Interview with OGN APEX caster DoA: "We've been prepping off and on since beta [to cast Overwatch]"

Overwatch Harsha “ggHarsha” Bandi

Photo courtesy of Matt Demers

Given Korea's biggest Overwatch tournament is right around the corner, I decided to ask OGN's caster DoA for an interview. We sat down and discussed a host of topics, such as Korea's place in the Overwatch scene, the game's future, DoA's casting style, and changes that the devs could possibly make to improve the game. If you're looking for information regarding the tournament, or are a fan of DoA's casting in general, you're in the right place!

Hey DoA! So a lot of people will know you given your OGN casting career, especially in League of Legends and Hearthstone, but for those that don't, could you give a brief introduction?

Sure. My name's Erik "DoA" Lonnquist and I've been a professional esports caster since early 2011. I started with Starcraft 2 and eventually ended up in League of Legends and Hearthstone, but I've casted about a dozen different games at one point or another. I've lived in Seoul, South Korea for five years and currently work for the largest esports broadcaster in Korea, OGN.

You and MonteCristo have a sort of dynamic in League, where you're the hype man who sets the tone for whatever happens, while Monte serves as the analytical guy who breaks down why things occur. Is that the same sort of style that we should expect when you both move into Overwatch, or do you think that the roles will change in any way?

I think people can expect the same sort of dynamic. Monte and I like how we've been doing things in LoL and although there always needs to be adaptation when you take on a new game we'd like to keep doing things in the way that's worked for us. Overwatch certainly has its unique challenges for casters to tackle, but overall Monte will continue to say smart things and I'll continue to scream and talk about Star Wars!

I was just about to ask about Star Wars! Do you think the faster nature of this game will make it difficult to cast? I know you and Monte are fairly well known for being able to fill in downtime with banter or just conversation; do you think the transition will be difficult with less time between fights than a game like LoL?

I think it's pretty obvious that Overwatch will have a lot less downtime during the game than LoL did, but that's definitely not a bad thing. Are those conversations fun? Yeah, but wouldn't it be nice to have less of those and more excitement to talk about in the actual game? The tangents definitely aren't going away, but it has to be less for sure.

That's a fair point, and I'm glad to hear the 80s sci-fi talk isn't going away! You mentioned recently in a statement with ESPN that you have spent a lot of time preparing for OGN Apex, ever since the release of Overwatch if I remember correctly. Could you mention what this prep involved? Was it simply watching VODs and studying the game, or was there more to it?

We've been prepping off and on since beta since we knew we'd eventually be casting it, but the real high-gear prep started about a month ago when the LoL/OGN stuff finished at OGN and we both had some more time. I'd say the cast majority of it has been VOD watching and a lot of note-taking. It's my favorite game to play right now by far, but ultimately what I get out of my ~2400 rank solo queue games isn't going to bring much value to my casting when you compare it to really studying what a pro team is doing in a tournament match. I've been able to talk a bit with the devs and spec some scrims as well, which is really helpful.

So with all that VOD review and note-taking in mind, you've definitely extensively used the spectator mode. You recently made a vlog about some of Overwatch's faults from a viewing perspective, but the game has come under criticism from many in that it's too hard to understand what's going on unless you play. Do you expect this to actually be a problem for the title, or will that pass with time? Will it impact viewership?

I really do believe it'll get a lot better quickly, but it is a major issue right now. From the casting perspective is extremely hard to talk about the plays teams are making because it's difficult to see where people are. We really need a minimap. There was a Korean tournament recently that used a small picture in picture view in the corner that was a constant wide view shot of the area the action was happening in and that helped a lot. It's sort of a poor-man's minimap, but I hope we see that used in other events going forward. 

Like I said in my video, Lifebars and a graphical Ultimate charge meter are things we need badly as well for viewers and casters, but there's a ton of other things you could do too. Cooldown icons for important abilities (Mei's Iceblock, McCree's Flashbang, etc), death timers instead of just a red X on the hero portaits, Hero changes showing up in the kill feed... I'd imagine (hope) this is all stuff we'll see added before too long.

I really hope so too. However, I do have to note that when people asked Jeff Kaplan about a minimap for spectator mode on the Bnet forums, he seemed very reluctant to add one, and mostly addressed in-game issues with it rather than spectator-specific issues (only real one I can think of is clutter). Given how receptive the devs have been to feedback outside of this, do you think they might change their mind?

