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Noah Whinston: LA Valiant Owner Weighs in on Overwatch League Developments

He reckons media training is incredibly important for players.
Noah Whinston: LA Valiant Owner Weighs in on Overwatch League Developments
When we think of Overwatch League, we imagine a huge stage with a gorgeous backdrop. We think of the amazing desk analysts and casters that bring every play to life. Then, of course, there are the players - the very best Overwatch competitors in the world pulling off unbelievable plays to lead their teams to victory. However, we're often quick to forget everything else that goes into running each $20 million team. Big personalities must be managed, relationships with sponsors must be nurtured, and pitfalls of any sort are out of the question. Los Angeles Valiant CEO, Noah Whinston, shared his thoughts on current Overwatch League events and some insights on developments with his team.As esports leagues transition to franchised models, esports athletes will be left with the burden of existing in two worlds - one where they're still building their personal brands on Twitch and social media as traditional pro gamers, and one where they represent a professional league full of its own rules and expectations. For some players in the Overwatch League, this nebulous purgatory has proved difficult to negotiate. One particular problem that has been in the spotlight over the last month or so is the impact of social media on player and team psyche."There are sometimes downsides to having easy access - or have fans be able to talk to players directly on platforms like social media," Whinston says. "But esports as an industry was kind of built on having that higher level of engagement, and that higher level of transparency, and higher level of integration between fans and players. And that isn't free. There are costs to that. Sometimes players pay those costs, and sometimes organizations pay those costs."The costs often come in the form of misguided or overbearing anger from fans. In the case of Overwatch League, the Dallas Fuel have had a difficult time dealing with fans who expected much better than a 5-15 record heading into stage three. Their coach, Kyle "KyKy" Souder, has experienced the worst of it. Considering how Overwatch League wants to position itself as a professional sports league, one could argue that players and coaches will eventually have to learn to shrug off any pressure from fans. Look at any social media page from a pro athlete who blew a key game, and chances are it will be full of poison from team supporters. Every professional sports team has rabid fans who demand results. "If a player wants to build a wall to protect themselves a little bit, that's certainly something that they can do," says Whinston. "But then at the same time, they're cutting themselves off from that really amazing fan support that does exist whether they're winning or they're losing. Look, there is a balance, and there is a personal choice here from every player and every coach about what they feel like they can handle as an individual and the way that social media plays a role in building their personal brand, and building themselves as a player in this league." Whinston went on to say that most of his players are active on social media, and that they understand that distancing themselves from the community means losing access to people who want to build them up when others are tearing them down.At the same time, however, Overwatch League players must be careful about inadvertently tearing themselves down. Everything they say is being scrutinized, and whether they mean it or not, harmful language and bad behavior have consequences. "One of the first things we do with our players when they join our organization is media training - helping them understand what they can and can't say - not just as a set of rules, but also how what they say can impact the viewer. It's not just an arbitrary set of rules because we like punishing players, it's creating a set of rules so that we can understand the impact we have on the broader esports ecosystem and our own fans." With the exception of Ted "Silkthread" Wang's recent fine, LA Valiant players have had a pretty clean record. Most of the turbulence coming from the Valiant camp has been internal, it seems. In a video series entitled "Inside L.A. Valiant," the team has torn down the privacy curtain so that fans can see what's going on "under the hood," as Whinston puts it. Applauded by some and questioned by others, the series has a lot of people talking.

https://twitter.com/LAValiant/status/978730889331974145 "From our perspective, we're kind of on the side of radical transparency, and trying to provide context to team decisions or context behind starting rosters by opening up the 'behind the scenes' and hope that fans will understand the decisions that we make," says Whinston. He elaborated that these videos make wins more valuable since fans know what went into them, and suggested that teams try hiding conflict much too often. Besides being open about the inner workings of the team, the Valiant have also been quite proud to share their projects with AEG, an investor that owns L.A. Live - the entertainment district in Los Angeles that includes the Staples Center, as well as the future home of the Valiant. In fact, Valiant gear has recently been added to the gift shop inventory at Staples Center, narrowing the gap between esports and traditional sports even more.. https://twitter.com/LAValiant/status/976578606188044288 "I think it's awesome, but that partnership with AEG is much bigger than just merch at the Staples Center," says Whinston. "It impacts a lot of things that we're able to do as an organization, and I can't think of a better partner from a live events, venue, merchandising, sports entertainment perspective for helping us build this kind of 21st century league that is Overwatch League." Whinston also dropped an interesting bit of roster information exclusive to Ginx. Though the LA Valiant will likely not field an Overwatch Contenders roster going forward, they have been actively developing talent for integration into the main roster. "Starting next week, you'll see one of our flex tanks, Space, finally old enough enough to play in the league, and we're really excited for him to make his debut," says Whinston. Indy "Space" Halpern is widely regarded as one of the best offtanks in the league, so we'll see if he's able to help turn things around for the LA Valiant in stage three.