When localization for the Overwatch League was first announced, one of the first questions on everyone’s minds was who will represent New York.
One of America’s largest cities and one of the World’s most recognizable, outside of Los Angeles, it’s hard to imagine that any location was more sought after for teams looking to join the league.
Just a few months ago, with the official announcement of the teams that would be joining the league, we learned a little bit about the organization that owned the spot, but that did little to answer many of the lingering questions about how this organization would introduce New York to the cities first real esports team and which players would be on their inaugural roster.
While we may not quite have the answer to all those questions, Heroes Never Die did have the chance to talk with one of the key figures in charge of answering that question, the team’s director of player personnel, Scott Tester, about what the first season of the Overwatch League will look like, what it means to represent New York and how to build a successful roster.
Heroes Never Die: Overwatch League is doing something very different from any other esports league, not just because it’s starting with franchising, but also because it’s localized. What do you feel like it means to have the culture of a city like New York behind the team, for the organization and the players, as well as the fans?
Scott Tester: It’s really incredible. The city is unrivaled when it comes to sports history and we really want to build a foundation for New York to be a hub of esports moving forward. And I think everything we are doing with the Overwatch team we are trying to add to an already incredible legacy that New York has.
HND: What do you feel like the key is — because obviously there are a lot of theories around this — what do you feel like the key is to developing a successful roster?
ST: We are trying to approach it form a couple of different avenues. Initially, I think in season one and season two, the most successful teams are probably going to be teams that have some experience playing together and have put in time and developed their skills in some of the other existing Overwatch tournaments.
Past that, in the sort of more long term view, I think you’re gonna see a lot of the things that any kind of team is going to need to develop well in terms of team work, support from the organization and just having a solid infrastructure. So I think those are also things we are trying to focus on to build a lasting organization and support our players in the best possible way and give us the best opportunity to win.
HND: What do you feel like all that looks like from the fan perspective?
ST: I think for fans, they can expect the same sort of marketing and support infrastructure that they can expect from another top tier sports team. We are going to look for ways we can leverage the existing passion that exists, not just for esports, but for sports in general throughout New York, and find ways we can really engage with our fans and bring them up to speed with who we are and what we can do in the future of Overwatch League.
HND: Sort of making the city of New York part of the team’s DNA?
ST: Yes, totally!
HND: Do you think there are any steps that Overwatch still needs to take as a fan experience to help teams like you guys bring in new fans?
ST: Sure, I think there are things that the game and the development team can do and are working on to level up the fan experience to make it a more engaging viewer experience. I thin those those are going to be worked on in perpetuity. I don’t think there is going to be a point where we are just like, ‘those things are good enough.’
In terms of broadcast and fan engagement through features in the client I think that there is sort of an endless road to go down and constantly improve on. That being said, since the game came out, I think we have already seen a lot of improvements and I hope that we continue to see more.
HND: You mentioned in client tie-ins, do you think that will include created content from you guys and Blizzard?
ST: I don’t think we have any specific plans currently. It’s something that I would hope to get involved in but it’s not something that we have ready to announce or anything.
HND: Heading into the first season, what are the major keys — I know you mentioned things like a rosters overall experience — is there anything else that you think is going to be critical heading into the season?
ST: Sure. For individual players, it’s gonna be a very different environment than they are used to playing in previously, so I think to some extent their ability to adapt to that new environment and set of circumstances and maintain their high level of skill and play is going to be a challenge for some players.
HND: What do you feel like the role of the New York Overwatch organization in helping players adjust to that?
ST: I think that’s a huge part of our role. I think supporting our players in any capacity is a huge part of our role as an organization. We just want to put our players in the best place to succeed and I think whatever we can do to accomplish that we will do.
In terms of adjusting and their ability to adjust, I think that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges we face and we have some specific strategies to address that. How successful those will be remains to be seen but we are going to do everything we can to try to ensure a comfortable environment for our players.
HND: There’s to some extent an element of that that’s always changing thanks to Overwatch’s constant patches. What systems will you guys have in place to help players adjust to that changing meta?
