My name is Joe Gramano, but most people know me by my online alias, "Joemeister". I was previously a professional player for the Philadelphia Fusion in season one of the Overwatch League. Before that, I played for a variety of other teams such as FaZe Clan, compLexity Gaming, and TSM. Up until recently, I was focused all on playing, but I have made the transition to coaching.
It was after making the transition to coaching that I found out about this opportunity here at Harrisburg University. I jumped on it immediately and got in touch with the university around early December last year. A couple of weeks later, they asked me to fly out to check out the program and everything they had here in the training facility and on campus. They wanted to show me the area, what they were about, and what the program was like and the direction was for their esports vision.
I was kind of overwhelmed by a lot of it. I didn't expect to see this level of commitment to esports at the collegiate level, and to me, that was very refreshing and exciting. A couple of weeks after that, we were looking into getting me a visa for me to work here in Pennsylvania, so that's where we started. I ended up moving here January 1st, and the semester started in early January. My official title is Head Coach of the Overwatch team at Harrisburg University.
You have a rich history in Overwatch that precedes the Overwatch League. How did you get into playing Overwatch at a competitive level?
Gaming is something that has always been a part of my life. I was always pretty competitive with it, but I never played professionally until Overwatch. When Overwatch came out, I was in the last semester of my undergrad at York University in Toronto, Canada. I was approached by two of my very good buddies who I had met online playing games over the years. They asked me if I wanted to help them build an Overwatch team from scratch.
This was during the early days of the beta, so Overwatch wasn't even fully released yet. This was just a bunch of friends getting together, going with their gut, and seeing where it was going to go because they wanted to compete. That's what we liked to do. The three of us got together and ended up building a team which would shortly after become what was known as Team compLexity. That was the first professional contract I signed.
Shortly after, we were playing in basically every tournament that we could. We were qualifying for LANs whenever we could, and we were going to the biggest events at the time in the Overwatch scene. I was with compLexity for a year or so, and then I ended up moving to FaZe Clan. My FaZe Clan days went all the way up to the beginning of the Overwatch League when I started playing for the Philadelphia Fusion.
Playing with the Philadelphia Fusion must have been quite the experience. What's your main takeaway from your time in the Overwatch League?
It opened my eyes to esports in general and shed a completely different light on it. Up until OWL, things were different. I wasn't sure if I would be able to make a career out of esports, or if I was even able to do it in the long term. I was happy with where I was, but it wasn't looking very promising. It wasn't something I could certainly say I would want to be doing for the next ten or twenty years of my life.
However, when Overwatch League came around, that's when standards started to be set. The bar was raised, especially with a team like the Fusion. I was lucky enough to be with the Fusion in season one, because in my mind, they were the leading organization going into season one of the Overwatch League for may reasons.
The support staff; the marketing team; Chef Heidi [Marsh]; the content creators who work closely with the team; the players; the coaches; the president of the organization Tucker Roberts — everyone on the team, even some without an esports background from Comcast corporate, raised the bar entirely. It was very interesting to see.
I went from living in my house with my family in Toronto to living in a mansion in Los Angeles with a bunch of other gamers and like-minded people. We were working out of the mansion, too, so it was our living and working space. It made esports, at least for me, a lot more legitimate. It made me accept it more easily as a viable career going forward in my life and for my own personal growth. That's the main thing Overwatch League did for me.
Was playing in the Overwatch League a big factor in your transition to coaching?
Absolutely, it definitely adds to my experience. The knowledge I've retained over the years, particularly about Overwatch, is a huge part of the reason I'm able to coach Overwatch today. I think the root of my interest in coaching probably started long before I entered esports. When I had enrolled in university, I had my mind set on teaching, particularly in teaching French as a second language and maybe some philosophy as well.
Teaching was always where I thought I was going to be headed, so it made sense that I was able to put a previous passion that I had in teaching with my current passion for esports and make them both work together at Harrisburg University. I would say my interest in coaching started long before my time in Overwatch League, or Overwatch in general.
Are there coaching or leadership philosophies you abide by when approaching your role at Harrisburg University?
