Balla was once a competitive Fortnite player but now since the turn of the new year, he has transitioned away from competing to focus on casting. He has since casted most of the Fortnite World Cup Qualifier matches and co-hosted the Fortnite Summer Block Party with Sundown.
myst: You have now been full time casting competitive Fortnite for the majority of this year, how have the last few months been with the Fortnite World Cup Qualifiers going on?
Balla: It has been awesome - but certainly a grind! Not an unwelcome one though - I feel like I am definitely coming into my element as a caster and analyst. It’s the perfect place to test the waters for things and really try to find your style and experiment. We are constantly able to try new things with all sorts of different styles of casting - and getting used to each other and feeling each other out.
Plus, we’re getting to watch these amazing, grueling storylines playout in-front of us every weekend - which is a blast and also literally tearing at my heartstrings, so many heartbreaks and triumphs, so many lives changed and interrupted. VERY interesting.
I’ve been basically flying out to LA every other weekend, which has been rough though, and am definitely looking forward to some downtime before NYC finals - which I couldn't be more excited for.
myst: With the World Cup Qualifiers being solely online. Have the qualified players surprised you at all when names such as Snood, Cloakzy, and Chap coming up short in the solo portion and why do you think a lot these established professionals failed in qualifying?
Balla: There have been some surprises for sure, but also some very expected results. I think a lot of people were caught off guard with how difficult qualification was going to be, and how DIFFERENT it would be than what they are used to. You really have to have a BIG performance to qualify. I definitely expected Snood to break through, because it seemed like he had that formula figured out, but again, it’s really a grind. These last 10 weeks have been incredibly difficult for players mentally and physically.
There was definitely a window of opportunity that closed for some of these guys - the earlier qualifications were easier because people didn’t know exactly how it was going to go, AND there was a bigger pool of “less invested” people playing. We saw this effect in Winter Royale - and it’s even exacerbated by the fact that the pool of players who qualify for semis is bigger every week due to champion league threshold being irrevocable and arena system not really decaying. So all in all, it just keeps getting harder, and if you were just on the edge of the curve at the start - and you couldn’t improve with that curve, you lost your shot. I think Cloakzy, Chap - and a lot of these established pros unfortunately fall under that.
Honestly, I think the bigger surprise is people like Tfue, who before the qualifiers seemed to be falling into the same pattern, actually qualifying. Those are the people who might have been on the edge at the start of quals, but pushed back over the curve over time. There was an interesting tweet after ESL Katowice by Zayt, outlining the players who were actually SERIOUSLY practicing ahead of the event - and it was VERY telling. Some people bounced back and performed (72hrs comes to mind - his improvement since ESL Katowice has been massive), and some didn’t.
Photo via xSUNDOWN
myst: A point that has been brought up is how Epic should handle next years World Cup if there is one. Do you think they should keep the system they used for this year's World Cup or have multiple LAN tournaments throughout the year where players collect points in order to qualify like Dota 2’s DPC circuit system?
Balla: I don’t think there is a question in anybody’s mind that they should change the system. This funnel is WAY too large - which is something Timmcd has actually brought up on Hotline FN a lot, meaning you are taking hundreds of thousands of players and narrowing them down to 6. Winter Royale’s funnel was better and that was in the millions even, but just narrowing down to 200 makes a huge difference. In addition to that, the grind that everybody has had to go through is ridiculously difficult and honestly very hard to come back from. I am tired and I’m just casting, I can’t imagine what the players are going through. We have all sacrificed 10 weekends in a row of family time, social life, breaks for the world cup.
Let’s be clear, I think the current system was a GREAT SUCCESS for a first attempt, I think it has proven that open competition CAN WORK, and that the infrastructure they have built will support the MASSIVE scale of open competition they are shooting for.
It NEEDS serious work though, and serious thought, to actually take it from “CAN WORK” to “DOES WORK”. Viewability is a huge issue - I don’t think spectating only mostly random endgames from people at the top of the leaderboard is at all interesting if the show isn’t focused on those people. If they reduce the size of the funnel or maybe add some funnels in the form of increased tiering AND some custom stages, then we can actually just watch those final stages instead. THAT would be interesting.
