FORT ST. JAMES – In Sept. 2016 the Black Press reported on Randal Stark’s big break into professional gaming just as he was nominated onto an international team of six players sponsored by Method to compete in the Overwatch Open held in Atlanta, Georgia. That was the turning point for Roolf, Randal’s game tag, and he went on to play Overwatch with Cloud9 for a year, getting paid to play the video game in a number of different cities and countries, from Las Vegas, to Germany to South Korea.
Black Press reporter managed to catch up with Roolf again, one year later, to hear more about some of the highlights of the most incredible year of his career so far.
The Blizzard Overwatch League is something like the NHL for the popular team and hero-based shooter game. Organizations pay a reported $20 million for a slot that allows them to represent a city and compete in the league, they in turn receive a cut of the revenues, host their own events and market their logo as well as other benefits. Each team offers a minimum one year contract to their players with a comfortable salary along with living arrangements, health and retirement plan.
At the Eleague competition last fall in Atlanta, Roolf’s Method sponsored team fought hard and placed fifth out of the top 16 teams, eight European and eight North American. Roolf’s performance, in particular, got him noticed by a couple of Esports gaming organisations who actively pursued recruiting him. “For me it was an opportunity to grow as a player,” says Roolf. Cloud9, with teams competing in a number of video game Esport competitions, were able to woo him and bought out his contract with Method. Within two months of that Oct., 2016 Atlanta tournament, Randal was flying off to live in Los Angeles, California as a member of the Cloud9 Overwatch team backed by big brand names like T-Mobil and Logitech.
In January this year Roolf was voted onto the six member Team Canada roster by players online and he travelled to Seoul for 2.5 months to compete in the World Cup where they got through to the finals in March and won silver against their biggest rivals; South Korea, the juggernauts of the gaming world. Since then Roolf has travelled to competitions in Germany and Poland and was based in L.A. where he just recently completed is his 12 month contract.
“I haven’t had a lot of breaks, I’ve just been at it steady,” says Roolf. He is home briefly to visit family and friends, while he waits for some more information about contenders in the fresh series to be introduced in the new year. Roolf is keen to get back to work, but the first step is to pick the right team which is the most important decision, more so than which sponsoring organisation to go with. “You could be the highest individual ranked player, but what counts is how well you get along with your team mates under pressure,” he says.
“I know I’m not going to have a problem finding a new team.” Players and organisations have already made him offers but, he’s sitting tight before signing the next contract until he can make an informed decision. Roolf wants to know who’s on the roster.
“Team chemistry is a big part of it. With six young, very competitive players aged 16 – 30 yrs together on the same team there are a lot of egos and an intense amount of pressure to win,” he says. Gaming success, just like in most areas in life, depends on communication, team cohesiveness and effectiveness as they work together and rely on each other, as they each play their different character roles within the game.
Roolf has climbed the ranks of Overwatch players specialising as a backline player who’s function is to heal and restore the other uniquely talented superheros in the combat game. Roolf has naturally gravitated to this role because, “I love helping people and enabling them to do their best,” he says. “I get them back on their feet.”
A highlight for Roolf was his time in South Korea, where the best gaming players are like superstar celebrities or movie actors. “While I was there we would get recognised in the streets,” he says. In L.A. Roolf can walk the streets unnoticed and meet up with friends at a gaming bar where “people are playing games and having fun and there are couches and TVs and computers everywhere.” It’s clear the socialising among gamers is fantastic and very supportive, far from the image of one being isolated in front of a computer screen.
But Canada is definitely behind in the gaming world, as the sport is still under the radar. “A big part of it is there aren’t as many good Canadian players because the internet in Canada, even in big cities, is probably the worst in all the developed countries,” explains Roolf. “You go to Sweden, for example, and they have internet that is 1,000 times better.” So Roolf, coming from a small rural town in Canada, and thriving in a high speed internet career is a rare anomaly. Frankly, it’s a miracle Roolf got where he is, currently ranked 7th on the leaderboard for all of North America, the best in British Columbia and Canada, in a roster of players across Canada, United States and Brazil.
Practice, don’t quit
Roolf’s advice to an aspiring young gamer: “It’s not about how much experience you have, it’s about your performance which takes practice, like anything else.” Advice to his younger self? “I would encourage myself. I would say ‘definitely keep going, don’t get discouraged’ and to get to the top and stay at the top is a lot of work, so ‘don’t be affected by people who are judgmental.’”
Do what you love
Roolf says he never has a day where he wakes up and doesn’t want to do what he does. “There’s nothing in the world I’d rather be doing,” he says “It’s my dream job and it’s always been my dream job to do something in gaming.” When not playing Esports, Roolf spends his time watching other players and studies their every move.
Roolf says the skill needed most to succeed in competitive gaming is strategic thinking,“the ability to predict what’s going to happen. Making decisions all the time, always thinking ahead. It takes a lot of brainpower. There’s a lot of strategy in the game. It’s not just about quick reflexes.”
Like any athlete, you can’t play forever. Gaming is a short term career because your reflexes do get slower as you get older. To stay at the top Roolf says “You are literally working 16 hours a day. You need stamina to play that much in order to stay on top, as the game is always changing. “It’s also fickle. If you lose, then you’re out. And so players don’t usually last. Some really good gamers have to bail because they burnout. Most retire by 25 or 26 yrs. The best players will only be able to play professionally at this level into their early 30s.”
But at 22 years old, Roolf is still fit and fighting strong. “I’m super confident about my abilities today and years from now.” Even when he chooses to retire one day he will have plenty of options. Roolf knows computers, even how to take them apart and put them back together again. He has already been offered IT work and he could join game developers. But he says he’s confident he won’t have to think about career alternatives for at least a decade.
The future looks bright for Randal, the smart young man from Tl’azt’en Nation, certainly the first Indigenous professional video gaming superstar who’s goal is to continue competing at the highest level of the ever growing Esports competitive world stage.
Esports generating $748 million in revenue worldwide, according to industry-intelligence firm SuperData Research. North American and European fans make up more than 52 percent of that market, and total viewership has grown to 188 million people. This is making pro players into superstars, and it has led to investors rushing into the space with cash. And all this excitement and growth, according to VentrueBeat.com, is probably only going to expand as SuperData predicts this sector will balloon even further to $1.9 billion in revenues.