Climbing the ladder: Practice tips from the Overwatch elite

Aim Lab

This is part 2 of 2 of an interview with former semi-pro Overwatch player, Brian Kang. For part 1, click here.

What leads to some players have better mechanics than others? To learn more, we talked with Brian Kang, a former semi-pro Overwatch player who regularly played against some of the top players in the world.

As he tells us, one of the most critical factors separating the elite from the rest of the pack is disciplined practice.

Read on to learn more about Brian’s experience in climbing the ladder, developing a disciplined practice routine, and other insights on what separates the pros from the joes.

 

Part 2 of 2

Statespace: Brian, what’s your backstory on how you became a top Overwatch player? 

Brian: So, I guess I will start in the middle of Season 3. So, I was a high Masters player for, I don’t know, four months maybe, and it was only after the next season started that I was able to keep myself in Grand Master. So, the reasoning I think was one, I got better gear. Like I just bought a desktop, that was a big part of the jump. But then two was I started playing with a team. So, I just formed a team of other high Masters players and they introduced me to like concepts and mechanics that I hadn’t thought about before and having to become their shot caller just made my game sense just that much higher.

And then I think once I started playing with a team a lot, we started practicing like three times a week, four times a week, then I would play ladder after the practices and that’s when I started noticing like “Oh yeah, my skill level is, I’m being upgrading pretty hard.”

Aim Lab

Brian was a Lucio main and in-game leader for his semi-pro team.

Statespace: How did get involved in the semi-pro Overwatch and eSports scene?

Brian: Okay, so we entered this league called the Overwatch University League, which was supposed to be a casual competitive league if that makes sense, and we were in the second top division and we went undefeated, so after that some manager or something scouted us and was like “Hey, would you like to join our organization?” And we thought about it and he was like “Oh there’s X, Y, Z benefits, and we’re sponsored.” So we thought about it and we said “You know what? Yeah sure. Let’s give it a try.” I’ve always wanted to be a pro gamer so I thought I’d give it a shot, and after we joined those guys they were called Castaway, then they renamed themselves, Genesis.

Yeah, anyway, so as Genesis we joined other tournaments. Athena Cup Open League was one of them, Overwatch Contenders was one of them, that’s like the big Blizzard sponsored one, Academy Gaming Weekly, we still did Overwatch University League, we did Rivalcade, those kind of things. So, it was like we would play in three or four tournaments a week, and otherwise scrim throughout. I think we kind of realized we were semi-pro when we placed pretty high in all of those things. So, in Athena Cup, I think we were like top 15 or something, out of like 200 teams. Contenders, we were like top 64, maybe 32, I don’t remember, one of those out of like 500 teams.

We also started playing and scrimming against like tier two teams like Renegades, BK Stars sometimes we played them, Evil Geniuses. So we started playing against these brand name teams and they were competitive games. We would not usually win, but they were competitive games. I think even in Contenders we took a round off Renegades, and I think at that point they were considered tier one NA. So we thought like “Okay we’ve made it as a team.” Like “Okay cool. Let’s keep going and let’s keep trying to push for pro status.”

Statespace: Having played all the way up to one of the highest levels of Overwatch, how would you say skill differs from the top 500, 5,000 or even say, the top 5 million?

Brian: To give you some context, I think top 5 million is like Diamond. So, those guys don’t really hit their shots most of the time I would say. Well, maybe not most of the time, but more often than not I can expect them reasonably to miss. Nowadays I play a lot of arcade and quick play with my friends and they’re much lower level than me, so I play against Diamond players a lot, and Masters players. The difference between a Diamond and even a Master is, purely mechanically speaking, is just I’m very confident in my ability to kill a Diamond player even if I’m playing support.

more often than not I can expect [Diamond players] to miss

Statespace: Diamond players are going to be more variable and they’re going to try to take shots they’re not going to hit?

Brian: Yeah. And they will try to do it still, that’s the more mind-boggling thing. Maybe they’re trying to get better and the only way to get better is to attempt those things, but for example, they’ll see people on stream doing some crazy thing like shooting a Tracer in a crack between two barrels or something and they’ll try to hit that shot and it just won’t.

Statespace:  What advice would you give to those types of players?

Brian: Practice range. Just practice your mechanics.

IDDQD, a pro Overwatch player with the San Francisco Shock, showing how he makes use of the practice range.

Statespace: Did you do a lot of that coming up?

Brian: Yeah, that’s kind of one of the reasons I got from Masters to like mid-Grandmasters.

Statespace: How often did you practice? And what was your routine?

Brian: So, before playing competitive every time I would just play Lucio and just wall ride and shoot things, or like do specific things to like peak shooting, or like flicking from one bot to another really quickly just over and over again just to warm up the muscles. I would do that as any support really, like Zenyatta, and Ana as well.

Statespace: So warming up your muscles makes a difference?

Brian: Yeah. And actually having the intention to improve your aim by practicing — it’s half the battle.

actually having the intention to improve your aim by practicing —  it’s half the battle

Statespace:  How much of a difference does it make?

Brian: Well I went from Masters to GM so that’s pretty good.

Statespace: And you attribute a lot of that on the practice range and improving your basic mechanics?

Brian: Yeah, that certainly helped my Ana play for example because Ana is very mechanically intensive. Well, she’s everything intensive, but more mechanically intensive than Lucio for example.

Statespace: And so what’s your practice process? Like “Okay, I’m going to go play a match, but I’m going to do 20 minutes in the range first.” And you did that for months on end?

Brian: Yes. Months. Yeah, so I would play practice range and then I would play arcade too, once again, warm up against actual people, maybe two or three matches, and only then I would play competitive.

Statespace: What is your full warm-up routine?

