Lane “Surefour” Roberts is a DPS player for the Los Angeles Gladiators and is considered a star talent. He is popular as a player and personality and has competed on all three iterations of Team Canada for the Overwatch World Cup to the approval from pundits and the public.


Despite these accolades and acknowledgments, Surefour is still not valued enough. Surefour is a truly legendary player who is the historically best Western DPS player in the game and should be recognized as a pillar of Western Overwatch.


It’s a lofty title with enough qualifying asterisks to make its own constellation, so it’s necessary to unpackage it and explain why Surefour, above all others, qualifies for this honorific.


To begin, “Western” is a nebulous label based mostly on intuition. Aaron “Bischu” Kim is legally Korean but lived in Canada and is Western. Hyeon “Effect” Hwang has built his career playing for Team Envy but is Korean. Josue “Eqo” Corona, Kelsey “Colourhex” Birse and Scott “Custa” Kennedy are considered Western, despite coming from Israel, New Zealand and Australia respectively. For this discussion, “Western” will mean players who began their careers in North America, Europe, or Oceania.


With that caveat out of the way, it’s time break down what elevates Surefour and earns him status as the “best."


When discussing players, there are four main factors: longevity, play as an individual, play within a team, and achievements.

​​Longevity

When it comes to longevity, few players can match Lane Roberts. Surefour was in the first wave of players signed by organizations entering Overwatch. On March 9, 2016, Surefour joined Cloud9, whose colors he would wear for the rest of his pre-OWL career.


Of that initial wave, only ripples remain in OWL. Surefour’s most famous historic rivals are Timo “Taimou” Kettunen and Brandon “Seagull” Larned. Initially, it was this trio that served as the faces of North America’s top trifecta of teams. In this dynamic, Taimou and Team Envy were head-and-shoulders number one.


Things didn’t improve for Surefour as international competition made clear that nV were less outliers and more harbingers of European dominance. Dylan “aKm” Bignet made a name for himself as a star of the venerable team Rogue, while Kevin “TviQ” Lindström led his band of Misfits to garner a reputation as the best DPS in the world.

​​While Surefour was always recognized as a popular and talented player, invariably his name came after theirs, never before. But times were changing, and the Overwatch League served as the alarm.


“While Surefour started the season as a rather mediocre DPS player, especially compared to his pre-Overwatch League brilliance, he entered the discussion of the most improved player by the season’s end,” said Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, OWL caster. “Most of the other legacy players… suffered from constant role swapping or overly broad hero pools that did not play to their strengths.”


While the other stars were fading, Surefour was only growing ever brighter. Seagull switched roles to a facilitating style of Off-Tank. Taimou and aKm both struggled to find identities beyond their pasts as hitscan specialists. TviQ floundered in the flailing Florida Mayhem.


“Of these [players], a lot of them had higher peaks back previously,” said Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson, OWL desk analyst. “But the awesome thing about Surefour is that he didn’t peak in 2016 or 2017 or whatever. In fact, I’m not even sure that he’s peaked in 2018. He looks like a player that’s continuing to improve. And that’s very rare for one of these old-school players.”


The idea that Surefour will continue to reach new heights is exhilarating for his fans and terrifying for his foes. It certainly grants him special consideration among his compeers as someone who has not only outlasted them in the race but intends to beat their record.


“Our goal on the Gladiators as a whole is to maintain all our players and really grow them and make sure that they’re able to be the best they can,” said David “dpei” Pei, head coach of the Gladiators. “Surefour’s no exception. We want him for the long haul.”

Play as an Individual

There’s no “I” in team; this adage is well-worn but true. Yet the other side of that coin is a different proverb: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Players must constantly look to improve everything that’s in their power to control, starting foremost with themselves.

Top of that list is hero pool; even a specialist won’t last long if they can only play one character. For professionals, who have to not only pick new heroes but also perform against the world’s best, this is a difficult and sometimes career-ending challenge.


Throughout his tenure, this flexibility has been a Surefour hallmark. From his earliest days to his most recent Overwatch League season, Surefour has demonstrated many heroes in his arsenal as well as the ability to continue adding new ones. Tracer, McCree, Pharah, Zarya, Mei, Widowmaker: these are but a handful of heroes on which the Canadian sensation has stunned by debuting them in matches and out-dueling opponents who’d made their names on that character.

