Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin of the Houston Outlaws is one of the fiercest competitors in the Overwatch League. Week after week, we watch his hands wash over his peripherals like gentle waves on the shoreline, each movement reflecting both his skills and his personality. We know LiNkzr as a player and a competitor—but who is he, and what drives him to become the best.
LiNkzr’s start in gaming came at an early age. Whether it was StarCraft II, Crash Team Racing, or World of Warcraft, he and his group of childhood friends bonded over games. With his history in other FPS (first-person shooter) as well as MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) titles, LiNkzr was well-versed in the discipline of the mouse and keyboard. And even at a young age, he had a competitive fire in him, a desire to test himself against his peers. It didn’t matter what the challenge was, LiNkzr was all in.
Being able to hone his skills was the fuel for his fire, and it’s likely what carried him this far into a young, but incredibly promising, career as one of the Overwatch League’s top Western talents.
“First of all, I think it's extremely flattering that I'm considered one of the best players in the world of Overwatch, and I'm very happy about it,” LiNkzr said. “The drive I had when I was younger has definitely stayed with me and helped [me] push myself further as a player now, especially since I set the bar really high for myself.”
While striving for greatness, LiNkzr has maintained a high stature in the Overwatch community, representing his home country of Finland in the 2016 and 2017 Overwatch World Cups and clinching an amazing victory in Overwatch Contenders Season 1: Europe with Team Gigantti.
Playing on a stage like that of the Overwatch League, which is watched by millions of people each week, must mean something to him.
“When I was playing other games in the past, I never got to compete at that same level as I am now with Overwatch, so it was definitely more like a pipe dream, where I really wanted it, but realistically knew it would be hard to achieve,” LiNkzr said.
Esports seems like every teenage gamer's dream—being able to play video games for a living, what could be better? What many people don't realize is that this is a job, albeit one that relies solely on a player's skill. And in this case, maintaining the highest skill level possible comes with a 50- to 60-hour work week. But no matter the sacrifice LiNkzr must make, whether it’s leaving home or training every day until long after the sun has gone down, it’s all worthwhile.
“To finally compete at a higher level was a huge step for my career, future, and what I can do in my life,” he said. “I'm trying to appreciate every moment while I am here, good or bad.”
The climb to the top doesn’t look so steep if you enjoy climbing, and in his journey to the summit, LiNkzr has encountered many different types of games. Overwatch, however, is harder to classify.
“Ultimately, the game feels more like a MOBA where fights are made around bigger, game-making moves, but FPS elements are also very prevalent within the mechanics and characters in the game,” he said. After a few moments of internal debate, LiNkzr concluded with a playful grin, “If I had to choose, I’d say it’s 55 percent FPS and 45 percent MOBA.”
At the end of Stage 1 of the Overwatch League, Houston was in a respectable third place in the standings. They had started the season with two losses, but rebounded with a 5-0 run, which included an 18-map win streak. During their final match of the stage, the Outlaws faced the Boston Uprising for the final seed of the Stage 1 Finals. After going down to the wire in a deciding fifth map, Houston clinched the last spot in the playoffs, giving the team “the biggest relief and adrenaline rush” they’d ever experienced, according to LiNkzr.
“In those kinds of games, teams tend to make more mistakes, because both are making very good plays while they push themselves to overtake their opponents and take their game to the next level,” he said. “So I remember thinking multiple times, ‘Oh wow, that was so close.’”
In their playoff match against London, Houston eventually fell 3-1. Along with a picture of him with his head in his hands after the loss, LiNkzr tweeted out that he would “remember this frustration until the end of time to keep me motivated.”
Stage 1 was a learning experience for both LiNkzr and the Outlaws.
“I think we as a team collectively learned it's more important to focus on the overall gameplay of the team than trying to shoehorn individual skill over it,” he said. “We’ve also improved on analyzing our opponents and coming up with counter-strategies in the league.”
If Houston is going to win, it will not be on the backs of individuals, but on the team. And they’ve shown time and again that a team mentality leads to success. That ethos, plus the marriage of personality and skill on the team, brings swaths of fans out each day Houston has a match, both in person and online.
“Honestly, the whole team enjoys it a lot,” LiNkzr said. “Everyone gets their share of support, and it's all so wholesome, whether you win or lose.”
With Stage 2 heading into its home stretch, LiNkzr has his sights set on making a long-term impact.
“Obviously I want to win, but I think the overarching goal is to cement the league as a successful one that everyone can enjoy, particularly when they see how the Houston Outlaws play as a team,” he said. “I want people to be amazed and entertained with the games, especially when we are winning! As for personal goals, I want to work on my positives and fix mistakes over time, instead of trying to focus on the negatives exclusively. I can be quite critical of myself, so I hope to improve on balancing both my skills and my weaknesses.”
The competitive drive LiNkzr had when he was a child is evergreen. It’s the same attitude that has gotten him to this point, and it’s the same attitude that will push him past those limits in the future.