Photo by Carlton Beener for the Overwatch League
This past weekend at Blizzcon 2019 the best Overwatch players in the world represented their nations as they battled it out to determine who was the best of the best. This year it was Team USA that took home the gold with an incredible run, dropping only a single map to South Korea. Team USA met Team China in the finals and took home the gold with a 3 – 0 sweep.
We got to sit down and talk with Rawkus, three time member of Team USA, to discuss what the difference was in this years Team USA as well as what the win means to him personally. Check out the full interview below.
Below you can find a full transcript of the interview, lightly edited for clarity.
Insert Transcription here.
Robbie Landis: Welcome to Checkpoint XP, your home for esports and gaming. I’m joined today by Houston Outlaw Star Support Player and World Cup Champion from Team USA. Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty. Rawkus, welcome to Checkpoint XP.
Rawkus: Thanks for having me.
Robbie Landis: Now you are a three time member of Team USA. You started for the first time all the way back in 2017 and then obviously again as well in 2018. But you guys were knocked out of each of those tournaments by South Korea, who’s been a juggernaut in years past. This year, though, you didn’t just beat them once, you did it twice and only dropped a single map. What was the difference maker this year, in your opinion?
Rawkus: So I think the best way I can explain this was in 2017 we were really like underdogs. No one really like believed in us. People thought we would not even make it to Blizzcon itself, even in the group stages. But we’re proving people wrong and we were extremely confident against South Korea going up then. And we fell short. We won the first map, we had momentum, but we ended up falling short. And the second year we were knocked out by the UK and that was like more of…that was more of a thing that people thought that we were just not good. But it was like we were very confident in our ability to play. We just didn’t think that any team was important besides South Korea, which is a huge overstatement. Like you can ever think that way. So we really learned from that experience going into this year. I don’t think we missed a single team, a single map that they played, we reviewed literally every point of everything. And we were prepared, fully prepared for every single thing that every team did. That was the difference in everything for us this year. I think we caught South Korea off guard in the sense that I don’t think they fully expected us to be ready for their style of play, because a lot of teams weren’t. But we were ready because we reviewed so much. And I think that was the big difference maker, I guess, like we were just completely confident one map at a time and not getting ahead of ourselves. In order to have a World Cup like we did this year, you know, only drop one map is that you really have to be prepared. You can’t really fool around. You can’t have any mistakes. You can’t think that like your strat is OK, it has to be good enough to win every single time, like it has to be perfect.
Robbie Landis: Now, with the way with the way that the World Cup was structured this year, having all the play being done the weekend of instead of the stages leading up to it. Do you think that helped in any way or did that make it tougher to study your opponents?
Rawkus: Well, so for us, we had no info on South Korea until the group stages, rather no one had info on any team, really. But I think South Korea knew more about what we wanted to do because Krusty is the head coach of the San Francisco Shock, which was also the head coach of South Korea. And he kind of understands how, like Sinatraa wants to play. So in an interview just today that was released. He built their strats around, sorry, he didn’t build their strats around [Sinatraa]. They didn’t want to play Doomfist\Reaper comps because the way that Sinatraa plays is like a direct counter to the way Haksal plays. And Haksal doesn’t wnt to play against that, that’s what the interviewee said. So it kind of made sense why they were going at it like a different route because like I think Sinatraa’s style of Doomfist is by far the best. He’s like by far the best Doomfist and it’s super hard to play against that kind of style. I feel like that was a big reason why we were able to dominate so hard because of the aggressive style of the current meta. It’s like the way to play and a lot of people weren’t playing that way.
Robbie Landis: Now there’s always been a lot of pressure, obviously not just to win the gold at the World Cup, but also to defeat South Korea, which historically for the USA was always a match leading up to the finals. So can you give us an idea of what the mindset of the team was after that win and knowing you’d have to face them a second time in semifinals.
Rawkus: So when we first started playing them in the group stages, we honestly weren’t really that worried because we were already qualified no matter what. We were already the number one seed and qualify because we were 9 – 0 and South Korea already lost a bunch of maps. So even if they 3 – 0’d us, we are still the number one seed. But basically the idea was that we wanted to dominate every team so badly so people would be afraid of us. That was the complete idea. We wanted to not lose a single map. So everyone was like the mindset was just so concentrated on the fact that we don’t want to lose at all, period, no matter what. We never want to regret what happened this year. So we just completely put all our focus into that. So going into the second match, I don’t think we were as worried as we were the first match because we had the momentum going forward. We already beat them. We had the confidence that we could beat them. And I feel like the first time we beat them was in a pretty good, not convincing, but it was pretty straightforward how we beat them. And I feel like that’s why we held them, we won that match. We held them for three minutes on first point and we won. Stuff like that going into the what’s it called going into the actual stage. We thought about stuff like that. So we started off slow. We thought that was our first map that we lost. And then we ended up losing that. And we’re like, Okay, guys. Basically what they were doing was — we weren’t playing bad, we weren’t pushing aggressively and they were also countering Sinatraa with a hard focus. So Sinatraa kept saying to us, “I trust you guys. We have to do this, though.” He’s like, “I believe in you guys. We are the best team in the world.” We kept saying that over and over to ourselves because we believed it. We actually like truly believe that we were the best team in the world. We beat so many teams convincingly in practice. I know scrimbuxs are like a thing that people don’t talk about, but they actually really do mean something for your confidence. And like we would be able to beat teams in such a way that, we felt like we had never had good practice, but in reality we were just that good. We kind of applied that into the matches because like realistically we beat — take our first match we broke the world record I think for Numbani attack against France. We were such a dominant team and we didn’t realize that we actually played against all the other World Cup teams. Like how good we were. So we had like so much confidence going into the South Korea match and I feel like that really showed. We had to clutch really hard on Gibraltar. And I think the biggest thing going into the match versus South Korea was that our team was never afraid of any other team, no matter who they were. It doesn’t matter what the other team is. It’s doesn’t matter who they have. We would take fights 3 v 6 like legitimately if we think it’s winnable. We’ll use our ults, everyone trusts each other and we clutch a fight 3 v 6 so many times. That’s just the kind of trust everyone had on the team. And that’s like such a weird feeling. I’ve never had that with any team ever. And I was talking to some of the Shock players who had just won Grand Finals recently and they said USA felt a lot like Shock this year if not more. And that’s like kind of a crazy thing to actually hear.
