Top Overwatch Contenders Coach Shares Frustrations With Offseason Oversights

Volamel 2022-01-10 05:44:32
  Coaching is likely the least understood role across the wider esports world and the role only becomes greyer during the chaos of the offseason. And when it comes to the Overwatch League, that couldn’t be more true. How difficult is it to find a home as a western coach? What does life look like in the offseason? Head coach of the widely successful Overwatch Contenders team Falcon Esports EU, James "Faustus" Frye spoke candidly with Esports Heaven about the trials of the Overwatch League offseason, the frustrations embedded within it, and demystifying coaching in general.  Author’s Note: This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
What is life like as a top Overwatch Contenders coach during the Overwatch League offseason? When does the offseason start for you? Do teams approach teams you or vice versa?  So, I think it depends on a few different things on how you’ll get noticed to start your season earlier. For example, if you play in North America you get a lot of chances to scrim Overwatch League teams and you get to talk to them consistently or if you have some ins with people you can talk to them and that makes it easier to get trials than normal. For other coaches like [those from] Korea, they might not know English that well making it difficult to get known for some teams or like me I’ve just been in Europe and I haven’t scrimmed OWL teams often and haven’t talked with them for a while—so it’s a little different when you don’t have those contacts.  The offseason starts, usually as the last Contenders tournament is going to happen, it’s usually a little bit before that. Trials usually don’t happen until after that’s over, it depends on when the last Contenders season is and when Overwatch League is going to start up. So, if you had to go off of it, some teams will start very early because they didn’t make playoffs or go to the grand finals, meaning they might start a few weeks earlier. And then you give it a month or two after grand finals and that’s when most people have an idea of what they are doing or what they want to do in regards to roster construction, people to look at for trials, or who to keep on.  I would say that some teams do approach, but you’re better off just asking all the teams. If you’re any coach at all and you want to be in an Overwatch League team, and the offseasons happening, just message all the general managers and the head coaches—there is no reason not to. That’s what I do. I didn’t use to, now I do, it makes more sense to do that. It doesn’t hurt you at all and you might get a trial you might not have gotten. A lot of teams sometimes completely forget players [and coaches].  Even a player should do it.  Just because some teams  don’t do open trials doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for an invite, the open trials are more  like “hey, I don’t have to ask, I can just do this.” But for teams who do closed trials, you should just ask, you probably will get a “no” but it’s better than not doing anything. Could you shed some light on how Overwatch League trials are conducted? What are the interviews like? How can you showcase your ability to be a team leader and your coaching ability in a minor interview? How could they be improved? I don’t think you can display your ability as a coach, it’s more of your thought process as a coach or how you go about approaching things. You can lie, obviously, it’s an interview—but you probably shouldn’t do that—because it’s going to be obvious that you don’t do this stuff or don’t actually believe in it.  Since it’s an interview you want to put forth your best self and say what you think the other person wants to hear that also fits yourself, but a lot of times what you get asked in an interview is basically “Hey, what’s your coaching philosophy?”  You get really general questions.  “How would you approach players if X thing happens? Like let’s say someone doesn’t show up for scrims, what would you do?” “If you had to pick up players what do you look for and why would you look at them?” I’ve had some coaches be extremely blunt like asking “This was our team last season, and out of that roster who isn’t overwatch league level and did they show terrible improvement? Let’s say if you're an assistant coach; “What do you think your role is as an assistant coach on this team?”  Obviously, you’re going to have to say you don’t want to belittle what the head coach is doing—it’s obvious what stuff you need to say otherwise you don’t look cooperative. Generally, most of the interview questions you get are just to see if you fit into what they want or maybe show a different side of things from opinions the interviewer has heard before about you  Because you can go into interviews and say “Yeah, I’m going to yell at players and tell them what’s what and we’re going to do this the way I want to” and some people like that—and some people don’t. When it comes to that coaching style, is there a preference that you’ve seen from the league’s end? Do Overwatch League franchises, on average, look for a more authoritative coach or someone who is a bit looser? This is going to sound a bit bad for Overwatch League teams, but I’ll say this in general; I’ve done a lot of interviews. I’ve been around for five years. [In] most of those, I’ll say stuff—and you think they know what they want—and then they do the complete opposite of what they say in the interview. And it has happened many times.  