ATL Reign Head Coach Brad: “Overwatch 2 Might Be The Comeback Of Academy Teams''

ATL Reign Head Coach Brad: “Overwatch 2 Might Be The Comeback Of Academy Teams''

Written by 

Sascha Heinisch


5th Mar 2021 18:00

Brad “Sephy” Rajani is the only head coach the Atlanta Reign has ever known, guiding the team since its introduction into the Overwatch League in 2019. After a solid start in season 2, the Reign teetered on the edge of good to average in the third season. In the second part of our interview with Brad, we delve into the challenges that the last year posed and explore topics like the rise of Andrej "babybay" Francisty and his eventual retirement, Joon "Erster" Jeong’s quiet season, finding out Tae-hoon "Edison" Kim was a Flex DPS, how the Reign was allowed to sign Saucy despite him being below the official cut-off given to the public, how the Reign manages to pick up talent like Pelican and Signing Kai "Kai" Collins and letting go of Hugo "SharP" Sahlberg.

Beyond topics that just concern his team, Brad also weighed in on general Overwatch esports related topics like the big issue with ranked play, the 30-Day Contract Termination Clause and the weaknesses and strength of the structure of season 4.

We know that committing to an hour-long interview is hard, especially without knowing what’s inside. Therefore, we have summarised the most important points into this ‘too long; didn’t watch’ format. Given the nuance and requirement for context of some of the points Brad shared, we recommend reviewing the parts you are interested in on our YouTube channel with timestamps to navigate you through the topics and the sidebar to guide you through the general topic range.

Atlanta Academy

- Brad says that a reason why they shut down the academy program was that it drained a lot of resources in not just the investment into it but also the time of the first team’s coaching staff with him also doing a lot of coaching for them

- Brad thinks having an academy team that’s able to put up a fight against the best teams provides tremendous value

- They also had their B-Team on their 12-man-roster play against the worse teams in OWL, but even the value there was limited, adding to the decision to downsize

- He says that it’s hard to build two great teams at once, but that theoretically there are teams like American Tornado out there who can beat many OWL teams

- Brad says that the decision to not have an academy team this year is mostly budget-related

I think Overwatch 2 might be the comeback of academy teams when there is a lot more players involved

The Rise of Babybay

- Brad thinks Babybay played the best Overwatch of his career in season 3 and he worked hard for it

- Babybay spent extensive time grinding the heroes that the Reign required of him

- According to Brad, SharP’s issue was that he wanted to be a true flex DPS, practising a wide range of heroes and switching around too often instead of specialising in the roles the team needed. However, Brad explained that it’s a really hard task to grind ranked day in day out on the heroes needed while also suffering from the hardships of COVID and being a bench player

- Brad says that he thinks Babybay was prepared for the situation due to his experience in similar positions in the past

- Babybay’s decision to retire was a gradual process that was well discussed within the team with Babybay talking it through with the team

Click to enlarge

Atlanta Reign in Season 3

- Erster’s motivation waned in season 3 with COVID and more affecting him according to Brad

- Brad says that Erster has wanted to be on Shanghai for a while and Brad is excited to see him on the team. Brad also shared that they didn’t sell Erster to Shanghai but released him and let him go without a buyout because they felt that’s what Erster wanted, though, as Brad admits, they would’ve had to pay Erster a lot of money due to his high salary

- Erster is a very cerebral player who is cool under pressure, but he’s not the best farm player that takes a lot of resources to build his ultimate quickly

- Brad shares that his players think that Yaki was the best Genji in the League, even better than sp9rk1e

- Brad shares that the Reign in season 3 were “scrim warriors” only having a losing record against the Shock, Fusion, and Paris with a 40% map win record against these but losing the live matches to teams they’d usually beat

- Brad says that they were late to the Genji meta because they were initially winning scrims with Edison on Tracer the player himself said he was more comfortable on the pick 

- Brad recalls that the day before the match against the Defiant, they scrimmed Philly at the time and Eqo smashed them on Genji. At that point, Dogman pushed for the Reign playing Genji themselves. Despite Edison feeling uncomfortable on the pick, they switch last moment but still lose the match. Brad agrees that this was a huge coaching blunder as they should’ve seen the meta for what it was

- Brad thinks Hawk had an underrated season, saying that he had a strong Sigma. His weaknesses lie on the peeling side of the off-tank role. Brad thinks Hawk is at least a top 10 off-tank. He also shared that Hawk played a lot in the off-season to prepare for season 4

- Brad shares that the age cut-off deadline is tied to the ending of the signing window, which moved the date by which players had to be 18 to be eligible for play in season 3 due to COVID, allowing them to pick up Saucy

- Brad shares that the age cut-off line for season 4 is July 31st 2021 for players to turn 18 and be eligible to play in Overwatch League (moved from June 30th)

- Brad says that Ir1s had to play the season in South Korea because they couldn’t secure a P1 Visa for him in time

