During the 2017 Overwatch World Cup, Japan shocked the world by defeating Spain and going 2-2 with Finland. Hoping to make a splash in Overwatch Contenders Pacific, three Japanese teams qualified:Cyclops Athlete Gaming, Naturals Hokkaido and Yoshimoto Encount. But due to scheduling issues with matches being played in Taiwan, only the latter team was able to participate.
Among the original Team Japan World Cup players, AKTM is currently playing for Yoshimoto Encount. And as for ta1yo, yoz, and CLAIRE, they are playing together on CYCLOPS athlete gaming.
We caught up with Team Japan’s premier Tracer player, Sean “ta1yo” Henderson to get an update on the state of Japanese Overwatch.
Your team went 10-0 in Open Division. Are you aiming for Contenders?
We are planning on playing in Contenders next season. Last season, myself and another player were unable to fly over to Taiwan for 2 months. This season we should be able to get a roster that will be able to stay for a longer period of time.
Ynnnnnnn and Roku 6935 left recently, do you know who might be filling in to replace them?
We are trying out a couple of players, but that’ll be a secret until Contenders Season 2.
Your team was able to beat Detonator KR on the Group Stage. So with Detonator KR recently winning PAC Season 1 over Blank Esports, do you feel CYCLOPS athlete gaming will be able to win Contenders for Season 2?
I believe our team has the potential to beat teams like Detonator KR but as of now I have no clue how we scale against teams of that caliber. However, if we have a more stable practice schedule, I believe we can compete at that level.
Do you feel there are a lot of skilled Japanese players who have yet to show up in Contenders?
I would say Japanese players are very highly skilled mechanically, but teamwork and the level of understanding of the meta are weak points. If you can teach and coach these highly mechanically skilled players, the Japanese teams will surely amaze a lot of people.
In the 2017 World Cup, you played Tracer for Team Japan. Have you changed roles over to Flex/Projectile DPS?
Because of Brigette in the current meta, Tracer is less common. I’ve picked up Genji a lot more recently.
The meta shift has seen Reinhardt, Zarya and Hanzo played along with Brigitte. Is there something specific with Genji you found that works?
It’s just one of the comps that we run with a hero that I didn’t have that much experience playing on in a team environment. I’ve had time to play the other heroes in the past.
Do you have a main shotcaller in CAG?
I used to main call, but CLAIRE has taken over that role. CLAIRE and I were the main shot callers for the World Cup last year.
Detonator KR is a Japanese organization, but the players and the coaching staff are Korean. Yoshimoto Encount is mainly Japanese, but they've included Korean coaches. Do you feel that other Japanese teams could benefit from doing the same?
Definitely, but I would say other than those two teams, no team can afford Korean players or coaches. Esports money in Japan is very limited to the point that players are only getting paid a small amount, only a couple of hundred dollars max per month.
Is the lack of sponsorship and support also caused by Japanese anti-gambling laws?
Investments are being made into esports and the overall scene is definitely growing but Overwatch’s popularity has dropped drastically. Therefore many teams have disbanded their Overwatch teams.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for Detonator KR who disbanded even after their PAC win. Do you feel there is something Blizzard needs to do to support Contenders Pacific?
The viewership in Japan isn’t bad. In fact, I feel like it’s quite a lot for how small the scene is. So if Blizzard did support the scene more heavily, Overwatch would be much more popular. There just doesn’t seem to be any support for the Tier 2 scene, especially in the PAC region.
You've previously said that the Japanese T2 scene is mostly teams spending about 2 hours a day for scrimming. Is it still like that now? Has the T2 scene gotten bigger or smaller since then?
In the past, there were still many teams that had an Overwatch squad, but there are only around 5 or 6 “pro” teams left. But even those teams probably don’t get over 3 hours of practice a day. It’s just not worth the time when the only tournament you can join is an unsustainable one.
Do you feel Blizzard has an opportunity to give Overwatch more exposure in Japan for the 2018 World Cup?
The World Cup definitely helps. Like last year, if Team Japan is able to amaze fans, hopefully, the Japanese fans come back to Overwatch and keep the community alive. Japanese people are very nationalistic so a great World Cup showing would band the fans together.
Hopefully, I am able to participate in this year's World Cup, but balancing studies and Overwatch has prevented me from practicing at all. However, even if I’m not able to join the World Cup I’m sure that Team Japan will be able to shock the world again.
Thank you for your time. We wish you and CAG the best!