The Overwatch League has gone through numerous changes in the opening months of 2020. I sat down with Jacob “JAKE” Lyon from the talent team to gain his insight on the changes that the League is making to adapt in the hard times.
For those who don’t know, Jake used to be a damage player for the Houston Outlaws. His Junkrat was par none at one point taking the unplayed hero to new heights with a loud bang. He has since transitioned over to the talent desk casting matches and is giving Monte a run for the best-dressed caster of all time. The Overwatch League will return this weekend after adapting to deal with COVID-19 concerns and so we discussed the future of the League.
What has your experience going from professional player to caster been like?
It has been great, the talented team has been doing a great job of integrating me in and making the switch easy. On a personal level, my strengths as a player helped me transition into the role pretty comfortably. I casted the World Cup the past two years so I had that experience talent-side so the switch wasn’t that big. The only major change is that casting the Overwatch League will be a day to day job instead of a one-off event. Plus I get to work with ZP again so it’s been amazing.
What has your relationship with other players been like now that you are on the talent team?
I feel like it is even more important to be friendly with players. What I see my role as on the broadcast team is to represent the perspective of the players and stay familiar with the here and now as things change. Those relationships allow me to stay connected on that level to represent the players well and give them more of a voice on the talent team.
How did the cancelation of Homestand events impact you personally and your outlook on the future of Overwatch?
On a personal level, the whole COVID-19 situation is pretty crazy but I’m trying to make the most of it. I live in a house with friends so the quarantine isn’t as bad as some others who potentially live alone. It would be a lot more stressful and sad, but for us, we are making the most of it. I’m impressed at the steps being taken to move the broadcast online and keep the matches going and keep the content coming for fans.
The whole team is showing up ?
Shout out to our incredible crew of casters who will be running the mics this weekend ?
— OverwatchLeague (@overwatchleague) March 27, 2020
What have you and the other talent done to adapt to the circumstances of broadcasting online?
I’m impressed with the tools that were on the backburner getting brought to the forefront to enable us to keep the broadcasts going at a high production value. I don’t think many other broadcasts are going to be able to replicate that production value, and all the people working on the backend behind the scenes in the Overwatch League to bring it all together. The talent team didn’t have to do much except setting up a production set that was shipped to us.
We are still able to do the broadcast with each person carrying out their roles for the League, be it casting or observing all from our own homes. It’s been pretty impressive watching the teamwork and technology come together to keep the content coming and keep the broadcast quality high.
How do you think players are holding up with the changes and going from playing live and traveling to playing online?
I imagine for a lot of players it's not as much of a change in their lifestyle that others would experience in another job. As a professional, you have to practice so much that you spend so much time at home anyway. The online matches format is a return to the past as I’m sure most professional Overwatch players have competed online and they know the realities of that experience. It’s not ideal but it’s better than canceling the season and not playing matches at all. It has to be much harder for a traditional sports player to have games canceled in the middle of the season and not being able to play or even practice because of the risks. It is a strange silver-lining for esports being that we are not nearly as negatively affected as some other industries.
Despite not casting it, what are your thoughts on the Sunday Friendly matches that OWL hosted last week?
It seemed cool and it was funny. I am more excited about the serious matches with two teams trying their best but with friendly matches, if a team tries their best, they just show their hand for matches that matter. No one revealed strats and some teams put their coaches in, but it was a fun community event.
There is a clear disparity between the number of matches that Atlantic Conference teams have played versus the Pacific Conference teams. What effect do you think that will have on the League and the teams’ preparedness going forward?
I think hero pools will be the equalizer because if it was the same strategy over and over again week after week and some teams didn’t get to play it would be a really big deal. Since hero pools shift the game from a strategic perspective, I think it will be less of a big deal. In a sense, everyone is playing their first game on this hero pool. Even if teams played on last week’s hero pool it doesn’t make that much of a difference, especially for the Chinese teams that have yet to play. On the flip side, I’m sure those players are ready to go and excited to finally play again since they expected their season to start much sooner.
This weekend OWL finally returns in full, what are some things you are hopeful for this weekend?
I’m just excited for people to see the broadcast we cooked up. Everything has been coming together through individual efforts and some people are stepping up to deliver on a quality broadcast despite it being from everyone’s home. Even with the quarantine and all the limitations that come from it, I am excited about technology and the experience it will provide for fans, and I’m curious to know what they think of the final product. It’s going to be quite nice. During this time it's even more important that we provide the entertainment that people rely on to distract themselves from everything going on in the world.
— OverwatchLeague (@overwatchleague) March 30, 2020
The Overwatch League went a full month without matches, and the dream of homestand events went out the window as soon as the COVID-19 began spreading like wildfire. From the sounds of it, the Overwatch League has been putting in double effort to make the matches possible in a time of uncertainty for me. This weekend will host 16 matches, eight on each day, giving the fans two full days of professional play. It will be interesting to see how the changes pan out and given Jake’s hopeful disposition, I’m sure we are in for a treat.