You may not consider esports athletes ‘real’ athletes – but even the most ardent anti-video game activist would have to be impressed at someone who’s captained their team to a hotly contested national championship on seven occasions.
Benjamin Vinante-Davies – known professionally as FAT94 – has done just that. Playing the shotcaller role for Mindfreak’s Heroes of the Storm team, he’s been to the summit of Australia’s national championship seven times and, this weekend, has the chance to not only do so again, but play off against a Latin American champion for the right to compete in the global championships at BlizzCon 2018.
In part two of our interview with him, we discuss just how he became such a skilled player, and how his team have stayed at the top of the domestic scene for so long.
You can check out part one of our interview with him, where he discussed how MOBAs work and how to get better at them, here.
The Roar: I understand you played Heroes for a bit and then you entered the first, or one of the first, Road to BlizzCon tournaments and lost. What was that experience like? Was it a particularly tough loss to take?
Ben: Well basically, for me, the reason I never really got into competitive gaming is I’d never really had an actual good computer. I live in a regional town, so the internet’s also atrocious.
Those two things have always been a hindrance to me getting better. But I really wanted to get into the game and then one of my friends, actually for my birthday, lent me money to buy my first proper gaming computer.
The Roar: What a champ!
Ben: He’s also my teammate. So that’s been like a very big factor on my HotS career actually, I guess. That was the big turning point for me to take it seriously and want to improve.
The [Road to BlizzCon] loss wasn’t bad because I had no expectations of winning, and all it did was give me that drive to want to improve. I think we came fifth in that tournament, so the results weren’t that great or anything.
But ever since then, it was always wanting to be the best that I can, and be better, really. I achieved that in the region, at least, afterwards.
The Roar: That’s fair enough. Would it be fair to say that that tournament was the turning point where you decided this is something you really wanted to do?
Ben: Yeah, definitely. I took it a lot more seriously, started putting a lot more hours into the game and actually going the distance to improve.
The Roar: Are there certain training habits of yours or certain skillsets of yours that you really credit with your ability to improve to where you are now? Would it be discipline or raw talent or anything like that?
Ben: Not really. I feel like I’m still honestly learning all these new things about myself as I go on. It’s always an uphill battle trying to get better and better. There’s lots of ups and downs with it, but I don’t really know what to credit it to.
I think for my original team, it was the competitiveness amongst us. We’d always try to be better than each other, but then attempts were there to improve each other at the same time. So it was just a constant competition within ourselves, but also a healthy competition. Not a bad one.
Sometimes it could get bad, though, because of egos clashing or whatever, and it can be bad. But I think the whole team being friends and trying to improve as a whole, it’s always been the thing for me.
Not only am I succeeding when I win, but so is my team and it’s a good feeling. You don’t want to let down yourself or your teammates.
The Roar: You’re a seven-time HGC ANZ Champion, which I think is just insane. How have you and your team been able to stay at the top for so long?
Ben: I guess I’ve had a lot of different rosters and constant changes amongst it – having new players. The people that I’ve had on my team and the learning experiences of the good and the bad.
I’ve been captain for five of them [championships], and I don’t think I’m the best captain sometimes. But I think being close as friends has always helped.
Right now on the team, we have a new player, but the other four [of us], we’ve all been pretty close.
We all live around Australia, but I’ve organised trips for us to meet up and hang out just as friends. Having that close a bond with your team helps tremendously, because when you get frustrated at them, it’s not like you’re at work and you’ve got a co-worker that’s being useless or something and slacking off. It’s your friend.
You understand how everyone works on the emotional level, not just at the gaming side of things. It actually helps a lot to be able to, I guess, support your friends, but also to be honest about stuff.
If you have a problem with them, you can just talk to them straight up instead of having to passive aggressively talk behind each other’s back or whatever, like a bad work environment. A healthy work environment is good, just like any job that you do; going and playing competitive, it’s like a job.
So I think a team being a family is a really important aspect for me. Some people say they don’t need that, but I think that’s what contributed to our success.
The Roar: That’s awesome. Moving to the most recent season – the 2018 Phase 2 wrapped up just a little while ago and I understand you went 13-1. So obviously, a pretty good run for the season. What were your thoughts on this split, and how did it feel compared to your downright frightening run through Phase 1?
Ben: Yeah, it felt good. I think that we’d already secured our spot for the LAN, so that was good. The last game, we didn’t put as much effort in as we normally did, because the new WoW expansion came out, so I was a bit distracted and whatnot.
The Roar: That’s awesome!
Ben: Yeah. So that’s fine. I’m still pretty confident and happy with how it went. Crimson is our rival. I guess they’re the ones to contest. Technically I think they’re first seed.
The Roar: I think they are – on map differential.
Ben: In the end it doesn’t matter for the LAN event at all, so that’s all right. I’m confident in my team, and I’m happy with how things went.
We’ve had a new player come in, and I’ve had to role swap to a role that I’ve never played, and it’s probably my worst role of them all. So for me to have to learn a brand new role and then still be on top or even with the other teams makes me very happy about that.
The Roar: Absolutely. And then, back to Phase 1. What was it like to represent the region in the first intercontinental clash, and did that win [over Brazillian team Encore] feel extra special?
Ben: Yeah, it did. So generally in the past there’d always be like online events that you’d win at home, but without your teammates or anything. So you celebrated, but not so much.
When you’re at LAN, it’s like a whole different environment. There’s the cameras. It’s hot. All your teammates are next to you and it’s just real intense.
So it felt really good winning at LAN.
It actually felt a lot more proving yourself and much better, because there you’re there with your friends to celebrate afterwards. And yeah, I guess it was nice because there’s never been officially the best minor region competition. So winning that thing for the best minor region team was also nice – like an extra thing on top.
The Roar: If you wear to appear at BlizzCon, what would it mean to, in essence, represent Australia on the global stage?
Ben: So for us to qualify, there’s a LAN coming up on the 15th where we’ll take off against Crimson. We have to beat Crimson in a best of seven. Then we’ll play the Latin America representative team, if we beat Crimson. If we win that, then we go on to BlizzCon.
The Roar: Awesome.
Ben: So that’s a LAN event coming up – it’s very close. That’s creeping up on us. To represent the region and Mindfreak at BlizzCon, it’d be a great honor, because last year, I actually lost the opportunity to go to BlizzCon, which has interrupted my winning streak as well, which is no good.
The Roar: Oh, no.
Ben: Yeah. So it’s like a big downfall of the whole ego thing – and I learned a lot from losing.
I’ve been working my way back up to going again, so it means a lot to me personally and my team because none of them – I’ve gone to BlizzCon in 2016 – but none of these guys have, so for me to win, it’d be great for myself and the team.
It’s always good representing the region when we go over. It’s a nice feeling having all the support that we get from our people back home.