? And when it comes to that, other teams are essentially not playing the game of Overwatch or basketball, whatever analogy you choose, but now they’re playing the game of how do we beat this specific team? Or how do we build a roster to beat this specific team going into 2021, which team do you think has or could develop that team that can take down the Shock?
Joseph Franco 22:14
At this point, it maybe it’s the recency bias talking maybe it’s the sheer amount of talent that we’ve seen this season kind of coalesce on separate teams, whether that be the Shanghai Dragons or the Philadelphia Fusion. I really don’t know if there is anybody at least that has the right fit currently. You know, we’re going into the offseason roster mania is bound to be crazy. And you know what, we’re gonna see some insane swaps, and trades and buyouts and all these these crazy things. So maybe there’s a team on the horizon that we just haven’t met yet. That that can rival you know, Crusty’s San Francisco Shock. But as of currently, with a team like the Philadelphia Fusion who really could carry from any role a team like the Shanghai Dragons, who not only mimics that but has the depth to have 12 different players all world class. I really don’t know. It’s, it’s, it’s it’s going to be a tough task.
Imad Khan 23:21
During the stream on YouTube. And it was exclusive to YouTube this year. I mean, what was peak viewership, like?
Joseph Franco 23:26
it was definitely more than I expected. I believe, you know, I had talked to somebody and they you know, asked if we would get like six digits and I think we definitely surpassed six digits well above I I last time I had checked it was like 120,000 which you know, for the regular season viewership, depending on the time is is a significant increase granted, it’s like Grand Final so there has to be, you know, some leeway given there are some you know, number correction, but I’d say it was respectable I think it was fine. I hopefully this this brings people in this is our first big grand final blast to we’re kind of duds, I think, you know, hopefully, fingers crossed that people really kind of fell in love with the game after this match. And, you know, we’re we’re on to a greener pasture in 2021. Hopefully.
Imad Khan 24:13
Yeah, I’m waiting for the numbers to come out from Activision Blizzard. Because last year, you know, I mean, they the they were saying was at 1.2 million viewers across, you know, all platforms, including the ABC stream. I don’t think there was a television broadcast this year. So you know, I assume that it’s probably going to be down because you’re on YouTube, which is, I mean, it’s a huge part from obviously, but still not a premier destination for esports at least in North America like twitches. But you know, who knows, maybe like killed over in Asia. But with that, you know, we’ll have to catch up with you next time. Thank you so much for jumping on.
Joseph Franco 24:43
Imad Khan 24:44
And that was FTW with Imad Khan. If you like the show, please Rate, Subscribe and Share. Your support will help our show grow. For full transcripts, head on over to ftwimad.com. To follow Max lotton and all the work he’s doing over at Fox Sports Australia. You can find him @MaxLaughton on Twitter. That’s M-A-X-L-U-G-H-T-O-N. To follow Joseph and his writings about the Overwatch league you can find them @Volamel on Twitter. To follow me and my writing over at the New York Times The Washington Post and elsewhere you can find me at Imad on Twitter. Annie Pei is our producer. If you have any questions you can reach her @Pei_Annie on Twitter. And our researcher is Ron Lyons. With that will catch you guys next week.
Imad Khan October 12, 2020
With Johanna Fairies taking over as Head of Leagues for both Call of Duty and Overwatch, reporter Joseph “Volamel” Franco gives his insight. Also, with collegiate esports continuing to grow, […]