Around the time of Dante “Danteh” Cruz’s birthday in March, his parents were in town, and the family went to get tacos at a Mexican supermarket.
“There were some really cool fruits that I hadn’t seen before,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Oh, I wonder what they taste like,’ and I bought some. And yeah—why not eat them on stream?”
The fruit stream (his favorite was “the gooey one with seeds”), the time he showed his viewers how to use a water flosser, all of the stray musings that make their way onto his Twitter—what the world sees of Danteh is unfettered, borderline absurdist, and entirely authentic. “I’m always a troll—I’m just not too serious,” he admits. “I say dumb things and be dumb, and it makes people laugh and stuff.”
why you should buy a waterpik pic.twitter.com/9O7qWpKnQ6— danteh (@danteh) July 1, 2019
The 20-year-old Midwesterner started as a Minecraft streamer, gaining popularity as a competitive PVP player before turning his interest to Overwatch. At first, Danteh didn’t know pros could get paid. “I was friends with one player from Minecraft—Agilities, he was an early pro on Immortals. I talked to him and was like, wait, you get paid? That’s crazy.”
The unthinkable would eventually crystallize into a very real career path, as Danteh found early success in the weekly and monthly tournament circuit, first with Denial eSports and later with Arc 6, a roster that featured several other Overwatch League mainstays, including the Los Angeles Valiant’s Scott “Custa” Kennedy and Indy “Space” Halpern.
“We won the last Alienware Monthly Melee [in May 2017] and got third place in the one before, so I guess that’s when I really started believing it,” Danteh says. “Overwatch League was sending emails, stuff was getting announced, teams were recruiting. Everything was shaking up, and we were really good at the time, so I thought—we could do this.”
To prepare for the league, Danteh started streaming every day—sometimes up to eight hours—and maintained a top-10 ranking on the ladder. His first tryout was with the San Francisco Shock, and he accepted their contract offer two weeks into the signing period.
It wasn’t the smoothest inaugural season, and Danteh found himself riding the bench for most of Stage 4 after wunderkind Jay “Sinatraa” Won reached age eligibility. Then, a challenge came from assistant coach Bum-Hoon “NineK” Kim.
“I would always watch Sinatraa when I was spectating scrims in Stage 4 [last season],” Danteh remembers. “He’d be like, ‘Why do you want to be like Sinatraa? Find your own style because that’s what makes you unique. What heroes can you play and what heroes can Sinatraa play?’ I think that’s how you become a good player—if you find your own style.”
For Danteh, developing his own style meant mastering his best hero. “I did play more Tracer last year, but I think I’m more known for Sombra. I was a good Tracer but I wasn’t the best—when you think of Tracer you think of, like, Striker and Saebyeolbe and Sinatraa.”
Sombra, however, is a hero Danteh understands better than most of his peers in the league, having stuck with her through various balance changes and reworks over the last two years.
“There are heroes that are good, but nobody knows about them, really,” he muses. “Like Mei, just recently, she’s been pretty good for a while, but people were just finding out towards the end of [3-3] meta that she’s really strong. There are always heroes that are really good that will be unnoticed for a while, and I just practiced Sombra when she was unnoticed, and then she got really good. Now I’m ahead of the curve.”
In some ways, Danteh’s process of self-discovery has mirrored that of his team this season. After a winless Stage 2 that he sums up as “really demoralizing,” the Outlaws had to do some soul-searching, and they came to a familiar conclusion, with some lucky stumbles along the way.
“We normally win when we do stuff that other teams don’t, but when we play the same-old, same-old, we don’t have as much success,” Danteh explains. “I think we’re just better at playing the silly comps. What I’ve learned is—try to avoid playing the meta.”
He laughs after giving his answer, but there’s more than a kernel of truth to it. The Outlaws have achieved the most success this year when they’ve thrown out the playbook and either returned to comfort picks or winged it with untested strategies. Danteh’s Sombra falls into the first category, and it has paved the way for some of Houston’s more impressive victories: their upset of San Francisco in Stage 3, the win over the LA Gladiators a couple weeks ago.
Finding his own signature style isn’t the end of Danteh’s journey, though—it’s just the beginning. He has goals ranging from the immediate to the telescopic. He wants to expand his hero pool (already in progress, if Stage 4 has been any indication). He wants to make Team USA’s starting seven for the Overwatch World Cup (fingers crossed) and make the Overwatch League playoffs (there’s still a slim chance)—if not this year, then certainly at some point in his career. In the offseason, he definitely plans to stream more—no promises on another fruit adventure, he says, but he’s not opposed to shaking things up to prevent them from getting stale.
Whether he’s on the Overwatch grind or veering off the beaten path, though, one thing’s for sure—it’ll be a uniquely Danteh experience.