Jonathan "Reinforce" Larsson is a name any Western follower of Overwatch’s esports scene will be able to recognize. And whilst the newest fans will know him primarily for his work on the analyst desk during Contenders S1, he is also one of the most successful players in the game’s short history. Starting in the early betas, he made a name for himself with a multitude of teams to eventually become the main tank for the French-Swedish squad of Rogue.
The team spent months as the best in the world and remains arguably the most successful Western lineup of six, particularly when it comes to offline performances. Following a close defeat at the hands of EnVyUs in APEX S1, him and TviQ left the team to form a new, this time all-Swedish, team under the banner of Misfits. Even though the squad was one of the best in Europe, it failed to live up to expectation of both fans and the players themselves. Eventually Reinforce and the team parted ways, which lead to him joining the Contenders S1 broadcast as an analyst.
Last week, we had the opportunity to ask him a slew of questions in regards to his career as a gamer, as well as his background and future in journalism and broadcast work.
In this, first, part of the interview, Reinforce talks about getting into esports, Overwatch, his time on Rogue and more.
A decent amount of fans probably know that you used write and do some broadcast-related work prior to Overwatch, and you've also mentioned yourself that you used to volunteer even before that. Can you go into a little bit more detail how did you get into esports to begin with? Were you at some point an aspiring player before getting into the journalism and broadcasting side of things?
Playing professionally was always the dream, ever since I discovered esports. Trying to get PUGs running in Counter-Strike 1.6, working under a coach in Heroes of Newerth for what was a community-driven project at the time and even grinding Heroes of the Storm upon its launch, just to try and get in there and network early. But at some point I realised that I most likely wouldn’t make it, and so I put effort elsewhere
At the time, The GD Studio was producing content on a regular basis, and their careless approach to esports productions catered to me. After getting to know the guys, they offered me opportunities starting out as Twitch chat moderator, then VOD highlighting for The International 4, and after a while I had small opportunities to work with DreamHack because my name had been mentioned, and I had some of their project managers call me up and ask if I was interested in working with jobs ranging from social media manager to replay guy for various projects. I just simply climbed the ladder after the important people acknowledged me as a regular in Twitch chat, as someone who was dedicated to esports and for what it was. In a time of need, 2GD brought me into his house to give me an opportunity after asking him, and he took me under his wing when it came to esports production and management. I’m forever grateful he laid the foundation of what I know and where I am today.
Was becoming a pro player in Overwatch something you went for consciously right from the start?
Well, Overwatch was the “final” game for me. The game that would be the make-or-break for me ever being a professional player. When I first saw the announcement trailer, I knew that this was “my” game. It catered exactly to me, not being as hardcore and raw as something like Quake, but not as casual as say FIFA. Since day 1 I got into the alpha, I grinded this game for hours every day, and after brainstorming about ideas and how to approach it on a professional level with 2GD quite actively, I got a good grasp for how to play it. Add in the fact I got in touch with relevant people at an early stage, and I managed to get onto a few amateur teams playing in the early GosuGamer cups, and from there I built my legacy on early teams such as Ventus.Pro with Mineral and evokje, moving on to FlatEarth with LiNkzr, Bromas and Vonethil, and ultimately Rogue.
You were on several teams beforehand and, obviously, TviQ and Mendo are also Swedish, but can you go into a little bit more detail how the first lineup that became Rogue was formed?
Well, initially 2GD really enjoyed playing it on a competitive level because the strategy involved catered to him, and he was good buds with TviQ at the time after realising each other’s talent back in the early beta stages. So when TviQ felt that IDDQD (the team which now is known as EnVyUs, or Dallas Fuel) wasn’t as lucrative to play in anymore, he wanted to make his own team.
So they contacted the most talented players they knew, and at the time 2GD had also taken notice of Mendokusaii as a Swedish prodigy, and IDDQD playing for an all-Swedish roster then, so the very first idea was to build a roster around TviQ, Mendokusaii and IDDQD, but it didn’t end up happening because of various reasons at the time.
Instead, they had to look elsewhere to build a super-team, and at the time there was an all-French roster on the rise as well featuring players such as Nadir, SoOn, aKm, winz, uNKOE and Kryw. So to fill out the roster, they contacted winz and aKm because they were brothers that wanted to play together. Then, we brought in uNKOE, even though he was a DPS player at the time I noticed that he played a lot of Mercy in ranked, so we assumed the guy would do anything if it meant winning, and he agreed to take on the support role when we asked him.