ST: I think some of that speaks to the strategy we have used to build out our roster. I think focusing too much on any one meta is very dangerous and we have seen that with teams already throughout the history of competitive Overwatch. Take a team like Ninjas in Pyjamas, when three tank meta was the thing, they were dominant, but when we moved to dive it took them some time to get adjusted and I feel like now they are just getting back to the top after some roster adjustments and taking some time to figure out how to deal with that meta.
HND: I don’t know how much you can talk about this, but are you guys looking at coaches or analysts specifically looking at those kinds of things?
ST: I wouldn’t say we have a specific coach focused on that kind of thing. In terms of the players we are interested in, they tend to have more diverse hero pools that are less likely to be confined to a specific meta. There are coaching strategies that play into that of course, and those are things we will keep in mind as things play out.
But the more important part of that strategy tends to be working with players that are comfortable on a large number of heroes and setting your team up in such a way that you have coverage of any hero that comes into the meta.
HND: Would you say that’s something that you are specifically looking for in a player? Someone who isn’t necessary just incredibly talented on say Genji but is more comfortable on a variety of heroes?
ST: Having some kind of mix is important. If Genji or Tracer is a haeror you are confident is going to remain in the meta for a long time, which they have right there isn’t really a meta that Tracer isn’t viable in, then you want a top tier Tracer player. But it’s also important to have someone that can play Roadhog if he comes up, some of the heroes that fall out of the meta, you wanna be prepared for them to come back into play.
HND: I know we have already talked about the ability to adapt to playing on stage and to playing a new meta, but do you think there is any other things that rems will be looking at headed into season one and do you think there is any one thing that successful teams will need to do.
ST: I think to a certain degree there is gonna be some culture shock that people are going to deal with, whether they are moving to Los Angeles from Kansas or Seoul, players are still going to have to deal with that to a certain degree. Whether it’s living in a team house or in apartments or whatever each team decides to do, for people who haven’t lived in that environment before it could be a big change. And it’s going to be a lot to get used to really quickly. So, teams ability to adapt to that is going to be a big deal in the first season.
HND: Other than the obvious things like winning, making playoffs maybe winning the whole thing, are there any specific goals you have in mind for season one?
ST: I think first and foremost are the things you described, having a successful team, winning matches, that’s our overriding goal. Beyond that, sure, I think it’s important to launch the team in a way that everyone can be proud of and that represents New York and establishes us as a new team that’s out there, in a positive light.
HND: What do you think the particular challenges are of connecting to New York and connecting to New York fans while in LA and competing there?
ST: That’s a challenge that all but two teams are gonna face in some capacity. That being said, I think that New York gives us some unique opportunities that some other cities may not, just in terms of it being a more global city. I wold imagine it would be harder for ateam based in Texas or even Boston to have that sort of mentality of outreach. New York, given it’s sort of metropolitan World capitol status, I feel like it’s a little easier to make that connection outside of the city.
HND: Was that sort of what helped attract you to this organization in particular.
ST: I would say it’s part of it. From the initial list of cities, New York was by far the most compelling choice. Going back to traditional sports, the legacy of the city is just undeniable, right? The Yankees have won something like a third of the world series, ever. New York just, as a sports city is by far the most compelling of any of the initial Overwatch cities and I think that was really the biggest draw for me.
HND: What does it mean to you to come into, not only a brand new organization, in a city that hasn’t had any esports based out of it other than tournaments, but also to a brand new league and getting to help shape what that would look like?
ST: Honestly, that was a big part of the reason I joined the team. Before I came to New York, I was working in Blizzard’s esports department so I was sort of working on Overwatch League from the other side, and having some conversations with people on the development team and people in the Overwatch esports department I just sort of got the feeling that I would sort of be able to apply my skill set and maybe, do more good, from a team perspective than from the league perspective.
I feel like my role when I was at Blizzard gave me an awful lot of insight into the Overwatch competitive insight and I felt I could apply that knowledge best when working with a team.
HND: I know we talked about the goals of the organization, but are there any goals that you personally want to accomplish over the next year or so with the organization?
ST: I think my goal is really just to win as many games as we can, and get this team launched in a way that represents the values in a way that we want to put forth.