Journalist, commentator, analyst, coach, team owner. Renaissance man Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles has recently expanded from League of Legends into Overwatch, successfully finishing his first cast for BlizzCon and yet again furthering his reach in eSports. He is currently casting OGN's Overwatch APEX with longtime coworker Erik "DoA" Lonnquist, continuing to provide their unique brand of entertaining and analytical commentary.
We had a chance to meet the man right before the first semifinal match of APEX. He offered us a wealth of experienced insight regarding how to cast the game, how it can better itself as a successful eSport, and how its pro scene will unfold in the coming years.
You couldn't shoutcast for Worlds this year. How did it feel to watch Worlds as an audience?
It felt great. I really enjoyed it. I thought the SK Telecom vs. ROX Tigers semifinals was really fun, and I was glad that the finals with Samsung went to all five games. I was actually casting during the finals for the Overwatch World Cup so I only got to see like the end of Game 4 and Game 5, but I really enjoyed it. That went really well, and it was a lot of fun to watch.
Anything you thought Worlds this year could improve on in terms of shoutcasting and analysis?
I think Riot has a lot of wonderful casters. I was glad that PapaSmithy went over there to represent the Korean scene as an English speaker. I do think it's incredibly disappointing that Riot chose not to have any Korean expert, either casting or even on the desk, for the finals. I think it's ridiculous, frankly, to not have that when you have two Korean teams. You need people who know the most about those particular teams and have a history of casting them. That was a weird choice, but for the most part Riot's casters are very good. They are friends and respected colleagues of mine and I thought they did a good job.
Would you like to say anything to your LoL fans who didn't "come over" so that they might watch your Overwatch cast more often?
I think Overwatch is a really fun game that incorporates a lot of what people love about League of Legends' teamfighting, because it is a hybrid MOBA FPS. A lot of people love different interactions between team compositions, and you can change those during a game in Overwatch, and that makes it really dynamic. I think it's a fun eSports to watch. I think people sometimes have trouble getting into it because if you don't know what's going on it can be confusing, but the same thing can be said about League of Legends. The spectator client's only going to improve, so I think fans are going to be really excited for next year in particular when the Overwatch League starts and APEX keeps going. Also, with Korean teams getting better with new sponsors coming in, it's a great time to get involved with a new eSport. I love both games, and you can enjoy watching both of them. You don't have to pick one, right?
How is casting Overwatch going for you so far?
Well, I'm still learning. I'm still learning how to cast Overwatch. It's a pretty big challenge. I think it's definitely the hardest eSport to cast that is in existence at the moment, so it's been a learning process. DoA and I had to sit down and practice over and over again on our own before we actually stepped up to do APEX. We found that, actually, one of the better ways to cast this game is to cast it more like a fighting game. We took a lot of inspiration from fighting game casters like Street Fighter casters and Smash casters because those are other games with constant action going on. You have to know how to stay calm when a lot of action is going on but not as important so that the viewers don't get exhausted from constant hype.
Of course we try to hype it up when big pushes come and we know there's going to be a lot of action, but for smaller skirmishes or teams just building ult charge and not really commiting to a fight, you want to die back a little bit, be more calm and explain the strategy each team is using. Otherwise, you get caught in this trap in which you are constantly yelling in Overwatch. I think that's the case, at least in English, for a lot of casters. they need to stop trying to narrate every second or talk about every second of the action. Take a breather, bring in-depth strategic analysis. That's what DoA and I are trying to do.
It's been tough. I had to learn a lot about the game because it's my first FPS. I feel like I'm in a pretty comfortable spot right now. If I was like 100 in LoL I would be in 75 in Overwatch, and I think I'll be up to maybe 95 in another couple of months. I feel my knowledge increasing as I study the game and talk to the pros.
How can Overwatch better itself as a major eSport?
It's only going to get bigger as Blizzard rolls out the Overwatch League next year. They are certainly putting a huge amount of money, people, and dedication to that task. It's been a long time coming now. I've known about it for a long time, but I was happy that they got to announce it in BlizzCon because I've been impressed by the way Blizzard's handling it.
I do think that the spectator client still needs a lot of work. It needs to have a minimap, needs to make sure team particles are different colors and consistently different colors. Maybe teams can have their own colors that are consistent throughout the entire tournament, which would be really nice. Health bars that we can actually see all the time would also be extremely helpful.
We also need a sort of tournament realm that doesn't update with the patch, it was kind of BS to have the last day of group stage on a new patch. Some things were broken. Fortunately the issue with Zenyatta was hotfixed, but there's a lot of work to be done from the actual game angle. However, I have confidence that by the next year Blizzard will have a lot of these issues ironed out. That will make it more watchable and probably bring a lot more fans in.
Let's talk more about that patch issue. How do you think Blizzard could have done better?
