When the Los Angeles Valiant go out for dinner, they pretty much always get Korean barbecue.
That’s because the Korean barbecue in Los Angeles is incredible. The best places taste like there’s an honest-to-God Korean grandmother in the kitchen whipping everything up. In many cases, there actually is.
LA is known the world over for Hollywood, perpetually sunny weather, and sprawling white-sand beaches—but to locals, it’s the city’s incredible diversity that makes it home.
Noah Whinston, founder and CEO of Immortals, LA Valiant’s parent organization, built his Overwatch team with a similar spirit in mind. He assembled top talent from Canada, Europe, the United States, and South Korea, then smashed them together to train full-time in a house five minutes from Redondo Beach.
“I think it’s absolutely an advantage to have players from different cultural backgrounds who can help educate each other,” Whinston says. “Cultural diversity on an esports team, especially given the global nature of the Overwatch League, is going to be really important. We’ve just always had the philosophy that we want to pick up the best players from wherever they happen to be.”
Whinston spent his entire life searching for challenges to overcome. The son of two professors, he dove into debate in high school, then experienced considerable success trading stocks before founding an esports team while still enrolled at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Now, at 23, he’s an affable redhead with a mellow smile, extremely sharp eyes, and millions of dollars of investment behind him. When asked a question he doesn’t expect, he takes time to think about it, exploring potential angles and formulating a response accordingly.
Whinston’s team has intentionally broken with conventional esports wisdom. Instead of recruiting the strongest players currently available and trying to force them to fit together for a short-term payoff, he prioritizes players with the right mentality and high long-term potential. Instead of acquiring veterans from other first-person shooters, he’s betting that newer competitors like Brady ‘Agilities’ Girardi will soon come to dominate competitive Overwatch. And rather than focusing on a single, tight, six-person lineup, Whinston plans to have at least eight players and swap them in and out, perhaps on a per-map basis—a goal he began working toward with the acquisition of the talented Korean subsitute player Lee ‘Envy’ Kang-Jae.
“Our priority is winning in Overwatch League—not just in the first season, but over the first few years that it runs,” he says. “We’re not taking steps that are Band-Aids meant to improve our performance [in one particular tournament]. We’re taking steps that are meant to increase the long-term potential of this team, over the course of multiple months and eventually even years.”
The Golden Rule
The team’s gold-winged helmet insignia represents both aggressiveness and protectiveness, values which resonate for the Valiant’s parent organization, Immortals.
The long-term goal informs everything the Valiant does. Some teams practice ten or twelve hours a day; Whinston prefers closer to six or eight. He’s learned from his ventures in other esports that burnout is a real threat to long-term performance. In order to foster players who are holistically healthy, he employs a cook and a fitness coach. His players eat well, sleep well, and wake up every morning at 8 a.m. to lift weights or work cardio on the beach.
For Whinston, representing Los Angeles was a no-brainer. Many of his investors hail from the region, and it’s here that his career in esports took off. There’s something about the city that just seems to make esports a natural fit.
“Los Angeles has always had a very strong creative class,” Whinston says. “What we’ve encountered, over our history here, is a population that’s really excited and open to new forms of entertainment.”
Biggest Overwatch League Rivals?
San Francisco Shock, LA Gladiators, New York Excelsior
Whinston is excited for his team to compete against the San Francisco Shock, viewing this as a rivalry with potential to be even more fierce than the East vs. West dynamic common in traditional sports.
“San Francisco is the place you look to for tech startups,” Whinston says. “It’s the place you look to for innovation from a functionality perspective. But Los Angeles is the place you look to as a taste-maker, from a cultural perspective.”
California looms large in the American psyche, but it’s hardly monolithic in culture. LA and San Francisco represent two competing visions for California’s identity. As such, the two cities are positioned for stark opposition. (And that’s to say nothing of the potential intracity rivalry with the Los Angeles Gladiators.) Which will win out—the cool, calculated, and technologically savvy north, or the warm, artistic, and culturally influential south?
In Overwatch League, at least, Whinston thinks it’ll be the south.
“Look,” he says, “our players all care about the same things. They care about winning, they care about their fans, they care about making a name for themselves—but most importantly, they care about doing it together, they care about working hard to achieve that goal, and they’re willing to sacrifice things to achieve those goals.”
If the LA Valiant can maintain that culture of inclusion, hard work, and shared long-term goals, Whinston thinks they can do just about anything.