Playing at the highest level in Europe since Overwatch's beta was released, Thomas "Morte" Kerbusch is one of the most experienced players and leaders in the scene. Coming over from Battlefield -- where he as part of the REUNITED and eUnited lineups were the best in the world -- he made a smooth transition in leading the squad to many podium results, with the most recent and one of their best being the win at Contenders Season 0.
While a huge international win eluded him and his teams, it is hard to deny that they're one of the most successful pre-OWL teams, due to the whole body of work and consistency they've shown over the course of about twenty months. As eUnited as an organization failed to get in OWL and let go of the team, Morte has decided to take a step back from playing and use the smarts he was famous for as a player to lead a team as their manager and coach.
Last week, we had the opportunity to ask Thomas a slew of questions about his time before Overwatch, leading REUNITED and eUnited, visiting Korea and more topics related to his career as a player.
Most fans who’ve followed your Overwatch career probably know that you came over from Battlefield 4, together with vallutaja, 2Easy and uNFixed, but what other games have you guys played together and what level did you reach?
We played so much; a lot of different titles in the Battlefield franchise, Firefall and Brink just to name a few. We even switched to console at some point, but that’s a story for another time! We were pretty much always #1 in the world in all the titles we played, but they weren’t the biggest titles and had quite a bit less competition than what we are facing today.
It’s funny because we actually met quite a few known Overwatch players in other titles before. For example; in Firefall, Coolmatt69, Stoop, and Talespin were our biggest competition!
Under Fnatic, you were by far the best team in Battlefield, but how intense was your practice back then compared to what you did to prepare for Overwatch tournaments?
I don’t think the time investment really changed that much, if you are a professional gamer you are pretty much always playing. However, the level of intensity is completely different, Overwatch is obviously way more serious (with VoD reviews, tactic sessions) and in general the amount and level of competition is not comparable.
I think we won five major events in Battlefield back-to-back, I don’t think anyone will pull that off in Overwatch.
How similar was yours’ and the others’ individual playstyles in Overwatch, compared to previous games?
I think personal playstyle always transfers over somewhat, for example, I’ve always been more of a supportive player, more than anything else. Always just a smart player and not necessarily mechanically insane. In Battlefield I was the one running all the way around for a backcap or defending and checking our back -- basically the support player. Not the most fun but just as important. uNFixed always set-up control over the middle while vallutaja and 2Easy would just go challenge the opponents to a fragfest.
Talk to me a bit about what moving over from game to game was like.
I think we played so many different titles that switching games weren’t a big hassle anymore. We were literally waiting for a big game to come around [to move to]… The second Overwatch got announced during BlizzCon we almost went as far as marking the release date on our calendar. Teamwork and atmosphere in general transferred over obviously, also knowing everyone is as invested as yourself is really important.
During the initial beta, Melty (moonL, Kryw, DeGuN, KabaL, NiCO, Baud) was the best team and you played them a bunch of times. What do you think made them so good at the time?
I think they figured quite a few things out, like Symmetra and Genji being very strong while most of the other teams didn’t really have a Genji player. Overall I think it was just a matter of time. At the start, Melty was the most serious roster while everyone else was still finding their footing.
Newer fans who didn’t watch back then might have heard about the winning streaks of the team that’s now Fuel, Rogue’s period of dominance and Misfits’ big wins. But over the course of all those streaks by other teams, you guys were almost always in the finals, won a whole bunch of tournaments yourselves and had only one finish outside of the top3. At the time, what was the atmosphere inside the team like? Was it hard to keep going with so many second places and how did you rank yourselves?
I don’t remember us ever really seeing it as something ‘real’. Of course, we were aware of the #Forever2nd meme, but, in all fairness, I’d sign for permanent Top 3 finishes in Overwatch. It was still an achievement and the events and tournaments at the time weren’t that big that we really made an issue out of not winning any of them. We had always been a team that mostly showed up on LAN, for example, we could get destroyed online leading up to a Battlefield event and we would proceed to return the favor with ease on LAN a few days later.
What made Rogue and EnVyUs so strong at that point in time? You beat each of them on several occasions, but, looking back with much more experience under your belt, do you think there was something you could have done better as a leader and shot caller to help the team overcome them consistently?
At the start of REUNITED it was Kruise and 2Easy who did pretty much all the calling. However, that wasn’t really our problem, we just made dumb mistakes and didn’t invest enough time in VoD review and tactics [preparation] as we were used to just relying on raw skill. EnVyUs was obviously really strong, but they did move to a weaker region and met a stronger Rogue to finish their run at GamesCom.
As mentioned above, Misfits had its big moments and periods during which they had good finishes, but over a longer period, they definitely lacked the consistency. What was the cause for that, in your opinion?
Honestly, Misfits was pretty similar to us. Stacked with talent, probably a bit overconfident and the tendency to do really well when it mattered.
