The Overwatch League playoffs are kicking off this week. Heading into the competition, the Shanghai Dragons are a favorite to win, but this year has the closest field of any OWL playoff so far.
One of the leading contenders for the title is Atlanta Reign, who have had a tremendous year, attending three out of four of the international tournaments in Hawaii and generally looking like their very best selves.
At the helm of the ATL Reign is Blake “Gator” Scott, the Blue Reign Hat-wearing main tank and public face of the Atlanta Reign in 2021.
Throughout the past season, the outspoken player has been featured in numerous interviews and at OWL events like the recent playoff seeding show and the Hawaiian welcoming ceremonies. He also stirred up some controversy here and there, with his opinions about the Overwatch League playoffs being suddenly moved to Hawaii and his skepticism toward removing a tank slot in Overwatch 2.
Inven Global had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Gator before ATL flew to Hawaii for the 2021 Overwatch League post-season. We talked about how ATL Reign is feeling heading into the playoffs, what Gator’s latest thoughts are on the transition to Overwatch 2 next season, and most importantly, we demanded answers about why Gator’s iconic Blue Atlanta Reign hat was still not available for purchase in the team store.
Atlanta arguably had their best year of OWL competition so far in 2021. Do you think that assessment is fair and what do you think has made the difference for your team this year?
I think 2021 was definitely our best year so far. We had by far the most high-profile wins so far, right? We also made three of the tournaments. I think a lot of the difference came from some of the new players, and the smaller roster actually helped us a lot. It helped us adapt better because everyone had to play everything. For the most part, it was about the vibes, you sort of get into a grove for it, you know?
We just got in a groove, that is all, and from there it was kind of smooth sailing for the most part. We did really well, even when we lost, and we ended up being top tier.
You have become the face of the team this year, how do you feel about being in that role?
I don’t really think much about it, to be honest. We just do our thing. Honestly, I don’t even pay attention to any of that kind of stuff. But I don’t mind doing it either. I don’t have a problem sharing our thoughts and how we go about stuff.
Speaking of your thoughts, you have been pretty vocal of your criticism of the Overwatch League’s handling of the playoffs venue, especially given Pelican’s collapsed lung situation. Can you expound upon your experiences this year going to Hawaii and explain your position on all of that?
The whole thing with moving the finals to Hawaii was just a lot of frustration. Me, and I know a lot of other people too, wish the League could have asked for more feedback before making such a big decision, right? If you are going to make a big decision without literally any teams included in it, there is going to be some backlash, simply how it is.
Because for us, it simply wasn’t fair. It was unlucky, and with the [Pelican] surgery situation, there is nothing we could have done about that.
"It was more that they kind of just hit us with 'this is the decision and it’s not up for debate.'"
Then they tried saying that a couple teams had said it wasn’t safe for them, but then it’s not safe for us either? Going to Hawaii is not very safe if you are trying to avoid COVID right now.
We went there three times this year, and the first time wasn’t bad, but the second and third time we went there, it was absolutely packed everywhere you went on the island. And we are going to the main capital, and you have to get take out, so everywhere you go to eat is packed. And all the places are doing half sit-down, right? So you are waiting an hour to get something to eat, just to get a decent meal.
It’s not a good experience for avoiding COVID. While two teams from the other region don’t have to worry about that, five teams over here are being sent on packed planes. So it’s not safe for us either. And it’s dangerous for Pelican to travel, we are probably in the worst-case scenario.
Interviewer’s note: In my next question, I asked Gator about whether Pelican would attend, and he said that as of that moment he wasn’t. However, since this interview was conducted, the head coach of ATL Reign stated they plan to drive Pelican to the west coast so he can compete without having to fly.
How is the team feeling heading into the playoffs? Are you confident?
We are feeling pretty confident. Pelican not being able to travel [to Hawaii] really sucks, but I don’t think we are overly stressed out about it. We are kind of in this situation where we have thought of it as, “if we play well there is no reason we can’t win”. We are gonna show up, we are going to put in a ton of work in the next couple of weeks, we are going to get prepared.
And if we play well, we will win. If we don’t, we won’t. I say that a lot, but it’s true. We don’t overthink it, we just play and do the best we can. And that is kind of cheesy, but I don’t think we are really stressing out much over it.
Do you think Atlanta still embodies that king killer role they have always been known for?
Yes, we enjoy playing against other good teams. We don’t get excited playing against bad teams, or people who are not as good as us. Coming around the playoffs, I think we relish the opportunity to face the best Overwatch League teams.
Is there a specific team you have your sights on?
I would like to beat Chengdu and Shanghai, those are my two teams that I really want to beat. And there is a chance we could end up playing both of them, so that would be cool.
Are you targeting them due to the Overwatch feud between you and those teams at the tournaments this year?
Yeah, exactly. They are both really good teams, but I think we could easily beat [Shanghai and Chengdu] if we have a good day, EASILY! We will be ready, we will see what we can do. It’s a cool meta too, everything is getting played, it will be really interesting.
Can you expound upon what you think we will see in the OWL 2021 playoff meta?
"I think we will see every style and every comp in a sense. I expect rush comps, Reinhart comps, Orisa, we will see a bunch of variations of dive, a lot of Wrecking Ball. I think literally everything will get played."
It’s kind of nutty, compositions are extremely situational and map-dependent, based on who you are playing against, what you want to play. It should be fun!
So will there be more emphasis on analysis and strategy than in the past?
