As Immortals’ Overwatch team headed into the fall, they were a roster with a problem. The team was stacked with talent, hungry for a chance to compete at the highest levels… and stuck. For two months straight in October and November, IMT had fallen short in the Alienware Monthly Melee at the hands of Cloud9. One support slot was vacant, and head coach Zac “Chance” Palmer was filling in. The team was making slow and steady progress but there was still a hole that had yet to be filled.
“It was happenstance I had to fill the Lucio role.” Chance says. “I was stretched, because my main is Reinhardt; I had been playing Lucio professionally for about two weeks before that. On the internal side of things, we were constantly looking for that replacement.”
Enter Stefano “Verbo” Disalvo.
Verbo isn’t what you might expect from an in-game leader and support. A high school senior who had started playing Overwatch in February, Verbo had been both playing League for three years and following the Immortals organization since its launch. He had run his own team, Bold Purpose Gaming, and played on unsigned roster Bird Noises. Whereas GrimReality and Agilities are the dual dps threats that capture the attention, Verbo is comparatively in the background, grooving with Lucio’s beats.
Verbo is an eternal optimist, but not a pushover. “Back when I played League, I was about to join a team, but I had to try to make things work with other people’s rules. I wanted things done right, and at first, I struck out to do it myself.”
Luckily, Verbo and Immortals had the same things in mind. Both wanted to advance Overwatch as an esport, create a healthy work environment, and aim for the top. When Verbo realized that Immortals needed a Lucio, he thought back to what he knew of the organization from League and decided to go for it.
“I was able to contact [Immortals’ main tank] Nomy, who passed it along to Chance, and I got a tryout for about two weeks. I was up against another tryout, and we were competing for the spot.” Verbo says. “I never originally intended to try to join the org, but I was excited to be there.”
Chance explains his qualifications. “When I looked at Lucios, I looked at a person who could effectively in-game lead. Mechanics were obviously important but they were more of a bonus than anything else. I feel very confident in the way that I lead and in the way that I present things so I wanted a strong voice on the team so that I had a megaphone for myself.”
The team, now with Chance back in the head coach spot and Verbo trying out for in-game leader, headed back onto the battlefield.
Finding a Lucio was important for the team, which was right on the verge of a massive growth spurt. The losses against Cloud9 hadn’t dampened the team spirit, it had only reignited the fire. “We wanted those wins,” Chance says, and then hesitates. “I wanted those wins. I had to pull myself back because I could be that Lucio, I could be that in-game leader, but I knew we’d be stronger with me as head coach. That was why our mentality was so good; we never saw those losses as negatives. We kept things optimistic. To nearly not lose against Cloud9 was a huge step in the right direction. Before I joined, things were progressing well, and then we started making huge leaps.”
Bringing Verbo on board was the next step in the team’s growth. During his tryout, Immortals blew past the barriers that constrained them. Chance looks back on the December Melee: “We beat Cloud9 in the winners bracket, and then again in the grand finals. That was the day we signed Verbo.”
Verbo reflects on how it felt to excel during his tryout in such a way: “When we won the Monthly Melee, that was an awesome feeling. That was my breakthrough into the professional Overwatch scene, I had played with semi-pro or teams with aspirations of going pro, but I had always dreamed of this.”
Always the in-game leader, he also realized that this was a moment for the Immortals team as a whole, not just a victory for himself. “It was better for my teammates, because they had been working so hard and looking for this sixth player, and for them to find someone who meshed with them, it was an awesome feeling.”
Immortals were put to the test next in the NGE Winter Premiere, where Immortals played with eight other teams for a shot at $40,000. In the early matches, everyone treated Immortals like a respectable, middle of the pack team, but we exceeded expectations.
While Immortals smashed their way through the group phase, Verbo was still finding his footing as an in-game leader. “It was tough. You’re the outsider and you’re the new player, and you’re telling the other five people who have been together how to play the game. That was a challenge I had to overcome. I was a newcomer, I was an outsider, and I had to tell people what we were going to do at any given moment.”
