Veteran esports caster Erik DoA Lonnquist talks with us about the past and present of his career and the future of the Overwatch League.
With a career spanning ten years, Erik “DoA” Lonnquist, is a veteran esports caster who’s entering an interesting transitional period in his career. His time in the Overwatch League ended earlier this year and his departure lead to moving on from an iconic casting partnership that lasted almost seven years and spanned over two games. Since then, DoA is taking the time to reevaluate his place in the industry and seeking to go back to the basics, and to be involved with simply the games he enjoys. I was able to talk with him this past week to discuss what endeavours he's undertaken since his departure from the league, and to see his thoughts on a lot of the controversies and issues facing Overwatch’s esports scene.
How have you been adjusting to quarantine life?
Well, I mean it’s easier and it’s harder at the same time, cause like, we [esports] aren’t affected as much as other industries, but it does kind of suck to do everything online rather than be in a studio and be part of the bigger shows. So, I definitely miss that, but you know, we make the content we can. We’re soldiering on. I’m thankful we can do anything really, because there's a lot of people in the entertainment industry who are just on hold right now.
It’s been a while since your departure from the Overwatch League, what have you been doing these past few months, how has it been working for you?
It’s been going pretty well actually. I just wanted to go back to being pure freelance, and sort of reevaluate what games I wanted to work on and reevaluate my career. I did say I wanted to go back to the games that I missed, so you know, I casted the League of Legends Twitch Rivals match, participated in the LCS tailgate the other week, the hearthstone masters tour stops. You know, not the big leagues yet but just wanting to get back into the games I enjoy.
But other than that, generally Team Fight Tactics. It’s a game I really enjoy, and I’ve been working with other organizations to really push that community forward. Riot is finally starting to come out with some competitive news for TFT, which is really exciting but the scene is really underserved as far as tournaments go; the more opportunities we produce for pros to compete and for people to watch, the bigger the scene will get. I’m doing a tournament with Giant Slayer, where this weekend people will be able to see the Chinese players play for the first time. So, I've been staying busy that’s for sure and it’s been a busier year than ever.
You seem to be pretty involved with Team Fight Tactics so far, what about the game is really drawing you in and keeping you invested?
Well, I started back in StarCraft II, so strategy games always have kind of been my favourite thing. Weirdly enough, TFT bears a lot of similarities to the feeling you get when you’re playing StarCraft. You have to think on the fly and be able to adapt very quickly. And obviously there’s much less physical demand in TFT compared to StarCraft. But in terms of decision points, having to make transitions between situations in an early, middle, and late game. Scouting is important. So, there’s a lot of core attributes of playing StarCraft well that translate here, and it’s what drew me into it. The game is so deep and I’m learning something new every day. So, yeah, I’ve been more into TFT than anything else in a while.
For a game from such a popular developer, why haven’t we seen TFT’s esports scene take off? Is it just there isn’t enough community interest, or is it something Riot isn’t doing?
I think it’s a variety of factors. The most obvious thing is TFT is just isn’t a game that is designed to fill arenas. It’s never going to be a League of Legends, Overwatch, or a Counter-Strike. It’s not going to be a huge arena filling esport, but it’s not really designed to be. It’s more in the vain of Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering. It’s going to have a solid audience, a solid following, but it’s never going to be a huge esport which is okay, because it’s not designed to be.
I think the thing that has held it back more than anything, is that developers, more so Riot and Blizzard, have conditioned tournament organizers, to expect that once the developer's esports plans are released that it’ll be very disruptive to the grass root's organizers plans. So I think tournament organizers are more hesitant in general to make community tournaments for a newer game because there's that fear that when the developers settle in that all of that will go away, or the licensing will make it very difficult to run events. That causes essentially less tournaments to appear early on, which creates less incentive for people to take the game seriously. There’s a lot of players that want to go pro in TFT but if there are no tournaments, then it’s not worth it. So, I think everyone has just been waiting to see what Riot would do on the developer side of things before they commit. Now that we’ve got more information about that, and it looks like Riot is looking to rely on these community events to feed into their plans, which is the way to do it in my opinion. Now people are a lot more eager and a lot more excited to get into it. Before it was a lot of waiting to see what the developer would do. I think things are going to grow pretty fast from here on out.