I came into the mix somewhere in between before the Frenchmen, as they were to initially arrange tryouts for the main tank role, and I know Skipjack was a name that came up a few times, but I ended up being given it after having spent some time in “FlatEarth” with LiNkzr, Bromas, Art1er, Vonethil etc. which later got picked up by Creation eSports and then Team Dignitas.
Your playstyle was quite unique at the time, compared to other top Reinhardts, because of how aggressive and seemingly high-risk you played. Can you go into a little bit more detail how did it come to be?
A lot of different reasons honestly, I became good friends with Mendokusaii pretty early in beta and he allowed me to sit in on scrims and PUGs to observe other Reinhardt players. The first thing I noticed was how passive everyone was and how they loved to just hold their shield and just occasionally fire strike, and their precision with charges were also pretty bad at the time (granted not a lot of practice had been put into it), but my immediate thought was that a lot of these guys weren’t taking full advantage of the damage capabilities a Reinhardt had. So I overdid the aggression part for a very long time, abusing enemy Reinhardt’s who couldn’t deal with my aggression. I mean, we were all garbage back then, so I probably looked even more like a fool, but hey, it worked at the time!
Leading into Rogue, that became our playstyle. The Frenchmen were very fond of being the aggressor in teamfights and being relentless, so by the time I realised I had over-extended quite a bit, my team kept encouraging to go deeper and initiate faster, because in the end the rest could follow up and do whatever they liked (which resulted in won teamfights!). It even ended up in me occasionally being pissed at my teammates that my job was essentially to get Zarya barriered and just jump into the back-line all the time and die repeatedly. It felt awful at the time and I caught a lot of flack for it, but hey, looking back we reached a lot of success through that very straight-forward approach due to its simplicity and our team’s overall individual skill. It certainly cemented that thinking into my playstyle though, and sometimes in ranked I’ll just mindlessly jump into a horrible situation telling myself afterwards “That was some real Rogue moment right there”. It had its pro’s and con’s of me being one of the most successful pre-OWL players in history, but also setting back my individual career through public perception of my bad gameplay.
Observing GC Busan beating Cloud9 KongDoo earlier this week very much reminded me of exactly this playstyle we showed in Rogue, in a more refined way. Perfect example of how a “chaotic”, fast, playstyle can mess with the best of teams.
From your point of view as a player on the team, what made Rogue so good during that period? Do you think , at that point of time, you would have done just as well even if the metagame was at a different place?
It’s hard to say, but we had a lot of things going for us: aKm shining bright on the McCree, TviQ on the Genji most of the time, and winz with a clutch Zarya and Winston. As mentioned earlier, we thrived in chaos, and the heroes we played allowed us to play so chaotic, because we knew our limits and we were so individually skilled on our heroes. People just had a hard time dealing with everything at once. Even during the Reaper and Mei meta, TviQ could pretty much play any hero, and aKm just kept wrecking stuff with an aggressive approach. It really did favor us as we didn’t have a sick Tracer like SoOn in Misfits at the time, but she as a hero wasn’t as relevant back then.
When the game moved into a slower meta with triple tank, right before APEX Season 1 playoffs, we couldn’t adapt fast enough. I in particular had been diving into enemy backlines, charging mindlessly 8 hours a day for the past 6 months in our chaotic playstyle, and couldn’t do it with only 2 weeks preparation. I’m pretty confident to this day that if that patch didn’t disrupt the Mei and Reaper meta after we picked EnVyUs in playoffs, we could have done it and been crowned champions ourselves, but it’s an unnecessary thing to dwell on at this point.
Looking back at it now, it would be fair to say that the time from TakeOver right until you disbanded was Rogue's era. Even at the time, you guys seemed like the best overall, despite not being untouchable or having some crazy streak. Did it feel like that being on the team, from the inside?
I actually think a lot of our success that came from very narrow wins over top teams stemmed a lot from our attitude going into the matches. Those were my first ever LAN competitions, and I was bloodthirsty for success at the time, accompanied by the Frenchmen’s insane confidence. We looked down on almost every opponent going into the matches. We even sometimes joked about how every next match-up was just a chore until we reached the grand finals, and how we would make them look bad on stream.
Granted, most of the time (i.e ELEAGUE, or vs. Complexity and EnVyUs at Atlantic Showdown) the matches were really close, and it was just the very small details from people clutching that pushed us over the edge. But I think it stemmed from us simply not being willing to accept defeat when we were staring at it in the eye in some of those overtimes.
