BURBANK, Calif. — Xavier Woods is certainly no slouch when it comes to video games. He runs the be-all, end-all gaming channel for fans of both video games and pro wrestling, as his UpUpDownDown brand boasts nearly 1.5 million followers on YouTube. On any given day, you can see him and his peers from both WWE and the gaming world playing through games, doing speed runs, playtesting titles, holding tournaments, and generally living that video game lifestyle.
Woods is one of a dozen or so WWE Superstars who makes sure to travel with at least one game console during the nearly nonstop travel involved in the life of a professional wrestler. Now that UpUpDownDown has become such a success, he told me that it’s not uncommon to see a row of consoles set up backstage at any given WWE event, almost like a miniature arcade.
But being so entrenched in the world of gaming still didn’t prepare him for what it’s like to play alongside an actual, professional eSports team.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Woods got his first look at the still-nascent Blizzard Arena in Burbank, which is home to its ongoing Overwatch League inaugural season. Stage 1 ended in dramatic fashion, and as Stage 2 is just beginning, Woods was able to get up close and personal with the London Spitfire.
For the first part of his day on Wednesday, Woods was able to sit in with the Spitfire while they scrimmaged in preparation for their match against the Houston Outlaws the next day. Every team has a practice room at Blizzard Arena, and all practice rooms are outfitted with playing stations identical to the ones the players will experience on the Arena stage.
After spending an hour or so watching professional Overwatch League players getting tuned up and becoming increasingly self-conscious about his own Overwatch skills, Woods was able to get a personal grand tour of the entire Blizzard Arena, beginning with the match that was currently in progress, where the Seoul Dynasty ended up running the board on the Los Angeles Valiant. As usual, the crowd for the match was completely at capacity — yes, even in the afternoon on a Wednesday.
After that, it was off to see the guts of the Arena, where the still-brand-new facility has a top secret server and control room, and several different rooms filled with people who make sure that live stream of the matches goes off without a hitch, and is a pleasant experience for viewers.
The four-time WWE tag team champ was very much in awe of seeing the Arena in action, up close and personal. “It’s pretty sick, man,” he said after his tour of the facilities had wrapped up.
“The fact that they have all those LED screens and they have dual rooms in the back making sure everything goes off without a hitch,” Woods said, “it’s a huge production. So it’s cool to see everything come together into this awesome experience.”
Woods, like most other gamers, is impressed at what Overwatch has been able to become in such a short period of time. “It’s really cool to be able to see,” he said of the Overwatch League. “Such a cool game to get this kind of platform, and to be at this place. People in the crowd watching it, people online watching it. So it’s nice to see that. And the fact that it’s in this arena, and it’s going to be on a consistent basis is what I think makes it the coolest. Not like a little one-off thing, like a weekend event. It’s over the course of time. So I think that’s probably the biggest thing.”
But “going off without a hitch” wasn’t to be next on the agenda, as Woods was scheduled to participate in an actual game alongside the Spitfire team. He got increasingly nervous as the preparations were taken to get him set up, and even having one of the team coaches by his side didn’t assuage his anxiety. The good news for Woods was that he would be playing on the same team as the Spitfire, rather than opposite them. He opted for Zenyatta, a support class, to have the least possible amount of pressure on him.
(Of course, it also didn’t help that right before the game started, Woods was alerted that some of the team members across the room were watching one of his WWE matches.)
The game finally began, and woe to that queued group of casuals who suddenly found themselves looking at a full team of London Spitfire players … and also Xavier Woods. The room rang out with cries from teammates who needed healing, and Woods crashed and burned several times along the way.
But ultimately, Woods was able to help his team (or at least to be there, as his attacks had a whopping four percent accuracy) to two victories, and cries of “Naisu!” rattled around the practice space — none more loudly than Woods’. “I asked them what it meant,” said Woods about his new battle cry, which he intends to use on WWE television after matches. “I thought it was this cool word and they said, ‘Oh, it’s just “nice” in Korean.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, okay.’ So I’ll be screaming that a lot.”
Woods earned a card from his teammates after each of the wins, which clearly touched him a great deal. He was thrilled to have come out on the winning side after all his nerves, although a post-game chat with his teammates let him know he still had a long way to go. The Spitfire poked fun, but offered some tidbits of constructive criticism. One player thought he might do better as a tank than as a support class. Woods took it all under advisement, but was glad he didn’t have to embarrass himself any further.
“I feel like I was doing okay, but then they told me that I was not very good,” he said after the game, although he pointed out the extenuating circumstances. “But I feel like part of it is because there was a language barrier, so I don’t know [when] people need to be healed, because they’re telling me in Korean. I don’t speak Korean. If I did speak Korean, I feel like I would’ve understood, and we would’ve been on the same page, and everything would’ve been fine. But they’re real good, and I’m not very good. That’s probably a thing too, a factor. But I felt like I did okay.”
If Woods ever had to play with an Overwatch League team again, is there anything he’d do differently? “Train,” he admitted. “Probably that. That’s probably what I’d do.”
I asked Woods if he had any advice for people who are trying to dip their toe into the world of eSports, because it can definitely be overwhelming for the uninitiated. Unsurprisingly, he had some sage words of wisdom when it comes to following what you’re passionate about.
“Play for fun,” he offered. “If you’re not playing for fun, then don’t play. At all. Doing things strictly for money usually isn’t the best idea. And if you’re just playing video games to get money, you’re probably gonna get real mad real fast, and you’re gonna hate your life. But if you’re playing something and it’s fun and you’re having a good time and you accidentally get really good at it and then you happen to start making money off of it, then you’re at the point where we can be cliché and say, ‘Then you’re not working a day in your life.’ So just make sure you’re having a good time.”
There was clearly nobody at Blizzard Arena having a better time than Xavier Woods last week, and he’s already planning future sojourns to the Burbank eSports mecca.