I think people need to understand performance is never going to be completely consistent, it’s more like a wave. The most important thing is not getting into a real slump, as those can spiral out of control quickly. Losing leads to losing, winning is easy. Once you start losing, you lose confidence, perhaps even trust in some of your teammates and that’s when you really have a problem...
Misfits had a lot of different line-ups over a short span of time and that makes stabilizing and moving forward quite hard.
One of the worst finishes REUNITED, throughout any iteration of the lineup, was the last place at Overwatch Open. What were the issues you guys had at the event?
Too many to list. Some of it came down to internal drama so I can’t really go into it that much.
I think we underperformed massively. [It happened] mostly because we lacked confidence stemming from weeks of bad scrims leading up to the event. We were in a huge slump after GamesCom and didn’t really reset until APEX, but even there we didn’t really perform besides having a few good matches.
In APEX, you had to replace kyb in a bit of an emergency, so you recruited ONIGOD, but had him switch to off-tank. How did the idea of him changing positions come to be and why didn’t you leave uNFixed moving into the DPS role for after APEX, considering it was one of the first LANs with huge prize pool?
So this requires a pretty in-depth answer, basically uNFixed has always been DPS first and flex/off the tank after. He always played whatever the team needed, in all games we played. For example, he is one of the original Pharah ‘mains’, and in my opinion was (is) one of the best Pharah players ever. I should know as I was always his Mercy, we rarely lost duels in the Pharah meta after the [official] Overwatch release.
We had a lot of long talks about this subject and basically, it came down to us wanting the security of having the DPS slots filled by ‘ourselves’, the original core, rather than having to rely on a newcomer. Back then everyone thought the DPS roles were the hardest and by far the most important, but we were wrong…
ONIGOD having to switch to off tank was suboptimal but we looked to recruit a good talent in general, and honestly (this, again, is a story for another time) we had a VERY limited amount of time to make a decision, think hours. Don’t get me wrong, we did everything we could and gave it our all. ONIGOD is an insane player, he is terrorizing Europe with his Tracer right now, and a great guy in general. Being in Korea for APEX is one of the best experiences of my life.
KongDoo Panthera was quite a different lineup back then, but something I've been told by multiple players who scrimmed them around that time is that they were really good in practice, even if that didn't translate in officials. As someone who played and beat them in a fairly convincing manner, what do you think were their issues offline?
I think in official matches everyone is much more on edge, KDP’s golden times back then were when EVERMORE could flank and just ‘solo’ carry the team. During officials, he got punished hard on top of the team not performing as well. So I guess it was a mix of teams knowing exactly what to expect and, at the same time, KDP not executing their gameplan with the same success.
You also got to play LW Blue (whose core went on to become NYXL) before they got Fl0w3R, with whom they became one of the best of the world. What was the team like at that point, in terms of teamplay and tactics?
Koreans were fairly ‘late’ to the party with APEX Season 1 being the first serious tournament, while the West had been grinding in a competitive setting since closed beta. So it was more a matter of LW Blue (for example) needing more time and the [individual] talent the West had in APEX was always strong so...
In the series against AF Blue and a number of people, MonteCristo included, had them as the favorite because of the new patch. What was the atmosphere on the team like going into it? Did you think of yourselves as the underdogs and did the team have any special strategies prepared for them?
So honestly, this is going to sound arrogant, but we lost to ourselves. The match against AF Blue in the play-offs was indeed days after a very unlucky patch timing. We theorycrafted way too much, scrimmed only [against] a few teams -- the same ones who were the strongest prior to the patch -- in the days leading up to the match and we based our strategies mostly on those matches. Turns out they were also just theorycrafting... We should have kept running the same as we did pre-patch, adapting on the fly if needed. The match was very close and I still believe that if we had played our own game we would have won.
APEX S1 could easily have been an all Western final with us facing off against EnVyUs. My arrogance stops here, as I don’t think we would have beaten them if we got past AFB. Mickie and Cocco together during APEX S1 were something else...
As someone who has played both support positions, what are RJH and tobi so good at and how much of their success do you think is based on their individual level, rather than Lunatic-Hai being a strong team overall?
I think tobi is the smartest Lucio player in the game. When RJH was on Ana, he used to permanently peel for him as RJH could carry a fight on his own. Nowadays, he knows exactly when he can wander off and do his thing, or if he needs to help anyone. There are plenty of examples when tobi carried fights. Playing Lucio is a lot of instinct, you either have it or you don’t. And tobi, he literally has it all: mechanically strong and insane game sense.
RJH was also, by far, the best Ana player in the world, I don’t think they have that advantage anymore. Don’t get me wrong, he is still the best Ana player, but it’s not meta right now and I don’t think RJH is the best Zenyatta in the world. But if your team is as stacked as LH, you always have someone else who can pick up the ‘slack’, that’s why Overwatch League will be interesting. There are quite a few teams who don’t have weak links and who all have a good shot at becoming the first ever Overwatch League Champions.
