Cleaning Up An Oil Spill
Taimou's candid tale of mental strength, reinvention, and the do’s and don'ts of esports
By Joseph “Volamel” Franco | Photography by Robert Paul (Blizzard Entertainment)
August 20, 2018

“Taimou. Tense-mou.”

Overwatch commentator Erik "DoA" Lonnquist muttered as Team EnVyUs settled into their third match against BK Stars. Viewers could hear the smile in his voice. “I do think they’re going to go with the Widowmaker,” color commentator Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles said as the timer begin to slowly tick down. “It’s something special that the BK Stars may not necessarily be the most practiced against.”

Finnish superstar, Timo "Taimou" Kettunen was up for the task.

He quickly opened up the site with a clean headshot onto Lee "Carpe" Jae-hyeok’s Soldier 76. Carpe instinctively swapped from Soldier 76 onto Genji to mark the enemy Widowmaker. Returning to his team, Carpe took a duel in the upper halls of Volskaya Industries, Point A, and lost in stunning fashion. Taimou solidified his presence worldwide with one point-blank headshot.

The metagame did not suit him. Yet, Taimou still found a way to flourish.

The camera quickly panned to the disgruntled face of a young, budding, and displeased Carpe. His then-teammate, Chae "Bunny" Joon-hyuk, playfully patted him on the shoulder, attempting to calm him down. This was the start of Taimou’s now-famous spree of dominance with Widowmaker against BK Stars in the group stages of APEX Season 2.

On the other hand, Taimou was cold and rigid. His arm moved quickly across his mouse mat like a well-oiled piston. With so much confidence and the gall to make that kind of call during a match, what thoughts were bubbling behind his eyes?

This was the attitude of a star player. Someone who maintains the confidence to know when and where to lay it all on the line.”

“Widowmaker was not considered a good pick back then since it was a ‘dive’ meta.”

Taimou described the process behind the infamous clip as we journeyed down a sepia-colored tunnel of fond memories. “All of the heroes considered good in the metagame had strengths against Widowmaker, so she was a niche selection. My thought was that I cannot do anything with other characters so I told my team that I am going to do something very risky by picking Widowmaker and try to carry with it.” This was the attitude of a star player. Someone who maintains the confidence to know when and where to lay it all on the line. “My team agreed. I was not happy about my vulnerability of not being able to play well that meta [heroes] but was [I] happy with the results.”

Confidence is, was, and always will be supremely important to star players. This means their mentality needs to match their mechanical skill at all times of the day. If one mental cog slips, if one cerebral piston misfires, it could spell curtains for a season ― and possibly a career.

When we look back at where someone like Carpe came from we can see what a world of difference a little experience and confidence makes. “Back then Carpe wasn't as good as he is now,” Taimou explained. “He was shy and did not seem to be super confident in himself. I did not pay much attention [to] other players back then and certainly would not have guessed him to be as godlike as he is now.”

South Korea was a bit of a sour topic for Taimou. It harbored a lot of memories ― both good and bad, but it was a prominent part of his career.

He left me with three wise anecdotes when traveling. “Do not spend eight months in a hotel,” Taimou laughed counting on his fingers. “If you do, at least get your own room. And Korean food is the best.” During Taimou’s extended stay in South Korea for his multiple APEX appearances, he learned a great deal about himself and what his needs were, as a player and as a person. “I definitely should have stayed home instead of going to Korea twice and especially the third time. It was bleak times for our team and I think eventually [it] led to problems going into [the] Overwatch League.”

Whenever people began to sing the coming of his swan song, Taimou continuously and vehemently refused to go quietly into the night. Looking back at his career thus far in Overwatch, Taimou has always remained towards the top end of the food chain. You can easily draw the assumption that Taimou has a very high mental resilience. Truth be told, it’s been something he’s publicly struggled with for a long time.

"Before the season started I didn't really play that much,” Taimou said. “[I] felt like I was doing okay but after seeing how Stage 1 went I went into full tryhard mode and practiced every single day to no end.” That resilience, the unwillingness to accept the current state of affairs for Taimou was his driving force. It drove him when team IDDQD went on their historic winning streak. It drove him when Team EnVyUs and OGN’s Overwatch APEX came calling. And it drove him to reach the pinnacle of Overwatch talent, the summit of what every player hopes to one day be a part of the Overwatch League.

“However, I didn't really start to play any better as the season went on and I was asking [myself] ‘why?’” Taimou has always had the power to reinvent himself and come back stronger. This time it was no different, but telling that to someone who is struggling mentally is futile. “‘Why does this happen and why am I not getting better?’ Eventually, it came down to Stage 4 with Aero who lifted our spirits and made us work as a team again. I stopped playing Overwatch outside of team practice almost completely in Stage 4 and had much more impressive results individually and teamplay wise.” For someone so motivated, it had to be incredibly difficult to step away seeing how it was always about moving forward with Taimou. This same drive was a double-edged sword. At times it gave him the motivation needed to shatter the mold, but it also fed into negativity as well.

Cheese! Taimou flashes a big smile at photographer Robert Paul during a pregame lobby. Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

While he took a step back from the team and extracurricular practice Taimou continued along his internal path to find himself again ― it just so happened that he found another hobby along the way. “[I’ve been] playing other games,” Taimou admitted. When you think about it, it makes sense. Professional gamers like to play games, and using other video games as a place to unwind is not uncommon. “And cooking!” He immediately chirped up. “Cooking is a lot of fun and I try to do it as much as I can even though I am a very lazy person. I also spend time with my girlfriend and my two cats as much as I can. So, I guess it's purely mental for me. If I enjoy myself I will have a much bigger chance of performing well!”

