Buckle up, this is going to be a long post. Earlier this year, Blizzard announced that any country that could field a committee and team could compete in the 2019 Overwatch World Cup, which was held at Blizzcon this past weekend. I was nominated and voted in by the South African Overwatch community as General Manager. I’ve written numerous posts before regarding the journey to this point so will try not to repeat myself too much. When voted in I also committed to providing the community feedback on what we learnt so that if this opportunity is offered again, we are better prepared.
It’s important to understand a bit more about Overwatch as a competitive title in South Africa. Other than community run events and online tournaments, there is only one competitive LAN each year, namely the VS Gaming Overwatch Championship. Internationally, Overwatch League dominates the competitive scene. There are a few invitational style LANs available but the ugly truth is, for regions such as ours, there are few to no international competitive LAN opportunities. When the World Cup opportunity came along the community wanted to try send a team, because it would be the first time we would have an opportunity to compete with others in the world on LAN.
This post is my personal report back, as general manager. I do not speak on behalf of the committee, sponsors or players. I shall try break this down as best I can to make the rather long read easier to digest.
Throughout this journey I have fed back issues, concerns and queries to Blizzard and the staff involved in running the Overwatch World Cup. Following the competition we’ve been encouraged to also offer feedback and I’ll do so directly to the team. I’m a firm believer in attempting, when critiquing, to offer workable solutions based on the situation. If you’ve read some of the commentary online you’ll know that there were some issues regarding timelines, communication and logistics at the competition itself that were not in line with the norm of a competition of this stature. Myself and, from reading online commentary, others had concerns about this.
Here’s the truth though, I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out how I’d suggest Blizzard structure this differently to make it work and I don’t have an answer. The best of 1 format for preliminaries, lack of warm up options for the players, multiple streams and the small space in which they were expected to play were definitely not ideal. However, what is the solution? In order for the tournament to feature that number of teams it was the only way to run it and allow everyone to play in one day. Could they allocate more days? Yes, but where would they host this? Anyone who has worked a large esports event at an exhibition (even smaller events like our very own rAge in South Africa) knows that a venue is only available for a limited number of days and during build the outmost control occurs to ensure you don’t have a mass of foot traffic when machinery and the like are at work. Suggesting extra days means Blizzard paying for extra days for a convention centre simply to utilise one space for the World Cup. It’s not practical, and hosting elsewhere before moving in to Blizzcon would add costs to teams.
I have some concerns with the sponsorship guidelines of the tournament which, again, I will feedback to Blizzard. But it is important to note that the smaller regions were given up till the day before the media day to notify Blizzard if they planned to compete. Nations were given as much time as could possibly be offered to try assist them to get to the competition. Logistically shirts would need to be ordered and printed weeks before – meaning a cost for the Tournament Organiser regardless of who arrived or not. Adding sponsor logos to this would mean adding an earlier deadline which may have removed even more teams from the line up. Should we have been allowed to wear our fan made jerseys? Maybe. But again, it becomes an extra expense to teams already footing the bill for their own travel and accommodation. Regarding that, I don’t believe Blizzard should be responsible for funding ALL the teams. It really is a ridiculous ask. I do hope they’ll look to secure discounts or a shuttle service from nearby hotels should they do this next year. But again, I’ll happily feed that back.
The more I’ve sat and tried to break down the costing and how I’d “change” things, the more I come back to this:
It wasn’t ideal, far from. But the only way I could suggest making changes that still allowed all nations to try field a team at a LAN would be for Blizzard to spend more money. And it isn’t my place to demand that as I don’t have the data on how successful the World Cup is for the company.
Here’s what I will tell you: When our visa issues hit (you can read about that here), the Blizzard staff moved fast to assist with letters (which were received in a matter of hours) and sat on phone calls with me throughout a 12 hour period when we were trying to ascertain if we could field a team should Twenty not receive his visa. Our allocated team manager, the project head and a Blizzard Esports Manager all took time out of the day to speak to me, even at one point when I was somewhat hysterical, they spent THEIR working hours consoling me and offering possible solutions. Throughout this time I got the distinct feeling that they understood the pressure on the committees, were aware of the struggles we faced when it came to paying our own way and they desperately wanted to help us play. I can’t speak for other teams but that was my experience. They even offered to chat to our sponsors and assist with those communications. With one of our players then arriving late they accommodated us for media day and eased the stress that carried for us as best they could, while still allowing Twenty to not miss out. Our allocated manager also took phenomenal care of the entire team while they were at Blizzcon.
