“Thinking it Over” is a short opinion piece to encourage debate around a specific topic.
On the Watchpoint: Preshow for the second day of Overwatch League this week, desk analyst Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson focused in on a style difference between the Los Angeles Gladiators DPS line and that of most other teams. In a short segment, Sideshow made the point that Lane “Surefour” Roberts tended to take more passive angles, showing a couple of examples from stage 4 matches.
“I think the Gladiators’ damage dealing duo is one of the most interesting,” the British analyst said to open the segment. “They say that they are potentially the best damage dealing duo in the world, but I think there is a little more to it than that. Surefour actually has been playing a little bit passively recently. And that’s the style, I’m not saying it as a critique.”
And yet it was taken as one. On Twitter, Surefour opted to sub tweeting the segment.
The Canadian star player took it as criticism and implied that analysis against him hasn’t been fair. Later, he got into an argument with Brennon "Bren" Hook about it, stating that it was his right to defend himself against the accusations made.
When looking at the segment as is, only few wordings by Sideshow even remotely suggest this particular piece of analysis was aimed to discredit Surefour’s performance. Sideshow went out of his way to specifically state the intention was to point out style differences. This left ample room for interpretation whether it was a characteristic of the player or a deliberate team decision, but Sideshow made it reasonably clear he didn’t pass a value judgement either way.
Perhaps the production overlay framed the discussion in that way by asking “Is Surefour too passive as a damage dealer?” This could come off as a rhetorical question. However, I don’t see how anything in Sideshow’s answer suggesting he picked up that tone.
Surefour’s tongue-in-cheek follow up tweet “Shame that I’m such a passive player,” therefore, comes on as a strawman of Sideshow’s point. He does not say that Surefour is inherently a passive player. All he says is Surefour plays passively, which may have a multitude of reasons, such as team strategy, Surefour’s ability to play around his teammate’s play styles and more.
This specific segment can therefore not reasonably be understood as a pointed dig at Surefour’s performance when seen in a vacuum, but is rather an honest attempt at describing the status quo of how he is used for in Gladiator’s tactical and strategical approach.
As a result, we’re left guessing what exactly Surefour’s problem is.
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It is, however, possible that Surefour took past desk analysis regarding him into account and interpreted the comment in that context. If he had indeed been a target of unfair analysis in the past, it would be very understandable for him to take it into account, especially if someone indeed had it out for him in the past.
I sympathize with Surefour’s situation in that it takes a disproportionate amount of effort to disprove a claim one believes to be wrong. That said, Surefour didn’t even attempt to substantiate his counterargument while Sideshow at least tried to cram in as much evidence (both statistically and anecdotally) as the frame of a Watchpoint segment allows for.
To Surefour’s credit, he offered to elaborate in the exchange with Bren though I personally think it is a sub-optimal solution to both holding the desk accountable and defending his reputation. If his goal was to influence public opinion and explain why Sideshow’s statements were made in bad faith or in ignorance, he does very little to convince us of that.
While it is on Surefour to point out which specific statements he previously took issue with, there are historically few obvious instances of heavy criticism against him. I don't intend to distort the view of what previous coverage of Surefour's performance was like by bringing the following examples up. My goal here will be to establish that it's hard to see a personal vendetta against him.
Much to the contrary, Sideshow (as well as Bren) have been singing praises of Surefour’s career, and indeed his future potential. In a piece by Michael Jeong on DBLTAP in January before this season, Sideshow not only thought that Surefour was one of the best Western players in Overwatch history, but that hadn't even peaked yet.
“But the awesome thing about Surefour is that he didn’t peak in 2016 or 2017 or whatever," Sideshow said. "In fact, I’m not even sure that he’s peaked in 2018. He looks like a player that’s continuing to improve. And that’s very rare for one of these old-school players.”
Sideshow later made a similar point on the Overwatch podcast “Watch the Overture.” In it, Sideshow argued that Surefour would win an award for “best secondary DPS player,” explaining he thinks that Surefour shines specifically when he isn’t in the hard carry position.
“I think he’s a fantastic supportive DPS player, can fill in whatever you, the star player, don’t wanna play or aren’t as comfortable with,” Sideshow stated at the time, adding that, “he can carry if he has to.”
These comments seem much in the same vein of the ones made during the segment yesterday and are arguably implicitly supported by the Gladiator’s coaching staff in the way they are utilizing Surefour’s skill set. Crucially, none of these points discredit Surefour in all but the vainest ways. Surefour hasn’t been the superstar player on the Gladiators since Fissure joined in season 1, and it has evidently helped his career. Never has he come closer to being on the world’s best team than on Gladiators.
To refrain from making these types of segments is obviously not a satisfying solution. Well-researched analyst opinions provide value and a level of authenticity to a broadcast that the league can’t do without.
It is definitely possible that Surefour has good reasons to be upset, but we’ve yet to see them coherently brought up. I hope to see Surefour’s field his arguments publicly in a civil podcast format that allows for in-depth discussion in which both parties stand to learn from the mistakes made in communication.