OWL Champion Rupal interview: 'Pros are very frustrated by Overwatch’s direction at the moment'
Thousands of hours of practice have led Rupal "Rupal" Zaman to this year. Winning a world title alongside the Florida Mayhem and being recognised as one of the best supports in the game today, Rupal heads into 2024 with a measured but optimistic outlook. He spoke with GGRecon on practising against Ex Oblivione, what it took to win a title and more.
First, let's start a little lighthearted: You've got to drop your Raising Cane's order of choice. Also, did Maka enjoy it? Have you kept up with reading, what did you last read, and when can we expect a Rupal book club? Finally, you talked about some of the coolest Ubers you've had, but what about the strangest? Any odd Uber stories you can share?
For Cane’s, I think I’ve gotten the same order the past 10 times. A box combo with an extra sauce instead of coleslaw, and a sweet iced tea. Maka did enjoy it. Actually, before we left for Toronto the whole team went to Cane’s in Miami and everyone loved it.
I’m not reading anything at the moment but since the season ended I have read a few more books, the most recent one being Osamu Dazai’s ‘No Longer Human’. A book club has potential but I’ve gotten a bit lazy being home so I need a new book to refresh my attention span.
The strangest Uber I had was last year when I Ubered to the airport for my flight home. My driver spent the whole 30 minutes talking about baseball. Even when I told him that I don’t really watch sports other than basketball, he just talked about baseball, to himself, for the entire ride.
Next on the docket, does this year feel like a whirlwind for you? From winning Pro-Am, the Overwatch League, competing in the 2023 Overwatch World Cup, winning the Battle For Canada, and going through the deepest water to capture the Flash Ops: Holiday Showdown title, we're exhausted just going through your resume. What has this year felt like for you? Does it feel like this is the culmination of all your hard work?
This was the year that I really made it big. I started competing in 2020 and I improved tremendously from team to team. I won my first Overwatch Contenders season in 2021, joined the Overwatch League in 2022, and won the Overwatch League in 2023.
It’s been a very tough year mentally and physically. Triple block scrim days, one-hour long review sessions, grinding ranked til I’m too tired to stay awake. My work ethic and passion for the game are what brought me to where I am now.
Speaking of Flash Ops, what a victory for you all! Running 11-maps hard-fought maps in one day gives echoes of 'Overwatch League Season One' levels of absurd. How did you guys keep your composure playing at such a high level for so long? Do you feel like the warm-up versus WISP helped or hurt you guys?
I do think playing against WISP before the grand final helped my team. Putting the pressure on us so early helped make the clutch moments in the final against Primis Tornado easier.
WISP also I believe had a very strong macro understanding of the meta composition. Seeing the way they focused on our DPS players rather than our tank forced us to make adjustments during the series.
I am proud of my whole team for staying composed in so many high-tense moments. If just one person on Timeless played imperfectly or gave up during one of the overtime fights, we would’ve lost it then and there.
Timeless seemed quite fond of this Junker Queen composition, could you walk us through the thought process behind that? Second to that, there was some talk on the desk that some players thought going Reaper/Moira might counter that style, do you have any comments on that?
In scrims leading up to the tournament, we actually played a decent amount of Junker Queen comps.
We ended up beating Primis Tornado very easily in our first scrim against them, both teams playing Queen. However, in our second scrim the tables flipped and they beat us convincingly.
We rethought the meta at the time and decided to focus mostly on the Ramatra comp instead, thinking Queen was too difficult to play on most maps where Mei is strong. Then, during the tournament, we made the call to play Junkerqueen since we felt it fit our playstyle better.
It had mixed results but it did win us New Queen Street against WISP, and Nepal against Primis Tornado. We were worried that the Reaper/Moira comp might counter the Queen, mostly because Genji becomes much harder to play when being marked by a Moira and Mei.
Let's stir the pot a little: if there was an Atlantic Showdown between Timeless and Ex Oblivione, who would take the match? Is that something you guys would be interested in putting together?
We scrimmed Ex Oblivione one time. We lost the first round to them playing Queen while we played Ramatra. Then, we played Queen for the rest of the scrim and beat them convincingly.
It was our first time playing the Junkerqueen/Genji comp and we still won. I believe the scrim score was 4-2, and seeing how we are the clutchest team, we would beat them in an actual match as well.
I’m not sure about the rest of the team since I know a lot of us were frustrated playing on EU ping, and the EU players playing on NA ping, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a showmatch. I’d also be interested in playing against Team Hamster, the APAC champions.
For 2024, do you think Overwatch is going in the right direction? Is the more open circuit system something you're excited by or would you prefer the stability of a partnered league again?
I, and other pros, are very frustrated by Overwatch’s direction at the moment. Mostly because of a lack of transparency.
With the league in place, I felt like I knew what the future held. Now that it’s gone, an open circuit is certainly exciting in an esport sense of spectators and fun tournaments. However, I would prefer the league system if it was still an option.
Lastly, they say that one of the hardest positions to be in is in the lead and with such an impressive and busy year, what lies ahead for you? Does Overwatch feel any different now that you've won a world championship?
Overwatch does feel different after winning the Overwatch League. Both at that time, and at the current moment I consider myself one of the best players in the entire world. It’s an indescribable feeling of accomplishment and the high is yet to leave.
My one goal is to continue competing with the same mindset and avoid developing an ego.
One thing I remember [Jordan "Gunba" Graham] telling us a long time ago still rings high. He said something along the lines that, players that win tournaments stop trying as hard because they believe that winning just comes naturally for them. It doesn’t.
Winning takes a lot of effort both from an individual and a team. If I want to keep winning in this new Overwatch scene, it’ll take the same amount of effort I gave to Mayhem’s championship this year.