For Team South Africa, the Overwatch World Cup came and went in a flash. It didn’t go that well. But what it did do was teach the guys a lot about the nature of competitive Overwatch and what we need to do locally to keep up with those damn Europeans with their fancy internet.
To find out exactly what the guys learned, we caught up with captain of the South African team, Marthinus ‘Carnage’ Strydom, and teammate, Sean ‘ScopeZ’ McCalgan, after their Overwatch World Cup experience.
To start off we wanted to know what first drew Carnage to the game and how he found his way into the captain’s seat.
Carnage: “A lot of people were looking for a new game after the fall of Team Fortress 2, that coupled with the fact that Overwatch is a VERY good game attracts a lot of players. It can put you at the edge of your seat and keep you there for hours on end. It’s a fast paced, incredibly skilful game that shows great reward when mastered.
I love MOBA’s and shooters. When I heard Overwatch was basically a combination of the two I was hooked. At the start I just played for fun, but as time went on it became a lot more serious. I played a lot of competitive and got a relatively high rank, hence people started noticing me. That coupled with the fact that I captain EDEN put me out there.”
Ah, we love a rags to riches story like that. Well, a rags to people know who you are in rags story, it’s going to take some time before anyone in South Africa gets rich playing Overwatch.
Going into the event Carnage was managing his expectations and told us he would be happy if they won two out of their four games. ScopeZ tells us how that quickly became a harsh reality.
ScopeZ: “We knew the games against Germany and the CIS/Baltic area team would be really tough, as they had well renowned competitive players in them. The unexpected part was the strength of the other two teams, Ireland and Poland. Those were must-win games that didn’t pan out for us.
Against Germany and the CIS/Baltic sides there was a clear skill gap, to a degree on an individual level but more so on a team level. There isn’t a huge gap between ourselves and Ireland or Poland.
When introducing actual professional players (in Germany and CIS/Baltic), the game becomes very different. We are very far behind the top international teams. Because of the high-speed, ‘death-ball’ nature of Overwatch a gap in overall skill of a team turns into very quick steamrolls.
They bring a much faster tempo to the game which is difficult to deal with unless you’ve had a lot of time practicing against it. This simply comes from experience though. We might have the raw player talent, but until teams really sit down and concentrate on improving their strategy and put significant time into playing European scrims, there will remain a gap.”
Carnage told us the guys were practising for two to three hours every day as a team from the moment they found out they were going to be playing together. And then put in even more time on their own. Given the fact that these are six non-professional players, who have other responsibilities outside of Overwatch, that’s a decent investment. And for many gamers around South Africa, that is pretty much the limit of what they can invest in competitive gaming.
Unless you’re a student, because then you’re basically just playing games and hanging out with friends all the time, occasionally attending a lecture to catch up on some sleep or writing an exam. Just kidding, stay in school kids.
The way Blizzard set up the formation of the World Cup teams, via a “popularity contest” as ScopeZ put it, means that you’re not necessarily going to get your country’s strongest team. ScopeZ thought we ended up with a pretty decent side, but suggests that if we want to see teams reaching higher levels and tournaments being more competitive then we need to stick to pre-set squads, because you lose a lot of synergy mixing things up.
A team made up of random players, even though most came from the same side, needs time to gel. Carnage and ScopeZ both highlighted issues that were created by the lack of time between the team announcement and their first game together.
ScopeZ: “We were a bit lacking in terms of overall strategy. Given more time and more exposure we could certainly perform better.”
Carnage: “There’s wasn’t as much diversity as I would’ve liked (in the team’s viable hero pool), but we made it work.”
Team South Africa did their best. And that’s all we can ask of them. It’s up to all of us what happens now for South African Overwatch.
We talk about Overwatch presenting South Africa with the opportunity to compete on equal footing with European teams, because we’re all starting at the same time and the netcode is so good. We’ve mentioned this before.
But now we’ve got to put in the work to keep up with them. We need competitive players to form teams. We need local tournament hosts to create leagues and events. We need Batman.
And by Batman, we mean ScopeZ, because he’s put some thought into what we should be doing to improve as a nation of Overwatch players.
ScopeZ: “I think Overwatch presents a good opportunity to close the gap, as you can certainly be competitive playing against European teams. There is a slight ping disadvantage but it’s not as huge an effect as in other competitive titles.
There’s a multitude of ways to get involved, too. We found scrims on a daily basis, not to mention the high frequency of weekend/weekly cups happening at present.
We tend to stick to the local scene because it’s easier, even if the prize pools are not significant. Of course we want to support local organisers – I’m not saying don’t compete locally, but when you have the opportunity to enter international cups on a weekly basis, there’s no excuse for lack of games.
Alongside this, there’s a need for captains to start stepping up and developing strategies on a deeper level, which requires VOD analysis and not just scratching the surface with post-game chats amongst their teams.”
The need for players to develop a deep understanding of the game and step up to lead teams is probably the most important point in this entire article. Players like that, captains like that, are the ones who take good players and bring them together to make great teams. And we’ve got loads of good players.
Carnage: “I believe that South Africans can definitely step up to the plate and be on par with European teams. I’ve seen a lot of fantastic players in SA and a lot of potential.”
Carnage also told us that when picking a line-up and strategy in the World Cup, the team generally followed the meta of pro-teams. This only highlights ScopeZ’s point about needing to develop a deeper understanding of the game. If you want to be competitive in eSports you need to be ahead of the curve, not following it. Team South Africa’s results can attest to this.
The Overwatch World Cup was a rollercoaster of emotion for South Africans. We were super excited, then we got caned so we became super sad. But we had a few more games against weaker teams so we got re-super excited. But then we got caned some more. So we got re-super sad. But now it’s time to get re-re-super excited and get stuck into being all that we can be.
Overwatch is probably South Africa’s best shot at being able to consistently compete in an eSport on a global level, for the moment at least, simply because we can compete on a relatively even footing from home.
It’s crossing borders more than any other game around. Europeans are playing on American servers. South African’s are playing on European servers. If you’re good enough, you’re going to get noticed by people all around the world, not just here in South Africa. You should be excited about that. We certainly are.
So on that note, we’ll leave you with some advice from Carnage that will hopefully help you go give those Europeans a much overdue ass-kicking.
Carnage: “Firstly, players tend to die and get picked off before the real fight has even started – this happens a LOT.”
Or in the words of the greatest teacher of all time, “Patience you must have, my young Padawan.” That’s Yoda by the way.
Carnage: “Secondly, players don’t adapt to the situation in terms of heroes. The biggest improvement a player can do is through learning how to counter pick and read situations.
Finally, make sure you’re clued up on the competitive scene to give yourself background on how things are done.”