You need to have what League of Legends has, like a tournament realm where the patch is delayed a couple weeks so that they don't have a surprise patch hitting all of a sudden with bugs being introduced and heroes broken. Also, when a new hero is released, it shouldn't be released immediately. You have to wait a couple of weeks and then release it so that it doesn't inject too much chaos in the scene. I don't have problem with the patch changing after the group stage before quarterfinals, but to have one day of group stage played on a completely different patch is insane. You can't have that. That just undermines the competitive integrity of the tournament. I hope they really change that.
Blizzard announced that it will introduce the concept of city-based teams with its Overwatch League. What do you think about that?
I think right now the Overwatch League is focused mostly on North America and Europe. I think, until I see Blizzard come out with plans that they are actually going to do that in Asia, I am skeptical that Korean teams will do that. Personally I don't think that would be very successful in Korea. I think this is the scene that doesn't necessarily need those city-based teams, but at the same time I don't know how valid my opinion is because I would like to hear from people, especially from Korean fans, and see what they think about it. Of course they do have regional baseball teams here, but considering that almost everything operates in Seoul it is going to be weird... I guess you can have like five Seoul teams or whatever. It just doesn't seem like it would change so much in Korea, but it does change a lot in America. I think it is a great idea for the U.S.
Some people say that Overwatch is more about pure mechanical ability compared to LoL. What is your opinion on the standpoint that Overwatch is less strategical than League?
Well, it's a new game, so there's not as much strategy as there will be when pro players and pro teams start to figure everything out over time. Also, the more maps are introduced, the deeper the game's going to go. I think it's going to take another year or two to really hit a very deep level of strategy, but certainly the potential for it exists in Overwatch, it's just a matter of getting there. You could make that claim about League of Legends when it came out - it only had 40 champions when it was released. I played it when it was released, and there were no junglers, the support-ADC meta didn't exist, it looked like an entirely different game than what we're looking at now. So will Overwatch, in a year or two.
I think Overwatch will also benefit greatly by coaching because, the way I see the game, and If I was an Overwatch coach right now, I would be trying to develop an American football-style playbook so you can quickly call the play, which means we have this team composition on this point, and we have three different players that we run with this team composition, maybe Tracer flanks around, and you practice to get all your timings right, and then we just call the play like we would in football, as players all do their thing. Hopefully it works on that point. If not, you die, respawn, and call a different play to try work on. I think we would move into that realm eventually, but it would need the coaching infrastructure for that to happen.
How did you feel watching Korea nail the Overwatch World Cup?
It was great! I really enjoyed the Korean team winning. It seemed like they worked really well together. I think that team might actually be better than any team in Korea right now, like actual team, because of the star players they had. I think when you have EscA and ArHaN together they are together a really dangerous DPS duo, so it was fun to see them. Also, I think Miro was incredible to watch on Winston and definitely deserved the MVP of the tournament, so it made me happy. It's not about being Korean or not Korean, I just like watching the best players and the best video games. Now, all of these people happen to be Koreans, but that's just... [laughs] I just like watching things being played well and beautiful.
Some say that Team Korea's successful teamplay was possible because TaiRong, Afreeca Freecs' Overwatch team coach, was part of the team. Do you agree with that?
I think it probably had an effect. I think you could replace TaiRong with another good Lucio player, have TaiRong coaching, and have that same effect. I think it was really smart for the players to select TaiRong realizing that he could play Lucio on a professional level but also bring his coaching and bring his strategies to the team. I think it was super smart.
We did an interview with Vitality's coach Kévin "Shaunz" Ghanbarzadeh, and he said that Korean teams' successful player management is possible not only because they have a good system, but also because Koreans are culturally inclined to listen to elders. Do you agree?
I think they handle it better mostly because of cultural issues, or cultural reasons. Koreans have a whole hyung(elder brother) mentality in which you're going to listen to your hyung no matter what. It's just built into the culture. Americans don't have that, and it's easier for them to fall out of line not respecting their elders and stuff. I think it's just a cultural advantage that Koreans have in this situation.
There was a general belief that Koreans would not be good at FPS. What did you think?
[Laughs] It's hilarious, right? I heard that so many times when Overwatch was announced and when it was coming out. A bunch of people in the West were saying like, "Oh, Koreans aren't going to be good at Overwatch. They have no FPS training." Meanwhile, Sudden Attack has been the no.2 game in PC Bangs for years before Overwatch came out. I think the Western fans don't know this because Koreans play different FPS games. Of course Koreans play a ton of FPS games. I was like, "That's a ridiculous argument." Also, the other thing is, okay, even if Koreans didn't play any FPS games and they needed to learn the mechanics, Korean players will practice more than the Western pros until they are better than Western pros, right? That's how eSports have operated in Korea; they practice harder. So even if they didn't have any background, I mean, look at ArHaN. He was a HotS player. How was he so good at aiming already? It's just a lot of practice, a lot of natural ability of dealing with games and being professional players for years. I thought that argument was ridiculus when I was hearing it and I was very public about how stupid I thought it was, and surprisingly to everybody but me, or people in Korea, Koreans are already really good in Overwatch. [Laughs]
Do you think Korean teams can continue to stand out in Overwatch like they do in LoL?
