Sixteen teams from North America and another sixteen from Europe are battling it out in the Overwatch Contenders Season Zero group stages, which began last weekend and conclude this weekend. At stake: two $50,000 prize pools (one for each region), access to Contenders Season One, and a chance to impress in the eyes of potential Overwatch League team owners.
Prior to the start of the group stages last weekend, I spoke with Ysabel "Noukky" Müller – the European admin for Contenders Season Zero – to get a peek behind the scenes. Before becoming a Contenders admin, Noukky created and helped fund the StriveWire Monthly Brawls, which evolved into the HND Overwatch Invitational.
Congratulations on the successful qualifiers. How do you think it went yourself?
Noukky: I think we handled the workload pretty well for it being around 600-something teams, with 460+ teams per day.
Both regions had several hundred teams. Were you expecting that kind of turnout?
N: I actually didn't. I thought we would maybe have a round of 256, but I definitely didn't think that we'd need a round of 512. I expected more teams than usual – in previous open tournaments we’d get 50, sometimes 100 teams – but the Contenders turnout blew my mind, to be honest.
How many of these teams do you think formed right after the announcements, and how many had been around before, grinding through smaller tournaments? You've been more involved in the little tournaments and in growing the European scene than a lot of people, so what's your take on who showed up?
N: I think that a good two-thirds of the teams were newly formed. I know that there are between 100 and 150 teams in the esports scene between Europe and North America, by which I mean teams that do the weeklies and scrims and all that.
Were any of the teams that made the last sixteen (in either region) teams that you didn't recognize from the little tournaments?
N: There was one team – Team eSporters Cyberathletes – that I didn't recognize name-wise, but I think I recognize some of the players on it.
Any teams that you knew that you were surprised made it as far as they did?
N: I'm actually surprised about Esporati. They qualified in the European region, but before now they were always at the tier-2ish level. And to get to the group stages they beat LDLC, which was really surprising because LDLC has a lot of European veterans on their team.
In the NA scene, there weren’t any major upsets. The thing about the NA scene is that there are way more decent teams; there's a wider number of teams that can actually contest at the lower tier-1/upper tier-2 level. For example, I was really impressed with Vice and Virtue. Those were the two teams created by Chance, Immortals’ former coach, and they had a really great run.
So how exactly did you get involved in becoming an admin for Contenders?
N: Ah, this is a really funny story. Just recently, after I was already brought on, my head admin told me that there were applications open, which I never knew about.
So the head admin, Wojtek, DMed me one evening and said "Hey, I have this project here, would you like to talk about it? It would be a tournament admin job – paid of course – blah blah blah". And I was like "Yeah, cool, we can talk about it". And so we talk about it the whole evening, and then I ask him about how he found me, and he said "We had a recommendation from one of the Twitch mods that works a lot of the tournament channels", which was Uncleswagg.
So yeah, they were looking for a European tournament admins and they didn't know anyone in the scene, and Uncleswagg recommend me.
And here you are. Are you going to be involved with the group stages as well?
N: Yeah, I'm involved with the whole tournament, ‘till the end of playoffs. There's nothing in talks for Season One yet, but definitely for the whole Season Zero.
I'm actually their only person in Europe. I was in an open call with them – there was a Skype business call that was running the whole time during qualifiers while we were doing our work – and I always heard them laughing in the background, and high-fiving, and all eating burritos together and stuff, and I was sitting there like "yeah, cool guys, woo!".
So if they offered to keep you on board for Season One would you do that as well?
N: Definitely! If I have time and resources for it, I’ll always try to be involved, because I really love supporting the scene.
What do you actually do as an admin?
N: I help out with participant questions, of course, on a daily basis. I also worked on the team approvals: I googled team logos, translated team names that weren't in English, approved or disapproved logos according to our guidelines. I think I did most of those. The evening that we got admin privileges on the site, there were already 300 teams registered. I was so bored that I worked down the list in two-and-a-half hours or so. When I told the head admin, he asked how many I did and I was like "I... did... everything", and he was shocked because we had a whole week to get through the list.
So who approved Team TwoEasy, that had the TwoEasy emote as the logo, but not TwoEasy on the team?
N: I approved that. I asked him in #protalk [a discord channel] if they could use his face and he was fine with it. It's a team made up of Twitch subscribers of his. He even tweeted about it I think.
So you answered questions in Discord and you approved teams and...
N: ...and DMs. DMs were worse.
Because you would open up Discord and all of sudden there would be 50 of them?
N: Oh, you don't want to know… you don't want to know about match day.
We have an admin team of three admins plus my head admin. On match day I was doing a mix of answering questions and dealing with tickets on the website.
N: Tickets is basically somebody flags a game and wants help; it’s either a no-show, or a falsely reported score, or "someone was bad to me".
Did anyone get disciplinary action for behavior (other than Dafran)?
N: Yeah, there were a few actually. A few teams wound up with verbal warnings. Also, I personally disqualified a team. There was a team that was not willing to swap to the right map, so I went into the map and the team was like "oh you're not an admin, you're not Blizzard, what are you doing here?" in all caps. And then they went "idiot, idiot, idiot", and I was like "Okay, you're DQed, sorry bro".
There were also a few people adding pros and harassing/whispering to them [they had access to pro players' battletags through the tournament site] and we had to discipline them.
So I noticed on Seagull's stream that they were playing with custom skins enabled. Did that get them a warning, or was it like "this is nothing, let's not even bother"?
N: If it was reported, yes, we’d have talked to them, but we didn't have enough people in the admin team to check every stream.
Hmm... well I'd like to make a report...
N: It's too late now. We handled the day of. If people reported after the game because they lost, it was too late. Otherwise, it would just be "oh we lost, we're salty, let's report it". If you play a match that's not in the guidelines and you don't report it, you’re basically agreeing to it. If you want to play by the rules, you have to play by the rules right away.
Changing topics, in terms of the ecosystem: at the top there's going to be the Overwatch League, and then there's going to be Contenders – which is going to be a long term thing, not just Season Zero and Season One – and then there's all of the smaller tournaments. How do you see Contenders changing the ecosystem? Are the third-party tournaments going to lose a lot of teams because of Contenders?
N: I think that it's going to be good for teams to have the regular competition from the official Blizzard tournaments, to be honest. It gives people something to look forward to. As you know, a lot of the third-party tournaments have been unstable. You saw this with the Monthly Melees just stopping, or with the Rivalcades not being held regularly in Europe after a few months. So it's really good to have something that’s guaranteed and just around the corner.
There will be a clear tournament structure. The Overwatch League is for the big boys. Then there's the Contender series for the up-and-coming teams, and those teams and players can be picked up by sponsors and brought into the Overwatch League. I imagine that Season will be scouting ground for unsponsored, especially European teams. And then there will be the Open Division, and this is the gap that's missing at the moment. At the moment there's the big tournaments and there's the small, weekly stuff, and there's nothing in-between. Going from the Open Division, into relegation matches for Contenders, into Contenders itself, and then doing well there, that's a path that people can look forward to.
As for the third-party tournaments, I don’t think that they’ll lose too many teams. The third-party organizers can always schedule their tournaments in-between seasons. And Open Division is only about one game a week, so that wouldn’t restrict too many teams from participating.
Thanks so much for your time. Any last messages for the community?
N: I'm just thankful for all the opportunities that the community has given me, and for all of the support that I receive on a daily basis. Without the backing of the community, the stuff that I've done this whole year now wouldn't have been possible.
Good luck with the rest of the tournament!
You can follow Noukky at @NoukkyIzzy and twitch.tv/noukky.
You can follow Pesto Enthusiast at @PestoEnthusiast.