The New York Excelsior was a dominant monster throughout this season. NYXL had different beasts to deal with whether it was Jong-ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park, Hae-seong “Libero” Kim, Do-hyeon “Pine” Kim, or Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang. Western teams such as the Philadelphia Fusion and Boston Uprising tried to derail the NYXL train but to no avail. It wasn’t until Stage 4 where a new challenger arrived to fight against NYXL where they were dethroned in the grand finals, and a new team was crowned the winner of Stage 4. Thus, the Los Angeles Valiant became the 3rd Overwatch League team to become the stage champions. Indy “SPACE” Halpern dropped by to talk some more about NYXL and his life prior to playing Overwatch.
What games did you play before Overwatch?
SPACE: Growing up as a kid, I played console games like Call of Duty and other FPSs with friends. In middle school, I played World of Warcraft on my laptop for fun, then League of Legends after that. Eventually, I wanted to play an FPS but my computer couldn’t run it. I wanted to play Counter-Strike so I got a PC and started. That’s when I realized I wanted to be a pro player in esports. However, the CS:GO scene is so big that you have to grind way harder than any other player to get noticed. When Overwatch came out, I was open to playing it and thought it couldn’t hurt to play another FPS. It turns out I was really good at it so I just stuck with Overwatch and kept grinding.
I’m an avid fan of League and CS:GO. What was your rank in League and CS:GO?
SPACE: In League, I hit Diamond 5 and then quit because the games lasted too long. Someone would just troll us after a long game and I began to ponder why I kept playing. In Counter-Strike, I grinded to Global.
I got into Overwatch by getting a beta invite. Since then, I was hooked! How did you get into Overwatch and what made you devote time to becoming a pro?
SPACE: I had a group of friends that played video games all the time. We’ve been anticipating Overwatch because CS:GO was getting boring. We agreed to play Overwatch when it came out and we thought it is so fun and amazing. For 2 to 3 weeks, we stopped playing altogether and played something else. One of my friends kept playing Overwatch and was like, “Yo, keep playing with me,” and I was open to playing. He mained Zarya because she was really strong at the time and told me to try it out on comp. I played Zarya for the first season and ended at 4200 SR. I wanted to keep playing but nobody else played because they didn’t like the game. I kept playing anyway and it was around the time when the scene was building up. I was watching tournaments and thought I could go pro in this. I just kept working hard and people noticed me so that’s how I became a pro.
How many hours did you put in?
SPACE: When I first started, I put in like 4 to 5 hours a day. On weekends, basically all day like grinding 10 hours a day.
If you weren’t in Overwatch League, are there any other games you would try to get pro in?
SPACE: If I worked hard enough, I could go pro in Counter-Strike. It would take a lot more time to learn, but I think that would be the other game I like.
A Valiant Bond
The Los Angeles Valiant went through a roller coaster of emotions and memes this season. From the infamous In-N-Out incident, roster changes with Benjamin “uNKOE” Chevasson and Kang-jae “envy” Lee leaving the team, to becoming the Stage 4 champions. The Valiant endured many hardships that they conquered and became stronger as a team. SPACE discussed how he adapted to the big stage when he got called up to the main roster and how the players bonded stronger than before.
How are your nerves compared to when you started at Stage 3 to now?
SPACE: Before I first started, I’ve seen players walking out and playing on stage so many times. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, I thought I would immediately get used to it. On my first day in Stage 3 going against Seoul, I was super nervous because I had watched these players play before and they’re all extremely good so I was really scared. I made some mistakes like I was really shaky and not talking as much like I usually do in practice. My teammates calmed me down by telling me to focus up and do my thing. Throughout the week or so, I gained more confidence just focusing on the match and ignoring the crowd. Eventually, I didn’t worry about what other people are saying, just focusing on my teammates and the game like what I’ve been doing this whole time. Now, it’s any other day for me.
Do you think you’re a better player now than when you first started? Can you elaborate on how your teammates helped you focus on the game and made you comfortable on the big stage?
SPACE: Definitely, I think I improved a lot more. I had communication issues and focus issues in the beginning because I was a little nervous and sometimes got lost in the fights. Now like when we watch VODs after practice, we talk about all of our problems and work on our communication. I feel much more comfortable playing than before. I can make more individual plays and my team will follow up on it.
How is Custa as an in-game leader? Does the team feel more in-sync?
