OWL champion Sinatraa hopes to lead USA to gold at BlizzCon

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Can the U.S. pull off a miracle in the Overwatch World Cup? (1:43)

Arda Ocal and Jacob Wolf break down the USA team's chance to medal at the Overwatch World Cup at Blizzcon 2019. (1:43)

NEW YORK -- As he walked through the large blue curtain in "The Tonight Show" studio to the beat played by The Roots on a Monday in October, Jay Won looked out toward the crowd of 240 people in attendance.

Won felt himself shaking, nervous, a familiar feeling for the skinny, dark-haired 19-year-old who for the past two years has competed for the San Francisco Shock of the Overwatch League as "Sinatraa." Sinatraa has played weekly in front of multi-hundred-person crowds in a studio in the Los Angeles area and, more recently, before 12,000 spectators in Philadelphia, but walking out to appear on national TV felt just as nerve-racking.

Until he sat, anyway. That's when it felt just like a game.

Set to record a four-minute hit with Jimmy Fallon for broadcast that evening on NBC, the reigning Overwatch League MVP and his teammate, Matthew "Super" DeLisi, were coming off the biggest victory of their careers: an Overwatch League grand final victory on Sept. 29.

Appearing on Fallon's show seems fitting, as over the past three years, Sinatraa -- the funny, loud, cocky and at times rambunctious pro gamer -- has become the face of North American Overwatch, even before he was allowed to compete in the game's most prestigious league because of his age. Players must be 18 years old to compete in the league. Sinatraa was 17 when he signed his first Overwatch League deal.

On Friday, he'll begin competing with Team USA in his third consecutive Overwatch World Cup at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. In 2017, Team USA played in one of Overwatch's most memorable games, in a close quarterfinal matchup against eventual champions Team South Korea. In 2018, however, Team United Kingdom blew out Team USA -- a tournament favorite, according to many -- in the quarterfinals.

Now, with an Overwatch League title under his belt, an MVP trophy and spectacular year full of growth both in and out of the game, Sinatraa hopes a new approach to Overwatch and a matured mindset will help him lead Team USA to better results. Maybe past a quarterfinal. Maybe to a bronze medal. Maybe even to a tournament victory.

This year's team is arguably the best Team USA ever, at least based on raw talent. Sinatraa, Super and fellow Shock teammate Grant "Moth" Espe comprise the American team's core, and other stars like Indy "Space" Halpern and Kyle "KSF" Frandanisa flank them. Sinatraa hopes the environment he has been the center of in the Shock's second season -- including both light-hearted humor and in-game determination -- is something that translates to Team USA.

"Every single year I've been in Team USA, I say we're going to win easy, and then we just get plowed," Sinatraa told ESPN. "I'm not going to be confident this year. I'm just going to be humble about it. I hope we get a medal."

"I'm sure we will," he added with a knock on the wooden conference table he was sitting at. "But yeah, we're just going to try our hardest and not be cocky about it."

Being cocky and confident is normal for Sinatraa. A high-level Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player, he transitioned into Overwatch after that game released in early 2016. Within a few months he found himself signed to a professional team and then put in the same position as many young pros: convincing their parents to let them make the jump to full-time gaming.

Originally from Seattle, Sinatraa, then 16 and in high school, was presented the opportunity to move to Dunwoody, Georgia, a northeastern Atlanta suburb, to compete with Selfless Gaming. To get there, he'd need his parents' approval, so he waited until Christmas time, spoke to them about it and arranged a call between them and Selfless head coach Brad Rajani.

"It was definitely hard though," Sinatraa said. "I'm sure the salary did push their decision a little more, of letting me actually go, because if I wasn't making any money doing it, I'm sure they wouldn't have let me go. I think the salary definitely helped. Definitely skeptical at first. My mom had to come with me to go to Georgia at first because she wanted to see whose house I'm going to and what I'm getting into."