- Brad thinks Ir1s was held back the high ping and will show his real skill level this year. According to Brad, he has done very well on the Korean ladder

- Brad says that the team is able to win maps but not go the full distance, losing a lot of matches on map 5

We’re a team that fails to clutch

- Brad thinks their Control maps are a particular issue that once resolved, they can go a lot further

Brad’s problem with ranked

- Brad thinks that not having mirror matchups in ranked matches creates a whole set of issues, with compositions never coming together and causing disagreements between teammates

Telling each other what hero they need to pick, why they need to pick it, trying to explain the x,y,z of this comp vs that comp… “If we don’t get this we’re going to lose but if we have this we can win” It’s just debate class in a ranked game. It’s not fun. It’s not why you got on to play

- Brad explains that figuring out how heroes work together is fun, but if you’re matched against a composition that has synergistic advantages, it quickly turns bad (ie. Playing Winston/Lucio vs Winston/Ana)

The H-key does have an impact

How the Reign built their roster for season 4

- Brad shares that Pelican had four or five offers, Kai had multiple, and Erster also had about five offers when they signed him in season 2

- Brad says they are able to consistently convince top tier talent to join them because the Reign has a great reputation among players, which they worked hard for. This year a selling point was that the Reign was going to run a tight roster, allowing for consistent playtime with well-respected hard-working teammates

- Brad says that Pelican is more than just a projectile DPS and also has an exceptional Tracer in the context of him being a projectile player. Brad describes him as “the ultimate flex DPS player”

- Daniel "FunnyAstro" Hathaway’s effort to improve his flex support has been tremendous, cutting down his sensitivity by a lot in order to compete on the role in season 3 which is a really challenging process

- Brad says that he trusts Masaa to play a passable Baptiste. He also shares that Pelican can also play Brigitte if really needed

- Brad thinks that it’s okay to have two tanks right now as they have the easiest time to flex around in their role, making DPS and Flex support the roles you’d want to double up on if possible

Releasing SharP

- Brad says that picking up Kai which meant SharP had to go wasn’t an easy decision, but Kai fit the requirement of a dedicated ranged-hitscan player more

- Brad shares that Kai is a hard worker and grinds the game a lot, focusing on self-improvement

- Brad shares that he thinks SharP is in a better position to go pro than many other players outside the Overwatch League if he chooses to, having savings and a visa

Signing Kai

- The Reign assessed the situation when Kai became available immediately

- Brad shares that Kai had another higher buyout offer from another team. In order to get Kai over, Kai had to share with the other team that he would rather play for Atlanta and the “awesome management” of the other team, as Brad calls it, agreed to respect Kai’s wish

- Brad says that Atlanta agreed to increase Kai’s salary as he didn’t get paid much last year, opting to not put the bumped up salary amount onto the buyout to increase their chances to transfer Kai off the Valiant

- Kai also wants to play with players he respects a lot like Gator and Hawk and also looks forward to having more expected playtime on a smaller roster

The 30-Day Contract Clause

- Brad thinks that the new clause might mean that teams will have more roster-moves in the mid-season

I think there are players who should’ve been in the league, were denied opportunities to get into the league because some other player who didn’t deserve in the league had a guaranteed spot

- Brad says that he doesn’t think the rule change is bad, though 30-days might be “a little slim”

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Brad’s thoughts on the season structure

- Brad would’ve liked to have safe offline play, even if less frequent, to build memorable hype moments. He does think that tournaments will deliver that

- He would like to see group stage play for the playoff format

- Brad says that he thinks that it was a mistake to spread out to the local regions, preferring a structure in which all teams would’ve been located in one safe place with less COVID issues instead. However, Brad understands that the infrastructure teams have put in place in their local headquarters has made that harder to justify

Atlanta Reign in season 4

Atlanta is not a budget team. Our average salary is six figures. We’re paying our players reasonably well and certainly above average for many other teams that are running smaller rosters

- The Reign will have improved infrastructure in season 4 with their new practice facility in Atlanta and apartments close by, supplying catering, and creating an environment in which the team can also hang out and play ranked after practice is done. One example of this is 360hz ready PCs for the players

- This season, Atlanta Reign has a season ranked game requirement of 300 games on their main role on the player’s main account. Brad says they are willing to be flexible based on player feedback

- Brad thinks this is the best Reign roster they ever fielded because they have seven guys all ready to work hard and push in the same direction

Players are primarily in the league not to make money. Players are primarily in the league because they want to win

- Brad wants an environment in which everyone works hard and feels comfortable to bring constructive criticism and ideas to the table

A tough season against a much-improved field in the Overwatch League lies ahead of the Atlanta Reign. Are seven very hard-working players enough to have success in that environment? Is such a structure sustainable? Can the Reign convert their scrim results into game day victories? Answers lie ahead with the start of the fourth season of the Overwatch League kicking off on April 16th.

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Image via Blizzard Entertainment

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