And you’ll see a coach get picked up and go “Well they talked about ‘that’ … and he doesn’t do ‘that.’” They’ll make such a big deal about what they’re looking for and pick someone that's the opposite of those values [Happens] all the time. It’s really hard to tell what people want because they don’t tell you and it is different for each GM or HC that is looking for people. You shouldn’t be expected to get told, but it just makes the trials that much more difficult. There is no really bad thing with any coaching style, it’s more of what fits you and your team the best way possible and how you get that to work around everybody. Because I’m not a very authoritative coach. I am authoritative, I’ve done a lot of coaching with people and can tell people what to do, but I’m not going to yell a lot, or be aggressive about points, or force things by being strict. I don’t like to do that. I’m more of a talk it out and come to an understanding together, not an I want you to do this and you’ll do this type of coach. For some people that works, and I know a lot of Overwatch League coaches that do that style all the time and it works out well for them since they’re smart with good assistants to back that up so the do what I say style can work out. Overwatch League does get extremely stressful all the time. It’s really hard to not, at some point, get super mad at your players or frustrated or all sorts of stuff because your players are going to do the same thing to you and then tensions get up and it [becomes a mess]. At some point, no matter how nice of a coach you are—you probably will yell or get strict at some point since you change styles a lot throughout the season due to tons of reasons and you gotta go with what you think works in this high-stress environment. You have quite a utility belt of Overwatch League trials after being in the scene for five years. How are they being conducted? What do people not know about the trials because it seems to be very different from team to team?  It’s always hard to think about what goes through people heads when they do certain coach trials—and even player trials. Because in one vein I can go “that doesn’t make much sense at all. Why would you do that?” But in their head, they could be going through a bunch of different things and I can’t know what they’re thinking—and they usually won’t tell you if you ask meaning in your head it sounds bad, but in another context, it could actually make sense That causes a lot of frustrations when coaches trial. I’ll tell you one thing about trials; you can ask for things, you won’t get the right answer—most of the time. People don’t tell you what you want to know—you’ll get something else.  I’ll give you a really easy example; if you’re a team and trialled a player that you just don’t want anymore, it’ll go one of two ways, some OWL teams will just straight up tell you that they don’t want you with either no information or help or some direct feedback that can be helpful. Some OWL teams will be really nice and just not tell you directly that they don’t want you using you for trials, making you think you have a chance. They’ll sugar coat it and they’ll do that with a bunch of different things. That's frustrating because you’re told reasonings that make no sense when you can look at the VOD yourself and see that they lied or didn’t even watch. For trials, it’s hard to say what exactly is good—or not—depending on how their thought process is. Some things are good, some are bad. The biggest thing I could tell you is that getting thrown into a trial where you don’t know any of the players at all, half of them are Korean—because that happens sometimes—and they don’t know English very well, and you’re supposed to sit their and coach a team that you’ve never heard of, don’t know their playstyle, how they act, don’t know anything about them. And they don’t know anything about you either. They don’t know if they should respect you. They don’t know if you’re any good. They don’t know if you’re going to say the right thing.  They know they are in a trial and that they have to listen to you because if they act like they’re better than you or they know better they won’t say anything because then it’s going to look bad on them or so they think which causes them to be different than normal. For some players, if you don’t say something right, they want to make sure that it makes sense to them. And they’ll be more forthcoming about what their issues or problems are with what they’re saying—but in a trial, they’ll be more submissive and let the coach talk without asking their own questions.  