I’d like to thank Blizzard because when our chips were down they came through.
Frank talk: the competition wasn’t perfect. But it was the only way we could field a team at the World Cup. The option next year, for South Africa, should the format remain, is to either try figure out how to make it work OR just not go. The community and players need to decide. My “term” on the committee has ended so I don’t believe I have a say in this.
My shortcomings as General Manager
I made mistakes. I’ll address them now.
I owe an apology to Lagbeast and a few others who reached out to offer to assist me when I was elected. I said I would contact them and then ghosted. It was inexcusable. I felt overwhelmed at the start and most of the way through, by the amount of hurdles thrown our way. It became clear early on that there was more chance of us failing and not sending a team than succeeding. Certain restrictions on what was allowed to be shared also made it hard for me to find a way to include others in the planning. I had concerns that some of the organisational aspects that were less than ideal would create despondence in the community. When it became clear that tickets wouldn’t be readily available for support staff or that we’d barely raise enough money for the team to go, never mind extra folk – I made the call to keep the “circle” tight and not allow information to leave the 3 member committee. I even kept certain negative information around eligibility, visa issues etc. from the team until I thought it was absolutely necessary, in the hope of ensuring their own preparations weren’t affected. In hindsight, I don’t believe this was the right way to do this. In order for future South African teams to succeed the community needs to be planning way before Blizzard gives official notifications or go aheads.
I let the team down regarding coaching. I reached out to a few of my friends from my Contenders days to assist with coaching. We then had a few other coaches come in and offer to assist Groot. I stopped my conversations as I worried that we had “too many cooks”. Unfortunately, the coaches who offered help started struggling with schedule conflicts or were trying to help too many smaller World Cup teams. We lost out here and I shouldn’t have stopped my own coaching conversations. Groot, I’m sorry. The last few weeks of preparation fell on you and GeneralSound and I really feel that I should have done more to offer up resources to you and the team. I believe, should Team South Africa want to compete next year, a small budget needs to be allocated to finding a Contenders or OWL coach to assist and be committed to staying the course (which money could secure). Our lack of access to international teams requires we do this.
I let the team down by not securing adequate boot camp facilities. Originally, once we were confirmed that we were going, Groot, our coach, hounded me regarding securing a facility to try get some practice time in. At this point our budget was depleted and I was dealing with the visa issues while also flying backward and forward to Berlin for PEL. Arguably the biggest event I’ve worked on in my career. I dropped the ball. It became the least of my concerns and it should have been a primary one. Visions, our captain, and Groot found a LAN cafe near to the hotel and arranged a practice the day before the competition started. I don’t think that should have fallen to either of them. As General Manager it was my responsibility and I did not fulfil it. Future teams need to budget in transport to and from, as well as the cost of, a LAN cafe as part of their tournament preparation.
The community did have feedback during our campaign so I’ll try address this now:
Some of the competitive player base didn’t feel we gave adequate time for trials and did not give everyone a chance to trial.
We had no time. We added additional trial weeks to try rectify this earlier on. It added an additional two weeks to our roster submission date – which didn’t help with the US Consulate appointment back log that led to some of our players only securing Visa appointments 2 weeks before travel and, we know how that worked out. Selection process involved asking the top captains from the top teams to submit their dream World Cup rosters, those players as well as other players who met requirements set by Groot were invited to trial. It did mean some players who did want to trial did not get the opportunity. I believe we put forward the best team in the country (and the captain submissions back me up here) but I do think moving forward there needs to be more opportunity given. My suggestion would be that once Blizzard announces the World Cup, a self elected community committee of top players and coaches should immediately begin running trials. By the time the official committee is elected a Top 12 can be presented to them and the coach can make final selection. It will cut around a month out of the timeline and allow everything to move faster, given the tight timeframe we experienced this year.
It’s unfortunate that the @ZABarbarians fell in their first matchup, I hope you guys take away from the experience. However, I can’t agree with how this whole thing was carried out. I’ll explain why:
— Aran (@ATK_Sonic) November 1, 2019
Above was feedback from Sonic, one of our best CSGO players. I’ve chatted to both him and TC from ATK around their experiences overseas in comparison to the one we had. They’re aware of much of the logistical issues we faced. But I do think I need to address Sonic’s tweet on here as well, for clarity.
