Ask players in the Overwatch League how they want to be remembered by their peers, and most of them would say—as one of the best. Los Angeles Valiant support and captain Scott “Custa” Kennedy is no different from anyone else in that regard. But in a 2019 season that was both painful and inspiring for the Valiant, Custa’s impact was felt keenly for reasons that were entirely unrelated to Overwatch.
In fact, no other player made a bigger impact outside of the game than Custa, and on Friday evening at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles, he became the second player to receive the Dennis Hawelka Award—as the player deemed to have the most positive impact on the community.
Custa received the award from last year’s winner, Pongphop “Mickie” Rattanasangchod, whose boundless enthusiasm, beloved smile, and personal history with Hawelka had made him a natural choice to be the inaugural recipient. Custa’s own memories of Hawelka extend across a long span of tournaments, because he was a familiar, welcoming face at all of them.
“Dennis was the guy who was just there,” Custa recalled. “He was always willing to introduce everyone, he was always talking to everyone, and he just had a way of helping people come together—which is hard in esports because we’re just nerds who try to compete.”
Custa may have been one of those nerds, but he’s always had an independent streak that’s allowed him to flourish in uncertainty. He didn’t become a pro until age 22, when he took a leap of faith in his own skills and left university in Australia to move to Vancouver. That experience made him self-reliant and shaped an approach to life that extends beyond the narrow day-to-day focus of a pro gaming career.
Custa has brought this perspective to the rest of the Valiant, and his impact is something interim head coach Mike “Packing10” Szklanny can attest to. “He has the experience, he’s been in esports for a long time, and he really understands the importance of taking care of the other players, helping them learn,” he said. “Not so much how to be players, but how to manage their lifestyles, who they are, and how they do things.”
Custa’s teammates agree. “Person to person, he’s just a nice guy, but he’s also a great leader,” support partner Young-Seo “Kariv” Park said. “Without Custa, the Valiant would have a lot fewer smiles. It would feel very empty not having him by my side.”
Indy “Space” Halpern, the youngest player on the team, added, “His sportsmanship is absolutely insane, and it’s one that I look up to as a player… You don’t do stuff that Custa wouldn’t do.”
“A lot of these guys are 18, 19, 20, just coming out of high school, and they’re forced to move to LA and live their lives as an esports person, which is just nowhere near a normal life,” Custa said. “I try and help these guys as much as I can in just staying responsible and building everything around the game, not just in the game.”
Finding that balance between gaming and living is not only Custa’s advice to younger players, but also an ethos he strives to live by—one that helped him get through one of the toughest stretches of his own career.
Stage 1 was disastrous for the Valiant as a team—they floundered in the meta and finished 0-7—but the burden was heaviest on Custa, who suddenly found himself on the bench for the first time in his career. This was a crisis: how could he help the team when he wasn’t playing? He didn’t want to hide away in a dark room and wallow; that’s never been his personality.
So Custa looked inward to find the answer—and then he turned around to face the world, immersing himself in the community.
He streamed a lot. He started filming a weekly video series, Custa News Network, where his energetic delivery and self-deprecating humor became an instant hit with fans. He promoted and participated in the Valiant Plays for St. Jude charity campaign to benefit childhood cancer research. The latter was an extension of his self-driven philanthropy from the previous autumn, and to date he’s raised more than $6,000 through special jersey auctions and his stream subs, all of which has been donated to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
That wasn’t all. In his nomination letter to the league, Valiant General Manager Michael Schwartz described Custa’s efforts to help his teammates improve, even when he himself was left out. “This show of selflessness for the greater good of the team is another example of how Custa is exactly what we want to see throughout the Overwatch League,” Schwartz wrote.
“When things were going bad, when he got benched early on, he never put his head down, he always tried to do things to help the team be successful,” Packing10 added. “That’s really what leadership is. Even if someone tells you you’re not good enough, or you’re not going to play, or whatever the case may be, you need to understand that you can help people in other ways.”
Even after Custa returned to the starting lineup in Stage 2 and began to lead the Valiant slowly but steadily out of the darkness, none of his extracurriculars went away; not seeing things through has also never been his personality. And so, on a Valiant roster with plenty of talented players and fan favorites, Custa unquestionably became the face of the team.
It’s not a status Custa takes lightly. “One of the things that I really believe, especially as I’ve grown to have more success and more of a following, is that something that’s really important is giving back as much as you can,” he said. “We’re all in a really unique position in that people look up to us, people trust us, and it’s a really good opportunity to use this platform to do great things.”
Competition. Content. Charity. How does someone find time for all of this?
For Custa, that’s not quite the right way to frame the question. For Custa, in order to achieve his ambitions and do his part to improve the community, how can he not find time?
This, too, was a lesson he learned from Hawelka.
“I remember being there at his funeral, and people were talking about the incredible things that he accomplished in a short amount of time, and just how hard he worked to get there,” he explained. “That actually really struck a chord with me in being like, I have the time to do these things. I have this amazing opportunity to go as far as I’m willing to push myself, so why wouldn’t I do that?”
Dennis Hawelka didn’t mean just one thing to the Overwatch community, and down the line, it’s likely that Custa will also leave a far-reaching, multifaceted legacy—known for being more than just a top-tier support, or the leader of the Valiant, or an advocate for work-life balance, or a fun-loving purveyor of Australian delicacies like Vegemite and shoeys.
“A year ago, I would’ve said I wanted to be remembered as one of the best in the league, or someone that really had an impact competitively,” Custa said. “But I think these days I just want to be someone who had an impact, someone who did something for Overwatch that made it better. That’s all I’m trying to do every day—try and be better myself, and try to apply that and make everything better in the long run for everyone.”