In addition to Selfless, Sinatraa was invited to compete with Team USA in the 2017 Overwatch World Cup circuit. His profile had already risen significantly, but Team USA acted as the launchpad that would fly him to the moon.

Just weeks after competing in an Overwatch World Cup qualifier in Santa Monica, California, Sinatraa found himself in a fortuitous position: Multiple Overwatch League teams wanted him on their roster -- but two, NRG Esports, now the San Francisco Shock, and Cloud9, the owners of the London Spitfire, were ready to do whatever it took. In a tense, 11th-hour negotiation process, Sinatraa first decided he would go with the Spitfire.

Yet, after discussion with his parents and their discussions with Shock executives, Sinatraa agreed to sign with the Shock.

In the process, he would net himself a $150,000 annual salary, one of the highest in the league and the only one to be publicly reported ahead of the Overwatch League's first season.

Sinatraa wouldn't even be eligible to compete for half of the 2018 season. Sinatraa, then 17, would get his chance midway through that inaugural year, and the hype machine -- on Reddit and Twitter -- grew as his debut drew closer. Mr. 150K, as he grew to be called, would carry high expectations.

"I was pretty selfish and toxic at the same time, thinking I could do everything by myself in the game, and it's funny because I came from Counter-Strike, and I feel like that is a pretty toxic game," Sinatraa said. "I was definitely this little selfish ego kid who thought I could carry, even if I'm playing the best players in the world, which makes no sense."

Throughout the latter half of the Overwatch League season, Sinatraa failed to meet the hype. The San Francisco Shock finished ninth overall out of 12 teams. The commenters who at first praised his talents and longed to see him compete quickly turned to criticizing the 18-year-old's shortcomings.

"It hurt me a lot, actually," he said. "I don't know why, 'cause I was just a kid, and I just let all that hype and expectations get to me. I just really thought those words would make me carry, so I tried even harder to be that selfish player, to make pop-off plays by myself and not use my team. It was really bad for me, reading all of that."

After the season concluded last July, Sinatraa stumbled across a motivational video from former U.S. Navy SEAL, athlete and YouTuber David Goggins. In his summary, Sinatraa said Goggins spoke about how successful people should use "haters as fuel" and "don't kill them with kindness, torture them with success." That message struck deep within Sinatraa. It was a mantra he wanted to live by.

As he made changes, so did the Shock. In Season 2, the team moved from separate apartments into one team house, and with more preparation time, let head coach Park "Crusty" Dae-hee develop and mentor their young players, such as Sinatraa and Super, throughout the entire season.

"After Crusty and our new coaching staff came in, they definitely taught me a lot about the game and being better and smarter during the game and knowing how to solve situations," Sinatraa said. "That just helped me make plans around situations during the game easier."

Now living together, Sinatraa and Super began to bond through pregame superstitions like Sinatraa leaving on the bathroom fan -- but not the light -- in their Sherman Oaks, California, team house before every match. They both also took to eating oxtail soup as their game day meal. Their joking and trolling of each other exemplify how the Shock got closer.

"People on the Shock have picked up on it as well, and they kind of bounce it off of us as well," Super said. "Everyone's a jokester. It's become a part of the team culture."

That change in mentality and culture helped Sinatraa and Super lead the San Francisco Shock to their first championship. Come Friday, they hope that the same environment, with three new teammates on Team USA, will help them win another title.

They'll face a tough test from the start: Three-time world cup champion South Korea is in their group ("unlucky," Sinatraa said), but that matchup makes them excited. The coach that led Sinatraa and Super to the OWL title, Crusty, is the head of the South Korean squad, and Shock teammates Park "Architect" Min-ho and Choi "ChoiHyoBin" Hyo-bin are on the roster.

Despite facing a team that's never lost an Overwatch World Cup match, Sinatraa said this is his dream matchup.

"I really want to beat Crusty, Architect and Choi," Sinatraa said. "It would be fun playing them because they're all my friends, and it'll just be a fun match in general. I don't know who's going to win, but it'll be fun."