“If you look at his hero pool over his entire career, the breadth is up there with the most versatile of them, but rarely was his perceived flexibility ever used to its full extent,” said Sascha “Yiska” Heinisch, writer for statistics website Winston’s Lab. “It seems to be the case that Surefour has the rare ability to grind himself into top form on the heroes required of him.”


“[Some players] are lost due to a lower hero pool and their heroes not being in the meta as often, whereas Surefour’s never had an issue with that. He’s very much been a jack-of-all-trades in terms of his hero pool but he’s been able to master whatever hero he really puts his mind to, it seems, as long as he has enough time to really practice it within a good team environment,” said Sideshow.


“That’s what’s been so consistently impressive about him,” said Robert “hexagrams” Kirkbride, OWL caster and long-time Overwatch commentator. “Surefour’s always done that. He’ll run a Sombra, the dude can play a Genji, his Reaper is really good when [his team] need him to play Reaper. It speaks to his work ethic.”


That kind of dedication to excellence shows strong mentality and diligence. All the potential in the world is meaningless without the will and self-awareness to realize it. Surefour is conscientious and conscious of himself without hampering his confidence.


Nathan “KarQ” Chan, Overwatch personality and GM of the 2018 Team Canada, said it best. “[He] has a healthy balance of being a leader, shot caller, and quietly fragging out. A lot of players… will silently nod their head and agree to what coaches, analysts, and teammates comment on when critiquing and criticizing plays and positioning. However, Surefour is very receptive to coaching but never afraid to stand his ground… and give concrete reasoning why.”


Surefour’s adaptability and motivation are paired with a keen mind for the game. On his stream, Surefour explains that he reached his world-class Widowmaker performance after practicing for only two days, a feat he credited to working not just on the mechanics but also on the hero-specific mental game. His approach to optimizing all factors (from settings like mouse sensitivity to comprehension like studying behavioral patterns) all demonstrate his high in-game intelligence.

“If we tell him what to play, Surefour will master it. We just have to make sure he’s not doing too many things,” said Dpei. Dpei believes that the versatile players should not prioritize breadth of hero pool over depth of talent. “Stage 1, even preseason, I think we realized that we were spreading him out a little too thin. Maybe less than his previous teams… but even then, just reducing [the required hero pool] down is good for someone like Surefour who really can master a hero just with time.


On their own, any of the above would make a good player. But together, capped off with his outstanding mechanical ability, and Surefour ascends from good to great.


“Lane was originally suspected as a cheater for his uncanny Tracer tracking ability during beta, and this is a hero that you hardly see him play nowadays,” said Mitch “Uber” Leslie, OWL caster and long-time Overwatch commentator. “He’s busy shining on other picks. Because of his extremely comprehensive experience and intuition, Surefour is able to flex to any hero and is guaranteed to have an impact – this is what true consistency looks like.”


It’s not all perfect; other players have more impact or excel in their niche in such a way that at their best, they can out-match Surefour. Do-hyeon “Pine” Kim is someone who is seemingly untouchable at his best. Ji-hyeok “Birdring” Kim is a killing machine when firing on all cylinders. Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin is often cheered on as “Finland’s gift to esports” and has a surfeit of highlights to explain why. 


But these players are like thunderstorms; awe-inspiring forces of nature one moment, gone with nothing but clear skies the next. If Surefour had to be a natural phenomenon, then call him a geyser and slap him in Wyoming because this man is Old Faithful.


“There are people who would build their team around a superstar, hard carry, but I’ve always been a big fan of people who I know what I’m going to get out of,” said Hexagrams. “And you know what you’re going to get out of Surefour. On a good match and on a bad match, it’s all level and it’s all very good. If you know every single time that you’re going to get that same play out from your main DPS, I’ll take that every day of the week over someone who’s streaky.”

Play in a Team

When discussing the effects a player has on their team beyond the basic mechanical input of keys, it’s defined under the catch-all term of “intangibles." The traits that can’t be measured through any graph or statistic but have an impact nevertheless.


Some players are jovial presences like NYXL’s Yeom-jun “ArK” Jong. Some are like Dallas Fuel’s Effect, whose indomitable drive to win galvanizes those around him. Some are like LA Valiant’s Custa, who acts as a leader and shot-caller in his team. From the outside, Surefour is unflappably confident but with a laid-back nonchalance that makes him easy to get along with. While in some that could be seen as cavalier indifference, in Surefour, it complements his strict work ethic to make him personable and professional.