We didn’t have enough money to get there earlier to bootcamp. While we did get enough money to send a team I need to be clear: we did not reach our target. The original plan WAS to fly the team out a few days earlier. I made a call that had we not made the necessary funds in the first week of September that I’d pull the plug on the whole thing. In the second week of September I wasn’t ready to give up and we chatted to the travel agency to see if we could work with what we had. We changed hotels (which worked out cheaper than an air bnb as we could walk to Blizzcon) and moved things around, barely scraping in. Additional days were out of our budget. The players covered their own visa costs, food and transport in LA. Not all of them were in a financial position to pay more into the trip. Thus the decision was made. I agree with Sonic, it was not the ideal decision not to be there a week earlier to bootcamp. But it was the only one we could make. Alternatively, not send a team. It is up to the community to decide, in future, how they’d want to proceed in this situation. It is also up to them to decide if I made the wrong call sending the team any way without the extra days. I’ll accept whatever is decided.
I have offered and again reiterate, that myself, the committee and players are all happy to answer any media questions or community queries and we will answer them as best we can. I’m also happy to put media in touch with our sponsors or a Blizzard representative should they wish to accurately report and discuss the tournament with key stakeholders weighing in. At this time 5fm and RSG have reached out. No other media has. You can email me (my email is on the contact page of this website) or comment on the post below and I’ll put you in touch with the necessary people.
Now for the last bit
To the Overwatch community both in South Africa and abroad – thank you for the incredible support and positive sentiment we received. Thank you for welcoming us as a team to Blizzcon, for helping us raise funds and for all showing so much love in the chat when we played and on social media afterwards. The result was disappointing but, regardless, the positive sentiment and support overwhelming. I think if you are in the community and understand the intricacies of the competitive global Overwatch community, you understood what a big deal it was for us to be there. I know the entire team was so grateful for the positive words and support.
To White Rabbit Gaming, Big 5 Games, Paul Redeye Chaloner, UF Disciple and the anonymous big spenders thank you for donating to the cause and understanding this was more about opportunity than anything else. Cloud Travel, Barry Louzada, ACGL and Megarom Games, thank you for your support. To the supportive community who came in as a sort of support committee to assist Liz with graphics and social as well as GeneralSound who helped Groot – thank you! I’d like to extend a thank you to the international coaches and teams who assisted us with advice and scrims along the way. Also thank you to the various influencers, media and others who shared our message far and wide. It is appreciated.
I owe the biggest thank you and gratitude to ATK Arena, Goliath Gaming and Wistper. You were well aware of the lack of return on offer and the obstacles we faced and yet, you still offered to sponsor the team and help get the players to the World Cup. Your financial sacrifice and unwavering support towards building South African Esports will never be forgotten by me and the community you helped. There are no words to adequately express all of our appreciation.
To Liz and Groot, our committee. You are both two incredible individuals. Liz, you weren’t a community lead, you were a co-manager and next year, if the committee knows what is good for them, they should ensure you are elected as General Manager. You are an asset to this scene and have left me in awe. I will do everything in my power to help grow your career in gaming if that is something you choose to pursue, the South African community needs more people like you. Groot, you handled so much – from big personalities, my ranting and the logistics of arranging team schedules to ensuring everyone got round airports okay even though you yourself hadn’t flown overseas for years. You kept your cool when it seemed our entire team might have to change roles and throw away all their practice time and yet you never once seemed flustered. I cannot believe you’re only 18 and the sky is the limit for you. You did a super job.
Finally: to Visions, Twenty, Senticall, Shapeshifter, Squishy, LikeALuke and Ashbro. TEAM SOUTH AFRICA 2019.
I know how hard you worked and I know the obstacles you faced. I know that the few who would seek to break you down could NEVER put themselves out there, the way you all did. I know each of you better than most. I also know how disappointed you were after your defeat and performance. All the critics in the world will never be as hard on you as you will be. Regardless, I am so freaking proud of all of you. I got in to esports because I wanted to tell the players stories and assist in creating a channel that allowed them to stand up and flourish. You allowed me to be part of your stories and trusted me with your dreams. The hardest job is not to win, it is to walk into the unknown and forge the path for the winners to follow. YOU did that. YOU did the impossible. I only hope you bring back what you learnt and lead the next group down the path so that this doesn’t end here. It was worth every tear, every moment of panic and every moment of sadness. I’d do it all over again in a heart beat. Thank you for trusting me and letting me do this for you. It was an honour.