It’s almost impossible to have a better tournament than Immortals’ victorious trip through Season Zero of Overwatch Contenders, with a 54-6 score on maps through the tournament’s four stages. In fact, the only series Immortals lost in the entire tournament was during Day One. But, that’s to be expected—after all, it was the same day that the organization made one of the most ambitious and aggressively timed roster moves in recent esports history.
Just a week after their victory, I had the chance to talk with the team and find out just what went into their victory and what it was like to start a tournament with new team members.
Since the earliest moment of competitive Overwatch, Immortals have been one of North America’s biggest players. Since the team’s creation in August of 2016 they have largely dominated the NA tournament scene coming in first or second in almost every tournament during the year. However, Immortals never quite seemed able to climb that final hurdle. To make the leap from regional powerhouse to international contenders as teams like Rogue and Team EnVy had already done by competing and succeeding in Korea’s Apex Tournament.
As 2017 progressed, it became clear for Immortals that making this step into the world’s elite teams was of paramount importance. As Blizzard moved closer and closer to the first official announcements regarding the Overwatch League and the importance that Overwatch Contenders Season Zero could have over which teams were chosen for the initial round of franchising, Immortals knew the time to bolster their roster was now. The only problem is that they couldn’t actually get the two players they were after until the day the tournament began.
Enter, Park “KariV” Young Seo and Koo “Fate” Pan-Seung, two Korean players that started their careers on Might AOD competing in Korea’s Apex tournament. The week of their departure from Korea, the pair spent the majority of the time trying to learn what they could from the Immortals coaches, while still preparing for the Apex matches. After their final game in Apex, a win against Team KongDoo Panthera who would later take on Lunatic Hai in the tournament's finals, the two players stayed up all night in hopes of catching some sleep on the plane as they flew to Immortals in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately for them, it didn’t quite work out that way. Touching down on the first day of the Overwatch Contenders tournament, both players were rushed to the house in order to play their first official match.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even know if their English was good.” said, Immortals Support player Stefano “Verbo” Disalvo, “our first time playing with the players wasn’t during practice, it was actually during a tournament game. We were kinda skeptical if we were gonna mesh well in a tournament.”
It’s hard to imagine a situation much worse for a professional team going into the most important Overwatch tournament in North American history. This is particularly true when you consider the importance of communication in the game and the fact that silence can so often lead to misunderstandings and bad plays, “It was really quiet for the first few games as we learned how to communicate,” explains George “Hyped” Maganzini.
But according to the players, they were able to find something that worked by day two, where Immortals made an undefeated run through the qualifier earning their place in the Group Stage.
“I think we just stayed with more meta compositions, because everyone knew how to play the meta heroes ... So we tried to incorporate that as much as we could.” said DPS player Christopher “GrimReality” Schaefer. Meanwhile, Maganzini mentioned that one of the big differences between day one and day two was that they learned the level of English that was effective to use, so they could get enough information out without overwhelming their new teammates.
On the subject of those first two days, manager Joshua “dzMins” Kim also had a few things to say, “I don’t want to make it sound like an excuse, but they were on hardly any sleep. That week was like hell week practicing for them. They tried to sleep on the plane, but they got here and immediately started to play in the tournament, during the latter half of the tournament, they were actively trying not to fall asleep. The second day they were much more refreshed, which I think is also a factor of why the second day went as smoothly as it did.”
Despite their impressive trip through the day two qualifiers, many were still ready to write off the Immortals roster thanks to their lack of experience together. However, by the time the Group Stages came around and the team had a week of practice together, it was clear that this roster was one of the best in the tournament. A fact that was confirmed as they moved into the Playoff stage where they managed to win the tournament while only losing one map the entire day.
What’s perhaps more surprising than the fact that Immortals made an almost perfect run through the Group Stage and the Playoff portion of the tournament is the fact that they looked so well coordinated doing it. While many of the North American teams showed a fairly strong grasp of the meta, or the general strategies at play in an Overwatch match, what we saw from Immortals was a mastery of those tactics. Ultimates were effectively coordinated with KariV and Verbo never overlapping a Zenyatta Transcendence and a Lucio Sound Barrier, despite their communication gap — a thing few other teams could boast in one series let alone the entire tournament.
“I think it was just pure communication and trying to get everyone on the same page. And we made huge improvements every day, I would even say every other game! I could feel the improvements.” said Schaefer when I asked him about what they were able to improve on over those first few weeks they spend together as a team. Kim was quick to add, “it was almost tangible ... It was crucial for every one of the team to feel each other out and discover what could be communicated without words ... they just understood each other on a different level in terms of gameplay.”
But the support play and communication weren’t the only standouts for Immortals throughout the tournament. They outshined their competition at every position. Schaefer, mostly on Soldier 76 managed to, with the help of Koo’s Winston, rack up some of the most consistent damage in of any DPS player, despite the prevalence of characters like D.Va being popular in the meta, something he mentioned as a frustration about more than a few times in my conversation with the team.
Brady “Agilities” Girardi also managed to pull off an impressive feat as he played the best Genji Overwatch Contenders Season Zero, defeating George “Shadowburn” Gushcha — a player synonymous with the hero — in a head to head matchup at the beginning of the Playoffs.
All of this was anchored, and managed, by the fantastic shotcalling of Maganzini who mentioned to me that one of the difficulties of the tournament was altering the way he made calls in the game in order to more effectively communicate to the different levels of English skills.
After their victory at Overwatch Contenders Season Zero Immortals reign over most of North America was Blizzard official. But the same questions still lingered for the roster as a whole. Could they compete with the other North American rosters that were taking on the likes of Lunatic-Hai in Korea?
The answer came just one week after Contenders ended, when the team had a chance to take on Rogue at the BEAT Invitational Season 2 Finals. Over the course of the seven game series, the matches were incredibly close, with both teams seemingly like they were going to take it. In the end, it was Rogue that came out victorious 4-3, however, after competing with the best in the world and rolling over every other western team at Overwatch TakeOver 2, it’s a testament to Immortals strengths that they could take Rogue to the seven games after just a few weeks of practice. With more time together it’s not much of a longshot to say that this could be the best team in North America.
But it isn’t just the Immortals roster that is going to matter to NA. Two highly successful tournaments with their brand new roster, and an automatic qualification to Contenders Season One, were a good start for Immortals, but it wasn’t until the first official announcement of the Overwatch League that fans were able to understand just how important Immortals would be the United States in Competitive Overwatch.
Immortals are now the official franchise of Los Angeles, esports’ biggest city in the United States. Along with Blizzard’s own Blizzcon convention, where it holds the Overwatch World Cup, Los Angeles has, since early 2013, played host to Riot’s League of Legends Championship Series, a weekly year long competition, as well as the most viewed esports event year over year, the League of Legends World Championship, in both 2013 and 2016. Immortals have been given a huge responsibility to steward the game to a public that is, at least somewhat, familiar with esports already. But, what became clear in my conversation with them is that this roster is up to the task.
Each of the players expressed to me genuine enthusiasm and passion for Overwatch as well as thoughtful criticisms of how Blizzard could improve the game that they loved. They’ve already proven they are more than capable of winning, but I think the roster also puts Immortals in the perfect place to represent Overwatch to the city where the esports spotlight is brightest.