Gale Force Esports on the Eve of Validation

Dylan Walker, Blizzard Entertainment
August 4, 2017

A little over 6,000 miles from home, the Gale Force Esports team has crowded into a small room on the second floor of the Kiev Cyber Arena in Ukraine. It’s media day for the HGC Western Clash, and they’ve got their jerseys, jackets and backpacks full of peripherals that they used to configure their in-game settings on the tournament PCs earlier in the day.

I’ve known all of these players for at least a year, and some since before Heroes of the Storm was released. I haven’t seen them since the recent  Gale Force Esports roster change though, so it’s initially a little weird seeing K1pro and KingCaffeine in GFE Jerseys. Thinking about the transition this team must have gone through over the last few months, I ask my first question.

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You’ve made roster changes since the Mid-Season Brawl, how is the environment different now?

Michael ‘MichaelUdall’ Udall: “I feel like, towards the end of Phase 1, some of the people on the team just didn’t seem as dedicated as everyone else. It’s interesting because I feel like B-Step got a bad rap for not being dedicated or not caring, and I was worried coming into it with K1pro and KingCaffeine because everyone hears rumors, but I’ve been really impressed with how much they’ve bought in and how hard they’ve worked. I feel like we have a really good mindset and we’re all going into scrims every day looking to improve.”

Keiwan ‘k1pro’ Itakura: “Everyone is open to advice from each other and I think that’s really important. If you have teammates who can’t take advice, it’s awful.”

John Paul ‘KingCaffeine’ Lopez: “I’d say it’s definitely the most professional and mature roster I’ve been on by far. Everyone is mature about everything. If anyone messes up it’s okay to talk about it, which you wouldn’t think is crazy, but in two years of playing I’ve been on a bunch of rosters where you just can’t talk about what went wrong because it’ll just cause even more trouble. That doesn’t exist here at all. All of us just have the drive to win, and all of us are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.”

Wasn’t it like that when you were on Cloud9? You could be critical of each other without problems?

KingCaffeine: “Yeah, actually I’d say that’s true for the most part, at least like 80% of the time. This more so though, GFE is a step up from where Cloud9 was in that respect.”

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How do you think the meta will shape up at this tournament?

KingCaffeine: “European teams like to call North American compositions cheese because they want to be on record saying so if they lose to us. ‘Safe’ would be more accurate than cheese. North America is still developing as a region when it comes to aggressive plays and being one step ahead. This is something we’re getting towards with Gale Force that hasn’t been done enough in the past in North America.”

Michael Udall: “I would say the top four North American teams are all very different. All of us have different styles and it’s not as cookie cutter as people think. I feel like we’re the most standard, but we’ve been playing with Xul, Zagara, and other cheesy heroes.”

What was preparation like for this event?

KingCaffeine: “Not the best. Our fans were so adamant, making sure we got into Bloodlust, which wasn’t something we wanted to skip. We played in it for the fans, even though it meant less time for us to prepare for this tournament. Anything we were playing there was kind of like scrims, but it was also all televised, so we couldn’t draft exactly what we wanted. That being said, we’ve put in a lot of hours and I think we had enough practice that we’ll do well here.”

You play Nomia first round, any thoughts on this matchup?

Michael Udall: “I think they’re a pretty good team. That being said, I’m pretty confident going into the series. I feel like they’re similar to Team Freedom, at least from what I’ve seen.”

K1pro: “They do pretty well at every event.”

Fan ‘Fan’ Yang: “They can’t beat us unless we have a massive mess up. They shouldn’t be able to beat us.”

KingCaffeine: “Every global event I’ve gone to, our first round opponent has always been [from] Australia & New Zealand. I feel bad for them because we always knock them down to the losers bracket in the first game of the tournament. Actually, who do we play after Nomia?”

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You will play the winner of Team Freedom versus Team expert.

KingCaffeine: “Team Freedom are a big question mark for us. No one really knows where they stand.”

K1pro: “We also just don’t know how they play on LAN.”

I don’t think they really know how they play at live events.

K1pro: (laughs) “It’s actually a big factor. It’s really important.”

What if Team expert wins?

KingCaffeine: “I didn’t know that Atheroangel was on their team until today. I’ve heard that they have a lot of draft traps. They know the other team’s playstyle so they draft accordingly, but I think that they won’t find as much success here because they don’t know what we like to play. They don’t know what our strengths and weaknesses are.”

This is like the NA dream team, wouldn’t you say? You are first seed, things are going well. Fan, what’s it like being back with K1pro and KingCaffeine?

Fan: “I think mechanically our team got an upgrade. Last season I personally felt really stressed. I felt like I had to point out so many mechanical things and how to rotate. I was also shot calling last season, and I just had so many things to worry about. I didn’t feel like my usual self. I feel a lot better this season.”

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The sky is the limit right now, you don’t really know how good you could be having finished first in your region in the first five weeks with a whole new roster.

KingCaffeine: “That’s right! We could be the best team in the world. I know that for a fact. The potential is 100% there. It’s just a matter of whether or not we actualize it. For us this event is just about finding our groove against these teams in preparation for BlizzCon.”

Michael Uduall: “It feels like every iteration of Gale Force has been called a ‘dream team’ ever since we picked up Fan. It doesn’t mean anything unless you’re improving. Shot calling is definitely something I’m improving at week to week. It’s nice, because sometimes I can’t articulate as well in the moment and this team knows what I mean to say. I’m still getting back into the stride of proactive shot calling. It’s something I used to be really good at, and I’m trying to get back there. I am a lot more confident in myself as a player than I was six months ago. It’s been a very interesting experience for me. It’s all about being better than I was yesterday, better than I was a week ago, better than I was a month ago, better than I was a year ago.”

KingCaffeine: “I love having Michael as a shot caller. I’ve never had that, a ‘one voice’ shot caller. I gotta say, it’s really nice. I get to focus on my play and specific angles. In the past, I’d be playing and someone wouldn’t be calling for a couple seconds, and I’d have to look at my map and see if there is anything I need to call. It’s freed me up as a player big time. He watches everything, he’s the one tracking everything. I really appreciate that.”

Michael Udall: “We need to give Fan credit also. He’s kind of my safety net in a sense, if I mess up.”

Fan: “I think I’m more free to look at what plays are actually good now. Last season people wanted me to talk all the time. Now Michael does the talking most of the time and I feel freed up to call spur of the moment plays.”

The Western Clash comes to you live from Kiev from August 4 through August 6 here at playheroes.com/esports. Make sure to Cheer on Twitch so that you can unlock HGC loot in Heroes of the Storm and represent your favorite team in the Nexus.