We caught up with Arakune after his team’s latest win in Battlerekt to talk about his team’s journey, his personal evolution as a player, and his opinions on how Battlerite could be improved.
Congrats on the win! It’s becoming clear that you guys are the team to beat in NA. Do you think there’s anyone that can realistically challenge Legendary at the moment, or are you guys pretty far ahead of most challengers?
Arakune It depends on how soon we’re talking about. We’ve definitely secured our spot as the best team in NA, and there aren’t any teams right now that I can foresee beating us. As long as the three of us have been together and there hasn’t been a sub, we haven’t lost a game in 3v3, and that’s over the course of the last two or three months. So we’re pretty well ahead. I think there are a few individual players with the potential to take us out. I think neewha is really good, Vorime is really good, and there are some up-and-coming players like Skywind who are becoming better. There are a lot of lesser known players as well, like Jeter (the Croak player) or thexpaNic (the Freya player). If we saw players like that combine into a team and get a really strong meta comp together, they could definitely be scary. But as it stands right now, I don’t think we’ll lose any time soon.
So you’d say you’re the only team in NA right now that has both the individual skill and team cohesion to be the best? How did you go about building that strength as a team?
Arakune Well, we’re kind of lucky. When I started playing the game, Averse was already at the top of the leaderboards and the only North American player at Grade 15. When I was just going through solo queue at Grade 12 learning Shifu, I ran into Ninjas who was Grade 11 at the time. We started to duo because I’d heard Shifu/Sirius was good from Outk4st and sk3tch, who were the premier 2v2 team at the time. I asked Ninjas about a dozen times whose smurf he was because I felt like there was no way he was a Grade 11 player. He was rocking something like a 75 percent win rate, so I knew as soon as I met Ninjas that he was going to be amazing.
We started practicing together all the time, and eventually we came up through the North American scene and showed that we were definitely the second best 2v2 team behind Averse and stro. There was a point about three months ago where we’d always get into the Grand Finals of tournaments, and then get stomped by Averse and stro. But once that happened we were established as one of the better teams, and once stro quit and Averse’s 3v3 partner sk3tch also quit, it seemed like a natural progression for us to get together and make this team. We haven’t really lost since.
So it’s a combination: me and Ninjas have played together since the beginning, playing the same comp, and it just so happened that the two characters we play were the same characters that Averse’s former teammates player, so everything came together in a lucky way to make our team what it is now.
And you and Ninjas playing together from the start and growing together helped build your coordination as a team?
Arakune Oh yeah. Our team, and I think Averse would agree on this, is basically Ninjas and I 2v3ing the other team, and we put out so much pressure that Averse can do whatever he wants. And everyone knows that Averse is the superstar, one of the best if not the best player in the world. It’s a really good dynamic. And Ninjas and I have such great synergy.
There was a tournament a couple weeks ago where I overslept, and they replaced me with Condemned, one of the best European Shifu players. They lost in the first round to a team that we’ve never lost to. They’re a good team, but we’d never had trouble with them before. Condemned and Ninjas couldn’t communicate and synergize on the level that we usually do.
I think a lot of people like to chalk up our success to, you know, Sirius/Shifu/Jumong is the best comp, it’s unbeatable, it’s a flowchart. But whatever the case may be, I think it’s been proven that there’s something Ninjas and I have together that other teams don’t. I really do think it’s because we’ve grown together from the start, beaten the bad habits out of each other, and know everything about each other’s playstyles.
You mentioned how strong your comp is. To many, you guys kind of embody what a lot of people see as the “brainless NA playstyle,” the Shifu/Sirius all-out aggression combo. Do you think your composition is genuinely easier to execute, or do you think the label is unfair?
Arakune I think it’s a little bit of both. A lot of people immediately discredit the team because it’s double melee, which means the aim aspect that’s normally in the game isn’t there at all. But what people don’t realize about that is how difficult the neutral game is. First off, Shifu is the only one that can engage, and against particularly defensive comps Sirius almost can’t follow up at all and can only heal Shifu. If you go in at the wrong time against, for instance, an Oldur/Jumong, as soon as you blow that space you’re going to eat Quicksand and Rain of Arrows and you’re just going to be killed.
So it’s not just all in until they die. You have to pick your fights, you have to position well, and you actually have to be smarter than I think you have to be with a lot of other comps, where you just camp really defensively and if you hit all your shots and don’t hit counters, then people will just die. In particular, I think people discredit our comp because there’s sort of a stigma against me in the community. And people who play something like Lucie or Jumong or Jade, they just feel like we jump on them at the start of the round and there’s no skill or outplay, they just die. But what they’re lacking is good neutral game, and that’s tough to learn.
