Christfer: "We were able to talk to people who wouldn’t dream of joining last year"
In Overwatch League season 5, the London Spitfire did the impossible. As a budget team, ranked last in the league by most experts in the pre-season, the team squashed expectations and finished fifth in the North American region, and directly qualified for the season playoffs.
Now deep in the offseason, we sat down with Coach of the Year in Season 5 and Head Coach of the London Spitfire Christopher "ChrisTFer" Graham to discuss what he's doing at the moment, how team building is going, if there is any anxiety to perform as well as last season, and more.
Yiska: Hey Chris, what does a Coach of the Year do during a time like this?
ChrisTFer: Almost nothing actually, compared to last season, this offseason has been a breeze. We basically confirmed all we needed within a day or 2 of offseason, and just waiting for the window to open for things to go through.
Yiska: Does that mean you're entirely done as soon as the FA window opens, and you can send out contracts? How many players will you be adding, and is there a chance you'll sign someone else closer to the season if the opportunity presents itself?
ChrisTFer: Goal is a 7 man roster, hopefully, unless there are some strange events, it'll all be sorted on window open... yes.
Yiska: We've heard that there are a couple of bargain deals possible even for budget teams. Has that been your experience and do those even interest you?
ChrisTFer: I had to make the decision before season end whether I was going to only focus on getting the mechanically best players or if we wanted to continue to build towards our identity and culture.
For us a lot of our success was our team environment and communication, so I want to add players who can help us keep that level without the repeated mistakes of Paris last season, where they saw opportunities to get Korean talent and assumed it would be an upgrade. London Spitfire's identity is as a western (European), so it's important for us to keep to that model.
Yiska: What if a player like Kai or Danteh came knocking and were okay with the general salary level your team is able to offer?
ChrisTFer: We had preliminary conversations with both, but I think it's unlikely to happen.
Yiska: Noted. You've mentioned that you are looking at a seven-man roster, meaning you are doubling up on two positions. Now that we're a year into Overwatch 2, which do you think are the roles you need to double up on?
ChrisTFer: I still think if you have unlimited money and really want to win, eight-man is best, but for me, I think three supports feels necessary unless you have a Violet-type guy who feels comfortable on Lucio and flex supports, then having two tanks or three dps is probably a 50/50 depending on how your team comm structure is set up.
Yiska: Does that imply three DPS will be more important for you next season than two tanks?
Yiska: Has Hadi been sent on Offtank grind duty yet?
ChrisTFer: I hope so. A few of our guys got heroes they know they need to grind in the offseason.
Yiska: Speaking of guys like Hadi. As a Role Star and an MVP candidate, we can safely assume the League has realised his quality. Did you have to swat off offers this season, or was it easy to have him buy in again?
ChrisTFer: That stuff never really got to me if there were offers, he's under +1, and I think he's happy here, so there wasn't really much discussion with any of our guys about if they wanted to come back or not.
Yiska: In the past, you talked about wanting to build a reputation for the Spitfire that makes it easier for players to decide to join you. Has it been easier to convince your new guys than it was to get everyone on board last season, given your outstanding performance in season 5?
ChrisTFer: Miles easier, we were able to talk to people who wouldn't dream of joining last year, and our first targets felt we were the team they wanted to join most, maybe barring a massive offer from one of the big boys.
Yiska: You accomplished things last season that were thought impossible. Do you feel intimidated by your own success, and are you worried you might not be able to do it again?
ChrisTFer: A little bit yes, it's actually the first thing on my PowerPoint for the team next year, If we go in with this idea that because we finished top 6 global in playoffs, anything else will feel like a regression, that mindset will almost certainly cripple us, again similar I think to what Paris had this year.
It's important we have more confidence in our play because we proved ourselves last year, but if we don't always finish top six, we cannot allow ourselves to get disheartened. Ultimately, it's about controlling our ego and staying hungry.
I think it's possible for us to finish worse than last year, and still feel like we had a successful season.
Yiska: Have you had a look at what other teams are doing by rumours? How do these impact your confidence in competing in NA next year?
ChrisTFer: Seems like to me last year there were maybe eight big teams and five budget teams, possible the scale flips a bit the other way. maybe four to six teams trying to compete and 7-9 teams on a smaller budget, ultimately should give us more confidence as the bigger rebuilds from teams takes them longer to catch up to a team like us where most of what we do is in place.