Brian: So first I would, it sounds really dumb but I would do exercise really quickly first, like some calisthenics, like push-ups or jumping jacks, or whatever, just to get the blood flowing, and then I would go to the practice range for 20 minutes working on flicking, tracking, just aiming in general, as well as real world competitive stuff like flick shooting, or like peek shooting, or wall riding or whatever, and then I would go to arcade and I would play a DPS actually, and warm that up in case I needed to play that role. or maybe another 20 minutes, and then I would play competitive finally.

Statespace: What would happen if you try to play a competitive without doing your warm-up?

Brian: If I was playing Lucio, my aiming would be crappier, but everything else would be kind of okay because Lucio is not really mechanically intensive, but if I had to play like Zenyatta or Ana I would miss everything.

Aim Lab Statespace

Mechanically intensive characters like Ana require additional warm-up time.

Statespace: So there’s no way to effectively warm-up in the game?

Brian: You can kind of, before a match starts you have a minute and you can kind of practice flicking or whatever, but it’s not the same. It’s not enough.

Statespace: Do most players at GM level follow a warm-up routine along those lines?

Brian: Yeah, I see that a lot. So, like, I would play competitive with my team sometimes and every time if they hadn’t warmed up they would just say “Hey, let me hit the practice range for like five minutes.”

Statespace: And it makes that big of a difference?

Brian: Yeah. A lot of people in Diamond and Masters don’t do that and I would argue that’s kind of what’s holding them back aim wise.

Statespace: It sounds like you’re very disciplined in making that cognizant effort to get better, and that you’re approaching preparation like a pro athlete.

Brian: Yeah. I actually remember hearing a really insane one, which was Mendokusai, who used to play for Cloud9 (now with the Houston Outlaws). He said that he never feels warmed up unless he has been in the practice range for 7 hours. So, whenever he went to LANs he apparently had just been in the practice range for like 7 hours.

Statespace: Wow, that’s intense. How, about you? How did you develop your warm-up routine?

Brian: Just part of watching streamers. So, like Taimou for example, watching him practice flicks.

Taimou, a pro Overwatch player for Dallas Fuel, practicing his flicks.

Statespace: And you started to notice a difference in your game right away?

Brian: Oh yeah, definitely.

Statespace: What advice would you give to younger players that are just coming into Overwatch? If you wanted to become a pro gamer, or a semi-pro gamer and get up to the level you got up to, what advice would you give them?

Brian: Pick a DPS and just play. You’re not going to get yourself out of Diamond, or out of Gold or something by playing flex and playing support, unless you’re really good, but if you were really good then you wouldn’t be there. So, yeah, I mean unfortunately it’s a mentality that many sub-Diamond players have so you’re going to have to deal with that, but that is how I got myself out of Plat for example in the first season of competitive. And it was like play and practice, play and practice DPS specifically.

After Diamond practice is a big thing. Positioning yourself is a huge thing. So, I’ve seen people in Diamond who are actually mechanically very gifted, like very good, but their positioning is crap. So, like the Widow who will hit every flick shot, but is standing in a place where it’s easy to kill her.

So, my advice for Diamond and up is try to go for a low risk, low reward place, and try to think about the counter play to the options that you have before you decide to take an action.

And especially watch your deaths. For all levels watch your deaths. Why did you die? How did you die? Was there something you could have done? Why didn’t you do it? That kind of thing.

Statespace: What do you define as practice?

Brian: Practice would be like my warm-up routine. Like hitting the practice range and stuff.

Statespace: How early would you subscribe people to kind of start adopting those strategies?

Brain: As early as possible. If you’re like a Gold player and you’re trying to DPS your way out, if you can’t hit anything, you’re not useful.

If you’re like a Gold player and you’re trying to DPS your way out, if you can’t hit anything, you’re not useful.

Statespace: Who should people look to find good information on how to develop good practice strategies?

Brian: For DPS, Taimou’s old videos you’ll find on YouTube. He’s very good at flicking so look at that. IDDQD, he’s one of the best trackers I’ve ever seen. I guess watching pro players stream is always good. So, like Kephrii, sinatraa, yeah, this is strictly DPS by the way. I played against his Kephrii’s Widow, it’s insane.

Kephrii warming-up in the practice range.

Statespace: What’s the basic toolkit that people need?

Brian: Yeah. Tracking, spacing, understand the map, understand positioning, and know when to use your ult. That’s the bedrock I think. Honestly, if you are below Diamond, if you just take the high ground as Soldier and just don’t shoot until you get high ground then you’ll just automatically be better than most Soldiers out there.

I would say have at least two characters in each category that you’re comfortable with. So, for example, for me personally it’s like Soldier, Tracer on DPS, and then Lucio, Ana in that order in Support, and then on Tanks, Winston, Zarya. So, for example, if you have a team of all DPS then you can switch. Or if you’re being countered, let’s say you’re Soldier and their D.VA is just on you all of the time you can switch to Tracer.

Statespace: Brian, this has been fascinating. What’s up next for you?

Brian: Yeah, so I’ve kind of retired from playing competitively. I guess if I wanted to come back I have that option, but yeah, right now I’m just working on my own stuff, my own games, and my work.

Statespace: Thanks for speaking with us. We’ll be looking out for your game, Stage Fright!

About Brian

Brian Kang is a former semi-pro Overwatch support player/in-game leader with a SR high of 4289. His teams have gone undefeated in the OW University League (OWUL) Season 1, finished top 4 in United Gaming Clans (UGC) Gold Season 3, finished top 64 of 512 in Contenders Season 0, and top 20/120 in Athena Open Cup League (ACOL) Season 1. He is now coaching New York University’s Overwatch team.

Brian is also an NYC based independent game developer focusing on cross-genre work, which you can view at http://thebriankang.com. His rhythm horror game Stage Fright comes out in late 2017.

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