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Overwatch League's Jake Lyon: "It was hard to discard something I held so close for so long"

Ahead of the Overwatch League’s return, we speak with Jake Lyon about retirement, switching to casting and searching for the new Junkrat king.

Jacob "Jake" Lyon is one of the most recogniseable faces in competitive Overwatch. Rising through the ranks in the scene’s early days, his career ballooned when he signed for the Houston Outlaws in 2017, becoming synonymous with hero Junkrat and representing the title on mainstream outlets. 

As someone so close to the brand, the announcement of his retirement in December 2019 came as a surprise. He hasn't left competitive Overwatch behind altogether though, having moved into full-time casting after joining Andrew “ZP” Rush for the Overwatch World Cup. 

Jake is set to face his biggest casting challenge yet at this year’s third Overwatch League alongside ZP once again, with even more plans on the horizon in 2020.  

It hasn't been long since you announced your retirement - have you had a sudden change in lifestyle?

It was official at the beginning of December so it’s been around two months. As far as lifestyle changes, the biggest thing is no longer scrimming. I’m still playing the game when I stream for entertainment but it’s a huge tectonic shift to no longer practice to be a competitive player.  

I wasn’t just playing for fun when I was playing as an esports player, and to go back to that is really nice but it’s also a big change.  

The biggest thing obviously is no team scrims so I’m able to play the game in a much more casual way, just have fun, and not take it super seriously which is something I wasn’t able to do over the past few years.

Jake in the Overwatch League
Jake retired from Overwatch in December 2019 (Picture: Blizzard)  

So what’s filling your days now between streaming?  

One of the things that made me want to retire was I wanted to do a better job for my personal health and wellness. It’s something I cared for as a player, I tried to do it a little but it was always priority two. If I felt like I needed to practise or study the game, that would always come first.  

So I’ve been changing that around and making my health and wellness priority one, putting the energy into it I used to be putting into Overwatch. Now I’m really focused on doing my workout every single day and eating healthy.

Cooking for myself is the big key to eating healthy I think, rather than just ordering delivery all the time and thinking it gives you more time to practise – which is how I thought as a player. So it’s refocusing what’s important to me and deciding what things to put my energy into, instead of continuing at that headlong pace that’s necessary for esports.  

Do you think your health suffered somewhat as a pro player?  

I wouldn’t say it suffered. I feel like I was pretty fit and healthy in the Overwatch League; I was still working out, but it’s more I've been able to take my focus on it to the next level since retiring. Instead of it being something I do on the side as a necessity, it’s something I’m doing front and centre in my life.  

That’s something that’s also been motivated by my family. There are close family members who have serious illnesses, so I guess seeing them focus on their own health has made me feel like, “You know what, I’m not sick at all,” so there’s no reason for me not to be healthy and to take it seriously.  

Maybe that’s just something because I’m getting a little bit older now. I mean I’m not that old but still, 23 is different than 16. 

When you announced you were retiring, did you feel elated at that moment? 

Definitely bittersweet I would say. It wasn’t an easy decision, like a snap “I’m definitely doing it now.” For me, I was waiting on the career security of getting my Overwatch League talent contract signed so I was definitely in for the next season of talent.  

If I’d been in a position where I didn’t have a job, I probably would have kept playing just because; to pay rent and stuff. It’s the real world out there and I don’t really want to go back to school. I really do want to keep working in esports.

I was pretty confident for a long time I would be able to get a job in the Overwatch League talent because I had expressed interest in years past, so I felt like it was pretty realistic. But when I got that final contract then it was like, “alright, this is real”.  

For a long time retiring was something I was mulling over and considering. Even for the last year I would say, because being an esports player was my original and my greatest dream. Since 12-years-old it was my childhood dream to be an esports player.

When I was 12, it wasn’t a normal thing to be an esports player. It’s not that normal now but it’s definitely more normal today I think with how esports has grown. So it was hard to discard something I had held so close for so long. 

I noticed the phrasing in the retirement post was “for now”. Are you open to returning in the future?  

It’s just one of those things where... like what’s the point in me deciding I’ll never play pro esports again? I don’t have any plans to, frankly. I really have no plans to return to play professional esports ever but I also don’t believe in making plans more than a year or two out, because life is fickle.  

Who knows? Maybe I’ll be of a different mindset in two years and play again but I can’t imagine that right now. I think that phrase really just reflects my personal desire not to pigeonhole myself in life. What’s the point in laying down this law that I’ll never do this again?  

