Behind the Shield: Los Angeles Gladiator’s Shaz

Shaz's beginnings in gaming, esports, and self improvement

JUN 19, 2018

Jonas "Shaz" Suovaara, support player for the Los Angeles Gladiators, is one of the finest European players in Overwatch today. Touted as one of the most flexible support players in the Overwatch League, Shaz is a name that is quickly being burned into the lexicon of all Southern California natives. However, before he was playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars, Shaz was introduced to gaming and esports at a very young age. And the person responsible for it all? His father.

Shaz credited his dad with why he began playing video games as a child. “We played a lot of the same games, but not really together,” he explained. While his father preferred single player games, Shaz quickly found his own niche, he favored the challenge and rush of competing against someone rather than something. While their tastes differed, they used video games as a vehicle to strengthen their bond.

As he grew, so did his taste in video games and after watching content creators on YouTube playing Call Of Duty, he, like many dreamers before him, started to wonder and fantasize about making money from playing video games. His thoughts manifested themselves as daydreams of being chauffeured out of a jet airliner or hoisting a gold-plated trophy in front of a screaming audience. This would only act as a sign alongside a dirt road, leading him in the right direction. It would be someone close to home that would show Shaz, that his dreams weren’t necessarily too far out of reach.

Photo Credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.

Around the age of seven, he met one of his father’s friends, who just so happened to be a professional Counter-Strike player. “I thought he was the coolest person I knew,” Shaz gushed as he recalled the fond memory. “I think that is what made me want to be good at games because I wanted to be like him.” It was at this point where Shaz’s young mind started to wrap his head around the idea of “esports.” These events during such formative years in his childhood would start to the fan the kindle of the fire that has carried him this far. A fire, that without his parents continued guidance, would have never been lit.

“My mom was never that supportive of gaming before Overwatch,” Shaz elaborated. Who could really blame her? It is a volatile industry, with a lack of certainty and career safety. You could see why she was hesitant. Shaz continued explaining that his father once, half-jokingly, suggested that maybe his son should go pro? A sentence that almost gave him the right of way to do so. “My dad was very supportive when I started playing Overwatch at an amateur level trying to go pro,” Shaz said. “And now he also plays Overwatch and watches our matches.”

From there he began his proverbial Overwatch journey, joining Reason Gaming in July of 2016 under the name “Shazardous.” From there he would move to The Chavs, then to Hammers Esports, and finally, Shaz would be signed to Team Gigantti. Fate would have it that he and Team Gigantti would win Overwatch Contenders Europe and from that point on their names began to circulate as potential Overwatch League prospects. “I was really concerned if I would make it into the Overwatch League or not,” he described a feeling most, if not all, esports hopefuls had. “Before joining Team Gigantti, I didn't see myself ever making it into the league.” On November 2nd, 2017, Shaz, alongside fellow Team Gigantti support player BigGoose, would be signed to the Los Angeles Gladiators.

From then on out, it was media obligations, interviews, emails, all the while trying to meet and bond with his new teammates. Like a shock in his system, Shaz really didn’t grasp the entirety of what it meant to be an esports professional at first. “When I first started trying to go pro,” Shaz said, “I thought it just meant I would be playing and any media stuff I had to do caught me off guard.” For a 20-year-old young man from Finland, that amount of attention had to be surreal. Through the sensory overload, he had made a respectable foothold with his team as strong contenders within the early stages of the Overwatch League. It was undeniably rough towards the beginning, but as they grew as a team, so too did their win record. Now, they were in prime position to perform on stage at the Overwatch League seasonal playoffs at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Shaz knew what it took to reach to apex of a game, what advice, if any, would he give to young hopefuls that wished to make the same trek he did? “Two most important things to get started would be dedication and enjoying the game you are playing,” Shaz said. “Motivation will get you started but you need dedication to keep grinding.” He added that it wasn’t only about your skill in the server, it was also important to make yourself accessible and marketable. “I would probably just grind the ranked ladder to try to get noticed,” Shaz laughed. “Try to become friends with people in [other amateur] teams and maybe get try outs that way. My way of trying to go pro now, wouldn't probably be the most optimal, but is how I would approach it.”

“One thing people talk about in players is natural talent,” he began to relay an anecdote that would ease the mind of other hopefuls looking to pursue a career in esports. “I had a small talk with Blake Panasiewicz, our performance coach, about this. He doesn't believe in [talent] and thinks it's all about circumstances and how most professional players probably have a similar past. It doesn't really help to worry about natural talent because you always need to work on improving.” This take away was echoed through the words of any coach or former player in a field that required mastery; improve at all costs. Much like the old adage goes, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” You don’t need to attend a high class conservatory to make a break into esports. With a little bit of love, a passion for games, and a rock solid work ethic, you too could grace a stage like the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Shaz and the Los Angeles Gladiators ended their regular season with a solid 25-15 map record. Ironically, they would end their season during the Stage 4 playoffs where the Gladiators would lose to the Los Angeles Valiant, 2-3, on Father’s Day. Fate would have it that his father would still impact his play, even if unintentionally. With the conclusion of Overwatch League’s fourth stage, Shaz and the Gladiators now set their sights towards the seasonal playoffs where they will fight for the right to call themselves the first Overwatch League champion and the best team in the world.

From his starry-eyed days watching Call of Duty YouTube stars in his hometown of Vaasa, Finland, Shaz had fulfilled his childhood daydream of making a living from gaming. Putting that much distance into perspective, Shaz talked about moving from Finland to Southern California. “Honestly the move wasn't really a big deal for me,” Shaz described. “Sure it's a bit different here, but not enough for me to think about it that much. I have been too lazy to fly back home between stages, but I'm definitely a bit homesick and I'm looking forward to visiting home once the season is over.”

Here, a wholesome proverb rang true: home was where the heart was, and Shaz was looking forward to recharging with the same people who acquainted him first with video games and set him on this crazy road called “esports.”