The Overwatch League’s inaugural preseason is almost here. On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the whole world will be watching as San Francisco Shock takes on their (all in good fun) rivals, the Los Angeles Valiant. And while none of the players are new to Overwatch, some are new to playing on stage. Live. With an audience cheering them on.
One of those players is DPS main Dante “Danteh” Cruz, a well known streamer who is ready to take that plunge into infamy as part of one of the first teams to ever compete in the Overwatch League. A whole new animal in the esports world. It’s a challenge that Danteh is more than willing to take on.
In fact, he welcomes it.
December 6 can’t come soon enough.
It’s Not Fun Until It’s Competitive
Video games are not a game to Dante “Danteh” Cruz.
Now just days away from participating in the Shock’s Overwatch League preseason match against the Los Angeles Valiant, it’s crazy to think that the 18 year old almost stopped playing Overwatch when it first came out. All because it didn’t have a competitive mode.
“I could only play it for a couple hours,” Danteh confessed, “then I’d get bored. My account was only level 30 when I stopped playing completely.”
Littered with trolls and people who didn’t seem to care how well they work together as a team, Danteh felt as though that apathetic attitude would always spread quickly throughout the team. And this was before Blizzard decided to focus in on Overwatch‘s problem with toxic behavior, so it’s hard to imagine the amount of throwers and one-tricks and Hanzo mains that littered Overwatch in its infancy.
Then competitive mode came out.
And Danteh hasn’t stopped playing since.
“Season 1 was awesome. Everyone wanted to try. And playing professionally is really fun, too. It’s a completely different environment. There are five teammates that are extremely good at the game. That understand and want to learn. It gives you a different drive.”
Taking It To the League
For someone with such a competitive spirit, practicing every day from noon to 8 pm is not a problem.
And that’s exactly what Danteh and his San Francisco Shock teammates do: The pro players practice for eight hours a day, with some breaks in between. It’s a full time job with a minimum $50k a year salary. And benefits. Preparing for the preseason is serious business, and Danteh is a serious player.
At 11 am, Danteh and his teammates meet for breakfast. Then they go to their rooms to warm up, going over what they feel they need to improve or practice. Then they start scrimming.
The focus is to simply play well, he said: “If we’re not winning, we try to figure out what we’re doing wrong. Or what we need to do to win.”
The team’s laser-sharp focus and synergy will make them a formidable foe. And although the team is lacking that special ingredient – the kimchi, we’ll call it – that have people predicting an easy first season victory for London Spitfire and Seoul Dynasty, San Francisco Shock’s limited diversity may actually end up being an advantage. Since the team has no language barriers to work around, the Shock may have an easier time communicating plays to one another in such a fast-paced environment.
That’s not to say that San Francisco Shock doesn’t have its share of diversity.
While most of the team’s players are American, there’s also infamous Swedish troublemaker iddqd and Mexico native nomy. And even though Danteh knew most of them already through playing Overwatch, he still has found it to be an amazing experience playing with them all on one team.
“There’s a lot of different cultures here,” he stated, “but we all mesh well even though there are cultural differences between us. It’s pretty nice having everyone together. Normally, right after [a game] we’ll take off headsets and talk. Go over stuff. Then go to the next block.”
And they don’t only mesh during practice.
Finding various restaurants to try out around their new home of Los Angeles has been a new tradition for Danteh and his teammates. After working up an appetite scrimming, the boys like to head out to dinner at a new place every night.
“There’s so many places to go. You just walk down the road from our apartments and there’s like three burger places just, like, right there.”
While he loves hanging out with his teammates, his tight schedule has taken away from time he used to spend streaming. Said Dante: “It’s been kind of rough. After scrim, we go out to eat dinner. We eat as a team, or people branch off. I don’t have a set up in my apartment yet, so I don’t want to go back to the office. It’s already 10. But if I go home, I can’t stream.”
Shock The World
It’s all a lot different from where Danteh grew up.
There are only 113 players in the League. And of those 113, only 18 are Americans.
It’s crazy to think that one of the best Overwatch players in all 50 states is from a small town in Illinois.
Danteh lived in Illinois his whole life, up until the Overwatch League. And Illinois is not the kind of place where you can find three burger places as soon as you step outside. And the weather is also nothing like sunny LA. “From October to April,” he noted, “it’s really cold. I just don’t like the cold in general.”
Back in Illinois, Danteh began playing Overwatch “out of boredom.” A friend had asked him to play, since they didn’t have much to do after school.