So far my journey has worked out really well by focusing on each leg, one at a time. I have a contract one year to cast Overwatch League – that's what I’m doing this year. We’ll see what the future holds beyond that. I do expect to cast Overwatch League for some time.  

A lot of Overwatch League casters and players have left or retired recently, has the sudden amount of departures surprised you?  

Not really. Part of it comes with the territory as myself and other new casters come into Overwatch League. I’m not happy to see people go but at the same time, it’s part of the natural lifecycle for the game.  

The way I look at it; I’ve been an esports player my whole life so I look at it through that lens. Sometimes other people get picked up, sometimes you don’t start, and sometimes you get cut, right? This is what happens constantly in esports.

It’s such an intensely competitive environment as an esports player, you’re expecting [it] at all times – there's always a possibility you could get cut. I don’t think there’s any way that anybody makes it to the top level that hasn’t been cut from some team along the line.  

It’s not the same for talent. I guess it’s more freeform or whatnot, but it's the thing where we can’t have all these new casters come in if all the old casters are still there. I think we’ll do a good job too.

 Overwatch League casting Jake
Jake will cast matches in the Overwatch League this year (Picture: Blizzard) 

Some casters have mentioned they had issues with how the Overwatch League was being run, do you have any similar concerns?  

I don’t know exactly what some of the exiting casters have said as far as their creative disagreements. I saw someone, I can’t remember who, but someone mentioned a creative disagreement where they wanted to have a funnier, more comedic aspect to the show and play that up. Whereas the Overwatch League wanted them to be more hard-nosed and serious.  

When I heard that I’m definitely on the Overwatch League’s side because as a pro player this is the most serious thing ever. You go into that server you play to win, you don’t go in to put a show on for people. I just come to casting from a place of like, "this is really serious," and I want to give that battle the respect it deserves when both teams in the server are giving it their all.  

Once in a while something funny happens but usually something funny is absolutely devastating. If something’s really dire for a team, to me there could be funny aspects but then there’s also a really intense serious aspect to that. There’s no way the other team is okay if you’re losing badly, it’s the worst feeling in the world. I think as a player I can speak to how serious the competition is.  

What’s been the most difficult thing about transitioning from a player to a caster?   

Honestly, I’m just having a ton of fun with it. I love relating what I see from the game and telling the viewers how this team makes it work when it looks impossible, how they execute this cohesive strategy, how it all comes together, who’s the linchpin, who’s the bait, and just kind of telling the world what these players have concocted for you. I just love to use the knowledge I’ve gained playing pro.  

Being a caster just feels like I’m in god mode with infinite information. I basically do the same thing I did as a player; tell my team this is what’s going to happen, they’re going to do this and we’re going to counter that. I just now put myself in the shoes of both teams with all this extra information.  

Will you be casting full-time in 2020? Or is there anything else in the pipeline? 

Actually there’s a few things. I can’t answer everything yet actually because I don’t want to kill the hype, but obviously I’m still personally streaming a lot and just playing Overwatch and having fun with it. I’m looking into making content on YouTube and then also looking to some more formalized produced content with some other parties, but that stuff I want to let them announce.   

Can you tease anything? Is it connected to your stream? 

Maybe. Only in the sense that my stream is my personality and the content I want to make. The other content will be in some sense like that but it’ll be a different format, but it’s not going to be on my personal stream. It’s just working with other groups to create some different kind of content. 

 

For my personal curiosity, has anyone ever called you ‘Jakerat’ at an inappropriate time?  

I don’t know about inappropriate *laughs*. People definitely call me that. I’ve heard my teammates call Junkrat a 'Jake' in comms and I started laughing because they actually call him a 'Jake'. I’m like, “What? Are you talking about me?”  

I’m honoured quite frankly to have a character people think of me so closely with. But now I’m excited to see who takes the 'Jakerat’ throne. Who’s the new Junkrat superstar of the Overwatch League? There was some serious contenders I would say even in my time, so I’m really curious to see if it comes into the meta this season.  

I would have a lot of fun casting it because it’s something I’ve spent so much time mastering. I’d love to be able to hype up the next set of players to take over and see who’s got the Junkrat chops. That would be a lot of fun. It’s a personal hope of mine that it’s in the meta.  

So you’d welcome a new king of the Junkrat? 

Oh yeah. For me, I just figured out a playstyle on that hero that other people hadn’t figured out at the time. There was a while where I was able to influence the meta and people started playing that way because it was so potent. There’s a lot of players and heroes for whom that’s true.  

It was nice to innovate it but I’d rather people run with the torch.

The Overwatch League kicks off 8th February 2020. You can check out Jake's Twitch stream here

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