What I mean by that is; people don’t see the real player or the real coach when everybody doesn’t know anyone in an environment that is, I gotta look good to get in OWL. Especially when you’re trying to coach certain things but these guys have never played together before. As a coach, your job entails a lot of stuff, but you deal with the same six people for months on end.  You’re in a comfortable environment where you’re used to what you’ll get out of those six people, and they’re comfortable with each other. People are not the same outside of that environment with totally new people. You get more teamwork or know what you need to say to get the right things out of everyone, or you expect something out of them. In trials, you miss all these things people have worked on for hours and hours, and how they interact with each other or command people.  How are you supposed to be able to coach correctly in that sort of trial when you don’t know anything, when no one knows how to play with each other at all, and with people who are trying to show off their best self when that’s not normally how they act? Because you’ll get players who talk over each other trying to shot call and some who don’t talk at all when they normally do, just so that they can have the best mechanics they can because talking makes it harder to shoot things.   That’s one thing I’ve always not liked about trials. They don’t showcase the person as their best teammate or how they act in a team or maybe you’re just missing how well they play when they’re playing with people who know what they’re doing or how they work in a team environment with how to shot call or how to adapt. You miss a lot of that stuff in trials. Is there an ideal system that you would put forward to better showcase that? I’ve thought of a few things but it’s not as though I know everything. Every solution for trials is going to be hard, especially for players. I’ve had a few trials that were really good as a coach—but I’ll get to that later. I do wanna say even though I’m saying a lot about comfortability, it is important to also do the pug style trials. You still find a lot of skills to look out for in those for players. For players, a lot of times when you first start off—especially when you start in open trials—you just get put with a bunch of people who aren’t really good. They haven’t been in Overwatch Contenders they haven’t played on a team, they’re just ladder players or they’re just not even high SR. It’s basically like playing a ranked game.  So you only get that “ranked game” and you get two blocks for the first week. That’s generally how it works unless they really want you, then you get more blocks. A lot of teams already know who they want, they’ll just check out these other guys while they do it. And if you don’t do well, you just get kicked out. That’s all there is to it. This feels really unrewarding but it's how it’ll be where you’re essentially just being used since any feedback is not even useful. You can just have a bad day and people will just think you’re bad.  It can be [difficult to change opinions]. Especially if you have a coach coming in with a bias to someone else and then they look at you and they have a specific playstyle they like—they’ll miss some things. I also know players who just don’t do well in tryouts. Because there are a few different ways to play the game, there are tons and tons of playstyles. And some people just don’t do well when they have to play with people they don’t know anything about. Because the way they think of the game is “We play like this playstyle on my old team with flexes into these different ways to compliment my teammates, this is our playstyle and I understand my roles and opponents. I play like this because it works with these scrims I’ve done all year long. The enemy plays this way, and have these habits I exploit.” Some people are more cerebral with the way they play out their maps or hero using enemy issues and the thought of their teammates plays to do their absolute best job/role. Some people just can’t do random chaos exceptionally well compared to others which both are different skill sets. Essentially you’re thrown from an environment where you've spent countless days explaining your thought process, your playstyle, and what you need to succeed in order to win and swapped that to essentially a pug ranked game. Of course, some people will do worse. Do you feel like Overwatch’s Path to Pro is healthy enough to facilitate both future players and coaches? We’ve seen an uptick in players moving up—but coaches don’t seem like they’re getting the same amount of love. Is there room for both? It’s a good question—hard to answer. It’s hard to say because usually some western coaches get picked up. If I asked you now; I don’t think a single western coach got picked up—I think everyone that was picked up was from Korea or [Wang "NoHill" Fuxing]. The other ones were player-coaches who haven’t coached in Contenders—you could count them if you want to? I’m not sure if you would.  