Team Japan, more commonly known as CYCLOPS athlete gaming, have been making waves throughout the Overwatch Contenders by being the only Japanese team to make it to the playoffs. However, not only did they make it to the finals, but they are also the only undefeated team in the Pacific region. This is quite a feat, especially when there are 5 full Korean roster teams in the region.
I had a chance to talk with AmeKen, CLAIRE, ta1yo, and XQQ from CYCLOPS athlete gaming to talk about their experiences in Incheon and the World Cup, the Japanese esports scene and the overall attitude towards of esports in general, CYCLOPS athlete gaming’s successes and its slumps, and what they hope to achieve for the Overwatch Contenders.
● Kenji “AmeKen” Hisano and Sean Taiyo “ta1yo” Henderson are the DPS players,
● Takahiro “CLAIRE” Watanabe is the support player, and
● Hibiki “XQQ” Motoyama is the Head Coach/Analyst for CYCLOPS athlete gaming.
Note: I would also like to thank ta1yo for translating for the team!
How was your overall experience in Incheon?
CLAIRE: It was amazing! Esports here is totally different from Japan and it is one of the reasons why we like Korea so much.
What is the biggest difference between Japanese and Korean esports?
CLAIRE: First of all, there’s a bunch of more people watching esports in Korea compared to Japan and all the fans are so much passionate about their team that they want them to win. Like you wouldn’t see the whole crowd screaming in Japan for Japanese teams even if it was in Japan.
In my opinion, Japan is the like the pioneers of gaming. However, it sounds like the esports scene is not as big as people think. How does the general population feel about esports?
ta1yo: Actually, esports is not even like well known in Japan because it’s looked at games and not competitive gaming. If you look back at Nintendo, they are all like 1 player games. It’s more of a recreational thing than a competitive sport.
CLAIRE: No teamwork (laughs). Speedrunning games are popular but I guess the culture of competitive video games hasn’t gone through yet.
How did your parents feel when you said that you wanted to be a pro gamer?
CLAIRE: My parents were really supportive, and they didn’t really say anything.
AmeKen: My parents are not super supportive, but they are ok with it. But, my sister is very supportive.
Ta1yo: For me, they weren’t supportive at the beginning, they wanted me to study more. When I bought my first computer, I borrowed money from my parents and with tournament winnings, I paid them back. And I started paying for my own food and they are like “this is good.” So, they started being more supportive and my mom flew from Japan to watch me [this weekend]. But, in general, I don’t think Japanese parents would want their kids to be a pro gamer. Because it’s like the parents that are supportive are the ones that are able to come here.
CLAIRE: It’s looked as like a job, like a musician. It’s not very realistic, you can say.
ta1yo, I heard you are in school. How do you balance school and Overwatch? Are your teachers and principals aware that you are an Overwatch pro gamer?
ta1yo: They kind of do. My teacher is kind of supportive. He doesn’t really understand, but he’s like, “I heard you won a tournament last week.” It’s kind of hard to balance between school and esports. I study until 4:00 PM at school and I come home, and [the team] have scrims from 2:00 to 10:00 PM with breaks. I can only play like 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM or 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, and I have to study after that until 1 or 2. There’s really no free time for me right now.
Let’s talk about the World Cup. How do you feel about your performance this weekend?
CLAIRE: Big disappointment. We were only able to show 50% of our potential. We were in a slump for the past 3 weeks and at our slump is probably at its peak right now.
ta1yo: We have been grinding a lot, and it has been a burnout. We had practice every day for the past 4 weeks. It’s not long compared to Korean teams, but still. Plus, we haven’t had a chance to use our gaming house yet, so that’s been hard for us.
You have faced a lot of teams and players this weekend. Do you have any player that you particularly remember?
CLAIRE: Fragi. He used to be a super aggressive tank, but he changed his playstyle and became a balanced player, and he was really good at trying to stop what we were trying to do.
ta1yo: Yea, for example, when I was Genji and I tried to flank, he would always be there trying to stop me. I and AmeKen both played Genji, and we both agree that his Winston’s was annoying.
AmeKen: Mek0 on D.Va. Whenever I tried to go in as Pharah to kill a support, Mek0 would always be watching and trying to kill me.
You will be playing against Talon Esports (the other finalist for the Pacific Region of Overwatch Contenders). How confident do you feel against them?
ta1yo: We have 3 to 4 weeks until the finals, and we are going to have a couple of days of [rest] after this, and [we will grind] for a couple of weeks, and I am pretty sure if we are in our prime, we can easily beat Talon. But, they have gotten a lot better since the start of the season. They used to be a bunch of individually strong players at the start, but they gradually came to merge as a team and I think that’s why they are in the finals.
CYCLOPS athlete gaming’s current lineup is relatively new. When you started Contenders, did you expect to get this far?
XQQ: Our goal was to get into finals. First two weeks, we were confident that we can make it to the finals, but since the meta changed after 1.26, it was a bit shaky for us and you can see that in our semifinals. Apparently, the meta (patch) might change again in the Grand Finals, so we are kind of not sure what to practice at the moment.
Do you think this meta kind of affected your performance in the World Cup?
XQQ: Honestly, yes. We were practicing on the previous patch, and it’s 1.26 all of a sudden and the strength we had [from the previous patch] kind of disappeared. Everyone was on the same playing field and we lost our advantage.
I have a question for XQQ. You played in Season 1 and 2 of Contenders, how do you feel Overwatch Contenders as a whole?
XQQ: Actually, the change from offline to online was a good change for the Japanese teams because some teams were not able to make it. For example, 2 Japanese teams could not go because of financial reasons in Season 1. But obviously, it’s not a good change for the whole scene itself because it attracts more Korean teams into the scene. However, I guess that improves the level of play so, I think it’s ok. The main problem we have with Contenders right now is that they changed the patch from group stages to quarter-finals and semi-finals, and there’s a chance they might change it again for the finals. This is still a meta that is not understood well.
Any last words for fans?
CLAIRE: There’s a couple of fans that came here all the way from Japan. We are very grateful for them, and we want them to cheer us on for Contenders as well.