Let’s talk about that stigma against you. You kind of got saddled with a negative image early on in the life of Battlerite. How much do you feel that was earned and how much of it is overblown at this point?
Arakune Well, at this point people are so inherently biased against me that it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It doesn’t really matter what I say. The reality is, the reputation that I earned was pretty much 100 percent deserved. I was a total asshole, and the way I acted back then was really not acceptable. I don’t really have any excuses for it, except that I’m dumb.
Now, especially as we (as a team) and myself (as a player) become these prominent figureheads in the community and we’re discussing things like sponsorships, tournaments recognizing us as the number one seed… as more and more people become aware of who we are, we kind of have a role that we have to play, where if we want this game to succeed as esports and we want ourselves to succeed as players, you kind of just can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to be mature and professional.
I’ve been saying for a while now that I’m reformed. I still have my moments where I tell someone, hey, you suck at the game, but genuinely that’s about as bad as it gets now. I really just try to say that, for anyone who really dislikes me for anything I said or did a couple months ago, I’ve changed, I’m still trying to change, and all I can do is apologize for what I’ve done in the past.
You can’t ask for more than that. Moving on, there’s an increasing rivalry between the NA and EU regions in Battlerite. You and your team might have more insight into this than most. You guys have played in a few of the EU Battlerekt tournaments and defeated this week’s EU winners in the finals pretty handily, but EU is generally considered the tougher region. Where do you think you stand compared to EU teams? Is it even fair to compare the regions right now?
Arakune It pains me to say this, but basically Europe is better. But I think in terms of individual team and player strength, we may well be the best team. If not, we’re certainly top two or three. The real issue it comes down to is that the game is so ping reliant that there’s no reliable way to prove your mettle between the regions.
What I will say is that there are more good European players, and there are more good European teams. There’s more variance in their scene for sure. The NA scene, like I said earlier, is kind of weak from a competitive standpoint. There are only two or three teams that can really stand a chance to get a game off of us, and a lot of those teams are just a few good players that met in solo queue and wanted to team up. They don’t really practice together.
For example, neewha, Finlev, and Skywind are three great BLC veterans, but they don’t really scrim or practice as a team. There aren’t really any opportunities for NA teams to scrim right now. In this kind of low-competition environment, I don’t see how you could argue that EU is worse. They’ve also got the larger playerbase as well, so there’s certainly a deeper pool of players and more stacked tournaments. But if there was a LAN of some kind, I think our team could definitely hold our own. I’m not sure if anyone else in North America could. It’s hard to say until that happens.
Part of the problem is the perception. People love to have regional pride and favorite players, and that’s what esports is all about. But when you get feelings like that, a lot of people spread misinformation, particularly in the EU vs. NA rivalry. It’s frustrating. For example, there was a EU tournament a few weeks ago where Averse teamed up with Condemned and KlernY, two of the best European players. They lost in the first round to C0rrupteD’s team, another one of the best players over there. It was a 5–4 loss as well, so the bracket didn’t really tell the whole story. A lot of people took that and claimed it as proof that there’s no competition in the NA scene and Averse is an overrated player. It’s total BS.
This week in Battlerekt, we were going to enter the EU tournament but Averse overslept. We found a replacement in FireBlaze at the last minute, one of the only other top-level NA Jumongs, and we went into the European tournament and got to top eight. Then we lost 6–0 to Wuzac, Hotbiscuit, and bLankkz, who we beat 10–4 in the grand finals of PRL last week. So people take that and say Legendary got wrecked by a European team, and don’t even realize that we weren’t playing with our full team.
Little things like that bug me. I can appreciate the rivalry and the pride for one’s region. I’ve got a lot of NA pride and personal pride myself. But they take these things as proof that one region is better than the other in situations where there’s no context. If you’re going to have that EU vs. NA debate, it’s important to at least have your facts straight.
It’s becoming more and more common for EU teams to enter NA tournaments, since there just aren’t as many top-level teams around. Do you think there’s a long term benefit for NA teams to compete against the arguably stronger, and definitely more varied, European challengers? Do you think that has the capacity to help grow the North American scene?
Arakune I absolutely do. Something that we were talking about when we played against Project Horizon in the PRL finals, me and Averse were going back and forth saying, “Holy shit, this Croak player is really good.” We don’t have a Croak player of that caliber in North America, we don’t really have an Ashka on that level either now that Skywind is playing Freya. So it’s actually refreshing to get that kind of variety and strength, to get exposure to things we don’t normally get in NA. I think it could definitely help our players grow more than they normally could, as long as they actually sign up and play.