So it’s kinda difficult being a western coach if I’m being honest. I’ve known a lot of coaches, I’ve spoken to many, many people in Contenders, a lot of them don’t get any trials. Even if they do well. I don’t want to name any names, don’t want to put anyone out there. It’s hard.  I’ve known some [Contenders] teams where they have a head coach and an assistant coach and the head coach got seven trials, right? And even though they both did really well, the assistant coach got zero. None.  Sometimes it is [a role thing]. Sometimes just because you’re an assistant coach in Contenders, people think you don’t do anything. The only way you’ll actually know if they do something is if you actually talk to the players or actually give them a trial—but if you don’t get a trial in the first place or ask anyone, how is that person supposed to do anything?  For players, it’s generally pretty alright. I think for this season it was just going to be difficult no matter what just because of Overwatch 2. I’m just going to say this; my team barely got any tryouts. So it's not easy at all to get any trials even when you’re doing well. I won’t say the players exactly, but we had two players get closed trials, that’s it. Everyone else had to go through open [trials]. Even the teams you would expect would try people out, they just didn’t offer my players a chance to prove themselves. I’ll give you the only one that didn’t make any sense to me; I don’t know really why they did this, but London didn’t try out  [Perttu “Dolla” Palokoski],[Tomáš “Exorath” Kotačka],   [Alexander "Alex2704" Domgörgen] or [Maximilian "Seicoe" Otter]. And I have no idea why. It's one thing to not take a player for your team because of whatever reason, but not giving them a shot to prove themselves feels so odd. Even with how the 2022 offseason has played out, there really are not many homes for western coaches. Is colligate the future of the Path to Pro model in the west?   Yes, 100%. Getting an education and getting a scholarship to go to college is so much more [worthwhile] than playing in Contenders. It’s even especially great for European players, because—since I’ve been looking at colleges—I’ve been asking a lot about European players and pretty much all of them said they would pick up one or two. Not a full team obviously. And that’s still really good.  So if someone wanted a chance to come to North America to scrim Overwatch League teams they would have a way of doing that and proving it themselves without ping disadvantages. In Europe, even if we play well with each other, it’s extremely hard to scrim Overwatch League teams due to the time zone difference and the ping.  Even if you don’t get picked up to Overwatch League, you still get to be a competitor—which people love—you get an education and you can still win money. It’s pretty much a win-win. I don’t really see much negative to it. You get paid more too! I will say like most things you’re signing on to, make sure it's the right move for you and you can feasibly move out to the states and be okay instead of going then thinking you’ve made a mistake. As someone who has seen both sides of the competitive coin, what would you say to critics that claim that success in Overwatch Contenders is not a strong metric for coaching confidence? The only thing I’d have to say to that is; what other metric do you want? If I asked you, what else do I need to do to show that I am good? Because a person can get on a team, not do a whole lot, and their team still wins—but that doesn’t happen that often but even if they do, at some point, they’re going to lose. So that’s just how that works. If they don’t then something they’ve been doing must be good. I think it depends on how many wins you get, who you did it with, where you’re at if you’ve done it with different people—there are all sorts of different metrics you can add on to it if you wanted.  For example, I’ll use myself; I got first place in [2019 during GOATS] in European Contenders and then I got third in the Atlantic Showdown—those are pretty good results, right? Then I got to Overwatch League and was middling as an assistant to get no offers. Then I go back to Contenders, a completely new squad, completely new people. Get first, then get first again. Two [players] go out, we get two new people. Still first.  What else do you want me to do to prove that I’m good enough to be in OWL again?  I’ve head coached multiple different teams in multiple different metas, different people substituted in and out—and they’re all good. As a coach, I don’t really see what else I could really do other than going into a different region.  Like if I coached in North America and beat Redbirds Esports or something—maybe that would show more? I’m not sure if the people you would need to beat is more important than scrimming Overwatch League teams—which is important. Success is the only metric you can really look at to see if they are any good or not without trialling or getting to know them.   