Everyone loves a good sporting upset. It's in our DNA to root for the plucky underdogs on any manner of fields, courts, and rinks. The same holds true in the emerging esports (competitive video game playing) scene. Bellevue's Rori Bryant-Raible, who goes by the screen name CauthonLuck, proved that earlier this month at the Heroes of the Storm North American Fall Regional 1 tournament in Burbank, California.
Heroes of the Storm may not be the biggest title in the esports world, but it's still significant enough to have garnered ESPN telecasts for the Heroes of the Dorm tournament held earlier this year at CenturyLink Event Center. So while Bryant-Raible had some prior pro gaming experience, his recently reformed team, Murloc Geniuses, wasn't considered much of a threat. After all, top teams had been training together for years in an attempt to master Heroes of the Storm's intense 5-on-5 gameplay that mixes careful strategy and fast-paced battle action. Meanwhile, Bryant-Raible still worked a full time job leading up to the event, and one of his teammates had zero major tournament experience. But never count out the underdog.
After splitting its first two matches, Murloc Geniuses won a decisive third contest to advance to the knockout playoff round, then followed it up with a semifinal victory. When the best-of-five championship match went down to a fifth and final game, and Murloc Geniuses dug deep and pulled out one last win. The squad had done the unthinkable, winning the $25,000 top prize and, more importantly, earning a spot in November's Heroes of the Storm Global Championship at BlizzCon, which features a $1 million prize pool. Viewers could hear the glee in the Twitch analysts' voices as they celebrated Murloc Geniuses pulling off "upset after upset," while noting that "Cauthon was basically the MVP."
Bryant-Raible returns to action this weekend, when local gaming convention PAX West plays host Heroes of the Storm's North American Fall Regional 2. While the pressure is off Murloc Geniuses after already securing its spot at BlizzCon, this is the team's chance to prove the last tourney wasn't merely a fluky underdog win (plus, there's still a $25,000 top prize to be claimed). The tournament stretches three days (September 2-4), and those that didn't manage to snag a PAX badge can stream the action on Twitch.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Bryant-Raible about the daily routine of a pro gamer, the truth in sports clichés, and the origin of his username.
What are your first gaming memories?
My first gaming memories are playing Duck Hunt and the original Mario with my family. I think that was my first experience at ever being better at anything than my dad. [Laughs] So I think that probably helped in some regard, because I always liked to compete with my dad in all sorts of stuff back then.
How did you first get into Heroes of the Storm?
I’ve played pretty much every Blizzard game—up till Overwatch—like a ton; really hardcore. It’s kind of been the company who’s games I’ve played the most competitively.
When they released the alpha for Heroes of the Storm, I wasn’t really expecting much. My friends and I just thought it would be a really weird, wonky version of Dota or League of Legends. We tried it out, and we didn’t really like it at first. But it kind of just grows on you, once you get used to the constant fighting instead of the slow farming gameplay.
And probably just like a week or so after I started playing, the first tournament that was ever done in Heroes was set up by CyaSteve [Matt MacNeil], who now works for Blizzard. There wasn’t even a prize for it. So I just entered it with a real life friend of mine and a couple other people I’d been playing with online. We went into it, and we got stomped, but it was a pretty fun experience. That’s how I got into the competitive scene. After that I made a real team, and have been competing ever since.
Since you’re no longer on a “playing with your friends” level, how are professional teams for games like Heroes formed?
That’s actually pretty complicated. Most of the time it’s established teams that are either adding a player or two or removing a player or two. With my team [Murloc Geniuses], we actually kind of reformed a team completely in early July, about a month before the [ESL North America Fall Regional Championship] tournament. What happened was me and two other players who had played together in the past, formed a core of three people. Then we did tryouts with a bunch of other people for the last two spots, picking the two people who we thought meshed the best with our styles and who played the best during tryouts.
As a pro gamer, what’s your daily routine?
Until very recently, my routine was a lot different from most pro gamers, because up until we won this tournament, I had a full-time job at Nintendo. There are very few people that actually continue to have a job while playing in the pro scene. So I would work the standard Monday–Friday 8-to-5 or 9-to-6. Then I would come back and scrim [i.e. play practice matches] from 5 or 6 until about 10 or 11. And then I’d do whatever errands or upkeep I needed to do for an hour or two, and then go to sleep. So Monday through Friday that was pretty routine. And then on weekends, we’d often have a day off or a tournament to plan. I left my job like the day before the tournament that we won to qualify for BlizzCon, so I guess I had some faith in us.
And how has it changed since you quit your job to focus on gaming?