As Immortals continued to dominate, dropping only one match to Ghost Gaming, the pressure mounted. As an in-game leader, Verbo found himself under both the spotlight and the microscope. “As a leader, every move and decision you make is being judged. Learning how to deal with that and those circumstances is really beneficial. You build and grow as a person. I always wanted to be a leader, and when you’re 17 and my age, it’s really hard. Some teammates are older than you, some are ten years older than you! It’s hard.”
Despite the stern competition, Verbo still being relatively new to the team, and the initially low expectations, Immortals took the entire tournament and walked away showered in glory.
It’s easy to win, and it’s easy to look good when you’re doing well. After the NGE Winter Premiere, Immortals began to stumble. After some family emergencies, the team finished third in the February Alienware Monthly Melee. In the currently ongoing Carbon Entertainment Series, Immortals is currently 5-4, dropping games to teams we previously steamrolled.
“We’re really used to winning.” Verbo says. “There’s not a lot of problems when you’re winning, you’re in a honeymoon phase.” The NGE Winter Premiere had been a cakewalk, but now Immortals was struggling. This was, in many ways, the biggest test for an in-game leader.
Verbo isn’t daunted. “My first thoughts when we lost to Luminosity [in the Carbon Series] was… I was sad, but happy at the same time. We needed that loss as a team. If we kept winning constantly, we wouldn’t be able to deal with issues that could arise later. As a team, we were so used to winning and moving up that ladder. It’s time to learn how to lose and deal with that, and then step back up.”
A large part of the positive spin on tough times is the Immortals organization, and coach Chance. “Losing is something I’ve prepared for. It was predicted. Most teams have to learn how to come down just as much as how to climb. Playing at peak performance is a challenging thing, it’s what we all dream to do, but you will always have competition climbing and climbing faster.”
Despite being on a downswing, Chance and the Immortals organization are playing the long game. “Sometimes you stagnate, sometimes you take steps back for real life reasons, for entertainment reasons, because you can’t go any further. The reason we have that mentality is learning how to climb down and walk down is just as important. I’ve been on teams where this transition period has downright killed them. It’s really important to understand that there’s a flow: up and down up and down.”
Immortals has a plethora of performances ahead of them, and even though they’re in a slump, they’re not concerned. Part of this is the backing of the Immortals org; there’s confidence at every level. “When I met with Noah, he basically chose me,” says Chance. “That happened because our visions lined up. He believes in performance and in the well being of a player and that being the best is what they want so that’s what they’re gonna get. Because his vision is in line with mine and the players, it naturally happens that way.”
From there, Chance works with Verbo, who sings the praises of the team’s coach. “Chance is very knowledgeable about what he does. He doesn’t just want to make us better at the game, he wants us to grow as individuals. That’s what we’re about as Immortals – the goal is to grow.”
When Verbo started his own team, he had big goals and a dream of making the esports scene better and more sustainable. Now, he’s living that dream as part of Immortals. “Working with Immortals is great. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Of course, as an in-game leader, he’d be nothing without the five other guys on the squad. “The thing that makes Immortals’ Overwatch team so special is that everyone has their own unique character. You can’t build a team with six people who are always cracking jokes, or six people with a strong personality – you need everyone to be unique in their own way, and Immortals has that.”
Now, it’s time to look to the future. “The goal for the team right now is to not only grow and get better as a team, but also as individuals.” Verbo says. “I have goals of being a leader and goals of inspiring the youth playing this game or following esports. I don’t want to be that player behind the scenes who doesn’t interact with anybody. The reason why I went professional is I not only want to get good at the game, I want to see what I can do in a competitive environment and inspire people to follow their dreams and follow their goals.”
As for any final messages he wants to share, he pauses, but when he speaks it’s with full confidence. “I want to show people they can do anything.”