Washington Justice's Stratus: "Playing Stage 4 is a huge rebound for me, career-wise. I've been having so much fun on stage; the adrenaline and the crowd, they're all so fun to interact with."

Ethan "Stratus" Yankel is one of the factors in the Washington Justice's success in Stage 4. Him and his DPS partner, Corey "Corey" Nigra are making strides to innovate the meta in ways we haven't seen before. Upon entering the interview room, Stratus was hyped after going 5 maps against the Houston Outlaws and winning. Plus, the team is undefeated in Stage 4. Stratus spoke with Inven Global about playing with Corey and the ups and downs of this season.

Photo by Stewart Volland

First of all, I want to get your thoughts on why Washington is doing so well in this stage compared to the previous stages.

One of the biggest things that's changed, obviously, is the introduction of 2-2-2. That's the big narrative around our team right now. A lot of players in this roster tend to work better when it is a 2-2-2 comp. GOATS was a confusing meta for a lot of us since heroes didn't line up in the right way. It's quite the opposite now. I'm a very strong Mei, Corey is a strong Widow and Hanzo player - a very versatile DPS, and we're very flexible in a 2-2-2 setting. None of us need to switch off of DPS, tank, and support. We can play our role and focus on working together as a team. 

Corey brought this up to try to work in pairs in our role. For example, a DPS working with another DPS, etc. That strategy of synergizing together worked well. Corey and I will do flanks and sync up. Same thing with our tanks with the pull-hook combos and our supports with peeling each other. 

Do you think integrating the DPS role back into the game played a huge factor in your success? 

Definitely! We're never mechanically poor at the game, even at the previous stages. In this stage, mechanics matter a lot more. The way I picture it in my head, the game was a MOBA with GOATS, now we're leaning towards the opposite direction with an FPS-style game. The game still feels a little MOBA-ish, where you need to be working together and you can't have one guy pop off. I'd say it's more of an FPS meta now. We have mechanical talent and now it's showing through 2-2-2.

What did you all learn from the previous stages coming into Stage 4?

All of us learned more about the game in the previous stages at a top tier level. Through practicing in Overwatch League, a lot of us weren't in last year aside from Janus and ArK. Corey, Sansam, and I are rookies and we had to adjust to this high level of play.

In fact, I'd say it's the biggest thing that we gained from the previous stages, was individual experience. Now, we're at the point where the meta has mellowed out and it's easier for us. We can use all that experience from the previous stages to make all the pieces fit. 

Photo by Stewart Volland

How did you guys find a certain style coming into Stage 4 and just dominate your competition? 

It's kind of interesting because our style is very adaptable now. We're able to communicate and be able to say who we want to focus on, change strategies on the fly, etc. Like I said, the experience made us more adaptable in certain situations. It kind of works out because Corey is a really good DPS and I'm having a lot of fun on Mei. I'll do stupid Mei walls in stupid places.

We have a lot of fun with it, which is a big thing. We're eliminated from playoffs and there's not much stress on us. It's only the stress we put on ourselves to perform. We're embracing the creativity with the meta. You'll see a lot of stupid stuff from us, it's really fun. Also, Corey had too much fun on Symmetra. He literally thought of that on the fly and it worked. 

Did the experience from ArK and Janus really help you guys this season?

It definitely did. They provide a lot of stability to the team. We're very chaotic. In comms check, ArK told us to calm down and play with despair, jokingly. Whenever everyone else is getting out of hand; Corey and I start trolling, Sansam and Gido are yelling about random stuff, he's very focused. On that map 5 in between rounds, he's like our yoga instructor.

They're both experienced, people-wise, and are good at leading the team coming from last season. It's nice playing with them.


What kind of advice has ArK given you specifically? 

A lot of calm down. I hear it from him so much since I'm the one who's screaming and hyping up people. ArK tells me to calm down and focus. When I get really hyped, I tend to do more creative plays and more risky flanks. He tells me to relax a bit on it in case. 

Photo by Ben Pursell

What kind of things are you working on to keep improving? 

One thing I actually talked about with Corey is that there's a lot of players we call it "toasted". What it actually means is that burnt out a little bit. People are less willing to innovate and be aggressive to try new things because it's safe. Everyone is coming down off hype with Stage 4 after GOATS for most of the year. There are people who are willing to innovate.

For me, I want to stay up to date with the meta. It's always changing and some people say the current meta is boring right now. Basically saying it's the new GOATS. I don't think that at all. Mei is very creative and you're rewarded exponentially. Obviously, right-clicking is very fun. I'm trying to keep thinking of ways to use Mei's wall.

Even when we had our game with Houston, I was struggling with Mei's ult because I'm never seen a team like Houston playing around the Mei ult. Towards the end, I thought of ways to bait out their abilities first before I threw down my ult. 

It sounds like you're constantly thinking of ways to play, not just Mei but around your team as well. How much time did you invest to think of these creative strats?

A good bit of studying outside the game, but most of it comes from intuition. I just tell the guys that I want to try this idea, and if it works out, I'll keep it for next time. I've been benched for 3 stages so it's easier for me to not be mentally exhausted. I'm more willing to try creative things. I've noticed that I do more things with Mei than other players. Because of that, I think our team has unique strategies revolving around the heroes. We'll play it more than other teams will. 

