One of the last rosters to be announced was the Los Angeles Gladiators, who built themselves an international roster; combining the back line of Team Gigantti with the front line of Kungarna. They completed their global setup with hitscan superstar Surefour, projectile maestro Hydration and proficient Tracer Asher.
The LA Gladiator's hybrid approach of cherry picking the best individual players and duos from established teams should give them a headstart in creating synergy. These solid foundations will provide a platform for the DPS players to shine. In Surefour they have signed one of the most talented DPS players in the world, who boasts as much experience as any other pro. Since his early days in Cloud9 the Canadian has cemented himself as one of the best all-around players in Overwatch. While he has been out of the spotlight recently—with Cloud9 taking a backseat—he reminded everyone of his skill whilst playing for Team Canada in this year's World Cup finals.
Playing with Genji star Agilities in the World Cup allowed Surefour to return to his roots on Soldier 76 and combining him with Hydration should bring similar results. While the Brazilian has only found domestic success in his career so far, he was a standout Genji and Pharah for Counter Logic Gaming and should complement Surefour.
The third DPS player will be Asher, who proved himself a capable Tracer across multiple seasons of APEX. Asher was never on an elite team, but experience in Overwatch’s toughest environment should serve him well. Having two accomplished DPS players will also mean the Korean will not necessarily need to be on the starting roster, giving him time to learn the language and settle in.
Another key piece in the Gladiator's puzzle is Bischu. On Kungarna he was the glue that held the team together, managing his resources to cover both the front and backline, making them a difficult team to beat. Although he has not played a tournament match since the changes to D.Va's kit, adaptation should not be a problem. Bischu combined with iReMiiX form a proven frontline who have already gone toe-to-toe with the best North America has to offer. If the duo can neutralize the opposition, then the rest of the lineup has the potential to win games for the Gladiators.
Not to be overshadowed on the team are the Finnish support duo who were integral in Gigantti’s Contenders Season One victory. While the DPS players often took the limelight in their successes, the sturdy backline enabled it all to happen. Shaz was superb on both offence and defence; showcasing that he can do it all.
While Shaz is finding opening picks, his partner in crime, BigG00se, is covering his back and maintaining his team’s momentum. Difficult to kill and always in the right place, BigG00se is precisely what a team wants from a Lucio. Having seen this pair play only on a single meta, it does cast doubt on their ability outside of Lucio, Zen and Sombra. If the Finnish pair can maintain their level outside of the Contenders meta, there is no reason to doubt they will become one of the best support pairings in the league.
LA Gladiators have a solid roster from top to bottom that should hold their own against most opponents. If they can fulfill their potential and hit the ground running, they could make waves in Season 1. I spoke to Head Coach dpei to find out more about how the team is getting on as they prepare for the pre-season:
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, let’s start with the logistics of it all. So you’re already in LA. Are the rest of the players there with you yet, what’s your setup like down there?
dpei: Shaz and Goose just came in yesterday [Nov. 27], and Asher and Bischu are coming in later today [Nov. 28]. So this will be the first time everyone is in the US, and everyone is together. I’m really excited to see everyone physically next to each other. We have been scrimming with people in Korea, people in Europe so ping has been an issue. It will be nice to see the team actually meet up and so far it’s been pretty good.
So tell me a little bit about your setup down there, have you got all your accommodation and practice facilities sorted?
d: Yeah, we have two houses. The Blizzard facilities have been unavailable to us, but they are available now. We have been using one house as more of the player house, but both houses have a mix of staff and players in them. They are only five minutes drive away, so they are pretty convenient. As far as practice conditions, we are at the facilities with the ten or eleven other teams; I think one team opted out.
I imagine everyone else is in a pretty similar situation getting their final players in so you’ll have lots of practice partners soon enough.
d: Yeah, we get to physically talk to our practice partner which is kind of cool and kind of weird.
Yeah, you don’t usually get such an immediate interaction after scrims. So, talking about the team and how you are setting up, preparation should kick into full gear for you relatively soon with everyone arriving and the practice facilities becoming available. Going into Overwatch League, it's a big, long season with relatively short breaks, which is quite different from what we have seen previously with weekend-long tournaments and Contenders. Does this require a different approach, what is your preparation looking like going into Season 1?
d: So our preparation for this big type of league is that we’re going to try our best with the structure, but we know that what we come up with now might not necessarily be the best for the future. So we’re definitely trying to iterate this as an experiment; which it is for everyone just because Overwatch League is so unprecedented. So we're trying to build a system and a structure and iterate on that and not change too much. We’re really looking to be flexible so we can give the best possible infrastructure for our players and make sure they are always ready for match day.
Overwatch League has a unique system too, where it is a long season split up into four stages. Playing each team, so we’ll definitely have to deal with some optimisation problems. That’s a lot on the coaching staff, and I think we’ll be flexible enough to iterate through the rest of the season.
On that note of flexibility, you have the second smallest roster out of all the teams in Season 1. I remember you speaking about how that wasn’t necessarily through design but through the players available and players suitable for what you wanted to build. Do you think across such a long season—compared to teams such as London Spitfire and LA Valiant— this will handicap you later down the line?
d: I think there are advantages and disadvantages of roster sizes. I think with more players you have more pressure on starters, but at the same time you lose synergy. With any player amount less than twelve, you cannot do in-house scrims which is a huge disadvantage. You’re getting the best of both worlds but also the worst of both worlds with mid-sized rosters, between eight and eleven.
