Gen.G's Apex Legends team of Tim "dummy" Olson, Ted "silkthread" Wang and Christopher "GrimReality" Schaefer sit in the lounge area of the organization's new Playa Vista, California, offices. Occasionally, bursts of loud Korean chatter erupt from the nearby scrim room of Gen.G's Overwatch League team, the Seoul Dynasty.
All three are well-versed in Overwatch. Silkthread and GrimReality both played in the Overwatch League last year on the Los Angeles Gladiators and Los Angeles Valiant, respectively. GrimReality helped found Sodipop, the roster that became Immortals, and later the Valiant. Dummy came to Overwatch from Team Fortress 2 and played on Team Liquid, NRG Esports and Last Night's Leftovers.
All three left Overwatch and ended up playing Apex Legends and will be competing at the EXP Apex Legends Invitational at X Games Minneapolis this weekend.
It wasn't a premeditated switch from Overwatch to Apex Legends. Instead, each of them jumped from Overwatch to Apex Legends soon after the game appeared without warning in February.
"A couple of days after release, I downloaded it on a whim because I was bored," silkthread said. "I was playing Overwatch ranked and I got frustrated and was like, 'I need a new game to play.' I heard some people talking about this game, and then I saw my friend Grim, he was playing it, and we've known each other for a while, so then I just downloaded it and played with him and then got addicted."
"It's all my fault," GrimReality said. "I was in a transitional period because I stopped playing Overwatch, and so I was just playing Fortnite for fun, just kind of -- not necessarily striving to go pro in Fortnite, but I just wanted to see how good I could get. But then I saw Apex Legends come out. It was a BR [battle royale], and it looked actually competitive, and I wanted to give it a shot."
Esports encompasses multiple genres of games -- battle royales like Fortnite, first-person shooters (FPS) like Overwatch, multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends. Respawn and Electronic Arts' Apex Legends is one of the latest releases in the battle royale genre and blew up soon after it launched on Feb. 4. It was the first game to make a real dent in Fortnite's streaming numbers, albeit briefly. Within days of the release, minor tournaments were scheduled and plans for what Apex Legends' competitive scene would look like were already being imagined and drawn up.
"We pretty much made the team together before we were Gen.G," dummy said. "What happened was that me and Grim were playing Fortnite together, and then when he was playing Apex at one point, the second day it came out, Ted said he saw Grim streaming it, started playing with him. Then I came into the stream and started watching them play. They were like, 'Hey, dummy, you want to come play?' So then all three of us started playing together from there, ended up forming a team, and just wanted to see where we could go with that."
Now bound for one of the game's first major professional tournaments at the X Games Minneapolis, Gen.G's Apex Legends team of dummy, silkthread and GrimReality is a microcosm of esports as a whole. Like many other esports competitors, each of the three has professional or semi-pro competitive experience in at least one, if not multiple, other titles. They're trying to find their own foothold in a landscape that is presently enamoured with Fortnite and 16-year-old Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf, who won $3 million at the Fortnite World Cup last weekend.
The Gen.G Apex Legends team could be considered old compared to the rising young stars who competed at the Fortnite World Cup and some of the other Apex competitors at X Games like Dizzy, but Gen.G's trio see their collective experience, especially in first-person shooters, as a potential competitive advantage on the big stage that X Games will provide.
"At the end of the day, a lot of those kids are still going to show up onstage," dummy said. "It's not going to be a huge advantage, but we're definitely going to see some people play below their level, and they won't be as good onstage. It's going to take them a while to adjust."
"It took awhile for me to get used to the stage in Overwatch League, and I think the first time I played onstage I almost puked because I felt so nervous," silkthread said. "I think that the younger players in the scene, the average age for the Apex scene is pretty young, so a lot of the players might have some nerves and stuff onstage. I definitely will as well, but I think I've learned to cultivate those nerves to play better and be more focused where some of those players might not have that experience."
Of the three, silkthread's departure from competitive Overwatch was the most surprising. Silkthread had been signed to the Chengdu Hunters after leaving the Gladiators. In his public retirement post, silkthread called the decision to leave "the most difficult one I've had to make in the 19 years I've been alive." No one was more surprised that he continued to pursue gaming than silkthread himself.
"I was actually pretty surprised myself," silkthread said. "I was really, really set on going back to school. But with [Apex Legends] coming out, I thought about it more, and it was kind of like a golden opportunity I felt like. And then I think a big part of the reason that I did make the transition from school back into professional gaming was Gen.G, this org specifically and what they were offering, what their mindset was, their philosophy really intrigued me. I knew that if I didn't take this opportunity to go back into professional gaming that I would regret it."
Back at Gen.G's brand-new Playa Vista facility, the trio of Apex Legends competitors prepare to leave for Minneapolis. The facility smells like sawdust and is reminiscent of a brand-new apartment or a California start-up -- sunny and open with the view of a deck and interior garden. An esports mural in the entryway is half-covered in stacked cardboard boxes, and the rest of the space is in the process of being unpacked. On either side of the lounge's television, panels of artwork include depictions of League of Legends' Riven and Apex Legends' own Bloodhound.
It's the company's second facility, with the first one in Gangnam-gu, Seoul. The Apex Legends trio is but one of Gen.G's many esports teams. Both the facility and the team seem to exist in a transitional state, one that's always facing forward, wondering what's next. This week, what's next for the former Overwatch pros and current Apex Legends players is X Games, a nebulous meeting of traditional sports, marketing, and gaming.
"I think it's just hot as hell," GrimReality said of his team's upcoming X Games appearance, while dummy and silkthread laughed. "As a kid, watching Tony Hawk and all the cool s--- that they do in X Games. As a kid that's absolutely fascinating to you, so now being here, going to X Games to do my own thing, that's super cool to me."