In Overwatch—and in esports as a whole—coaching seems so mystified and ambiguous to the public. Either coaches don’t do anything or they are the sole reason for everything. Obviously, the fluidity of the roles, like what a head coach does for one team isn’t identical for the next team, that doesn’t help but could you give an idea of what your day is like?  As an Overwatch Contenders coach, typically I start my days at 8 am EST. That’s not even when scrims start, that’s the meeting for the day before when I review what I want to do and use this meeting to talk to my other coach, [Diana "Empress" W.].  We talk for about an hour to 90 minutes and then we start review.  The review takes 30-45 minutes, maybe an hour if it’s going a bit long.  Then we have scrims for four hours, with an hour break in between.  Sometimes that hour break is another VOD for 30-15 minutes, right? Just something small. After it’s over, I stay for another hour to talk with any player that has any questions or wants to know anything and I review stuff for a bit and talk with my other coach about the end of the day. So that’s 8 am to 6 pm EST.  That’s not the end of my day. The end of my day is two to three more hours after that when I do VOD review for myself for the next day. So that’s around 8 am to 8-9 pm. Every single day.  When you’re a coach, you don’t have breaks. If you want to be good that’s the amount of time you have to put in. That’s counting just for Overwatch Contenders, that’s not counting Overwatch League too. Overwatch League is as much or more work—even with more coaches.  All that stuff I mentioned literally is just reviewing and figuring out how to talk to players and how to get the schedule working for what you want to do exactly—that’s not taking into consideration talking to the players themselves, doing one-on-ones with them. That’s not taking into consideration helping them with their mental or any problems they have outside of Overwatch or just getting to know them. That’s the extra stuff you have to do too.  If you want to be a successful coach who does a lot of work and tries his hardest, that’s about the amount of time you’re going to have to put in.  I will say every day doesn’t have to be like that. Some days are easier. You’ll figure out exactly what you want to talk about really quickly during the scrim and you won’t need to go back, so you’ll save about two or three hours give or take. As a difference for when you’re not winning a lot, Like if you’re a middling Overwatch League team and you keep losing and you’re not sure why—well you’re going to spend all that time you would have for breaks trying to figure out what the problem is, adding extra time and more work for yourself.  Even when you’re winning, you can’t stop, because when you stop, your team gets worse. And you’re going to miss something and you’re going to lose. Then you get tons of pressure from higher-ups, fans, all sorts of messes that make that stress worse. So, coaching is hard. It’s not easy.  In a recent interview, former Paris Eternal coach GetAmazed revealed that he had no interest from Overwatch League teams this offseason. To your knowledge, how active have Overwatch League teams been in contacting Overwatch Contenders coaches? This isn’t fact or anything, I’m just going off my personal experience—but it doesn’t feel like it. I know quite a few guys that have pretty good reputations, everyone thinks they’re pretty good, but they just don’t get tryouts or they don’t get looked at or they just pick up somebody else. And the person they pick up, you look at them like “That person? Seems kinda odd.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that person is bad it just doesn’t make a lot of sense as someone else might, in comparison to what I know about them or other people's opinions I value. It feels like even if you have a really good reputation in Overwatch Contenders it doesn’t mean anything—unless you’re a player. If you have a really good reputation in Contenders as a player and you’re really good mechanically, that’s going to mean a lot more. But for a coach, it doesn’t really mean a whole lot because you’re not the one who sits there and plays. You can’t just see the coach do the work.  Esports teams don’t come into [your] team and listen to you coach your team. They never do that. That might actually help people figure some things out about how people work, but they’re not going to spend the time to do that. In my experience teams cut a lot of corners or have the plan they want already, so adding in that extra time doesn’t seem realistic, but maybe one team will take that stuff seriously enough at some point. I’m sure a few do that I don’t know the workings of, but its common enough it doesn’t feel like it. Is that maybe an addition you wouldn’t hate just the overall ecosystem adopting? This notion of open scrims for league teams and coaches to come to sit in on?  