With them winning so much throughout the last year, some people started saying that both tank and support positions are more important to team’s success than the damage dealing one. Would you agree?
Right now, the tank duo is the most important by far, fights are almost solely decided by which tank duo survives longer. This obviously also depends on how much damage the backline is dishing out, in general, I think everyone is just really important. DPS players make the flashy plays, but teams are only as good as their weakest link, which is becoming clear already in the Overwatch League.
You’re one of the few teams who had the opportunity to play the two Rogue lineups when each was at its best. How do both compare and why did eUnited have so much trouble against the fully-French roster at TakeOver 2?
I think they aren’t really comparable at all, it was a different time, different meta and a different amount of competition and skill in the game between those rosters.
Overall we played very good at TakeOver, especially for us having picked up Boombox only a week prior to the event. Rogue was just way more advanced with the way the meta was supposed to be played, and while we were the best dive team in Europe they showed us there is different ways to dive and we honestly never really showed up during any of our matches against Rogue at TakeOver.
This year, just like the last, you were consistently one of the best in Europe until Contenders S1. Everyone has been mentioning that the meta really didn’t suit you this season, but was really just that?
I’m actually writing about this myself. It will be basically a longer explanation as to why everything -- from the end of Contenders Season 0 to where I am now -- happened and why I moved into managing and coaching. Should be posting it sometime soon!
Giganti won Contenders S1 in Europe and the core is someone who you’ve played a number of times, going back to the NiP days. For those who haven’t watched that far back, were the teams similar?
Honestly, these line-ups weren’t really comparable either. If I think back to NiP, I just remember a team that was mostly, probably only, good during the tank meta. Fragi was -- and probably still is -- the best Western Reinhardt player.
In Gigantti they added the dynamic power duo of Davin and LinkZr who basically made the team completely versatile and suited to the dive meta. Regardless, both teams had Seita and he is not to be forgotten as he has played a big part in both line-ups.
To summarize your time in Overwatch as a player, outside Overwatch Open, APEX and Contenders S1, you’ve led one of the best Western teams. Over the course of about 20 months, you’ve placed outside of top3 only five times. Except for winning a huge international event, you’ve done pretty much everything. Why give up on playing and leading a team now, with all the investments and opportunity for players to do well?
It’s a combination of things. Not making it into Season 1 of Overwatch League was quite depressing. However, I have to admit I started enjoying playing less and less. I really loved, and still do love, competing all the time, but I couldn’t bring it up anymore to play a lot of ranked and solo-queue next to more than six hours of scrims each day.
I’m not unrealistic, I can see there are mechanically way better players out there. I did consider moving back to the flex-support position for a bit as playing Zenyatta is what I enjoy the most in Overwatch. On top of that, I was one of the best Mercy players so it would actually be a perfect meta for me at the moment. In the end, I think I can have way more impact in a staff position and there is plenty of opportunities to grow in such a position as well, I have big plans and ambitions!
Considering, you’ve had so much success as a captain and are open to being a coach or a manager, a lot of fans will wonder why Morte isn’t in the OWL. Can you go into a bit of detail what happened?
Again, it was a combination of a lot of things, eUnited pulled the plug pretty late - to be clear, no hard feelings there, eUnited is an amazing organization - and there weren’t many teams really looking for members anymore. Only Philadelphia Fusion was still running full trials while others only added a few players. Unfortunate timing and just coming out of disastrous Contenders Season 1 didn’t help either. I guess in the back of my head I was already contemplating if I should quit playing. So my transition was fairly natural, weirdly, it didn’t feel like a huge decision at all.
If someone reading this hasn’t seen much of you or the teams, except the last season of Contenders, what tournament or series would you recommend for them to watch to see the best of REUNITED/eUnited and the best of Morte?
I still think my Zenyatta was really strong; even as late as TakeOver 2 where I would swap to Zenyatta on some maps, I had some very strong individual performances.
There are quite a few videos, the boop that was heard all around the world and the famous flanking Zen to name a few.
The best of eUnited was obviously us winning Contenders Season 0, I think we put up a very consistent high-level performance throughout the season, just a shame we couldn’t continue this trend in Contenders Season 1.
The final words are yours.
Thank you everyone for the incredible amount of support all this time, but it’s time for a new chapter in my career. I’m really enjoying it so far and can’t wait to see what the future holds! Keep your eye out for my new team, by far the most stacked roster for the Pit Championship and Contenders ;)
Lastly, we are still looking for an organization to represent!
To stay up to date with Morte, make sure to follow him on Twitch and Twitter. Should you be interested in contacting the team (Kruise, Finnsi, Tonic, Epzz, Shax, Vizility) regarding representation, you can do so at email@example.com.
(Photo credits: OGN, ESL, TaKeTV)
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.