Overwatch World Cup: Australia is facing the impossible. Here’s why they’ve already won
Australian Overwatch players Ashely ‘Trill’ Powell and Huseyin ‘Hus’ Sahin at the Overwatch World Cup group stage in Thailand (Blizzard: Robert Paul)
On November 3 AEDT, eight teams will fight it out at the Overwatch World Cup in the United States.
For the uninitiated, Overwatch is a competitive first-person shooter videogame played by more than 40 million people, and the World Cup is the tournament where nations get the chance to assemble their best players to duke it out for glory.
- Players will travel to the US to take part in the Overwatch World Cup
- Australia’s first match will be tough against the might of South Korea
- But the competitors just want a chance at a career
The World Cup is the exhibition-style tournament that caps off the year of Overwatch esports, and follows the game’s top-tier competition, the Overwatch League.
The usual esports suspects will be there. European powerhouses like Finland and France. The emerging powerhouse of China. Don’t forget last year’s runners-up Canada or the United States.
And South Korea. The team that’s never lost a match in the history of this event. The team that will be Australia’s first opponent in the elimination stage of this tournament.
With the esports equivalent of David and Goliath awaiting his team, how is Australian head coach Jordan “Gunba” Graham feeling heading into the finals? Nervous? Scared?
“Mission accomplished,” Gunba said.
All these players wanted was a chance. This year they’ve got it
@owpathtopro: Congratulations to @AUSWC2018 and Team China They’re heading to BlizzCon to join South Korea, Finland, USA, and Canada at the 2018 Overwatch World Cup Finals!
Making a career out of esports in Australia is tough.
We’re [physically] a long way away from the big players of the esports world. Our internet doesn’t measure up to global standards. And traditional sports dominate.
Team Australia general manager Andrew “Rqt” Haws is blunt:
“It just sucks being an Australian right now in terms of esports,” he said.
“Because we’re Australian there’s basically an extra hurdle that says ‘take twice as long, work just as hard’.
“If you look at someone like Trill who has been grinding for two years now, Hus as well. Finally they have a chance.”
That’s Ashley “Trill” Powell and Huseyin “Hus” Sahin, two of Australia’s key players at this year’s World Cup.
The chance is a crack at a career in the Overwatch League
It’s a global professional league for the videogame of Overwatch where players are paid salaries as high as, if not higher, than traditional athletes here in Australia.
The prize pool of $US3.5 million ($4.5 million) makes it one of the top destinations for players wanting to make an esports career.
The inaugural season of the Overwatch League in 2018 meshed traditional sporting league structures into the esports industry.
It was so successful that eight new franchises will join the existing 12 teams in 2019 (at a reported cost of US$35 to $60 million each for the investors who wanted to buy a team).
That means there’s eight new teams who’ll be looking for players, with talent scouts closely watching the Overwatch World Cup in November for players to fill out their rosters.
For Australia’s players, like Trill, that’s the kind of chance at a professional esports career they’ve worked at for years.
“You can’t make a living of esports in Australia, at least in Overwatch,” Trill said.
“In America there are a lot of organisations and investors putting money into esports.”
Overwatch League 2018 champions the London Spitfire after claiming the $1 million prize. (Blizzard: Robert Paul)
This year, Australia has a point to prove
Gunba and Rqt both donned the green and gold at the 2017 Overwatch World Cup, where Australia almost stunned the world in its opening game against eventual runners-up Canada (they were 2-0 up, but lost 3-2 in a best of five series).
Australian Overwatch player Jordan ‘Gunba’ Graham on stage at the Overwatch World Cup group stage in Thailand (Blizzard: Robert Paul)
While the pair went on to make careers in esports (Gunba as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Valiant in the Overwatch League and Rqt as head coach of ORDER in the second-tier competition called Overwatch Contenders), neither were picked up as players for Overwatch League teams.
Both feel they were denied an opportunity, and they’re determined not to let that happen to this crop of players.
“When Gunba (and I) got together we wanted the best team we could get, because the best team is going to show the rest of the world what Australia has and how competitive Australia can be,” Rqt said.
“The players are really set up this time around to get the most out of it.”
Gunba agrees. He’s adamant Australia’s players deserve their spot alongside the world’s best on stage at the World Cup.
After all, they won their spot in the finals after battling out of an extremely competitive group stage of the tournament in September.
“The overarching goal above everything else has been to show the world that these Australian players are super talented,” he said.
So winning isn’t everything. But Australia won’t roll over
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The enormity of the game ahead isn’t lost on Australia’s players.
It’s hard to overstate how big of an upset it will be if Australia can beat South Korea and progress in the tournament. It’s like the Socceroos going up against World Cup-winning France.
Still, Trill said he and his teammates are ready to deliver when they hit the stage at BlizzCon in California.
“We do not expect to win, doesn’t mean we won’t try,” he said.
Gunba has no doubts his players will give 100 per cent against South Korea.
“I’m not going to say it’s 60 to 70 per cent likely if we do everything right. But I’ll say there’s a 10-20 per cent chance that we can win this series,” he says.
“And we owe it to the game to give everything for that 10 to 20 per cent.”
The esports scene in Australia isn’t as grim as it once was
In the game of Overwatch, Australia has its own local version of the second-tier Contenders competition.
We’ve even got one of our own successfully flying the flag in the Overwatch League in Los Angeles Valiant player Scott “Custa” Kennedy.
Australia was even reportedly close to having a team in the Overwatch League for 2019, with Activision Blizzard Esports Leagues chief executive office Pete Vlastelica telling Fox Sports he was “impressed with the level of activity in Australia”.
But the scene is still complex, according to Rqt.
He said the gap in skill and professionalism compared to overseas is still vast, but having events like the recent Melbourne Esports Open and a local Contenders competition are steps in the right direction.
“They’re really important for helping build and maintain and bring attention to the esports scene in Australia, I just don’t think it translates too well right now to having that pathway (out of Australia),” he said.
Trill is adamant local players are improving too, and pointed to the recent signing of Sydney Drop Bears’ star Colourhex to a second-tier North American team as evidence.
Gunba says that signing won’t be the last.
He says as a result of their success so far, every single player on Australia’s World Cup has picked up a trial with an Overwatch League team or a second tier team in America for 2019.
That’s a chance at a professional esports career for the players, regardless of what happens in the game against South Korea at the World Cup.
“Mission accomplished,” Gunba says.
Australia’s Overwatch World Cup team (L-R) Felix ‘Ckm’ Murray, Dario ‘Akraken’ Falcao-Rassokha, Huseyin ‘Hus’ Sahin, Ashely ‘Trill’ Powell, Scott ‘Custa’ Kennedy, Leyton ‘Punk’ Gilchrist, James ‘Yuki’ Stanton (Blizzard: Robert Paul)