That would probably help you get an actual idea a lot better. Maybe people think watching people they don’t want is useless, right? So they want to get people they do want and trial them. But going into a team, watching a few players you do want, in a place, they’re comfortable with where they win, with a coach that they like—that would probably show you a whole lot more about them than how the trials are done right now.  And I already know people would be like “Oh, 100%, come watch!” They might get nervous right, but you’re going to be nervous in a trial anyway—at least you’re with your teammates, right? It’s a lot better. I was thinking with trials, if you really want to understand someone and how they are as a teammate, and how they respond to review and talk and how they do things—you should probably see how they interact with their actual team.  I did the math on this, just to see. Let’s say you get a block, not even two hours, let’s say an hour and 40 minutes for a block right and there are 12 players. If you want to actively access each of the players—you get eight minutes. That’s it.  That’s not a lot of time. That’s half a map maybe. And that’s only if you’re equally trying to assess each player, which you’re probably not going to do that. But if it was only that block and you’re not going to look at all the replay codes after and you’re only going to look at the person you wanted to look at—that’d only be eight minutes.  I thought that was a bit odd when you think of it that way, because you spend a whole year, about 3000-3500 hours, working with your team to be good and if you do well, you get eight minutes for an Overwatch League team. That’s it. That sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? You’re probably going to get two or three blocks, and some people will look at your replay codes, but it’s still not that much time compared to 3000 hours. I brought this up as a worst-case scenario, but it's also a very probable outcome to happen in some trials you get. Yeah, it still isn’t representative of the track record that you’ve put forward. It really doesn’t do it justice and as you said, there are still those who can rise to the occasion and those you don’t trial well, and that’s not necessarily their fault—but they thrive in other environments.  Yeah, I’ll use one of my older players, [Stefan "Onigod" Fiskerstrand], as an example.  When I needed him to do something, he didn’t have to say it, people just knew what he was going to do and he would do it and he was great. He's a player who once you understand his thought process, playing around him is incredibly easy. But when he does trials, he can’t just do that. It just won’t work. He still is mechanically really good. He still knows how to play his heroes and do what he needs. In a more chaotic environment, he isn’t going to look like Onigod. [He’s] the type of person who plays a lot better in a match and he plays a lot better when he knows who is going to do what so he can make plays off of it.  He thinks a lot to himself about what he needs to do. So when things get more chaotic it gets harder to do what he normally does. There are probably a few other things with him but I’ve just noticed, when we play scrims, he is just Onigod. When we get into a match he’s not Onigod, he’s going to roll that guy on the enemy team because he plays so much better compared to his scrim self. There are some people like that who just turn everything up to 150% and when hes comfortable with his teammates, he's insane.  He just doesn’t trial well and I’ve never really known the core reason why even if I have some suggestions, or ideas of what that could be, but he’s still a great player. You’ve been somewhat vocal with your frustrations with this offseason. Where do emotionally sit with Overwatch at the moment? Can you see yourself continuing into Overwatch 2 for year six? I don’t really see a way I can continue coaching Overwatch, even though I love doing it. It’s nothing to do with the game, it’s nothing to do with the job, it’s literally I have no idea if I’ll actually be able to get back into the Overwatch League—and that’s frustrating. At least for me, I had to come to the acceptance that; I could win [Contenders] again, and still not get in. If I feel like I could do that, then what’s the point?  I’m not opposed at all to going to a collegiate team and doing stuff there because I wouldn’t mind getting paid to do something I love and also help other people fulfil their dreams. Maybe with that I can even still stay with overwatch contenders without needing to completely go away from it. Why should I continue to make no money in Contenders and win when I don’t get anywhere doing it? If there was any way of progressing from playing tournaments and my team didn’t make it in, I’d understand that I’m at fault, but with how it is right now, I need someone in OWL to believe what I’m doing is good so it's up to those guys and all I can do is hope to prove it.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel. Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

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