I think seven, for us the reason it works is I really have faith in all of these guys to improve regardless. Flexibility is important, but at the same time I think we have really flexible players. We can be really meta agnostic because we can all be flexible for the future. There is always the midseason signings if things don't end up working out, but from the start, I don't have much of an issue with it. I think the twelve man teams will have struggles and it depends on how they manage it, but if they can manage it well that could be really advantageous because I think in-house scrimming is very valuable. Especially with the rapid pace of Overwatch League.
For sure, like you said there could be advantages and disadvantages, a lot will come down to each team’s coaching staff. Looking at the team itself, you have parts of Kungarna, which you have worked with and coached in the past. You have the backline of Gigantti as well as Surefour who has been on Cloud9, Asher over from Korea and Hydration as well. So you have quite a mix of players. Without giving too much away, what style are you trying to take with the team and what should people expect to see from you guys in the league?
d: I think compared to traditional sports it’s harder to have a style because the game rapidly changes from patch cycle to patch cycle, so we're always looking for optimal play. Though I think in particular the Kungarna frontline and Gigantti backline are opposites but in a good way because they change up the style of play. So I think the Kungarna’s frontline is pretty aggressive, but the Gigantti backline is very systematic, very conservative and does high percent plays. So I think with the Kungarna frontline it stems out those inconsistencies but also for the Gigantti backline the advantage is you can now mix up your plays and catch players off guard. At first it was kind of problematic because not everyone was on the same page, but that is just growing pains as a team. I've even seen in scrims now it’s a lot easier, and everyone is more or less on the same page and now we have a nice mix up of aggressive and conservative play.
Going back to the building of the team; I read an interview you did where you spoke about not just putting together a team of good players but forging more of an identity and community behind it, and what it means to be a Gladiator. Could you perhaps summarise your thoughts behind this and what it means to be a Gladiator?
d: I think again you kind of see this with traditional sports, but this applies to Overwatch League as well. With franchising modelling, it is wanting to be a long-term force in the esports market. You really want a team philosophy, and you want your team to stand for something. It needs to be agnostic of certain players, especially as the turnover in esports is pretty high. So talent is always coming in and being bred up. I think it is really important to have a team philosophy and for this team, even in the short term, having everyone have the same mentality and be on the same page. Insofar as what their team needs to do, what their team attitude is and how they approach situations. I think it is really important to be all on the same page.
So as far as the philosophy itself there are three core principles that we have. That we are really hard working, really smart and have a great attitude/great teammate attitude. Angela Lee Duckworth is a behavioural psychologist who came up with this concept of grit; she said it’s the greatest predictor of success. Grit is really defined as a mix of passion and perseverance for something, and I think all my players are incredibly gritty because they have gone through the ups and downs of Overwatch. They didn't even know Overwatch League was going to be a thing let alone that they would be in it but they just loved the game, loved getting better. These guys are truly gritty individuals; they have persevered through hardship. Remix has been flying out of Puerto Rico just to be a part of events and going into Overwatch League. The passion is obviously there for all these players. I can really hear it and see it when they play. So that is a huge thing, that they are really gritty.
I think combined with being really gritty is being really smart because just as valuable as working hard, is working smart. These guys all have really high game sense and good conception of their role. I think that those two combined are really helpful, we’ll be able to iterate faster and adapt faster than other teams. And I think the last thing that is really rare in esports and not talked about as much is how great of a teammate you are. This is part of something that is the Gladiator philosophy, we win as a team and lose as a team. So you’re always supporting your teammates, their failure is your failure, their success is your success. Making sure everyone understands that they are in the same boat. Those are the core principles and what we want to move forward with, agnostic of any roster and that’s what it means to be a Gladiator.
Very well said it’s an approach that I think a lot of Overwatch League teams maybe don’t put such an emphasis on, at least publically. You have made a lot of positive noise around the philosophy and the more holistic part of being a Gladiator. It certainly seems you have a good grip on everything and the right group of guys to do it.
d: I think some of it is marketing, some of it is how coaches approach things with superstar talent, but I'm always about what is best for the team and what we can do better as a team. I think that is the mentality you need for something like Overwatch which is such a team orientated game and a really hectic game too, so having great teamwork and plans is really important.
On that subject of a hectic game, Asher is coming over from Korea. The question surrounding any Korean player coming into an international lineup is how is their English?
d: Asher is really eager to learn. His English before coming here was relatively rudimentary, but it has gotten a lot better in a short amount of time. He is always studying hard, and we have a great English teacher in Sophie. Bischu is like the in-game translator if things are too complicated, but we have broken down vocab for him. A lot of the stuff he has a really high game sense for which is something we appreciated from the start. All his decisions were really rational and made a lot of sense and were highly effective. I think communication will be worked on, obviously, because he is still learning, but that comes with any team. You need to build up your vocab and your team together and what you want to do. It will be a slow process, but that is the process of becoming a team regardless.
I’m sure when he is in LA and immersed in the language it will only help speed up his learning.
d: Yeah, definitely. He has gotten a tonne better just in the brief time he has been in the US, so I imagine he will be speaking English fluently in a couple of months. Or at least somewhat fluently.
One final question, as one of the two LA teams you both get the advantage of all the games effectively being home games, in front of a home crowd. Does that add any extra pressure to the team or perhaps gives you an edge going into Season 1?
d: I don’t completely know what it’s like to be a player and be cheered on, but I think that it’s only a positive thing. So I think our players will be really happy about that, especially playing for the city of LA. We understand this is the melting pot and not everyone will be our fans just because this is where Overwatch League is starting. It’s such an international game and community, and I think it will be nice for our players, but I'm never too focused on that type of stuff. I'm more focused on the game and the environment surrounding that. Though, fan support for the players is always really good.
Thank you for taking the time to speak to me and giving us such great insight into what it means to be a Gladiator and how you are setting up the team for Season 1. Best of luck to you and the rest of the team.