Jake talks min-maxing his Junkrat play and adjusting how Houston uses Tracer (Part 1)

After their last game of Stage 2 against Seoul Dynasty, I sat down with Jake to reflect on the stage as a whole. We also spoke out how he gets more value out of his Junkrat play than others, Houston’s plan for Stage 3 and how map and hero design could weaken dive compositions in the future.

So this last stage, there was a lot of negativity directed towards you online about your play, a lot of which was quite toxic. Do you feel that that negatively affected morale and then snowballed and affected your performance?
To some extent, yeah. I was definitely down on myself this stage, but adjusting how we play the Tracer role really brought that back and allowed us to get wins near the end of the stage. Obviously I’m one of the weaker Tracers out of the DPS players in the league. So we basically gave Linkzr the Tracer role with the exception of Widow. Only in Widow comps do I actually play Tracer to support Linkzr, as opposed to him playing Tracer while I play the flex DPS like Soldier, Genji, Junkrat.

I think that adjustment was really good for us and Linkzr is just way more effective on Tracer on those comps than I was. Then, on the comps where I do play Tracer, I just realised that I had to respect my opponents. These Zenyattas are used to killing Tracers that are way stronger than me and way better at the game than I am. So, I really increased the passivity of my play — I’m always looking to bait my opponents and counter-play them rather than trying to make something happen on my own. I’m always waiting for teammates’ support. I let Muma call his aggression, then I go support that. I let Linkzr call the Widow duel, then I go in and try and make his life easier.

So I sort of rethought the role. Instead of the traditional DPS carry Tracer, I’m looking to support the team and just get the most value that I can. That resulted in me having a lot higher impact in those games. I’m not pushing myself to do something I’m not capable of—beating the best Tracers in the world in a pure fair 1v1. I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to find a way to play that allows me to be effective without mechanically out-skilling them.

We’ve seen certain teams like Seoul and London split up the team across two matches in the week, so sometimes they’ll swap out some players for the subs or play the B-team, per se. Hypothetically, you guys could starting doing that now with FCTFCTN and Muma and some of the other DPS players. What do you think of splitting the team up?
I think it’s possible, but it’s also very difficult to execute. So many of the things that make us a really good team are not about having the perfect amount of preparation and everyone knowing every strat forwards and backwards. We’re most successful when we’re flexible and when we’re adapting on the fly. To me, that kind of adaptation seems way easier when you have a group that is more consistent and you’re keeping the subs coming in and out on individual maps, rather than trying to split the team into this team and that team. I still like the idea of having a solid core.

And then you can bring in specialists.
Yeah, then you can employ specialists to change things up. FCTFCTN and Spree and really good on their roles, but to be honest, I feel like Coolmatt and Muma are the very best in the whole world on their roles. So we’re in a position where we have a lot of talent on the roster. There’s a lot of potential for a Mano/Janus situation, as far as having stylistic differences. But I also think Muma is proving himself to be the very best in the world on main tank and it seems like it doesn’t really matter which main tank he is playing. So, I almost feel bad for FCTFCTN because he has to compete with probably the number one global main tank. I don’t think any Korean tank, any western tank is competing with Muma at this level. He is just on a level of his own. His play style is unique. I think other Winstons are watching Muma and adapting to what he does, because he’s setting the meta game.

We’re in a weird spot having a player like that on the roster. Most teams have a carry DPS that you don’t want to sub out. Like Linkzr, you don’t want to sub him out because he’s such a talented player. I think Muma is like that for the main tank role, but I also think FCTFCTN has a really consistent, solid style. So there’s a lot potential for maps where he just understands the strategy perfectly and he can be directing the team and helping the team that way. So I think there’s potential but I don’t expect the two-team situation.

I was sitting in the crowd in the arena today, watching your match against Seoul. And behind me there were two pretty ardent Seoul fans. You were on the second attack round of King’s Row. You weren’t even on the spectating screen, but your Junkrat screamed “Fire in the hole” and both of the Seoul fans immediately went “OH NO!”

Why do you get more value out of Junkrat compared to other teams? Because not many teams run Junkrat as much as you guys do. Why do you think, even on this meta, you get more value out of it?
There’s a couple of secrets, like very minor things that I do. But I really can’t talk about them because they’re not even difficult to do, it’s just that people don’t know to do them yet. There’s a couple of ways I’ve figured out to min-max the character that I honestly do not want to tell anybody until they figure it out for themselves, because it seems like nobody else is using them.