Robbie Landis: You know, speaking of that, you had mentioned sometimes taking a fight 3 v 6. There was a moment, I don’t know if you recall it, that freaked me out on Junkertown when you guys were on attack where the Reaper was coming at you when everyone had just been sent back to spawn. And I thought to myself, is he going to take that fight is he going to runaway? Rawkus, what are you doing? And I was panicking for you.
Rawkus: Yeah. So I think I remember that, actually. I think it was…was it Carpe?
Robbie Landis: I think it might have been?
Rawkus: I think it was Carpe or Haksal. Maybe? But I remember…oh, no, no, it was Architect. It was Architect on Reaper. I remember that, actually.
Robbie Landis: You guys have the best players, not just in the US, but in the world. You also have the best coaching staff, including, of course, former Titans assistant coach, Harsha Bandi, who had one of the best runs last season. What was it like working with Harsha and what did he bring to the team that was maybe missing in the previous years?
Rawkus: So Harsha is now like the official head coach of the Outlaws and I’m super excited for that. Harsha is really, really smart. He’s really good with one on ones. He’ll be reviewing the scrims full time as your scrimming yourself. He’ll be making notes. And I think that what he was really good at with me personally was if I was making mistakes or he sees me doing like a thing that I have a habit of doing, he’ll be like, you have a habit of doing this. He’s like, you need to stop doing that. Like stuff like that. He’ll like it point out and give you like an example or multiple examples, not just one, but like multiple ones. And like, wow, I really do have a habit of that. It helps you realize as a player that you keep doing that because they’re obviously pointing it out. They’re trying to help you. So like he’s like a very smart. I had like a really bad habit of dying, in this specific spot on these on Lijiang Towers on the Gardens, off the very first fight. I would always move away from my tanks for some reason. It was just like in my mind ingrained for some reason, probably because of bad ranked habit. Like a lot of players have bad habits from ranked, which I’ll get into that later. But he basically helped me realize that, I didn’t even realize that subconsciously and like I was I was just doing it subconsciously, rather. And then he helped me figure that out. And like there’s multiple other examples. That was just the basic insight I can give you right now. I feel like having that kind of person on the team was a massive, massive help because like last year, it was just Aero. And this year we had not only Aero, but we had Junkbuck and Harsha. And they all did such incredible work. It was like we couldn’t have won without literally all three of them.
Robbie Landis: So finally Rawkus, you are one of only 2 three-time Team USA members along with Sinatraa. So after losing three years in a row, usually to South Korea, I want your final thoughts. How do you feel after this victory? What does this mean to you personally?
Rawkus: It personally means like so much to me, because from the very first year, I had such a competitive want to win for the United States. It was such a big thing for me. And then as time went on, we lost the first year. The second year we got embarrassed. And I felt like a lot of people felt like it was partially my fault, but it was really an entire team this fault, like we all underestimated every other team that wasn’t South Korea, which was like a huge thing. And then year three, a lot of people didn’t want me on the team, I’ll be completely honest. There was so many people that thought that I deserve it. They thought I was just completely undeserving of it. But everyone on the team and the coaching staff believed in me and I was able to prove what I’m capable of in tryouts. And people thought that because I was on the team, we wouldn’t even come close to winning. But I’m always very, very confident in myself as a player. So when I was able to go on stage, I’m super happy that I was able to prove everyone wrong that doubted me. Maybe not everyone, but a lot of people. It feels really good that after I finally got the opportunity to actually do it and actually win the World Cup along with the player that I started my first year World Cup with, Sinatraa. Because Sinatraa also had a lot of people against him for, you know, many years. And until you won a Grand Finals and everyone, you know, it’s like that. I feel like maybe this might be like a start for me to be able to prove other people wrong as well. So it means the world that I was given this chance, honestly. And I’m excited to see, you know. Where I go next, because, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s very new to me that I’ve won something because I’ve never won anything ever in my life. At least in Overwatch. So just winning something, especially the World Cup. The biggest thing for me personally is like just crazy. It’s a crazy feeling.
Robbie Landis: Well, Rawkus, thank you so much for joining us today and for talking with us about your victory at the Overwatch World Cup.
Rawkus: Thank you so much.
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