Oh, yeah! And this is the first time, the past three years have been pretty much set-metas for the playoffs. Should be interesting this year. It’s weird, because I don’t know exactly what everyone plays. But it seems like every hero has a place, every style has a place too.
With that in mind, would you say they did a good job balancing the game?
Yes, I think they did a good job balancing, but it's also more stressful for our situation, because there is so much to play.
And as one of the creators of GOATs, you wouldn't mind the mirror match-up, would you?
Ha, yeah exactly! I would almost prefer they just tell me these six heroes and play the mirror. Everyone just gets better at the six-hero meta and we duke it out!
But yeah, they definitely did a good job balancing, since there is an insane amount of stuff that is viable and you can really play to your strengths if you are good. Which I think is better for viewer experience.
What did you think about the Overwatch Leagues format this year?
I think League ops-wise, tournaments and stuff, I think the format was really good. I would say I want more tournaments, but I think the normal season matches are actually really nice and are good practice and entry into tournaments. So I honestly think the format overall was really good.
I do wish you got more for doing well in tournaments. For instance, that first time we went to Hawaii, we 3-0’d Boston, Shock, and NYXL, and we only got 1 point for all that. And then we were like: What happens if we happen to get Vancouver twice in our schedule, that is literally the equivalent points, and it’s a free one if we are being honest.
So the point system could use some work. They don’t want to minimize the impact of the regular games, but they also kind of made the playoffs less impactful. I can see why they did it, it's not a big deal, but I do think there should be a little juice for the teams that do well.
For next year, they have announced they will start on an early build of Overwatch 2. What are your thoughts on that decision?
I think it’s fine. I think it could work. I don’t want to rag on it until I see it. I do think it could turn out really really well, so I am actually kind of excited.
Have you heard anything about getting your hands on the build?
I have heard nothing, I hope they will give us at least a good two months before the season starts. So we get two full months of practice, which should be plenty so that just going into it wouldn’t be a big deal. Otherwise, it could be bad.
It would be pure chaos if they didn’t, right?
Yeah exactly, so I just imagine they will do something like that. I think it will be cool and will be a really unique experience.
What are your thoughts on 5v5 at this point in time?
It's the same thing as the last thing, I don’t want to rag on it yet, but I am also skeptical. I hope it’s better, or at least as good, because if it’s not as good or better then “we could have just kept going with 6v6, would be cool, and just make other changes.”
But I could see the 5v5 format. I get the whole tank idea. A lot of people don’t want to play tank, and it makes them a lot easier to balance. Plus, you can make the tank generally a lot more fun too, if it's not just a meat shield or something.
It will also make the other roles have a bigger individual impact on the game. Right now, you are so reliant on your team and tanks, it’s just a circle of everyone relying on everyone. I think if they do 5v5 right, it could change that some and end up good.
Do you think this would mean more tank players, fewer tank players, the same?
I think it will be about the same. I don’t think there will really be fewer tank players than there were in the league this year, because you don’t want to tell a main tank player to go play D.Va or Sigma, right? You have really good off-tank players that are going to be even better in the one-tank meta. You will have a huge advantage having specialists playing those roles, so I think you will have both, but you will end up splitting time.
I assume it will be a lot of map-dependent stuff, like, “Oh, Rein and Monkey are really good on this map” but then you have a flat map where Sigma or D.Va are really good.
It will kind of suck because you are hard-splitting time with other tanks, especially in Overwatch 2, when I am just gonna want to get in there and play, but I will end up watching half the time. But it’s all good. I think tanks will work together to help figure out the right stuff for every map.
A lot of Overwatch players left for VALORANT or quit because they don’t love the game anymore in the last year. Are you still in love with Overwatch?
Yeah, I am, I still find the game extremely fun. It’s still one of the most unique games of all time. It’s almost hard for me to play other games sometimes because it’s so fast-paced, and I hate games like VALORANT where I feel like I am just camping all day. It’s just a playstyle thing for me, personally, I don’t enjoy it. I know tons of people do though.
I think Overwatch just ticks that fast-paced style box and constantly holds my attention. I’ll watch TV and be like, “This isn’t grabbing my attention” and go play Overwatch instead. And there is nothing like Overwatch tanking, it’s very unique, and I still thoroughly enjoy it. If I didn’t care about the game, I wouldn’t bother with it.
Moving onto the real questions, what is the story behind the Blue Gator hat?
They got these hats in a shipment, I have been trying to get them to give them away or something. They got these special editions from someone in the middle of the summer. The shipment included these blue hats and a pink tie-die hoodie, and they are actually two really cool pieces of apparel. I was really hoping they would let them be available in our store.
I don’t know why they haven’t yet, honestly. I have actually asked them a couple of times and have gotten a couple of different answers. I am trying to push them to get these out, because I think they are really cool. A couple of the guys around have said, “Oh, that stuff is ugly” and I was like, “No, this stuff is actually pretty cool. It’s off-color, it looks cool.”
The hat is rather iconic now, it’s the Gator hat! Did you get any pushback about wearing it during events?
I know, right? I think it’s a cool color. So I just started wearing it, and I hope they decide to sell it.
"On stream, you are only allowed to wear team-branded stuff, so I pulled up with the blue hat and was like they can’t tell me I can’t wear it, since it’s team-branded."
And now it’s a thing.
Aaron is an esports reporter with a background in media, technology, and communication education.