But I also think my play style on Junkrat is kind of unique. Most people think of the character as Spamrat and that’s what he does. But Junkrat has two utilities. He has the spammer, who doesn’t have to see you to kill you, but he’s also incredibly powerful in 1v1 situations. You can just one-shot a 200 HP character if they don’t see you and if you can execute a flank. So I use my game sense and my teammates’ calls to execute aggressive flanks at unpredictable times. I think that’s what makes me more effective than most players who play a more consistent role. I’m more unpredictable on the character.

I spoke to Linkzr yesterday and he said he was doing OK with maintaining a healthy work/life balance. How do you feel you’re going with that and do you think it’s hard with the schedule? Have you experienced any burnout?
Certainly it’s been hard, but for me, burning out has almost been like… you have to rededicate yourself. Preventing burnout is another thing that you can just focus on and work hard on. Rock climbing is huge for me, because it’s physical activity but at the same time I can clear my mind. It’s a hobby and I can focus on something totally different from Overwatch. So getting back into climbing has been really good for me, in terms of helping with that balance. I’ve started to run most nights, just getting some miles in. Physical activity was really big for me in terms of feeling better on a daily basis.

We kind of have no time to be sick, no time to be out. We usually scrim six days a week and we usually practice all seven, at least personally. Burnout is definitely real, but I have an insanely cool team to play with. That’s one of the best things about this team. There’s no compromise between player skill and the level of mutual respect and friendship we have as a team. A lot of the time you have to compromise in gaming—some people are really good team players and other people are really good at the game. A lot of times there’s a separation there. But we’ve got to thank Flame for drafting an insanely good roster in both departments. Everyone has fun together, we all like to hang out and that definitely makes things easier. We know that at the end of the day, we all respect each other.

We still have that passionate fiery side, where everyone has their own ideas about the game, so there is a bit of a clash there. But we maintain such a healthy environment that people feel comfortable clashing and it’s OK to have disagreements. It’s OK to argue about things, it’s even OK to be a little bit heated about it, as long as you maintain that healthy focus so that you’re always focused on improving. You know that you have the same goal, so that even when you disagree or there’s internal struggles in the team, you know that working those things out is going to make you the best team possible. Having that environment in the team makes it a lot easier to avoid burnout and keep the good mentality going forward.

What do you think are the main things for the team to focus on in Stage 3 to improve?
I think a lot is going to depend on what patch Stage 3 is actually on. I think it’s just going to be the new Sombra live. I don’t know how much impact that’s going to have as far as changing the game. This patch is definitely tough for us, having no experienced Tracer main, so for us it’s been an adaptation. But I also think the adaptations we’ve made at the end of the stage, with having Linkzr take the Tracer role and putting me back on the flex DPS role, just allow us to be more effective.

To be honest, you just need to be better than I am to be effective on Tracer on every map. There’s some maps and some situations where I can make it work with Linkzr’s Widow, because he’s going to do more damage than anyone else, so I don’t really need to carry. All I need to do is shut down the enemy plays, keep Linkzr alive and then he’ll do the rest. It’s just a question of how to best support each other and how to put everyone in the best possible position to succeed. We were trying a lot of stuff, especially roster stuff, this stage and we learnt a lot. Lessons about how to do swaps and who to put on what roles to maximise the number of people on a comfort role. Those are definitely things we learnt a lot about this stage.

And Linkzr was saying last night that part of the reason you guys struggled with the Tracer role was because you were swapping it between him and you and Clockwork and you kind of couldn't decide who should take it.
We were changing too much. What we really figured out was when Linkzr is on Widow, I should be on Tracer because he’s just too good on Widow. He’s inhuman. He’s probably the best in the world right now. It’s crazy for him not to play Widow in the situations where we can make it work. At the same time, I’ve been practicing my Soldier and my Genji more and getting them back up to par so that when we’re running those compositions, we can feel comfortable putting Linkzr on Tracer and enabling him to succeed.

A big thing for us was not even our Tracer players individually, but just how we were conceiving of the Tracer role and how we were playing around it. I think us being uncomfortable on Tracer was a two-fold problem. In the first case, there were those pure mechanical situations where we fall short of people who have been playing her for multiple years or since the game came out. But then also, we were compounding that problem by not really playing around our Tracer. Our thinking was like, “Ok we’re not really expecting much from our Tracer because they’re not so good.” But the reality was that we have to be even more focused on our Tracer than other teams, because Linkzr and I need more team support and cohesion to be successful. I’m not going to be making those solo plays. For us, it was about using that Tracer as a utility role and realising that Linkzr is better at Tracer than me.

Keep an eye out for part 2 of the interview tomorrow, where we speak about Brigitte, the Stage 3 meta and how map and hero design affects the viability of dive compositions.

Photo by Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment. Some quotes have been edited for flow and clarity, but their original intent remains the same.