Have you guys tried experimenting other comps outside Mei, Reaper, and Orisa?

We definitely have. We have two main variations: Reaper and Hanzo. Outside of that, we've messed around with Doomfist, Sombra/Tracer, but we found that Mei/Reaper and Mei/Hanzo fit our style. It's really adaptable depending on certain situations. We tried other stuff but we like what we got right now. You might see new comps in these next two weeks. 

Photo by Ben Pursell

How much fun are you guys currently having on the stage?

It's a lot of fun. Playing Stage 4 is a huge rebound for me, career-wise. I've been having so much fun on stage; the adrenaline and the crowd, they're all so fun to interact with. Everyone is so into it and you're so immersed when you're playing out there. 

How much did the fans play a factor so far in Stage 4?

Like a lot! Me, specifically, I try to interact with the crowd. There's one person out there with a "Stratus for Hokage" sign and it's fun to acknowledge that. It makes it more engaging to play. 

I want to talk about the first 3 stages. How were you guys able to stay positive throughout the rough times with losing constantly? 

We had our ups and downs. We didn't always stay positive throughout the entire time. Generally, we did our best to stay positive. It was hard. Losing a lot, you start to lose trust in your teammates.

Through it all, we learned a lot about ourselves as a team and we're able to develop an understanding. It's experience and synergy with your teammates. We carried on with a good PMA (positive mental attitude) in the first 3 stages. In Stage 4, we have that base to build upon to be successful. 

Photo by Ben Pursell

Can you describe the team's confidence level throughout the year and heading into Stage 4?

Heading into Stage 4, it felt really good. We were picking up new players and it hyped all of us. To be honest, those Atlanta games were really close. I'm speaking for myself here. We were playing triple DPS by the end of it and I was getting playtime so I was hyped! After that, I was just looking forward to showing my mechanical skill with 2-2-2. I'd like to say our confidence level was at an all-time high going into Stage 4. 

Can you name one specific moment where everyone was feeling down and how did you guys recover from it?

One of the times we were done with everything was probably after the Shock game. I believe it was a 4-0 sometime in Stage 2? People were really upset about that. I didn't even play and I felt it. The team atmosphere was down and not confident. We separated ourselves from the results of that - not in a negative way, but relax since we had the day off and we were still hanging out with each other.

We're in a team house so you can't really hate each other, or else, it'll make things kind of complicated. We're all cool with each other outside of the game. We had to feel mentally refreshed coming into practice in the next week. It was still a rough stage for the rest of that but stayed confident for Stage 3 and 4. I'd say it was a process.

Relationship with Corey

Let's talk about Corey for a bit. 

Oh man, I can talk about Corey all day.

How are you and Corey able to synergize so well together?

To be honest, it wasn't always this way. Basically, since I started playing in Stage 3. Even before that, we were good friends. We watched anime all the time after scrims and talk about a lot of stuff. Recently, we talk about more stuff, and hang out all the time.

After scrims, we would play games or watch anime together. We're really good friends outside the game. We definitely see synergy between the two of us and a lot of potential. I know from my perspective, I can see us getting better coordination-wise and better mechanically. It makes me excited to work with him. I get the same vibe from him as well. It's exciting to see that as well. 

Photo by Stewart Volland

How do you two give feedback to each other to improve at the game?

We build off each other's plans a lot. Whenever things don't go right, we ask each other whether we can try new things. I'd say the three main people that are contributing to the adaptation strategy is me, Corey, and ArK. Between Corey and I, we try to synergize with our roles.

A lot of teams are focusing Corey recently. To compensate for that, I'll play dumber or help him, depending on the situation. It's really a lot of back and forth communicating. We just put our feelings out there about how we're doing and how we can help each other. We're just aware of each other throughout the game. 

Can you tell how long you two have been friends?

It's basically since the start of the season. We didn't know each other whatsoever before this - we're not childhood friends or anything like that. We do have a lot of common interests though. We're both weebs. We actually like to play Rust together. We just troll and our personalities are similar. It's easy to get along with him. 

How were you able to build your friendship throughout the year?

During breaks when we're not scrimming and doing other things with the game, there's a lot of Rust and anime. We'll spend a lot of time with each other naturally outside the game. We developed this huge friendship between us by having fun. 

Photo by Stewart Volland

What kind of anime have you guys watched recently?

A lot of Demon Slayer. It's so good. 

A guilty pleasure that both of us like are romance anime. We really like cheesy romance anime. When both of us watch, we are like, "This is so cute, dude!" and it's such a good time. Anytime with Corey is a good time. 

Do you guys see yourselves being best friends after your careers are over?

Absolutely, dude. We have too much in common. 

Photo by Stewart Volland

Compared to other DPS duos in the league, where do you guys rank yourselves?

You have to ask Corey what he thinks. From my perspective, I think top 3. No offense to Atlanta and Paris, they have strong DPS frontlines. I really want to see ourselves stacked against Shock, Vancouver, and maybe London as well. Those teams have strong DPS duos. I think we're the same way, but I want to see how we perform on stage versus them. 

Lastly, are there any shoutouts that you want to give?

Shoutouts to all the fans in the crowd that make the experience just so worth it. Being able to go out there and start trolling and telling jokes is so much fun. We've got a lot of traction since the win streak and all the people who hopped on board, I appreciate them as well. It's been so much fun being here.

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