Yeah I read that too. I did talk about this in my video as well that I can see why the minimap could be a difficult thing to implement. That said, whether it's hard or not, it needs to be in the game. The fact is that there're going to be so many brilliant plays that teams will be doing that are going to be missed by people because they can't see it happening! 

The Overwatch team does seem very receptive to feedback, but more than that I've been happy with how aggressively they've worked to balance the game. I do think they were changing too many things at once in the previous patches, but this last one was a bit better. Small targeted changes are better for testing than big sweeping ones to multiple abilities on the same hero. Big changes don't balance the hero, they just change its identity in the meta.

OGN APEX Season 1 is starting October 7th, featuring 12 Korean and 4 Western teams.

We've definitely seen that with their new focus on tweaking numbers rather than the kit itself! So moving away from the technical side of things, you've been living in Korea for some time now and are very used to their whole culture, and more than that, their dominance in games. In traditional FPS games, western regions tend to reign supreme, while in MOBAs and similar strategical games, the eastern regions tend to win. Given that Overwatch is a mix between the two styles, do you have any predictions regarding which region will set the standard for play?

From what I've seen the North American and European teams are certainly ahead of teams in Korea and China right now, but I do think that might not last as long as people think. You can write it off as Korean bias, but after being here as long as I have and seeing firsthand how the players practice I think it's hard to imagine a world in which the Korean teams aren't at some point at least powerful rivals to the best non-Korean teams. They simply practice harder.

People bring it up a lot, but I honestly don't think Korea's past history in the FPS genre is too relevant in the "will Korea be good" conversation. Overwatch is really the first FPS that has equal interest from players in -and- outside of Korea and that changes things a lot this time around. Obviously there's a bit of history in Counterstrike to acknowledge, but for the most part Koreans have played Sudden Attack as a CS alternative, which isn't too popular elsewhere. Console gaming isn't big here so games like Halo and CoD never caught on either. In the end it's hard to predict at this point, but I think when Korean players want to be good at a game it's pretty hard to stop them!

In the end it's hard to predict at this point, but I think when Korean players want to be good at a game it's pretty hard to stop them!

That's a fair point, so I guess we'll definitely see whether the Korean work ethic brings them up to the level we expect from the region. As far as the immediate future is concerned though, do you think there's a favorite in APEX?

As far as APEX League goes, I think it's safe to bet on one of the four invited global teams just based on overall skill level. That said, I do think that in particular Afreeca Blue is a team that could do really well. They're the former MiG Frost team that more or less dominated Korea for the last few months and won the first Nexus Cup in China. I'll be watching them pretty closely in the APAC Premier league! Other teams like Lunatic-Hai are going to be fun to watch although it's hard to gauge their potential. You've got complete unknowns as well like Runaway, who beat LW Red in the qualifiers in a pretty large upset. One of the best things about this tournament is going to be seeing what teams end up being good. The birth of a new esports scene is always exciting!

Maybe we'll see the birth of a new Korean dynasty! So this has more to do with western Overwatch/esports than the OGN squads competing in APEX, but given that Rogue and NRG are also attending APEX, do you have an opinion regarding the influx of big name sponsors? I'm chiefly speaking of the Warriors/Wizards/Magic Johnson, Steve Aoki, and 76ers deals, but the Kings, Schalke, Rick Fox, Shaq, and other such names have been seen entering the scene as well recently. Good, bad, not important?

I think it's great! The end goal in growing this industry is to create jobs where people can play games competitively and broadcast them while paying the bills at the same time! Larger entities coming in ideally should help with that in terms of providing the financial backing to make the existing jobs more stable and lucrative. Everything is still fairly insane and risky at the moment, but I think if you look at where we were even five years ago you can see that things have progressed positively in a big way for the most part. Hopefully Overwatch will be another building block that we can lay down to keep improving things for people at every level in the industry.

Thank you for doing this interview! Do you have any closing thoughts for people who might be reading?

Thanks for the great questions and I hope people tune in for APEX League on OGN! I'm excited to finally get started!

Intel's OGN APEX begins on October 7, and ends sometime in December, with a prizepool of ~178,000 USD. The tournament will be broadcast in English, with MonteCristo joining DoA on the cast. You can find DoA on Twitter (@ggDoA), where he will provide both updates on the tournament and nerdy Star Wars jokes (see: pinned Tweet). 

For more competitive Overwatch news, follow @GosuOverwatch.


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Harsha “ggHarsha” Bandi
<p>Gaming fanatic who enjoys Overwatch, League of Legends, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. You can find him on Twitter as <a href="http://www.twitter.com/ggHarsha">@ggHarsha</a>.</p>


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