SPACE: I think Scott [Custa] was a good addition to us. Fate would usually call all the shots in the beginning, which meant nobody was there to counter call like thinking of other strats. Now it’s like Scott and Fate agree on stuff and we come to a conclusion on what strategy we want to run. At the same time, we question another strategy. I feel like there’s much more balance with both of them.
Do they have conflicts sometimes?
SPACE: There’s definitely conflicts sometimes. Sometimes, they last long and other times they’re short. That’s why we have a head coach, analysts, and managers. If it’s only players, we would banter all day.
How did the team not get complacent after making this run since Stage 3?
SPACE: It’s been really good for us because we’re looked at as underdogs. My teammates will tweet about it like, “oh 7th seed btw” or “Valiant is not that good.” That’s good for us because there’s no pressure on us. We want to be known as a tier 1 team and the best in the league, so we work really hard and not get complacent. Nowadays, people are calling us the best in the league but our coach says, “No, we’re still bad,” because they don’t want to see us complacent. None of us want to be complacent; we want to be the best team no matter what.
Since stage 4 meta has shook things up, POWER RANKINGS: #OWL2018
1. NY Excelsior
2. LA Gladiators
3. Philadelphia Fusion
4. Houston Outlaws
5. London Spitfire
6. San Francisco Shock
7. LA Valiant
8. Dallas Fuel
9. Boston Uprising
10. Seoul Dynasty
11. Florida Mayhem
— Jonathan Larsson (@Reinforce) May 24, 2018
— Brady Girardi (@agilities) May 31, 2018
What do you think brought the team together after Stage 2?
SPACE: I think we learned from our mistakes of not taking practice as seriously as we needed to and not fixing our communication. We would like call things and not listen to each other. We would just listen to Fate and it did not work. Everyone had to talk and coming into Stage 3 with Moon and Scott to help, we’ve found balance in our communication and teamwork. They helped us focus on practice much more. Even though there is a few days and weeks where we just pause scrims and think about what we practice for. Like, you know we have to take it 110% serious so when it comes to tournament days you’re ready to play to your full potential. I think it’s a big change for us working hard everyday and it’s starting to show on stage.
To be the man, you gotta beat the man
Many people hail NYXL to be the undisputed best team in the Overwatch League. To be honest, who would not? NYXL appeared in all of the stage finals and held the number one spot since the beginning of the season. In Stage 4, NYXL started to show kinks in the armor — they played inconsistently after clinching first place in the entire league and seemed to be making odd decisions during games. Some analysts say they are sandbagging, while others say they are saving strategies for the league playoffs. SPACE shares his thoughts about NYXL and what he thinks the Valiant can do to stop them.
What are things you learned from the previous match against NYXL?
SPACE: We definitely learned after beating them to not be so nervous against them because it’s New York. Every team that plays against them is super scared because they’re the best in the league. At the start, we were super nervous and realized that we were in control of the game but we kept making mistakes we normally wouldn’t make. When we went back into the dugout after Horizon where we held the first point on them, we were thinking that if we play our own game, we can win this. Once we got rid of that fear, played our game, and were confident, we were able to keep control of the game.
Did you think they [NYXL] are sandbagging?
SPACE: I think personally that if I were in their position, it’s really hard for a player to give maximum effort when you’re already 1st place. This stage doesn’t really matter for them anymore so I think New York would never troll any games. However, I think saving strats and focusing on the next meta is definitely something they would do. Just playing as if it were a normal game like don’t put any strats into it and focus on communication is something I would see them doing.
If you guys play NYXL in playoffs, how would you stop them?
SPACE: It’s just being confident in yourself and the team. Even though you’re playing against some of the best players in the world and some of the best aimers, you have to be on the same level as them. Don’t be scared to play against them, just play confident, play our game, and I think we can win.
What are things you guys are doing to mentally prepare for playoffs?
SPACE: I think just don’t get complacent because we’re doing well right now in Stage 4. We don’t want to take too big of a break or think it’s too easy. We just need to focus on seeing what other teams are doing and what we can do to adjust to that. We’re definitely going to start working harder now that Stage 4 ended, making strats, and finding out what the meta is. I think our main goal is to keep playing as if we were 7th seed and focusing on being the best team.
Is there anything you want to see in Overwatch League next season?
SPACE: I don’t know it’s hard to say, maybe more banter between players. Everyone is basically friends in Overwatch League because we play rank together, but I think more competition between players. Coming into next season, players that would be traded want to compete for revenge like Fissure and London Spitfire.