Video games have always been a big part of Danteh’s life. When he was younger, he used to play video games with his father on the PlayStation 2. He remembers being really into Kingdom Hearts and Mario Party.
But like most typical kids, Danteh had parents who were quite concerned with his passion for gaming.
“My mom told me that when I was younger, I’d say I wanted to be a video gamer. Which is funny, because I actually am now. But she’d yell at me, ‘You can’t do that!'”
While Danteh also played soccer since he was in Kindergarten, he also really got into Minecraft in high school. He became a very well-known for it because he decided to start streaming.
“It adds purpose to playing the game.”
Of course. Danteh isn’t one to simply play games for fun. There has to be more to it than that.
“If I’m not streaming, why am I playing? Unless I’m practicing.”
Since so few gamers actually make a living playing games, his mother had some strong points on her side of the argument. Who would have known that Danteh would be one of the first esports athletes to ever participate in the Overwatch League, an esport that is said to most likely generate more than $100 million annually? Who would have known that Danteh would be playing Overwatch on stage, with thousands of fans cheering him on – and even more watching on the Twitch live stream?
While his parents may have been in the dark about their son’s potential, it was becoming clear throughout Danteh’s early run as a professional Overwatch player that he was one of the best American players out there. Maybe even in the world. In fact, he ended Season 5 as the number one overall PC player, globally, with a win rate of around 67%.
He also spent much of 2017 placing first in a variety of tournaments as part of Arc 6 and Denial eSports, maining Tracer and D.Va.
It’s helped him become very familiar with the game’s current meta: Dive. This aggressive game style has teams using tanks to methodically charge the enemy team, aggressively working their way towards the point or payload. Tracer often acts as a distraction, blinking around the enemies in a disruptive manner.
“The whole game is better designed for dive,” he explained. “Winston and D.Va are the best tanks in most maps. Unless he gets an insane buff, I don’t think Reinhardt will be seen in comp.”
And what about Overwatch‘s new support hero, Moira?
“There’s definitely going to be a large amount of maps people play Moira on,” predicted Danteh. “I’ve only played her for 30 minutes. I’m not a support player. But I wanted to figure out her basic mechanics. She’s unique from other healers.”
While Lucio was big for a while, Danteh stated that he is in a “weak spot” right now. Zenyatta is still a strong pick, as is Mercy, despite her nerf.
“Now you can’t res people if they die in the middle of the map,” explained Danteh. “But if your monkey dies in the middle of the map, you can use Zenyatta’s transcendence, and [now that Mercy is invincible] she can go res him. Her ult is really strong right now. It’s super good. It’s a perfectly balanced game right now. There’s a lot of options. Before you had to run Lucio. That’s kind of going away now.”
“Keep Calm and Tracer On”
Back in early August, Danteh and his friends participated in the League tryouts, which consisted of playing 30 to 40 6v6 matches. “Whoever stood out and did good stuff made it to the next tryouts,” explained Danteh. “From then, you’d start doing actual games.”
And do good stuff is exactly what Danteh did.
While he didn’t have any particular teams in mind, San Francisco Shock was one of the first teams to start signing people. And Danteh was one of them.
“I was pretty happy,” he admitted.
And his parents?
“They are really happy. They think it’s awesome.”
The Overwatch League has been met with a lot of hype and anticipation. But many others wonder if Overwatch can truly become a successful esport. People have criticized Overwatch competitive play for its sometimes unclear overhead views. Viewers may not know what to focus on. Some have even called it boring.
But Danteh believes in the League’s success.
“I think it’s going to be really good,” he said. “The World Cup viewership was really insane. There were over 200,000 watching it on Twitch. That’s pretty insane.”
In fact, there were 318,638 viewers on Nov. 4, watching the match between the US and South Korea. While those numbers are indeed promising, we should note that the League of Legends World Championship had 43 million people tuned into the finals. The 2017 Super Bowl had 111.9 million viewers.
But the build-up to Overwatch League’s preseason has been an indicator that the League will be the esport to watch. Twitter and Reddit are especially invested in the League’s newly formed teams. And there’s already been countless predictions about how the preseason match-ups will go. Especially San Fransisco Shock’s 9 pm match with Los Angeles Valiant.
“I think it could go either way,” Danteh speculated earnestly. “We don’t scrim with the teams we’re playing. But it could go either way. It really depends on the performances and how we play in general.”
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