If you had told a young Anthony “Antwn” Salzarulo that he’d become a top graphic designer in the Overwatch League, a small part of him would lament that he didn’t achieve his first dream: becoming a top competitive Minecraft player.
Minecraft was, by his account, his first love when it came to video games. He got into the game when he didn’t make his school’s basketball team.
“Going into middle school, I was maybe 4’7’’. I came very close to making my middle school basketball team but it didn’t work out.” Antwn told ggn00b in an interview. The lead graphic designer for Misfits, the Florida Mayhem and the Florida Mutineers immediately switched his focus from sports to video games.
“About a month after not making the team, I went out and bought Minecraft.”
Minecraft was already incredibly popular and Antwn wasted no time trying to carve out a space for himself on YouTube. Using knowledge from his TV Production class, as well as experimenting in his own free time, he made hundreds of videos for his channel.
The bad news? It didn’t take off like we hoped.
The good news? It allowed him to discover his talent and passion for graphic design, setting him on the path to where he is today.
“[When making videos] I thought ‘you know what would make these awesome? Thumbnails.’” Antwn recalls thinking at that time. “And then from there, I thought that if I was making my own thumbnails, I would make my own channel art.”
“Pretty soon I had people coming to me asking to design something for them. And soon after I was able to start charging commission.”
Monetizing one’s creativity is quite a process; it can be tough and awkward for the artist to not only know their own value, but feel comfortable charging for it. This can often lead to esports teams and organizations exploiting the large but inexperienced talent pool. Antwn recognized that there is a balance between knowing your worth as an artist versus knowing the client in question.
“[Near the end of high school] I would charge anywhere from 80 to 100 bucks for a logo. But a lot depends on the market; a lot of the time you could be making something for someone who’s 16 or younger.”
“I never did things where I said ‘I charge 8 an hour, this will take me 4 hours to do, so give me 32 dollars. It was mainly about setting prices and going from there.”
Word of mouth played a large part in increasing Antwn’s clientele, which allowed him to secure full-time work after dropping out of college. It was at this time that he started to follow Overwatch more intensely, falling in love with the game as he did Minecraft. Not only did he enjoy the game immensely, but he saw an opportunity in it to further his graphic design career that wasn’t available with other esport titles.
“[At the time] there were Call of Duty designers and League designers who were significantly better than me…it’s just none of them designed Overwatch stuff.” Antwn explains. “I thought that if I can prove I can do things in this [league] there is nothing stopping me.”
This decision would be the jumpstart to a skyrocketing career; Antwn would work with several Contenders teams (at one point doing graphic design for four organisations at the same time, for no pay aside from commissions.) He would also co-found the Overwatch team Triumph, a venture that he maintains is one of his proudest accomplishments.
His work was undeniable and by February 2019, he was brought on with the Florida Mayhem and moved out to where the team was in Los Angeles, before relocating to Florida where he resides now.
Part of Antwn’s power as a designer is what he brings with his design; his passion for pro sports means that he will frequently draw influence from what the major sports leagues are doing; a fitting approach since the Overwatch League attempts to replicate some of that model. Before the current season began, he dolled up over 300 graphic templates for use by the Florida Mayhem that capture the essence of traditional sports.
But esports also needs its own style, something Antwn recognizes: meme templates were created that capture the idiosyncrasies of competitive gaming.
“We have a template that just says ‘L’ on it.”
As one of the more recognized graphic designers, Antwn has started to create environments for aspiring graphic designers to learn and connect with each other. He co-founded Overwatch Artists, a Discord group with over a thousand members.
“We’re all just trying to improve [in this group]. No one’s there trying to take jobs from anyone. If you’re there, you just want to improve yourself as a designer, to make yourself more hireable.” Antwn says regarding the atmosphere in the group.
Occasionally, they would host design competitions through the Discord. There is also a channel set up for people to ask for work from designers; recently, Antwn has tried to ramp up efforts so that only paid requests are allowed in the Discord.
When it comes to finding your way as a graphic designer in esports, Antwn’s believes in recognizing that the road to the top is long and difficult, but dedication and perseverance will bring opportunities one way or another.
“It’s going to take time. You’re going to suck. You’re going to bash your head against the wall in multiple areas, but eventually you will find a way. It’s just about having that determination.”
“Find out what makes you stand out more than the rest.”
The full two-hour interview with Antwn can be found here.