The world cup debut for Team USA is around the corner. High time to look at the team and their chances in the competition. They will be playing the qualifier in Santa Monica at 7 p.m. CEST, 5 p.m. UCT, 1 p.m EDT, 10 a.m. PDT this Friday, August 11th.
This year’s World Cup featured a new approach for assembling talent. Blizzard hand-picked experts and had the community vote on them. The intended role of the committee is fairly open, but their most important task was to build a team of players to represent their country. Furthermore, the committee members may act as coaches to the national teams and are flown out to the qualifier locations as well as to the finals at Blizzcon, if they were to qualify. The committee members for the USA were:
Jason Kaplan – Caster for the Electronic Sports League
Jason Kaplan has been one of the premier casters in the scene. Together with Mitch “Ubershouts” Leslie he formed one of the most beloved casting duos and we’ll likely see him casting more Overwatch in the future. As a color commentator, it is his job to analytically break down plays. He’s also no slouch when it comes to playing the game himself, competing for the top 500 on occasion.
Ster – Streamer and Youtuber as well as Caster on some occasions
Steven “Ster” Serge nowadays is mostly known for his YouTube channel and Twitch stream. The former competitive TF2 player became part of the scene in Overwatch beta. Since then, he has worked as talent both as a caster and as an analyst on the desk for a couple of premier Overwatch events such as the Atlantic Showdown or MLG Vegas.
Kyky – Former pro-player for Cloud9 turned coach for EnVyUs
During the late beta stages, Kyle “KyKy” Souder was part of the first Cloud9 roster which reigned over the scene for most of spring of last year. He was especially known for his excellent Winston in the no hero limit era. When the team fell apart, he considered his options and joined EnVyUs as a head coach. Kyky is widely respected in his role and is considered one of the best coaches the West has to offer. He’ll be assuming the head coach position for the team.
The job of the US committee was one of the hardest in the entire World Cup, arguably only topped by South Korea. The talent pool of the US scene is incredibly deep and diverse in player archetypes. Couple that with US players getting the most exposure as Overwatch in NA had the most tournaments and the buffet is sizeable. It stands to reason that none of the players were set in stone when the selection process began.
The challenge was to find a team which can work together, is coachable and yet is diverse enough to overcome a likely meta shake-up for Blizzcon months in advance. To sort through the mass of talented Americans, the committee had the players play each other in two full teams daily ramping up to the deadline. Occasionally they’d switch up the compositions in order to test player synergies. The result is a diverse team from many different professional teams. While other nations signed up entire squads to represent their country, the US only has two members from the same team, namely FCTFCTN and Rawkus from FaZe. It’s an ambitious endeavour as a grown core of players has been proven to be king so far in Overwatch. The types of personalities that were selected however might make it work.
FCTFCTN – Main tank for FaZe
When strictly looking at his team’s recent results, it is easy to underestimate main tank Russell “FCTFCTN” Campbell. We have to go all the way back to December of last year at MLG Vegas for the last top 3 finish. Indeed one has to consider their mere qualification for Blizzard’s Overwatch Contenders Season 1 a surprise, given their form in 2017. We have to consider, however, that the team is still playing at a ping disadvantage with their star player Shadowburn, himself a national player for Russia, still playing from his home country. Nevertheless, FCTFCTN is one of the smartest main tanks you will find, an expert at opening up space and giving his stars room to work with.
He has shown competence on Winston but not to the level of his Reinhardt. If the meta was to switch towards more Reinhardt focused gameplay, FCTFCTN would be right up there with the best players of his position at the World Cup. Specifically, his ability to mind game other Reinhardt’s was consistently scary in the tank meta. Unfortunately so far in the qualifiers, the so called “dive-comp” still is the dominating composition and there is no reason to believe this will change in Santa Monica.
Trivia: His name can either be pronounced “fact or fiction” or “fact fiction” and he’s fine with both pronunciations.
