Lyon began his professional Overwatch career in the league’s first two seasons as a DPS player on the Outlaws list. However, in December 2019, he retired to join the league’s broadcast desk. On camera, Lyon is known for using his competitive feel to clean up the cluttered chaos of a team fight, breathlessly telling key pickups or minor details that fans may have overlooked.
The Washington Post spoke to the 24-year-old Lyon about his career in sports and his decision to take a break when retiring. In his note on Twitter, Lyon said this was the best thing he had ever felt in or out of the game. Lyon even told the Post it had plans to compete in a triathlon by the end of the year, depending on the state of the pandemic.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Launcher: Are you the first player-coach in the Overwatch League? Or was there someone else in a role like yours?
Lyon: It’s the first time it’s intentional. In most cases, other players have played a similar role. It’s more because they act as players and then they don’t get any start time at all. It becomes obvious that they just will never start. So coaching is becoming a way in which they continue to deliver value.
In a way, I think a lot of the players in the league – regardless of their starting time – fulfill that role in a sense. Many players can contribute if they have the right personality for it, but they can still contribute to strategies and discussions about how best to play.
In a way, I think it’s very natural to exercise. Part of the problem in sport is that there are very few coaches who really have top notch knowledge and understanding.
It’s just so new and so fresh. There aren’t that many people who have this understanding of the game and aren’t professional gamers themselves.
Launcher: So what’s your official title?
Lyon: My official title is, well, I’m a player on the squad and then also the director of player development, which means I just focus on individual coaching. But I mean, I think the reality of coaching in sports is, you don’t necessarily have to specialize too much in giving feedback. Whatever you see, you can help.
I think my experience with the game makes me particularly well equipped to train on a detailed level and talk about how to play most effectively in a very small niche situation.
There will come a time when I just can’t compete or don’t want to have more time to practice.
Jake Lyon, a player and coach for the Houston Outlaws
Launcher: And who offered you the job when you stepped down a bit? How was the conversation?
Lyon: Originally it was just spitting ideas with Matt [Iorio, the general manager for the Houston Outlaws]. He didn’t think I would even be interested in an opportunity since I had obviously cast last year. He thought I would just go on like this. I’ve had a good year in casting. It was a good time. But I missed the intensity of the competition and in many ways felt ready to come back to it.
Launcher: And when did you make a decision? What made you feel like, “Yeah, I’ll do that?”
Lyon: Well, hm, of course there is the whole negotiation process, but I think it’s like during this process and evaluating my options at that point … I knew it was definitely a big turning point in my career. The same way of leaving the game to get occupied is a big change. When I come back in a new role, a different type of player than me, it’s a big change. During this negotiation process, I thought a lot about what I wanted and what my goal was. Ultimately, I realized that casting is something great and I enjoy it, but I also feel like I can always do casting. There is no limit to my ability to function. I can come back and reoccupy in a couple of years if I want. I can come back next year and occupy if I want. Most likely – nothing is guaranteed.
Competition is not like that. There will come a time when I just can’t keep up or don’t want to invest the time to practice the game enough to get that game time into scrims. There are professional players on professional Overwatch League lists who don’t play because they are unable to compete at a high enough level. The other players on your team are just better choices. You get 100 percent of the scrim time. That’s how it works. That’s just the reality of a competitive environment. You have to do this to win.
The fact that I’m still good enough to get scrim time, even in this half and half role. I want to take this opportunity now because it won’t be there forever. I still want to measure myself and be part of the competition. I want to see this through to the end because I know it’s the most time-limited of all my options.
Launcher: How would you describe your career in sports so far? What are your goals in this industry?
Lyon: That’s a big question. I’ve always come from a competitive mindset: “I want to win. I want to be the best. “And I’m still on my way … That foray into the casting was great because I’ve worn a lot of different hats in the industry. For me as a person, that’s exactly what I am. I always want to new interesting challenges and right now I still love to play and I still want to win a championship.
I always want to try new things. Keep trying new positions. I would probably love to work on the business side one day and help build organizations, but right now I’m really happy to be working with players – being a player myself. It’s the perfect role for me. This is a big moment in my career, the future is pretty much unknown to me. If I don’t play a lot during the season, I probably won’t play anymore. I may not be a player after this season. If I have a successful season that, in my opinion, only has a decent amount of playing time, then maybe I could continue in that role. … I think this is a big turning point for me.
My belief in the sport is that it is so new and young. The only thing you can predict is that it will be unpredictable, right? What does it look like in 10 years? I don’t think anyone really knows. Trying to make a long-term prediction is like a fool’s hunt. I am not in this business. I’m in the “What does my contract guarantee me for this year?” Business.
I never want to tell myself that I am safe and I will do so for a long time.
Jake Lyon, a player and coach for the Houston Outlaws
Launcher: Has the Industry Changed? Is It Easier To Make A Career In Sports? You see some increase in younger talent in higher roles. Are career leaders more defined?
Lyon: I don’t want to rely on any concept of a career ladder because I’m still not really a believer. I’ll believe it when I see it. Maybe I’ll never believe it because I’m a Curmudgeon. I never want to tell myself that I am safe and I will do so for a long time. The moment you start to think that way – especially as a gamer – that’s your worst enemy, that kind of mindset. “Oh, I did it now, let’s just [put on] Cruise control. “
You can’t think like that. The game three years ago, I mean, if you went back in time, those players wouldn’t be remotely competitive in Overwatch. The best player in season one – if you transport them in time – they wouldn’t be good because the game just keeps evolving.
For example, I’ve been learning Korean for a little over a year. My goal is one day to be able to work interchangeably with a Korean or a Western team. … It reflects my broader mindset. You have to do things like that.
You can’t just stay where you are and think, “I’ll just do my thing and climb the ladder.” I don’t really believe in that. No ladder. That’s just the wrong metaphor for me. For me, my metaphor is climbing, right? Moving from hold to hold, I keep getting strong and able to make bigger moves than last time instead of taking this as a guaranteed advancement.
Even if organizations want to create such a ladder themselves, the reality is that no one knows exactly what it will be like 10 years from now.
Launcher: One last question I have is a little different. Where’s the emerging talent in Overwatch if your title is Director of Player Development? Do you have a feel for where talent comes from?
Lyon: For my money, 80 to 90 percent of the emerging talent will come from Korea because the ranking is very competitive. People – even if they’re just a ranked player – are building very relevant, competitive skills … they’re basically playing competitive games.
If you travel to any other region like North America and Europe, you won’t see this. Maybe one in 20 games, one in 15 games, is an on-meta competitive strategy. Most of the games are not. Most games involve players who just want to play a hero and don’t care about the competitive meta.
This creates an environment where you might be at the top of the leaderboard, but I don’t necessarily know that you can play competitive strategy at the highest level. … If there is no alternative way for people in North America or Europe to practice in a competitive environment, it will be incredibly difficult for up-and-coming talent from those regions to continue to compete.
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