Interview: Fusion University's Elk
Fusion University (FU) recently took to the stage during the LA World Cup qualifiers to play XL2 Academy in the Contenders NA Season 2 Grand Finals. FU went on to win that series 4-0, and now the players are hopeful that winning Contenders back-to-back will all but ensure their chances of getting into the Overwatch League.
I had a chance to chat with Fusion University’s support player Elk about his time with the team, what’s in store for his career, and what he wants to do after Overwatch.
First of all, tell us about yourself.
My screen name is Elk, I’m 18, turning 19 [on September 23] which will be exciting. I am the only member on Fusion University who was eligible for Season 1 [of the Overwatch League], so I have some extra, vested interest to prove I’m ready and good enough for Season 2.
I think I’ve put forward a pretty good resume given  Contenders Season 1 and Contenders Season 2. I’m the main support, in-game leader, and team captain for Fusion University.
I think this next one is an easy question for you then. What’s your goal for the future in Overwatch?
My goal would definitely be Overwatch League. I have this jokey step program from before Contenders where I was sitting around with some of my friends like Corey from Gladiators Legion, Goliath from XL2, and we were trying to figure out what our longer-term game plan was. None of us were in Contenders at the time, and we were all worried we wouldn’t get into Contenders, let alone perform in Contenders, and we were like:
- Step 1: Get into Contenders.
- Step 2: Win Contenders.
- Step 3: Get into Overwatch League.
- Step 4: Win Overwatch League.
I did Step 1 and Step 2, so now I have to trial and show I’m good enough for the Overwatch League teams and then hopefully, with enough time, can be up on that Finals stage.
Photo credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
Let’s talk a bit about Contenders. What do you feel Fusion University improved on in your showings between Seasons 1 and 2 this year?
The only roster change we had between Season 1 and 2 was that we swapped our off-tank. We brought on BERNAR, we removed crakinlakin, and far as our match record (at this point Elk went on to list the FU series scores for both seasons, permanently etched into his memory), we had a much more dominant run this Contenders season than we did last season, and we’re more convincing in the show of our strength.
A lot of it just came down everybody just getting used to each other. Fusion flew everybody out to Philadelphia for about four weeks during the regular Group Stage that helped with everybody’s synergy: getting to know each other as people and not just players. I think it’s mostly the experience everybody got because everybody on the team was pretty experienced, but having the cohesion from actually playing together for a while helped a lot.
You had a coach change in there, too.
So we had two coaches, and then Aero went to [the Dallas Fuel] right before playoffs in Season 1 and I think that shook up the team a little bit. Kirby came out to Poland with us to try to fill that role because we weren’t really sure how the team would perform without Aero there.
After Season 1 we weren’t sure if we were going to pick up another head coach, if PaJion was going to fill that role, or what was going to happen. It turned more into a player-led team. The direction for the team was a lot more communal than top-down for better or worse. Obviously we were performing very well, so I’d say for the better. It was a pretty interesting team environment because we weren’t really functioning as if we had a head coach, then assistant coaches, and they would tell the players how to play, but it was more like a group of people trying to figure out what the best stuff to run was.
Do you feel you have a preference for one or the other, a coach or player-led coaching?
I think in Contenders I liked the free flow aspect of [being player-led]. If you saw WhoRU’s quote, “The comp we played the most in the Finals we only learned two days before the Finals actually happened.” There’s definitely room for both of them, but I found it very interesting because I hadn’t had experience in an environment that was very communal like that. All of my competitive experience has been very top-down, “Coach wants to play this comp, the team will play this comp.”
Zach, for instance, made a lot of our Sombra rollouts and the way we position our Sombra comps. WhoRU was the person who said, “I don’t want to be playing Genji in these spots, I want to be playing Doomfist.” Even Beasthalo in the quarterfinals made a realization where he’s like, “Okay, I know we’ve only been scrimming Hammond, but we’re down 0-2 and I think Hammond is bad. I’m going to play Winston and we’re going to reverse sweep this.” (Hint: they did.) I think a lot of stuff like that helped elevate us to the next level this season.
Were the Grand Finals your first time at the Blizzard Arena?
I had been there to watch a couple of Overwatch League games, but it was my first time ever playing in it.