“The first thing that I noticed about Surefour is that he prefers to make and maintain eye contact throughout the duration of a conversation,” said Uber. “He strikes me as a rather unflappable and never have I seen him display any outward signs of discomfort or awkwardness… I think this trait is core to his nature and manifests itself in his gameplay; never taken by surprise, always with a response up his sleeve. In his team, I have definitely seen him operate as a calming factor, but appears to have no trace of neuroticism or a desire to take control.”


This wasn’t always the case; in his past teams, there was a definite sense that Cloud9 had been built around Surefour as a focal point and as a star player who wasn’t the leader but definitely was catered to in how the team’s identity was shaped.


“Some of [the Cloud9 teams’ under-performance] was Surefour and his ego,” opined Sideshow. “I think he liked to have the team built around him at the beginning and realized more and more that he shouldn’t do that, especially in the Overwatch League.”


The need to mature is unsurprising. The combination of youth and excellence often makes it difficult for prodigies to understand others who lack the same easy prowess.


Surefour was rumored to clash with other personalities such as Cloud9 teammate Lucas “Mendokusaii” Håkansson and coach Beom-joon “Bishop” Lee. It’s not difficult to imagine a hotshot aware of his excellence balking at having to play second fiddle especially on mechanically unimpressive characters like D.Va in important matches.


Regardless of the truth of that situation, Surefour today is not so prideful. He constantly emphasizes the importance of the team whenever discussing Overwatch, and speaks out often against the “carry” mentality that some take towards the game.

​​Dpei spoke on his growth as a player, “For [Surefour] in particular, I can see his growth as a person throughout the season. Just as a person, you can see him make improvements to where there were problems last season or previous teams he’s been on. That is a really good quality he has; he always has a really good heart. Even if he is very direct sometimes, he always has a good heart in what he’s saying and always improves too. He’s very introspective about what he can be doing better as a teammate and that’s one of the biggest things we’ve noticed. His effort to be a better teammate on the Gladiators since he’s joined is very obvious… He’s still kind of a goofy guy that you see on stream but when it’s time to buckle down and be serious, he can do that too.”

​​True humility comes when someone knows who they are and is honest about what they can do. They do not oversell themselves nor underplay their ability. For the Gladiators, Surefour will just as easily play Sombra to set up his teammates as he will go Widowmaker and make the critical play.


“Personally I don’t like the idea of framing a player as the “Best”… and after talking and hanging out with Surefour for Team Canada, I can assure he would also disagree,” said KarQ. “In fact, he’s the one who said himself that there is no such thing as an individual being the “best” player.”

Achievements

Surefour’s first competition was Dec. 6, 2015, in the GosuGamers Overwatch Weekly. Surefour’s amateur team was eliminated in the semifinals by eventual winners Team Hubris, captained by one Matt “Coolmatt” Iorio. This would become a recurring theme in Surefour’s career: for all of his individual excellence, his trophy cabinet has remained empty of any notable victories.


In total, Surefour has won one offline Overwatch tournament: Agents Rising, a May 2016 North American tournament which boasted $10,000 prize pool but only had two other teams of note, of which Surefour faced only one. Although a win for Cloud9, it was an overall small, unremarkable success. At every other high-profile tournament Cloud9 attended, they struggled: not to win, but to even be a contender. Cloud9 had three distinct NA line-ups, all headlined by Surefour, and none lived up to expectations.

​​The first C9 failed to make playoffs at both the ESL Atlantic Showdown and the Overwatch Open. The second C9 were knocked out in the semifinals at MLG Vegas and then flopped their group at Overwatch APEX in so memorable a fashion that their name entered Overwatch terminology as synonymous with critical failure despite the odds. The third C9 ended a disappointing third at TaKeOver 2 before cataclysmically bombing out of Overwatch Contenders Season Zero and leading to the team’s dissolution.


The chronic underachievement is even more baffling when looking through C9’s alumni and seeing how many continue to remain relevant to this day:

  • Kyle “KyKy” Souder of Paris Eternal
  • Adam “Adam” Eckel of XL2 Academy
  • Randal “Roolf” Stark of Gladiators Legion
  • Lucas “Mendokusaii” Håkansson of Houston Outlaws
  • Daniel “Gods” Graser of Gladiators Legion
  • Sang-hoon “KAISER” Ryu formerly of RunAway and StormQuake
  • Jeonghwan “Selly” Ahn of Team Griffin
  • Jae-mo “xepheR” Koo of Florida Mayhem
  • Beom-joon “Bishop” Lee of Toronto Defiant


Many of these were or are respected as talented players who formed the elite of their era. Yet they never managed to click as a team and for all their ability, couldn’t make it to the halfway point, let alone the finish line, never mind the point. 