I haven’t really established a routine. It’s been a lot of sleeping in until like 1 instead of getting up at 8 every morning. I usually didn’t have as much time to practice on my own as other people, so the last few weeks—especially getting ready for the upcoming tournaments at PAX and BlizzCon—I’ve just been playing just way more of Heroes than I usually do. Just doing a lot of solo queue and ladder [i.e. competitive ranked] stuff. I’ve been working on learning heroes I didn’t have time to play before. And then as a team we’ve upped our scrim time, so we usually have about six hours a day of playing the other top teams, instead of about the four we had previously, which was partially my fault because of scheduling conflicts.
So that’s six hours of team play? And when added to your solo play that’d be a total of about…
Probably like 12 hours a day since we got back from the tournament. With the challenges ahead of us and the amount of free time I have now that I’m not used to having, I’ve been going pretty hard.
So when you’re playing 12 hours a day, is the game even fun anymore or is it purely a job?
It’s still fun for me, because the thing that really pushes me isn’t so much the game itself, it’s the competition with the personalities. You want to just push yourself to be better than the the big names in the scene. You want to challenge the teams that are considered unbeatable, and prove all the media wrong who said this team isn’t going to be a threat. That is the kind of stuff that pushes you to work and to make yourself better. It’s not that the game is such a thrill ride that you can play it 12 hours a day. You have to have that drive to beat other people in person to really go that hard in it.
So what was the key to winning the ESL North America Fall Regional Championship with a relatively inexperienced team?
Well, I’d just like to give a shout out to my teammates. I’m just really proud for everybody, especially the people who hadn’t been to a big tournament before. To just step up on a big stage where nobody expected us to be a contender [and win]…
I think the thing we did best over that weekend was focused on each game, instead of looking past our early games and think about the finals, like other teams did. We didn’t underestimate anyone. We didn’t overlook them. We had very detailed strategies for each team we were playing and I think that helped us a lot, to just focus on one thing at a time, and get through one step at a time. I know it’s a cliché you here a lot in sports, but it’s effective for a reason. I think part of the reason we were able to win and represent north America was that other teams didn’t take that old cliché as seriously and tended to focus only on their upcoming matches, which resulted in them losing to some teams that they really shouldn’t have. I’m just happy and proud of my team for being disciplined and focusing on what our goal was at that exact moment.
If someone is a newbie to Heroes is there anything you’d suggest they focus on while watching or playing the game?
I would say the most very basic thing would be to focus on getting your team experience early in the game. I think that’s probably the most novice mistake. People hear that this game is all about brawling and team fighting—and it does have more of a focus on player-versus-player combat more so than other games—however in the very early stages of a match, if you’re not soaking experience [points], your team will fall way behind. Even if your teammates leave the lane to go fight, you still need to constantly be getting your team experience, because the team shares experience as a whole. That’s probably the most important thing for people just getting into the game, because team experience leads to different talent tiers, and if you have a talent tier advantage over the other team then you have a huge advantage in fights and that’s where you take the biggest leads in the game.
What’s your play style/role on the team?
I’m the ranged player. I play a lot of [long] range damage [dealing moves], but also my focus is specialists and secondary support [characters]. So I play a lot of the heroes that are supportive to the team as a whole, one’s that give map vision, or scouting information, or cause a lot of pressure through pushing [i.e. attacking enemy structures]. My focus is on heroes who give utility to the team as a whole through mechanics that aren’t necessarily damage and tanking.
What are your goals going forward as a pro gamer?
We’re pretty much all focused on BlizzCon right now. Heroes isn’t considered to be one of the huge esports, but it’s actually already a top 10 game all-time in terms of tournament winnings. And BlizzCon is by far the biggest event ever, it just kind of dwarfs everything else in comparison. Nobody’s looking past that event yet. We’re focused on PAX for this weekend, and then after that we’re going to be studying the international scene and doing a lot more preparation for how the world plays as a whole, instead of just our region.
Since we’ve already qualified for BlizzCon, PAX is just about continuing our form. LAN experience [i.e. in-person connected playing] is very valuable in general, especially for people who are kind of new to it, like our support player Jim. So it’s a combination of that, testing ourselves to see how we’re doing with what we’re training on right now, and just the prize money.
What’s is the origin story of your user handle, CauthonLuck?
I’ve had this user handle for about 15 years, even when I was playing the original Star Craft: Brood War and Warcraft III. It’s from a book series called The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. It’s a sprawling fantasy series with 14 books. I guess you could loosely compare it to something like Game of Thrones, and The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire were my favorite book series growing up. There’s a character in the Wheel of Time named Mat Cauthon, whose defining trait in is his luck in various aspects of life. So it was just kind of a combination that, and I’ve used the tag ever since.
Sept 2–5, Washington State Convention Center, Sold Out