At the Immortals Campus, Stefano “Verbo” Disalvo sits silently with his eyes closed, basking in the Los Angeles sun. After growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada, adapting to “winter” in Southern California is the least difficult thing he’s had to do.
O(h) Canada - a place the 19-year-old might still be if not for his determination and dedication to becoming a professional esports player. The most challenging aspect of his career thus far: convincing his mother that this dream is worth pursuing.
Her concerns were not unreasonable: How could her son go into a career with no money? Why was he willing to walk away from college to pursue this wild dream?
Out of a place of love, she tried to protect her son from himself. She restricted him from playing by taking away the modem; no internet, no Overwatch. Yet, Verbo still found ways to practice offline, drawing maps, and thinking about and strategizing over the game abstractly.
All Verbo wanted was a chance to pursue his dream, and he issued his mother an ultimatum saying as much. Seeing how much it meant to her son, his mother relented. Two weeks later, Verbo, then a senior in high school, signed his first professional contract with Immortals, the predecessor brand and parent company of the Los Angeles Valiant.
“Now, she's always watching my games,” Verbo said of his mom, with a laugh. “She's always asking me: when are you playing? How much are you playing? She will check out all these interviews on the internet of me. It’s cool that she'ssupportive and I like it.”
* * * * *
The quiet is broken by cheers and laughter coming from the Los Angeles Valiant’s practice room. A grin comes across his face as he gets up to return to his team.
Inside the practice room, Verbo is completely in his element. He watches fellow support KariV practice Zenyatta. He laughs, claps the back of KariV’s chair, and steps back to survey the rest of the team as they prepare for the start of Overwatch League in December.
At 19-years-old, Verbo had to grow up quickly as a pro, both inside and outside the meta, learning lessons that might take other players years to experience.
Even though there are flashier teammates who can draw attention with an expert Dragonblade, Verbo’s been a key part of the team’s success through its various iterations. The Valiant (then, Immortals) recruited him when they needed a healer and a leader as they transferred from the original acquisition of Sodipop into the Immortals roster that took the Overwatch Contenders Season Zero championship.
* * * * *
After signing his contract, Verbo stepped in to lead a diverse team, including players dramatically older than him. The situation he entered was complex.
Immortals had brought Verbo on board to replace a coach who was playing and leading from in-game. Verbo had to not only mesh with the new team, but play the role of general. Then, the roster underwent a massive shift, adding KariV and Fate from South Korea.
At first, the change was magical.
The team’s dominance was unsurprising to Verbo: “It happens with any new team once you bring in new players, everything’s kinda clicking, you’re in that honeymoon phase, everything is working out fine.”
As with many things in life, things are going great until they aren’t anymore.
“As time goes on you start running into some problems that you have to face and you have to break down,” Verbo added. “Some things you gotta work through.
In Season One, the Season Zero champions were struggling. It wasn’t a question of effort; the team was just struggling to connect with each other.
Verbo knew Fate and KariV are incredibly strong players, and the transition had been overall smooth, but the team needed to get creative to overcome the language barrier. Like every good leader Verbo asked for help. Team Manager Joshua Kim stepped in and taught the team some basic Korean vocabulary.
“Later on, they were getting better [speaking English] and we were able to speak. It was funny because I would actually lower my quality of English just to help them understand and I would sound really stupid on the comms,” Verbo admits with a laugh. “The rest of the team would crack jokes.”
Hey, if it gets the job done, it gets the job done. The entire squad can communicate about the important things in life, like coming together to save an opossum, or who gets to hog the most comfortable bed in the house.
* * * * *
Despite having experienced all this prior to the official formation of the Los Angeles Valiant, Verbo came to the most important realization of his pro career thus far: the Valiant are stronger without any one leader.
Verbo’s confidence never crosses over into arrogance; he manages to be perfectly self assured while still coming across as humble. Part of that is his acceptance that he had started as the shotcaller, but he realized he was no longer the best man for the role, especially with Rogue veterans uNKOE and SoOn coming aboard.
With three supports on the Valiant roster, Verbo isn’t even guaranteed game time.
A less secure player might let that bother him; Verbo thinks it makes perfect sense. “As time went on, we figured there shouldn’t be any one voice on the team. We wouldn’t want anybody to think that one person is above the rest. Everyone feels free to share their opinion and strategy that they have in mind.”
“Of course” Verbo is excited for the launch of the Overwatch League, but he immediately tempers his excitement with long term concerns. “We’re here to grow, to develop as individuals and people. Obviously winning is a goal, but our top priority is to grow. If winning comes alongside with that, we’re happy and we appreciate it.”
It’s all part of a team environment based around the long term. Valiant is more than just an Overwatch squad; it’s a brotherhood.
Verbo’s still happy to step up and lead by example around the house. Outside of the game, the Korean players ask him for help on the computer. He’s become an expert at troubleshooting bank accounts, assisting with laundry, and picking up Amazon packages for KariV. He may not be an in-game general anymore, but he’s more than happy to assist with the less glamorous parts of leadership.
* * * * *
When asked about the debut preseason match agains the Shock, a mischievous smile comes across Verbo’s boyishly handsome face, and for the first time, a bit of antagonistic glee enters his voice: “Oh, we can’t wait to play San Francisco. They’re kind of our rivals, so we have to defeat them to set the tone for the rest of the season.”
Verbo treats the future with a certain amount of serenity: he has faith that it’ll work out for him. He’s made the right choices so far, after all.
That might mean he steps up on the Overwatch League stage with his trademark Lucio, or he might have to switch to Moira. “I’m a pro player!,” he says when asked about potentially switching mains,“I gotta be ready to adapt.”
That seems to be his mission statement when it comes to his entire pro attitude. He’s just starting his career, after all, and the Overwatch League can throw him whatever curveballs it likes.
He’s prepared to adapt to anything.