What’s going through your head when you’re walking out to the Blizzard Arena stage for the first time?
Despite Fusion University being a favorite in every match we’ve played so far in Contenders, there is always a level of fear I have that something in-game will go wrong, like we wouldn’t prepare for something and it’ll catch us off-guard. Every time I’m walking to the stage, be it Poland or L.A., the only thing I’m thinking about is, “What is my job? What am I supposed to do when I get on that stage? What do I do if something unexpected happens?” Stuff like that.
Even though it’s kind of an overwhelming feeling afterwards, I think leading up to it and during it, I’m just completely entranced in the actual game itself.
Photo credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
FU was very dominate over XL2 in the Season 2 Grand Finals, giving up only 1 point. What do you feel worked so well for Fusion University that XL2 just couldn’t break?
There was a very interesting dynamic. We had a month to prepare for this match, right? Most Contenders regions had a pretty sizable break between their semifinal match and their finals match and because of that, all the other Contenders teams had stopped scrimming, so the only scrim partner we had that was consistent was Team USA. I think that because we were able to scrim Team USA for four hours a day, five days a week usually, maybe a little less than that, it led to us both challenging each other in ways I think we had not thought were in the meta.
Both teams started out playing Sombra/Tracer, some Hammond, and then we swapped to Sombra/Genji, and they swapped to like some Brigitte comps, and then we played Sombra/Tracer to try to beat the Brig comps, then they tried Doomfist, and as soon as they tried Doomfist, we realized, “Oh my god, Doomfist beats every single comp we’ve been playing.”
That was two or three days before the Final, but we made the decision then that this comp feels like it beats everything else, so we’re also going to try to play it. It worked out pretty well.
I definitely feel like the enclosed meta, since [FU and Team USA] were pretty much only scrimming each other, it really helped elevate both teams. You even saw Team USA in the [World Cup] group stage looked extremely dominant. I think both of us got to a better place in the meta than most other teams because we were only scrimming each other.
Do you know who XL2 was scrimming against?
I’m pretty sure they were scrimming against Team Canada, which I think is even funnier because that shows a very cool parallel. (This is a reference to how both USA and Canada won the Los Angeles World Cup qualifiers, but also the final game of the those qualifiers where the US defeated Canada.)
In the Grand Finals, you’re on Rialto and it’s the final moments. You can see the payload is meters away from you winning and XL2’s defense is falling apart. What’s going through your head at that point?
Don’t let them touch cart.
We’ve had some times in scrims where we lose completely winnable fights because we think we’ve won. The most notable one I think was, we thought we won Anubis first point in scrims. Sinatraa came back and one-clipped two of us, stuck somebody [with Pulse Bomb], Recalled, and contested enough for his teammates to get back, so especially in those last-second fights, you’re making sure who can touch the point, do they have any ults up, we don’t want to waste our ults, what’s the best position to be in if they can touch and it’s just really important to get those things down, so that way in the high-pressure situations you’re consistent.
So you were able to stay focused after you learned some tough lessons.
Photo credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
What was your favorite moment during the Grand Finals, be it in-game or out?
I think it was map 2 [King’s Row], the only real time we got stuck, map 2 on attack. I made a call to push high ground (the moment) instead of doing our default because they were running a comp on defense, second point King’s Row, that we were not used to. As soon as I made that call and we won that first fight we had been stuck on for like two minutes, is when I realized that as long as we don’t make any big mistakes, we pretty securely had it locked up.
It was pretty clear from the first map that we had a slightly better understanding of the meta than they did, and then as soon as we were able to get over getting stuck on a map for two minutes and losing some fights we should have won, it definitely gave me a lot of confidence going into the second half of the match.
Do you have a specific moment or time where you decide, “This isn’t working and it’s time to switch,” or is it instinct?
I think it’s more instinct. I think it’s hard on Uni because we have a lot of very, very good players who can all be like, “Our comp is good, our comp should be working but we’re not winning fights,” and I think that’s the hardest time to swap. When you have an ult that makes the comp good or you know you could be winning these fights, but tiny mistakes are biting you, sometimes it takes somebody, and it’s not always me, it could be Zach, it could be Beast, who makes that call of, “Even though we’re playing what we practiced, and we know it should be working, it’s not working and we need to swap so we don’t lose.”