The general anxiety about Battlerite’s future seems to be on an uptick again. How do you feel about SLS’s current development strategy? Do you feel like there need to be big changes for the game to succeed, or are more time and content all that’s required?
Arakune I think the anxiety is warranted. For a long time, if you made a Reddit post that said the game was dying, you’d just get downvoted. People would say, “Come on, it’s Early Access, cut the developers some slack. They’re doing really well considering how much they oversold what they expected, they’re good about community feedback, they’re doing the best they can.” I felt that way for a really long time. Something that I’ve realized now that I’ve put well over 1,000 hours into the game is that maybe the negative voices are right. I don’t want to be too negative, because I enjoy the game, but I do feel like it’s missing something.
The Lack of Outplay Potential
I think what the game really needs is more outplay potential. The team aspect in the game is great, and I don’t think the team skillcap has been reached yet. Teams could absolutely use better synergy with each other, better communication, better management of cooldowns, better orb control, that kind of stuff. But in terms of being in a 1v1, or even a 1v2 or 2v3 situation, and you try to figure out how you can outplay your enemies to win, I think there are a lot of circumstances where it simply can’t be done. I almost attribute a little bit of our success to that, because while I think we are certainly the top three players in North America, and we happened to form into a team that has good synergy, and have the best player in the world… we really don’t practice that much anymore. We only really play the day before a tournament to make sure we’re not terrible, and after maybe 15–20 games of warming up, we feel pretty good and we go into the tournament the next day and just stomp everybody.
Even though other players are working hard to improve and catch up to us, and when we play against those players we can tell that they’ve improved, we are just too good at exploiting the mechanics of the game to a point where you can’t outplay us. It doesn’t matter what you do, because our risk/reward is so calculated. If I accidentally burn a cooldown and there’s an opportunity to punish me, the opportunity isn’t actually there because Ninjas or Averse covers for me, or we just rotate off and get mid orb, or someone else decides to make themselves the focus for a second. We just have such a good grasp on everything that is possible to do in the game that there is no more room to work around that. You can’t really beat us.
To me at least, it doesn’t feel like there’s much more we can do to improve. It feels like our improvements now are so small. It’s minor positioning things. It’s hitting 90 percent of your Shifu spears instead of 80 percent. And there are some situations where these things will matter, but in a game like Battlerite, the way it seems right now, the situations where they do matter come up so infrequently compared to situations where there’s just one play and the outcome is predetermined as long as everyone plays the situation right. We’re good enough that we don’t misplay those situations, so that’s just the end. There’s a linear endgame, and it feels like we haven’t quite reached it, but we’re close enough to it that even if another team reached it before us, the outcome would be similar.
The Poor Design of 1v2 Situations
It’s hard to say exactly what they should do, but I think I do agree with the community opinion that maybe hitboxes should be a little bit smaller, or maybe people should move a bit faster. In particular I’ve noticed that there are two big things they could fix to make outplay potential much better. In a 1v2 with a healer, there’s pretty much nothing you can do to win. Let’s say you use all of your cooldowns perfectly, outplay one person and get in on them, they have no cooldowns and you have a small window to punish them and push your advantage.
When you bring a Lucie into the equation, your target just gets a Barrier, or you get petrified and they escape and get healed back up while you can do nothing. I think for one they definitely need to lower the defensive power of supports in 1v2s, although I’m not sure how you do that. The second thing is that the orb is way too strong, in 1v2 in particular. If you’re disadvantaged, you’re going to get zoned off of that orb because you don’t have enough cooldowns in a 1v2 situation to challenge it. It’s the flowchart scenario everyone talks about where you can’t outplay your opponent. You just don’t have enough resources and cooldowns to deal with both of them, and even if you somehow do outplay them, you’ve used all of your abilities to do so, and you’ve got nothing left to secure the orb with.
I think these 1v2 scenarios are pivotal to have in a game like this, like in a fighting game where you can say, “Look at this nuts thing I just did.” You don’t really get that in Battlerite because of the way that pressuring people based on cooldown advantage or disadvantage works. There’s nothing to punish you for playing defensively, especially in a 1v2. If you just never commit to attacking the guy, you can just bodyblock the orb and take it every time and he can’t do anything to stop you. Eventually you’ll get ultimates and you’ll win by default.
Two Possible Solutions
One idea I had was that if you’re in a 1v2 situation, and the team with two gets the orb, it doesn’t give you anything. No health, no energy. The only reason you get it is so the solo player doesn’t get it and potentially make a comeback. It’s still a 1v2 scenario and you’re still expected to win, and you still should get the orb 100 percent of the time, but if you’re outplayed and the lone guy gets the orb and you don’t… if I’m on Shifu and get a double incap and get the orb, suddenly I can make something happen.
