For many, Jacob “Jake” Lyon is the face of the Houston Outlaws and, for some, the face of Overwatch, which is why his return to the Outlaws roster this season after a year of casting is so significant.
Playing professionally at the highest level in any esport is rough, and Overwatch is no exception. Players must be at the top of their game at all times, which means an intense time commitment to playing the game for several hours a day. Overwatch League players also must dedicate time for interviews and other promotional endeavors.
After putting so much time into being a professional player, Jake has been putting a bigger emphasis on his own journey,
“In coming back in a healthier way [after casting], I was like, ‘wow, I really do have the drive to compete again,’ and I think the issues were more in my process, in the way I was approaching it, and the way I was living my life,” Jake told Nerd Street Gamers. “It was a multifaceted thing, but in the end I felt it wasn’t the competitive playing, it was the way I had done it in the first two seasons.”
A break was just what Jake needed to get his drive to compete back. He enjoyed his time casting, and he was able to have other experiences he might not have had while playing.
Jake’s early career
From starting off as a player, moving to casting and coming back as a player-coach, Jake has come a long way since he started playing Overwatch and didn’t even have a beta key. At the time Overwatch released in 2016, Jake was a college student living abroad in the Netherlands. He was playing on a laptop and using the Wi-Fi from his upstairs neighbor.
Even with suboptimal playing equipment and spotty Wi-Fi with a high ping, Jake was able to climb the EU ladder and ended up being a top 500 player despite his circumstances.
Because Jake had experience in esports competition in Team Fortress 2, he knew that Overwatch was something he wanted to play professionally, and he knew he had a good shot at making it.
“I knew Overwatch was going to play to my strengths in a lot of ways. I was confident that if I approached it that way from Day 1 that I would get there eventually,” Jake said.
After Jake was signed by the Outlaws in 2017, he wasted no time becoming a fan-favorite, especially when he played on Junkrat, his signature hero which earned him the nickname “Jakerat.”
Although Junkrat is a chaotic character, the precision with which Jake played him gained attention quickly. He was able to shoot Pharahs out of the sky with unbelievable accuracy, his ability to predict where someone would move was fascinating and his tires were always an exciting multi-kill event that got fans on their feet.
In Season 2, the game had a shift in focus. The meta in Season 2 is not something fans think of fondly. The “go all tanks and support” meta (aka GOATS) was not exciting to watch. There was no more dive meta where a Genji player would get in a player’s face and slice them to pieces or a Tracer to surprise the backline and make everyone turn around. It was all shields, all the time, and it isn’t surprising that some players found that frustrating.
While the GOATS meta wasn’t exactly the thing that made Jake decide to retire, he did cite that he wasn’t feeling his best after Season 2. For Season 3, he decided to try his hand at casting, which is a role he felt he would be more successful in.
“I was not getting what I wanted, I was not in a place I wanted to be playing pro in Season 2,” Jake said. “I was excited to cast. I felt like I could succeed there and tell the stories of players in a way that they felt was true-to-life, and the reality of the game. In the end I think I would have kept playing if I didn’t feel like I needed to make a change. I needed to learn and grow more.”
Photo credit: Overwatch League
Return to the Outlaws
It turned out that Jake would cast only for a year, and fans were very surprised right before this season when the Outlaws announced Jake was returning in a hybrid role as a player-coach. Leaning on his experience as an in-game leader, Jake helps coach players, but also fills in when needed as a player during matches.
His day-to-day operations aren’t much different from that of a player, and his title, while confusing at first, makes a lot more sense now that the season has started and fans have watched him settle into it.
“In my day-to-day, I work out before practice, then we come in [to the office] two hours before practice,” Jake said. “In scrims, if I’m a starting player, then that will be my main job, and when I’m not starting, I’m watching the game, I’m trying to find ways to improve for the overall team strategy.”
When he isn’t playing, Jake looks for the small things that might boost their performance. Whether it’s an individual player’s performance, or a small detail that might improve strategy, Jake is always looking to help the team strategically whether he is playing or not.
In between scrim blocks, the team participates in a 45-50 minute review of footage.
“That’s another place I’m pretty active where, in that review time, I’ll really be looking to participate in that discussion. Is our strategy the best? What things went wrong? When they went well, was it something we had planned, was it something lucky that we can’t rely on and that we have to have a better strategy for,” Jake explained. “We’re holistically trying to improve the team on an individual and group basis.”
At the end of their scrim blocks, the Outlaws have a two-hour review period before they head home for the day.
All the practice and VOD review has been paying off as the Outlaws currently sit in third place in the West Region overall standings and are on track to make the playoffs.
What’s next for Jake
Fans certainly want to see Jake remain on the Outlaws or at least remain in the league beyond this season. He has casting to fall back on, but his ambitions might take him elsewhere in the next steps of his career after he is done with professional play.
Jake says that he is going to stay in esports, but is unsure of what he might do when he leaves professional play. Because the esports landscape is always changing, it is tough for him to imagine where he might land.
“I feel like I can work anywhere in esports, whether that may be developing the businesses, whichever they may be, related to esports, from the broadcasting aspect, to the team aspect, to working more directly with players. I don’t want to close any doors. I like the idea of wearing many hats and doing many different things within the space to eventually get to the point where I can approach any challenge,” Jake said.
For now, Jake has his sights set on the next Overwatch League tournament, the Summer Showdown. Their in-state rivals, the Dallas Fuel, have knocked them out of both the May Melee and June Joust tournaments.
Although they are still a top-tier team, Jake and the Outlaws have some work to do to take the next step in their development and punch their ticket to Hawaii for the Summer Showdown Tournament Weekend.
Lead image credit: Overwatch League