Multiple players from the French-Swedish Rogue players have said that the team had personality issues, but looking back at it now, is it something that could have solved itself if you all took a break? And if you stayed together, how well do you think the squad would have adapted to the D.Va + Roadhog and dive metas afterward, given time?
Looking back I don’t regret leaving Rogue, but perhaps I regret the way I decided to leave the team. There was a lot of built-up turmoil from spending something silly like 3-4 months together in shitty hotel conditions. We were just fed up with having to spend so many hours with each other, away from our loved ones, without rest. We were in dire need of a break, and who knows, if that tank patch hadn’t hit then perhaps we would have stayed together after an extensive break, but us not being able to adapt to a completely new meta, and the timing of it, really was the nail in the coffin.
At the time, I wanted to get as far away as possible from those guys, but, looking back now, there’s no denying that they’re all fantastic players individually, and we made some lifelong memories together during that fall of 2016. Playing together with some of those guys in the future wouldn’t be out of the question for me at this point, because I’ve had the time to reflect upon the whole situation and what we could have done better to work as a team, but it’s unlikely, given the current circum stances of course.
You've played extensively in both fully Swedish and international lineups. Based on your experience, what are the pros and cons of each of the options? How much of a problem is having different cultures get mixed up in such a close entity, particularly when you guys have to live together overseas?
Well, understanding everyone in the team person-to-person was a lot easier in a full Swedish lineup, but I feel like it took away some of the seriousness you experienced in rosters with mixed nationalities. Looking back at Misfits in APEX Season 2, I considered that less of a job than playing with Rogue, and more of a situation of “playing with friends trying to get good”, if this makes sense.
I think it would have been good for us, in Misfits, to be reminded of how crucial winning and doing everything we can to grab those wins was. I feel people were more relaxed, because of the team environment we were in. For me, that was a very bad thing in terms of motivation and practicing efficiently. In Rogue, we would get heated up in practice if we screwed up and we demanded excellence from each and everyone of us every day. In Misfits, sometimes that would just result in “eh, we just had an off-day”, and unless someone really put their foot down and took initiative, stuff just wouldn’t get resolved. I was quite disappointed with the attitude in Misfits at times, and people settling for mediocrity, and I think it stemmed from people being more friends with each other than seeing each other as co-workers.
Ultimately, that was one of the tipping points towards the very late stages of the all-Swedish Misfits, as I considered myself always “having” to be the guy putting the foot down and encouraging perfection through more practice time and VOD reviews, but people seemed incredibly mentally drained by our lack of success at that point. We all needed fresh starts in our career to reboot motivation, and so it ended up becoming a clash of people’s different dedication at that point, and something hurtful.
One of the things that you guys did in the Swedish lineup was put Zave on the Lucio, instead of flex support. At the same time Zebbosai went through multiple positions, before returning to the Lucio himself. Please explain for us what were the team's thought processes behind this decision.
At the very start of Misfits, it was because there wasn’t tons of Swedish talent out there we had scouted, and so Zebbosai was the “filler” in this case that took on whichever role he needed to. He had proven very early that he could play most heroes decently, going back to McCree in early Misfits line-ups and Zarya during the World Cup. In a different dimension, maybe Zebbosai would have been on the Lucio from the start. We just realised we had to shuffle things around a bit to make an all-Swedish line-up work. Additionally, me and TviQ, coming from a very serious environment in Rogue, were all about the extreme opposite of the very relaxed, all-Swedish, team, so we were willing to consider all these different options when putting things together. That, and Zebbosai having enjoyed his time off Lucio duty during the 2016 World Cup run.
Make sure to follow us on twitter at @InvenGlobal so you can catch the second part of the interview, in which Reinforce reflects on his time in Misfits and shares his opinion on some of the players he’s played against.
You can keep up with Jonathan’s activities on social media at twitter.com/Reinforce and twitch.tv/Reinforce.
(Photo credits: OGN, Robert Paul for Blizzard)
About the author:
Hello readers, I go by the ID RadoN! I’ve been following different games within the esports industry ever since finding out about it in 2009. The titles that I follow closely for the time being are Overwatch, CS:GO and Quake, while occasionally dabbling in some other games as well. If you wish to reach out, follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on esports and gaming, you can find me on twitter at @RadoNonfire.