Another thing I thought was interesting that someone mentioned to me was that the orb simply wouldn’t spawn in sudden death. I think it’s maybe a little too strong. Even in 1v1 scenarios, there’s always one character that should get the orb. If it’s Shifu vs. Pearl, Shifu should always get the orb. If you have Croak vs. Taya, Taya should always get the orb. It’s just the way that the game is fundamentally designed, but the orb just gives you too much, especially in a 1v1 or 1v2 scenario.
This is really just spit-balling ideas off the top of my head. They’re ways to add that excitement, that outplay potential that’s missing. This isn’t arrogance talking, but I feel like I’ve been in rounds where I’ve played perfectly, used my cooldowns well, positioned correctly, haven’t been hit by anything stupid, steal the mid orb, burn someone’s defensive cooldowns, and get a good ult off, and all of it is to no avail. The outcome is exactly the same as if I’d just stood there and let them kill me. So the game really needs some kind of comeback mechanic. I’m not sure how, and I know a lot of people are really against that kind of thing. You don’t want your comeback mechanics to be so strong that the losing team is suddenly at an advantage, because that becomes exploitable. Just something to make it so you have a fighting chance, so you have that feeling that if you play godly enough, you could win. That’s a really important thing for any competitive game.
In a game like League of Legends, if you kill your lane opponent a couple of times, you can suddenly fight 1v2 or 1v3 if you play smart. In Counterstrike, if your whole team gets wiped but you have perfect aim, you can just headshot everyone and win the round. In Super Smash Bros Melee, if you keep losing in neutral over and over again and you’re down one stock to four, it’s hypothetically possible to outplay that person in neutral four times, zero-to-death them off of those hits, and make a comeback and win. There’s always a feeling that it’s not over until it’s over, and if I play my best, if I really tap into something, I can still win this. I think that’s so important to have in a competitive game, and Battlerite feels like it’s missing that. There are so many moments where you use a predictable counter and get punished, and you know right there that the round is over. Your opponents don’t have to play perfect, just decent. That’s just the way the mechanics are.
I don’t want this to be an overly negative thing. I enjoy the game, I find it really fun still, but there are certainly things that could be done to improve. I think they need to take some kind of step in a direction like that, because I feel that in a competitive game your skill should be the most important factor. Even in team-based competitive games like League of Legends or Counterstrike, your individual skill is the most important factor, more than teamwork, more than composition. I feel like Battlerite’s missing a little bit of that right now. And as far as we’re concerned, I’m not sure Legendary will ever lose in NA because we’ve got the three best players, we’ve got one of the strongest comps, and we’ve got good team synergy. It’s almost like, “What’s going to beat us?” Not to be cocky, I’d love for someone to come up with something, but we haven’t heard that or seen that yet.
The first step is increasing the skill cap in some way. I know a lot of people argue that that’s what killed BLC. I didn’t play BLC so I don’t know firsthand, but I don’t think that’s the case. What I’ve heard from friends is that it was very hard to get into, with a very steep learning curve, and it wasn’t advertised well. I’d never even heard of BLC until I got into Battlerite, that’s true for Averse and Ninjas as well. The aesthetic was a little bit weird too in my eyes, but that’s personal preference. But I don’t think mechanics or skill cap was why that game failed.
So to sum it up, increasing the skill cap will lessen the issue of flowchart gameplay by adding a layer of unpredictability?
Arakune I think that would be a good move in the right direction. For example, let’s say I’m Shifu against a Jumong/Taya. If they just spam auto attacks at me, I can counter one of them but I probably can’t get a meaningful punish because they’ve both got iframes. Even if I follow up on that iframe, I don’t have enough damage or sustain to realistically win through all of that poke. And the speed, hurtboxes, and so on are tuned in a way that I can’t dodge all of the shots no matter how good I play. The hitboxes for a lot of things in the game are too big.
You can do this thing where you throw a zoning hitbox one way, and swing the other way, and there’s nothing you can do. You’ll be hit by one or another no matter what because of the way the game is tuned. If movement speed and hitboxes were tweaked in the right way, maybe you could dodge both if you played perfectly. And then it’s like, okay, you’ve dodged both, you’ve taken no damage, and you’ve gotten a cooldown out of your opponent without using one of yours. That’s where outplay potential comes from. But the way it is now, you just take damage for free. There are a lot of little scenarios like that which would be made more skillful if the game was rebalanced that way.
Those are great points! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Got any shoutouts? Where can people find you?
Thanks again to Arakune for his time, and best of luck in future tournaments!