I think it will be harder because I think there are a lot of very good FPS players in the West. I think, once the Overwatch League starts, and they start getting coaches and big infrastructure around them, because odds are that Overwatch League is going to be supported by billionares and NBA team owners; these are the people that will probably be vying into that league, and they are going to have a ton of support psychologists, professional coaches, and all the tools to really help those players. Therefore, although I think Koreans are going to continue to do well and be among the best players, I do think that in this game, [it's going to be harder] due to the history of some players, especially for example Quake players; these are the guys who have been FPS pros for ten years. Their experience is worth a lot and I think it'll be more even. Let's put it that way. More even.
Some fans are of the opinion that Korean Overwatch teams are, in general, severely lacking in professionalism compared to their League of Legends counterparts. Do you think this is an issue, and if so, do you think it will be solved in the future?
I think it's only a matter of time until the KeSPA teams arrive. If you look at any scene, if you look at how League of Legends started, it was very similar. We had MiG Frost and Blaze and it was a lot of these little teams that ended up getting picked up. Afreeca is already in, but [in LoL] it took a couple of seasons for SK Telecom, KT, and CJ to arrive in that scene, and I think it's only a matter of time until those guys come into Overwatch. They just freed up a whole bunch of their money by dropping all their StarCraft teams. I'm pretty sure they dropped their StarCraft teams so that they could have the money to be involved in Overwatch in the future.
Some people in Korea say that Overwatch is popular as an FPS only in Korea, that FPS players overseas don't necessarily play Overwatch in favor of traditional big name titles such as Call of Duty and CS:GO.
I think that's ridiculous. [laughs] It's bloody popular in the West right now. It's very popular in North America and Europe. I think what's exciting about Overwatch is that it's the first truly global FPS eSport. Counter-Strike was a thing in the West, but there were other games in different parts of East Asia. They had Sudden Attack, Point Blank, CrossFire... so now we actually have, for the first time ever, a truly global FPS eSports, and I think that's really cool. I think that's a really absurd argument to make. I think that's being played plenty in the West, and there were a ton of people at BlizzCon's Overwatch World Cup. I think it also serves a different group of players. CS:GO is a realistic military shooter, while Overwatch is a MOBA-FPS hybrid, you know, team arena style. So I don't think there is going to be a lot of crossover there. Also... [laughs] God, I don't know, I don't think Blizzard will be planning this giant league for no Western audience.
I think you said before that Overwatch highlights star individuals better than some other team-based games. Is my memory correct, and could you expand on this point?
I said that I wanted Overwatch to let star players shine more. I wanted all ult timers to be increased, perhaps by 25%, so that star players would have more room to shine. I thought it was too team-based before where you didn't necessarily have too much carry potential. I think there's a balance to be had here. I love great teamplay and coordination, but I also want to be able to identify which players are the superstars. My personal belief is that the fewer ults you have in a game, the easier it gets to make differentiations. Star players are going to build their ults a lot faster. The longer it takes everyone to get an ult, the more star players will shine. Games should be decided more on individual ability rather than just everyone preparing their next ult combo all the time. I think it's an important decision to make, and I hope Blizzard finds a middle ground.
In League of Legends, it is hard to see, for example, TSM and Cloud9 coming to Korea to compete with Korean teams. But in APEX, quite a number of Western teams came to Korea. Which system do you prefer?
Definitely this one [APEX]. I miss the early days of LoL when CLG, Dignitas, and Na'Vi all used to come to Korea to compete. It was really fun. What I love about Blizzard's announcement about the Overwatch League is that they don't want to run it here like LoL. So what I hope happens is that Overwatch League starts in America, you have 4~5 months of a season over there, and then for the rest of the year, teams can compete all over the world like CS:GO. Tons of international competitions, teams from the West can keep competing in APEX, for example APEX can keep going when Overwatch League isn't going, so you have tournaments here in Korea with the Western teams, that's what I want, that would be great. Blizzard already said that they're going to have an open circuit for tournament organizers for the rest of the year outside of Overwatch League.
Theoretically we will hopefully have a lot more seasons of APEX in the future that Western teams can be a part of. It would be much better for the fans. It's so fun to watch international competitions and I think the LCS system in Korea gets super boring. I don't even understand the point of Spring Season. It shouldn't even exist. It should just be an open circuit for international competition. They should only have summer season for the World Championship, and the rest of the year, people should be able to hold tournaments as they want. I think it would be much more exciting that way.
Any last words for your fans in Overwatch?
I hope people are enjoying APEX - the observing's been really good. It's always really fun to be at the start of a new eSport to see which players are going to be the first stars of the game and which are going to be those early great teams. We have this wonderful international competition, so I hope everybody's been enjoying having all the foreign teams out in Korea alongside all these newly developing Korean stars. It's been great.
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