Adam – Lucio & Mercy for Cloud9
Adam “Adam” Eckel is one of the last remaining players of the once dominant Cloud9 roster and is a former team mate of Kyky. Since then he has developed both as a player and communicator within his team. Supposedly his coach at C9, Bishop, trained him to keep track of his enemies’ ultimate charges in order to predict when the game-changing abilities are available. He has become incredibly accurate at it and it has shown in his team’s strategical approach albeit not qualifying for Season 1 of Overwatch Contenders. He is one of the main reasons you can expect strong ultimate economy management from the US. That is if the other players can capitalize on the valuable information he provides.
Often overlooked by the community, Adam plays an excellent Mercy too. He and Surefour form arguably the strongest Western Pharah Mercy duo and it has a lot to do with Adam’s outstanding positioning and game sense.
Trivia: He’s one of the longest standing pro players and a founding member of Cloud9 Overwatch. He’s also the only player that played for the US last year.
Rawkus – Flex Support for FaZe
Just like FCTFCTN, Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty also made a name for himself under the FaZe tag. He’s known for his solid Ana but plays a decent Zenyatta too. Considering the qualifier will be played on an old patch even before the reaper buffs, it’s likely that he’ll be mostly bound to the omnic monk. We could see him switch to Lucio when his fellow support changes to Mercy on some control point sub maps. Peppering in some Ana here and there to add stability on defence isn’t out of the question either.
He’s described as a vocal player who lets his team mates know when he has hit some of his clutch sleep darts or if he’s being pressured by the opponent’s flankers. He also helps out with sharing valuable information which will further help the ultimate economy management and micro strategy by making Adam’s calls more accurate. Kyky mentioned that they chose Rawkus because he synergized with Adam the best out of all the prospects for this slot.
Trivia: Sneaker addict. Ask him about Yeezys.
coolmatt69 – Flex tank, at times DPS for FNRGFE
Matt “coolmatt69” Iorio is one of the longest standing pro players in the scene. He was part of the first dominating team way back in beta called “Hubris”, which later was signed as the first EnVyUs squad. Back then he was considered one of the best if not the best DPS player in the game, especially known for his Reaper, Soldier and McCree. When that squad fell apart, he joined up with Fnatic and switched to the Flex tank position for the most part. Fnatic was a strategical team that played textbook Overwatch in their peak and coolmatt revealed himself to be a valuable system player. Especially his D.Va in Contenders Season 0 has turned some heads and we can expect him on this pick frequently in Santa Monica. Expect him to be one of the glue players who holds the team together and plays around the stars.
Trivia: With those accolades, it was a surprise that he wasn’t even sent an invite to the public vote of last year’s OWWC. Coolmatt69 has something to prove to himself and his country.
JAKE – Projectile DPS & Soldier:76 for Luminosity Gaming Evil
Jake “JAKE” Lyon is the captain of Luminosity Gaming Evil, a team that had varying degrees of success but were always competitive and at times challenging the best North American teams. Picking JAKE is a clear sign of picking brain over brawn. While his mechanics aren’t exactly bad, he’s much more known for his cerebral playstyle and his marvellous situational awareness. His hero pool is highly unique, in that he plays both projectile and hit-scan heroes alike and therefore ticks a lot of the boxes you want out of your DPS players if your goal is to play flexible strategic Overwatch. Despite his young age of 21, he brings leadership to the table and is the type of personality that acts as an extension of a coach’s approach.
Sinatraa – DPS player formerly of Selfless Gaming
If we think of team USA to be a cerebral team attempting to apply deep strategy and only moderate mechanics, Jay “Sinatraa” Won seems to be the odd one out. The young DPS player is mostly known for his extremely aggressive and cocky Tracer play and his dangerous Zarya. Both heroes rely on track aiming and Sinatraa is one of the most impressive in that regard. His former team Selfless made a name for themselves by literally spawn-camping opponents and popularizing that strategy for a while. They were terrorizing the NA region when EnVyUs and Rogue were in Korea, and when the latter came back, Selfless played them close and only narrowly lost to them twice. Sinatraa was one of the driving forces to make that happen.
He will go for audacious plays and miraculously make them work. Then he will emote on his opponent’s limp body. For those reasons, he’s the team’s ace and possibly the most exciting player to watch. He’ll be one of the deciding factors in this team’s success as reportedly Tracer is even more impactful on the LAN client the OWWC is played on, as apparently a lot more hits register and killing a 200 Health character with one clip happens a lot more frequently. With the thorough selection process, we can be sure that the coaches know more about Sinatraa than what he has shown us on Selfless. Otherwise, they would’ve likely chosen players that fit the template such as Immortal’s Christopher “GrimReality” Schaefer or Cloud9’s Daniel “Gods” Graeser.