Is this becoming an issue with esports? Are too many developers harming their game’s esports scenes by exerting too much control over them?
Oh yeah, this stretches back long ago. Like just look at what the World Championship Series did to StarCraft in Korea. Korea was doing really great in terms of OGN and other organizers hosting top tier tournaments, there was a team league. There were a lot of ways for StarCraft II to excel and have opportunities to succeed. Unfortunately, the WCS comes in and took away a lot of those opportunities. They took away the main tournaments from two to one, and there really wasn't much of a team thing anymore. If you look at what Riot did with League, they made it very difficult to run community tournaments and lower leagues. LCS was kind of like the only game in town. That’s a problem because it hurts prospective broadcasters and tournament organizers and it also makes it hard for new talent to come up in the scene or for newer casters to rise up because there aren’t a lot of opportunities to cast things if you’re not a part of the major leagues. While it’s good for us, who’ve already been in it for a while to maintain job security, that’s not what we want. We want this scene to grow, and if you want it to grow, you need more opportunities for the next generation to come up.
I think developers are learning their lesson, and I think we're going to see a shift away from everything controlled by them and letting third parties make and broadcast the tournaments. We’ve been saying in the industry for a long time that developers are not the ones who should be running the leagues, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. They want to maintain control of their IP which I get, but they’re not broadcasters. Riot's done the best job of it by far, they’ve become a pretty good broadcaster, but it’s not really a burden the developer should want to take on. I think we’re going to see a shift from that in the coming years. There are a lot of good partnership opportunities with your OGN's and ESL's of the world. They’ll work closely with the developers, take on the cost and hassle of the broadcast, and the developer can just develop the game. It’s been a wild ten years, but I think you will see a shift from the developers to third parties.
Is this what’s been contributing to the perceived decline of the Overwatch League? What are some of the bigger problems the league is facing?
I think unfortunately at this point, and you know I love Overwatch and I want Overwatch League to be successful, but there's so many problems going on in that league right now. The tier II scene is basically gone, it was never supported like it should’ve been. So of course, it didn’t grow and wasn’t appealing. If you look at this year, there are no stages, there was just this big mass of games that gets boring in the middle. Now we see they’re changing it by adding a tournament, but there were a lot of people telling them before the season started that this format was not going to be exciting. They went and did it anyway. I think random hero bans were a bad idea and just kind of delegitimatizes the league a little more. Role lock… it’s tough to implement something like that. There’s just been so many issues, which is unfortunate because I genuinely think Overwatch is a fantastic game, but there’s too much wrong with the structure of the league surrounding the game. I hesitate saying negative things because I want them to succeed. I don’t want to say something that would get someone to stop watching Overwatch League. If you like it keep watching it, but I’ve always seen it as something much more than it could be.
To step away from Overwatch for a second, because I’m sure you’ve been asked about that a lot. You’ve talked a lot about helping the next generation of esports professionals. Are there any specific projects you’ve been working on that meet that goal?
There’s no specific project, but I’ve been pretty active in talking to people who’ve been casting. I’ve been working with orgs like North America Scholastic Esports Foundation, talking to high school students who get careers in esports, guest lectures for UCI in their casting class, been to a lot of events and basically I’ve just been trying to get involved. What I’ve been saying is I’ve got all this knowledge in esports, and I just want to share it. I want to help people get a head start into their esports and their fields. Because as esports grows we’re going to need more passionate gamers to fill those positions. So, I’ve just been trying to talk to as many orgs as I can and try to get as much as I know out there.
Looking back at your career, would you say you reached a lot of the goals you set out for yourself in the beginning?
It’s tough to answer because I’ve never really set a goal for myself. The thing I wanted to keep in front of me in my career was to make sure that I’m improving things as I move forward. Whether it be the broadcast through cast, the compensation for casters, or improving the quality of feedback newer casters are getting, as long as I’m doing that and improving on myself, then I’ll be satisfied; and I am satisfied with what I’ve been able to do in the last 10 years. If I left esports today, which I won’t do, but if I did, I feel as though I left it in a better place than I joined it. Not to say there haven’t been setbacks, I would say Overwatch League has been a bit of a setback. I had much higher hopes for what that league would be able to do than it has ended up doing. But you know, that’s just life, and in any career, you’re going to spend time on projects that aren’t going to work out. When that happens, you don’t dwell on it too much, you take the lessons learned from the situation and you move on. This year has been me moving on.
