Lyon started his professional Overwatch career on the Outlaws roster as a DPS player for the first two seasons of the league, but he retired in December of 2019 to join the league’s broadcast desk. In front of the camera, Lyon is known for using his competitive sense of the game to pick apart the jumbled chaos of a team fight, breathlessly narrating key pickups or smaller details fans might have missed.
The Washington Post spoke with Lyon, 24, about his career in esports and his decision to press pause on retirement. In his note on Twitter, Lyon said this is the best he’s ever felt in or out of the game. Lyon even told The Post he has plans to compete in a triathlon by the end of the year, depending on the state of the pandemic.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Launcher: Are you the first player-coach in Overwatch League? Or, has there been someone in a role like yours elsewhere?
Lyon: It’s the first time that it’s been intentional. In most cases, other players have come into a similar type of role. It’s more because they come on as players and then they get zero starting time whatsoever. It becomes apparent that they’re just going to just never start. So, then, coaching becomes a way that they continue to deliver value.
In a way, I think, a lot of players in the league — regardless of their starting time — fulfill that role in a sense. A lot of players can contribute, if they have the right personality for it, they can still contribute to strategy and discussions of what’s the best way to play.
In a way, I think it’s kind of natural to esports. Part of the problem in esports is that there are very few coaches with really top-tier knowledge and understanding.
It’s just so new and so fresh. There’s not that many people who have that level of understanding of the game and aren’t themselves professional players.
Launcher: So, what’s your official title?
Lyon: My official title is, well, I’m a player on the roster and then I’m also the director of player development, which means I’m just focused on individual coaching. But, I mean, I think the reality of coaching in esports is: You don’t need to necessarily specialize too heavily with giving feedback. Whatever you see, you can contribute on.
I think my experience of the game makes me especially equipped to coach on a detailed level, talking about what’s the most effective way to play in a very small, niche situation.
Launcher: And, stepping back a bit, who offered you the job? What was that conversation like?
Lyon: Originally it was just spit-balling ideas with Matt [Iorio, the general manager for the Houston Outlaws]. He didn’t think that I even would be interested in some sort of opportunity since I obviously casted last year. He thought I was just going to continue on that. I had a good year casting. It was a good time. But, I did miss the intensity of competition and I felt, in many ways, ready to return to that.
Launcher: And, when did you come to a decision? What for you made you feel like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this?”
Lyon: Well, just, hm, of course, there’s the whole negotiation process but I think it’s like during that process and evaluating my options at that point … I knew it was definitely a big inflection point in my career. The same way leaving playing to go cast is a huge change. Coming back in a new role, a different type of player than I once was, it’s a huge change. Throughout that negotiation process, I thought a lot about what I wanted and what was my objective. Ultimately, I realized casting is something that is awesome and I enjoy it but I also feel like I can always cast. There’s no limit on my ability to cast. I can come back in a few years and cast again, if I want to. I can come back next year and cast, if I want to. Most likely — nothing is guaranteed.
Competition is not that way. There will come a time when I just can’t compete anymore or I don’t want to put in the time to practice the game enough to get that play time in scrims. There are professional players on professional Overwatch League rosters who don’t play because they’re not able to compete at a high enough level. The other players on their team are just better choices. They get 100 percent of the scrim time. That’s just how it goes. That’s just the reality of a competitive environment. That’s what you need to do to win.
The fact that I’m still good enough to get scrim time, even in this half-and-half role. I want to take that opportunity now because it won’t be there forever. I still have that desire to compete and be part of the competition. I want to see that through until the end because I know it’s the most time-limited of all my options.
Launcher: How would you describe your career in esports up to this point? What are your goals in this industry?
Lyon: That’s a big question. I’ve always come from a competitive mind-set of just “I want to win. I want to be the best.” And, I’m still on that track … This foray into casting was awesome because I’ve worn a lot of different hats in the industry. For me, as a person, that’s just who I am. I always want new, interesting challenges. And, right now, I still love to play and I still want to win a championship.
I want to keep trying new things. Keep trying new positions. Probably, someday, I’d like to work on the business-side and help develop organizations but, for right now, I’m really happy to be working with players — to be a player myself. It’s the perfect role for me. This is a big moment in my career, the future is pretty unknown to me. If I don’t end up playing much in the season, then I’ll probably not play again. I may not be a player again after this season. If I have a successful season, which — in my eyes — would just be having any decent amount of playtime, then maybe I could continue in this role. … I feel like this is a big inflection point for me.
My belief about esports is it’s so new and young, the only thing that you can predict is that it’s going to be unpredictable, right? What it actually looks like in 10 years? I don’t think anybody knows, really. … Trying to make a long-term prediction is kind of a fool’s errand. I’m not in that business. I’m in the “What does my contract guarantee me for this year?” business.
Launcher: Has the industry changed? Is it easier to have a career in esports? You see some elevation of younger talent into higher roles. Are career ladders more defined?
Lyon: I don’t want to rely on any sort of concept of a career ladder because I’m still not really a believer. I’ll believe it when I see it. Maybe I’ll never believe it because I’m a curmudgeon. I don’t want to ever tell myself that I have security and I’m going to be doing this for a long time. The moment you start thinking that way — especially as a player — that is your worst enemy, that sort of mind-set. “Oh, I’ve got it made now, let’s just [put on] cruise control.”
You can’t think like that. The game three years ago, I mean, if you were to go back in time, those players would not be remotely competitive in Overwatch. The best player in season one — if you transport them in time to now — they would not be good because the game just continues to evolve.
For instance, I’ve been learning Korean for a little over a year now. My goal, someday, is to be able to work with a Korean team or a Western team interchangeably. … So, that’s sort of reflective of my broader mind-set. You have to do things like that.
You can’t just stay where you are and think that “I’m just going to do my thing and climb the ladder.” I don’t really believe in that. No ladder. That’s just the wrong metaphor for me. For me, my metaphor is rock climbing, right? I’m moving from hold to hold and constantly growing strong and being able to make bigger moves than you made last time rather than seeing it as a guaranteed progression.
Even if organizations themselves want to create such a ladder, the reality is nobody properly knows what it’s going to be like in 10 years.
Launcher: One last question I have is a bit different. With your title being ‘director of player development,’ where is the emerging talent in Overwatch? Do you have a sense of where talent is coming from?
Lyon: For my money, 80 to 90 percent of the upcoming talent is going to come from Korea because the ranked ladder is super competitive. People — even if they’re just a ranked player just “on the come up” — are building very relevant, competitive skills … They’re basically playing competitive games.
If you go to any other region, like North America and Europe, you don’t see that. Maybe one in 20 games, one in 15 games, is an on-meta competitive strategy. Most games are not. Most games are including players who just want to play one hero and don’t care about the competitive meta.
What that creates is an environment where you might be at the top of the leader board but I don’t necessarily know that you can play the competitive strategy at the highest level. … Unless there is an alternative way for people in North America or Europe to practice in a competitive environment, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for up-and-coming talent from those regions to continue to compete.
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