Trivia: Is the youngest on the team at the tender age of 17.
In essence, the coaches formed a highly adaptable team that will be able to overcome meta switches if they were to happen. For this qualifier in Santa Monica, however, this attribute is unlikely to matter as the meta seems rigid (when you aren’t South Korea). If the team can find enough time to get quality practice in, we can expect well-structured Overwatch with a solid grasp of ultimate economy and execution. The default setup will likely be FCTFCTN on Winston, Coolmatt69 on D.Va, Sinatraa on Tracer, Jake on Soldier and Genji, Rawkus on Zenyatta and Adam mostly on Lucio. This composition has been commonly referred to as the “dive comp” but the very same combination of heroes can be played very differently. There are aggressive interpretations of dive like the French national team (Rogue) employs. Teams like the South Korean Afreeca Freecs Blue have shown that a more defensive playstyle even on attack with the backline of Soldier, Zen & Lucio positioning well in the back, often on high ground, can be played effectively. The more defensive variation seems likely with the personnel they have, but it isn’t impossible that they will conform more to Sinatraa’s play style if the Tracer whiz gets going. In this case, we are likely to see JAKE bring out his Genji too or position much more in the midst of battle on Soldier:76.
The mechanical level of this roster won’t be able to compete with the World’s best teams like France and South Korea pound for pound, but their qualifier isn’t stacked in that regard either. Strategically the actual level of any team is impossible to predict before we see them in play, but there are strong indicators which suggest that, in this regard, the US will shine.
The US is likely to make it out of their group but the position they will do it in will be hugely important. The entire squad of the Taiwanese organisation Flash Wolves will be the biggest obstacle to overcome. Rumour has it that Flash Wolves has been taking games off of South Korean pro teams in practice. If the US was indeed to only get second in the group, which seems likely, they’d probably have to play the UK. On paper, the British team individually is probably the strongest team in attendance in Santa Monica but have to be considered less coordinated than Flash Wolves.
If the US was to beat Taiwan against all odds, their decider match opponent would be anything but obvious.
Belgium is heavily star-player-focused with the phenomenal Andreas “Logix” Berghmans, who has proven to be one of the hardest carry players in the West with incredible performances for Movistar Riders at TakeOver2 and Overwatch contenders. His Tracer, in particular, is world class level and incredibly hard to shut down. Add the Lan client factor to this and Belgium might very well surprise. Still, one has to realistically look at the rest of the roster and assess that only really Alexandre “SPREE” Vanhomwegen and Julien “Baud” Robert are known names within the Overwatch pro scene.
Germany is led and built by APEX Season 1 winner now turned Team Liquid coach Dennis “INTERNETHULK” Hawelka. He is considered one of the best team builders in the West and has had an impact on many a roster in the scene. He’s a former Winston as well as Lucio main for arguably the historically most dominant team in the West, Team EnVyUs. While he was let go by his team after APEX Season 2, INTERNETHULK still has to be considered a strong leader within the context of Western Overwatch. The rest of the German team are all known pro-players within the scene and are at the very least tier 2 level talent. Specifically, Herman “Nesh” Kobrin is one of the greatest German FPS talents the country has produced in recent years. If they were to meet in the quarterfinals, the US would still probably have to be considered the favourite, but it wouldn’t be a huge upset if they were to drop out to the Germans. Supposedly the Germans haven’t shown convincing results in scrims though.
Israel is another country that sends an entire team to the World Cup and that advantage can’t be overstated. Known as Zengaming eSports, they participate in European tournaments though never breaking into the upper echelon of those competitions. They will be an interesting team to follow in order to see just how important growing together as a team in Overwatch is.
With all that said, the chances of making it to Blizzcon are decent for the stars and stripes. The format, however, is ruthless and one slip up in either stage of the competition could prove fatal. The US are well advised to bring their A-Game in Santa Monica. Otherwise, a Blizzcon without them looms.