A lot has changed about the Overwatch League in the last couple of months. How does the Mayhem adapt?
For the Overwatch League, the 2020 season was supposed to be the first year to showcase the promised global city-based model that Overwatch esports has built its identity around. Unfortunately, it’s taken a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic to see that season become delayed and to which it finds itself having to take place online, along with many other games in the esports industry.
The Florida Mayhem was one of the first teams to have their homestands cancelled as the infection rate in the United States grew more and more dire. With the season having been fully transitioned online, I caught up with the Mayhem’s General Manager Albert "yeHHH” Yeh to see how their team was adjusting to the new changes.
"It’s definitely a step back” he mentioned, "They've all played online before, that's how they got to OWL. For the rest of the league everyone's played in Contenders for the most part. They’ve experienced it before but, LAN just feels different. If you ask anyone, they'll tell you it feels better.” He added, "This team, in particular, performs better on LAN. For lack of a better word, playing online feels 'off'. It's just a weird feeling. There's a lot of variance now. It’s affecting every team in different ways.
You never want a player to be the catalyst for the change, that’s where it gets messy.
Since the Mayhem is a team with a lot of new players and basically a new identity, it’s concerning that they might not have the ability or spaces to meet and gel as a team. One would think that being unable to have social outings and large gathering would put a damper on team building, but Yeh affirmed that team was getting along just fine.
"It’s not like they don’t see each other, they all live in the same apartment complex. They're still getting the human to human interaction that I think is important. For most teams, they live close enough that they’re still getting that team bonding… It’s different for every team, but our guys are pretty easy to deal with. They’re fine with being in their rooms playing video games.”
The team is still developing at a good rate, he assured, but on the professional level, it’s a bit different. If not being on LAN is already a step back for the players, what’s in been like for the coaches?
"Every coach in the league is preparing differently. Kuki views online practice as not as efficient. In terms of not being in person, not at the facility, it's worse. I feel like scrims have a little less perceived value. You’re back to the ‘old grind’, where you wake up and walk to your computer and just play the game, as opposed to something more regimented. I think [all] coaches are having to handle that issue, trying to keep their player's heads in the game.”
- Read more: “We're starting from the very bottom and we’re very thirsty for wins.'' - Florida Mayhem head coach Kuki
It seems as though the coaches just couldn’t find the right solutions in team for their match against the Atlanta Reign, which the Mayhem were unable to take a map in a 3-0 series. Atlanta is definitely a strong team, but even Yeh admitted their performance was not up to par.
"At the end of the day, you think their DPS popped off, had those pop off moments, and our DPS did not. It wasn’t the best Overwatch, a lot of our ultimates weren’t used properly. Had one or two fights gone our way, we could have definitely won some maps. At the end of the day, we were sloppy with our team fights and the Atlanta players stepped up.”
During that match the team saw some interesting changes to their starting lineup, preferring San-ha "Karayan“ Choi’s Orisa over Pan-seung "Fate“ Koo’s, and Seong-ju "Byrem“ Lee over Nam-jin "Gangnamjin“ Gang as their starting flex support. Criticism was aimed at both of those players and while Yeh isn’t part of the coaching staff, he tried to lend as much insight as he could.
"Everyone gets a shot, and those players played better in practice this week. Adding in the practice from home, it affects players differently. He couldn’t decide on a clear six until the day before we had to submit it our starting roster to the league. It’s difficult in figuring out the lineup with the bans and while working from home… At the end of the day, I trust Kuki's decision making, if he feels this is the team's line up, he has the power to do so.”
The Mayhem currently sit at 2-4 in the standings, which isn’t terrible but definitely not something to celebrate. I asked Albert, as a General Manager, how does he approach adding or removing players/staff during a season, and when is there a threshold for when changes need to happen.
"I think it starts, with me. I’ve played the game, I’ve coached the game, I’ve managed for the game. So, I think I have a pretty holistic view when it comes to the game and how to build a team. It could start with me it could start with a coach or it could start with a player. You never know where it’s going to start but it’s going to be one of those three things. I would want it to come from me or a coaching level. You never want a player to be the catalyst for the change, that’s where it gets messy. You don’t get to choose where it starts from, but you do get to choose with how you deal with it.”
"What your team goal for the season is how much runway you give your team. The goal this season is to make playoffs, and to do that we just need a 50%-win rate. 50% of 28 that’s what we need to hit. As long as we're in striking distance for that goal, I think we're fine. Can we do better? Sure, but that’s a conversation the coaches can have with me. That’s how I like to look at it, I don’t think many teams are on the market right now because of the pandemic, but if a player is being shopped, the teams get reached out too. I always like to get the coaches opinions first; I don’t want to alter their thoughts before they say it. It’s my job to hear what they have to say, and then I’ll work around my input.”
All images courtesy of Ben Pursell for Blizzard Entertainment