I love the idea of multiple LAN tournaments throughout the year - and that’s initially what I thought world cup would be like. However, there’s still the issue of making it accessible. I’m not a huge fan of point systems over multiple individual events, like Dota2’s or SC2’s WCS (granted it’s been a while since I’ve followed any of that). Those tend to be, at least for me, it is very difficult to follow as a viewer. I much prefer the direct route of - he did this, so he qualified. Honestly, though, I just want more tournaments… I don’t think they need to qualify you for some all-encompassing BIG tournament. We went 4 months with 3 big live events, then we went 5 months without one (not counting WSOE because I don’t feel like that was promoted enough and the scheduling was not ideal). I really really miss the days of Pax West and Twitch con.
myst: Patch V9.30 implements a lot of good things to balance the loot pool and bugs in Fortnite including the removal of the shotgun delay and more. As a caster and someone who has competed professional what else do you think would make Fortnite in its best state for the World Cup?
Balla: I’m not someone who likes to dwell on what we COULD have or couldn’t have in the game. I’ll leave the suggestions to others - tons have been said that I totally support.
As a competitor, however, I play the game that we have, not the game that I wish we had. With that said, I would really appreciate some arena changes, some customs matchmaking changes and TONS more third-party support, including releasing a spectating system. I want it to be easy for third-party tournaments to step up, and they seem to be ramping up for that, especially with the public release of the Support a Creator Event Licensing a few months back
myst: With the last duo qualifier set to kick off this weekend, who do you predict will be the final duos qualifying most notably from NAE and EU?
Balla: NAE is one where I think there is still a LOT of competition to be had - it feels like there are so many duos that still need to qualify, and a lot of people are playing their best they have been in a while. However - it’s a weird week, with the storm flip and proximity launcher in the game. So far, the impact from what I can see in competitive is low for pro games, but I can see it completely disrupting the meta in the actual qualifiers (most people don’t carry storm flips unless they are feeling in a griefy mood, which I don’t think holds for the more broader competitive community).
With that said, 3 spots up for grabs is going to be tough, and it seemed like in terms of consistent performances week 8 was an anomaly in NAE. So I’ll go with:
In EU, I feel like a lot of the top top competition has qualified already in comparison to NAE where there're tons of really known duos who have been doing well and haven’t qualified (Bizzle/Dmo, Tfue/Cloak, Aspect/Animal) - so this is a bit more difficult. I will go with:
Photo via xSUNDOWN
myst: Another point of discussion that has been brought up by players and fans is the removal of solo competitive tournaments in favor of trios. How do you feel this game mode could be in competitive?
Balla: Fully in favor. Adds another element and room for more “roles” as players. This only adds more. Solos are VERY static and will get incredibly boring very fast if this was the only mode. It is also impossible to really run any sort of viewable event where the stories are digestible.
If squads actually worked and did not cause issues for servers, and the format incentivized actual fights (fight recovery and reward would need to be addressed), and maybe a few changes to map based objectives - I would push for squads.
The fact is that 100 stories, or 50 stories is way too difficult to watch and be invested in. Not that it’s not possible, and that is my goal as a caster is really to make it digestible on a large scale. In trios, 33 stories starts to become manageable and 25 is really a sweet spot. Plus, I think the less teams there are on the map, the less RNG it becomes and you can just get so much more invested in a team of 3 then a solo or a duo.
Finally, I think we really should focus on ONE mode competitively. There are so many issues with having multiple modes - from splitting practice and community and viewership… to collusion and weird team situations. Plus - world cup finals are going to be seriously hampered by having 3 different tournaments happening. There is NO build-up at all in a one-day event. I am terrified of this, essentially having to hit all the story on the ONLY day. I think viewership will suffer dramatically because of this. ESL Katowice was so good because the duos tournament ran over two days! This was incredible. Twitch con ran over 3 days and was also an amazing finish! Pax west also ran over 3 days and the build-up to the finals was SO INTENSE.
myst: At the end of this interview, I would like to say thank you for partaking in this and do you have anything to say to your fans out there?
Balla: Just that I am incredibly grateful - the support I have received has been unbelievable, and I can’t believe I am where I am. So - thank you to everyone who has supported me, and most of all, keep letting me know what I can do better. It’s been a wild ride but I just want to continue to get better at what I do. Let’s keep improving together.
I also want to thank you for the opportunity and it was a pleasure speaking to you!