Taimou has experienced multiple imbalances not only within his own mindset but within his teammates as well. That same drive that fueled Taimou, also existed in many other professional players and, at times, they’ve also fallen off the wagon. Some have suffered minor breakdowns and have needed multiple recesses away from Overwatch entirely. While others have just reevaluated their current situation and retired altogether.

Taimou has been lucky to find ways to preoccupy his mind in hope to combat overtraining again. Playing other games to unwind, finding companionship, and taking up cooking ― all of these activities outside of Overwatch attributed in his recalibration of his mental state. Subtract one or two things, and perhaps Taimou’s illustrious Overwatch career comes to a screeching halt towards the end of Stage 1. These days, he’s looking better than ever leading into the second season of the league and the growth was apparent.

With this, Taimou continued to open up about his past and journey to reach the top as he adjusted in his seat.

“I became a professional player the wrong way. Most pro players are kids who enjoyed playing competitive video games and happened to be good enough to become professional. Rarely would they actually pursue this line of work. I did it the hard way.” When competitive and professional gaming made it’s small but concentrated flow through popular titles like Halo, Counter-Strike, StarCraft, and World of Warcraft, it captured and teased the minds of the youth that we see rising up today. When you grow up with something used as a strong bonding tool with friends or even parents, and you see a potential career in it, you can understanding how incredibly enticing that would be to a young a feeble mind.

Learn how to practice more efficiently, [and] stop being a meanie on the internet. You'll burn bridges just like in real life.”- TAIMOU

“I dropped out of high school, thinking that there's going be glimmering lights and money in every game I played. Usually, there were a few thousand dollars thrown around and the games would eventually die off. I tried to go pro in different games like StarCraft 2, League of Legends, [and others but,] it never really worked out. I burned out multiple times and dwelled in depression.” This stubbornness led Taimou to where he is today. We can disagree on whether or not it was healthy for a child to be doing this, but it ended with him in Burbank, California with a lucrative contract with the Dallas Fuel in the Overwatch League. It’s that kind of resilience that you need to reach the top and it commands respect.

“In the end, it paid off in its own way of ‘Wow, I actually bloody damn did it, who would have thought?’ It was an insane ride to get here but,” Taimou’s eyes drifted to the ceiling in deep thought. “I’d probably go back and do it the safe way if I could.” He chuckled. Taimou could have easily sat in the background and avoided the multiple APEX tours. The South Korean theater was a forge of hellfire, and Taimou approached it ― and emerged from it, something that not many people can say they’ve accomplished. He could have toned down his public personality and just kept to himself. This would have made life much easier for him coming from a PR standpoint, but he didn’t mind. In the end, it all led him to the same place. It was this cavalier-esque attitude that drew people to like Taimou, along with his incredible skill.

Having the public microscope finely tuned on you brings a lot of burden to one's shoulders that you cannot replicate or understand until your under it, but Taimou felt little to no pressure once he hit the stage. It was nearly a second home to him at this point in his life. “I do not get pressured by the live crowd at all. And the people watching online I never think about, so I feel like I'm a normal person while I compete on the stage. I go out and I want to beat my opponent. Even on my days off I never really think about it because we're not that famous. I don't get chased around by cameras. Our fans, when they meet us, are very nice and usually just want an autograph and some pictures.” The godfather of the positive mental attitude movement ― or PMA for short ― was always quick to put things into perspective. He wasn’t that famous, so he faced no pressure. It wasn’t that big a deal, so he dealt with no worries.

Taimou embraces OGE and HarryHook after a hard fought victory. Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

His story is an open book and his personality reflects that. Even now, he represents his home country of Finland in the 2018 Overwatch World Cup in Incheon, South Korea. And knowing what he knows now, Taimou would indeed go back and do it all over. “Stay in school,” he flashed a warm smiled. “Learn how to practice more efficiently, [and] stop being a meanie on the internet. You’ll burn bridges just like in real life.”

Everything is smooth sailing on the S.S Taimou now, but there is always room for improvement. “First of all, I need to lose weight and eat healthy,” he laughed. “The human body is like an ocean, if you put healthy stuff in it, it probably stays healthy. If you put trash in it, it becomes contaminated and all the good bacteria dies and you will feel very ill and tired.” In essence, this is Taimou: someone who is still always looking to better himself in a multitude of different avenues.

That growth focused mindset acted as a filter able to weed out the garbage from his body. If your body and mind are tied together and represent the ocean, than negativity and doubt represent pollution. Once contaminated, it takes years to fully rid yourself of such toxins that cloud your judgement and hamper your performance throughout all walks of life.

And for Taimou, this filtration process will always be a work in progress. Everyday working to move forward, but you don’t clean an oil spill in a matter of days -- it’s a marathon, not a race. A poignant quote from self-help author Napoleon Hill rings true here: “Strength and Growth comes only through continuous effort and struggle.” To clean an oil spill, you first need time.

Taimou knew this now.

Throughout his highs and lows, it’s safe to say Taimou has learned this lesson. There was no way he was losing to his own shadow ever again.