Absolutely. It's not that playing Overwatch didn't contribute to what I'm able to do as a coach, but I hold certain values personally and for my students that come with certain standards. I basically took those from my education: being able to work; being able to treat others with respect; being able to have a good, disciplined work ethic; being able to think for yourself and have your own mind for the game; being self-critical and always willing to learn and improve.
Everything I took from my education I see myself encouraging my players to do the same and pushing them to take the same path that I did. What better place is there to do that than at the collegiate level? Students are going for their degrees while at the same time are able to fulfill their passion for wanting to compete and be involved in esports as players.
I don't know how it happened, but I was able to find a way to put the two together and take what I've learned from both. I push likeminded people in the same space to be able to find success in the same ways that I did.
You understand the expectations that come with being a professional Overwatch player. How do those compare to your expectations for your student-athletes?
Obviously, there are certain things that vary at the collegiate level. We're not going to be able to practice as much as professional players typically would because studies, assignments, and exams have to be prioritized. I have to take that into account. For example, we have Finals coming up, so I have a lighter week of practice for the team. They're not going to be playing as much as they normally do on finals week.
However, the standard I hold for them doesn't change very much. If I'm teaching them to be good communicators, that expectation doesn't change whether or not they're a collegiate player. If I'm trying to teach them how to be good teammates, synergize, and be good critical thinkers to develop a mind of their own for the game, those values and expectations are independent of the amount of time spent.
There are a lot of things that contribute to becoming a pro that aren't affected by the extra responsibility of fulfilling academic obligations. Still, there are certain practical things that do need to change to accommodate.
Whatever you've been doing, it's been working. Harrisburg is 29-0 and will head to Houston, TX for the elite 8 next month. Can you tell me a bit about your incredible run and what you attribute it to, as well as what the team will be focusing on ahead?
Our run was great, but it didn't really get exciting for us until we hit playoffs. When we realized we had made it that far, we had to double down because we were getting closer to the finals and we wanted to secure a spot for Houston. That became our when playoff started around the end of February. That's when it really started to hit us that we had a really good chance of making it to Houston, and we wanted to focus on that.
I would attribute the success to the whole team. Everyone has had to put in their own contributions to improving as a team, so I'm not sure I would attribute it to one person or factor. I think a lot of it has to do with me being here now and being the guy who is able to show them how to succeed. I can show them what they have to do, but they have to do it by reviewing, practicing, and playing a certain amount and maintaining a schedule to progress.
As long as we're all committed to those improvements and we keep focused, we will be able to make the Finals. It's a lot more complex than that, obviously, but that's how I'd put it in short.
We've seen collegiate League of Legends grow with LoL Esports as a whole. Is there anything that can be learned from the infrastructural developments to collegiate LoL over the past half decade that can be applied to collegiate Overwatch?
I think collegiate esports is just starting to kick off. I don't mean to say that in the few years it has been around before now with titles like League of Legends that collegiate esports wasn't doing well, but I don't think I would have personally found myself here if I didn't believe that collegiate esports was going to become a much bigger thing in esports.
I think part of the reason for that is that people are fully coming to the realization that education is extremely important, especially in an industry like esports. I think it's an industry that desperately needs more educated professionals in order to grow even more than it already has, and what better place to start looking for people who meet that criteria than college?
We're able to build programs where students can get an education and compete at the same time, and hopefully afterwards pursue even bigger opportunities in esports. I think that in a way it could change the way someone views the esports industry entirely.
Once you start considering the value and power of education and throwing that into the mix, then a lot of the people who tend to potentially look down on esports may be a little more open-minded towards it. Collegiate esports is growing and growing, and it's just starting up from what I've seen. It's going to keep getting bigger and bigger.
Thank you so much for the interview, Joemeister. Is there anything you'd like to say to the Philadelphia Fusion fans who are still following your journey?
I still have a very good relationship with a lot of people on the Fusion, if not all of them. These are all people that I miss dearly; not just the people that I worked with, but also a lot of the fans who I know supported me during my days with the Fusion. I appreciate the support they gave me when I was with the Fusion, and I also appreciate the support I continue to receive. I would hope that they support me in the future as I continue on this road of collegiate esports.
I'm very grateful for the situation that I am in today, and a lot of the good things in esports could not be done without the fans. It's important to always remember that even though I am no longer with the Fusion, I did run into a lot of people who supported me during that time. I will always cherish that.