Even in the OWL, Surefour’s championship run came to a startling end. After resoundingly beating the London Spitfire in series one, literally three days later Surefour could only watch stunned as the Spitfire completely blitzed through the Gladiators six maps in a row to knock them out of the playoffs.


Still, it would be unfair to put these results solely at Surefour’s feet. Overwatch is a team game, more so than most esports. Within his teams, Surefour individually performed well and could never be singled out as the primary cause of his team’s losses. Part of this can be attributed to his particular playstyle: Surefour is historically a low-economy player who doesn’t take the majority of team resources. Uber and Hexagrams concur that Surefour is not the player who tries to backpack his teammates and solo-carry his team through individual dominance.


It can also be seen as symptomatic of his region; both Sideshow and Yiska agree that North America’s domestic teams have traditionally been weaker than their European and Asian counterparts, and the lack of cross-region play may have hampered Surefour’s growth as well as his team options.


The sheer number of players to come out of Cloud9 demonstrates another difficulty: Surefour never had a stable core of players. Other than Adam, he constantly had new teammates, most with different cultures and mother tongues. In contrast, his rivals typically had much more stable cores, with both roster and game plan built around their strengths.


Surefour’s individual achievements are also nothing to sneeze at: the first player to hit 80 skill rating as well as rank #1 on the NA ladder in the first season of Competitive Play, consistently in the discussion for top Western DPS player in spite of his lack of titles, popular brand, and champion of the Widowmaker 1v1 tournament at the 2018 All-Stars event.


It also seems that the coveted team victories are not too far away from Surefour’s grasp; many believe that the Los Angeles Gladiators will prove to be a powerhouse team in the long run.

“I believe it is only a matter of time until the Gladiators have a strong showing,” said MonteCristo.

Above, Beyond, Rising

Surefour’s old rivals are far behind him. Having peaked early and now plateauing, the likes of Taimou, TviQ, and aKm can only look up the standings to where Surefour stands as a vital member of the Gladiators.


The past behind him, Surefour must face new challenges, the young wolves whose skill alone makes them a threat to the seminal elder. But this old dog can learn plenty of new tricks, and his hero pool and intelligence overshadow theirs. Even Eqo, who can match and sometimes exceed Surefour, lacks the years of excellence that adds to Surefour’s legend.


There is only one player who can stand equal to Surefour in tenure and skill: Terence “SoOn” Tarlier, of the Paris Eternal and formerly LA Valiant. SoOn began his career a few months after Surefour’s but in the more difficult Europe. Not only has he won major offline events at Overwatch Open, DreamHack Winter 2016, and TakeOver 2, but SoOn was an integral part of two completely different top teams in the early Misfits roster and then as part of the legendary Rogue.

SoOn has had even greater success in the Overwatch League, with a Stage 4 victory, second place in the regular season, and a top-4 final placement. As a finishing touch, the Valiant repeatedly defeated the Gladiators whenever they clashed in the Battle for LA.


There are a few points that nudge this debate in Surefour’s favor. First, SoOn accomplished more with better teammates in better systems. Second, SoOn has yet to demonstrate the same heights that Surefour has across a multitude of heroes. Third, Surefour and the Gladiators look to grow ever stronger in the upcoming season, while SoOn’s new Paris Eternal, though on-brand for the Frenchman, is on considerably shakier ground. Fourth, as individuals, Surefour seems to have new frontiers awaiting him while SoOn is likely stabilizing as a top hit scan specialist.

Surefour is the “best” Western DPS player by the collective sum of his accomplishments. Several can match his achievements, some can contest his ability, few can equal his history, one can compare in status, and none can compare in total.


Surefour’s favorite hero is Bastion. It’s fitting, in its own way. Surefour is a sentinel of anglophone Overwatch: eternal, impervious to time and assault, withstanding all. He might not be the flashiest, or the most explosive, but he is always dependable. Shields up, world: the Bastion of the West endures.


Interview quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity. 
Cover photo courtesy of Robert Paul of Blizzard.