It’s not an easy decision. In a team environment where your teammates have to be giving you that trust if you make a call, to follow it, but it’s also important that if they think you’re going to throw the match by making that call, that they’re willing to step up and say, “I don’t think that’s right.”
In Season 1 for instance, in our final match against Toronto on Oasis and it’s like 99 to 99, we ended up swapping to McCree/Lucio/Zenyatta, which was the worst possible comp imaginable. It should not have been getting played, but I made the call because I had Beat (a.k.a. Sound Barrier), and we made the call to swap Mercy and I said, “No, I know I have to stay to use this Beat.” Even though it’s important to trust in your teammates calls, it’s also important to realize when you are the person playing that hero, sometimes you have to be able to step up and say, “Even though you’re making this call and I respect you’re making that call, as the player playing this hero, I know I should be on this.”
Do you have a final arbiter on whose call to go with?
Not really. Very rarely in a tournament match do we run into a situation we haven’t had in scrims. Normally in scrims we’ll argue about it until we lose, which is fine. That’s the whole point of the practice environment. You get those kinks out of the way. So we’ll argue to a point where it’s, “I think into some comp we should swap to Winston/D.Va dive on King’s Row,” and Beasthalo wants to swap to GOATS, something of that nature. We’ll argue about it for most of the scrim block, but what we’ll end up with is after that scrim block, we’ll talk about it, we’ll come to some conclusions, and next time we’re in that scrim, the first person who thinks about it says, “Guys, we’re in this situation again, let’s do this idea.” Everybody’s on board and we run with it.
A lot of the time in scrim blocks is trying to figure out the consensus on things, and then once you have all the consensus down, making it work. The first time you play against the 3-3 comp in scrims, you probably lose to it horribly. Second time you come up with a game plan, but it doesn’t work, third time you refine the game plan, and then maybe by the 70th time, no joke, you have a really clean game plan you’re comfortable executing, and I think that’s what you saw on XL2 on Ilios when they tried to play GOATS. We were very confident in what we had to execute. We knew exactly how to execute it, and they got 100 to zero’d because we were so comfortable playing the style.
Photo credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
What’s next for you?
Ideally Overwatch League but currently I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. I’m hoping, but everything’s always up in the air so I don’t really know what’s going to happen. I was eligible for Season 1 and didn’t make it so I felt like Contenders leading up to Season 2 would be the place where I could really improve myself as a player, and I think two undefeated seasons is about as good as I could have hoped for. Hopefully with that I’m able to get into Overwatch League Season 2.
From there I haven’t thought about it. Winning Overwatch League would be like the very end goal, but just improving as a player has really been my main focus throughout most of Contenders, so I think that would continue to be my main focus going into Overwatch League.
In any way that’s meaningful for you that isn’t Overwatch, what’s your goal for the future?
I’m not really dead set in anything as far as that’s concerned. I would like to go to college, mostly to study statistics and probability. They’re two subjects I really, really like. I grew up playing a lot of card games and chess, so hidden information and full information games that are very strategic are things I really enjoy. Doing something that revolves around statistics in the real world, I’d really enjoy doing. Probably college would be what I want to do after Overwatch.
Do you have any advice for players who want to go pro?
My advice would be don’t give up other important things in your life to pursue Overwatch until you know you can make a career out of it. The reason I say that is, if I had to make the decision of going to college or trying to get into Contenders, I probably would have picked college. I think the competitiveness of the Overwatch League and of Contenders is so great that it can be really hard to try to establish yourself in it, especially [during] that point in your life where you’re kind of under time pressure, in a sense, to graduate high school and get into college in a short amount of time.
I do think it’s a really fun thing to pursue as a hobby, as a side thing, and see where it goes, that’s kind of the path I took, which was playing Overwatch because it’s fun, scrimming because it’s fun, then I got an offer to play for [Evil Geniuses], actually getting paid as a player, and I was like, “Wow! This is amazing. I can actually make a career out of this.” I do think it’s important to realize that a very small percentage of people even have the opportunity to try to make it, let alone the small percentage of them that actually does, and to take your options realistically and not set yourself up for disappointment.
You can follow the interviewer, Sabriel Mastin (a.k.a. Miko), on her Twitter profile here.