Was there a straw that broke the camel’s back with the Overwatch League? With things you’ve been reluctant to be specific about before, has there been enough time that’s passed where you can talk about it?
I don’t think there’s a straw that broke the camel's back. I feel like I’ve been pretty open with what I’ve been unhappy with. A lot of it comes from the upper echelon of the league. I don’t believe they have the vision necessary to make it successful, and I think that’s being proven right now... I want the league to be successful, I love Overwatch, and I really liked working with the team at Blizzard. I think it’s a game that the world needs right now, with its positive look at future. But until the issues that I’ve mentioned are fixed, I don’t see the League getting out of the situation they’re in.
What about the fans? What do you think they can do in hard times like this?
Enjoy it as much as you want to enjoy it, don’t let a reddit post change your view of what you enjoy. If you’re still enjoying OWL despite everything else, that’s fine and I’m happy about that. I would say be vocal about what you want to see changed that does make a difference, but don’t stop liking the game if you like it. Don’t let the community change your enjoyment of something. But it’s always important to not just say ‘x’ is bad, it’s ‘x’ is bad and can be improved by this. I think OW could still be something big. It did a lot of cool things in the space, it’s the first fully franchised city-based global esports league. All the core concepts that excited me about it are still there and of course, at the core, there is a really good video game. I think they can still make a good product even if 2020 is rough for them.
Obviously, Sinatraa’s departure is huge and quite frankly, incredibly worrying news for the Overwatch League. Of course, I have to get your thoughts on the matter.
It’s pretty rough to have your reigning champion and league MVP leave, not even so much for a competitor, because I don’t honestly see Valorant as that much of a competitor to Overwatch. They’re very different game. They’re both shooters but at opposite ends of the spectrum. I get Sinatraa's frustrations with the league, and what he’s feeling are what a lot of people are feeling. I think it’s indicative of major changes that need to happen top to bottom, I think in format, in vision. If it’s going to succeed, those changes are going to need to happen this year. It’s unfortunate to lose Sinatraa, but I see it the way others are seeing it, that there need to be changes.
To start wrapping up, what are the three matches from each of the three games you’ve cast that define your career?
I think the easy answers are:
- LCK Summer 2013 Playoffs Grand Finals: SKT v. KT Bullets
An amazing bo5 and I think Monte and I killed it on the cast. But it’s almost like we didn’t need to be there the games were so good. Probably one of the best series of all time for League of Legends. And of course, it’s host to the famous Faker “look at the moves” moment.
- Overwatch League 2019 Playoffs Winner’s Bracket Finals
It was Monte and I’s last broadcast together, a really great series with some of my best Overwatch casting.
- GSTL Team League May Finals: MVP vs. SlayerS.
A great series of Star Craft II team league games that ended in a very exciting match between SlayerS MMA and MVP DongRaeGu. I definitely lose it in this one.
Just for the Overwatch fans, what’s the APEX match that you would pick?
- OGN Overwatch APEX Season 1 Grand Finals
Of course, it’s this one. Envy winning, the first time a non-Korean esports team won a tournament in Korea. I would say the games are fun, but you can also just skip to the end and watch the celebration. It was a historic event, and we got to spend a lot of time with the Envyus guys, got to know them while they were in Korea. Getting to know them and then seeing them complete this task was incredible. I’ll never forget when INTERNETHULK messaged me before they came out to Korea, and simply told me they were going to come over and win a tournament. And I was like okay buddy, we'll see that when you get here. And what a legacy you know? To say that and actually come out there and pull it off.
Any additional or final comments?
Check out TFT, it’s a really fun game. It’s not as hard to get into as people might think it is, it’s surprisingly fun to watch. Giant Slayer is usually where all the tournaments are being broadcasted now, so if you want to see the best TFT, check that out.
Follow DoA on Twitter, Instagram or his Discord!
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.