Harsha on coach of the year, relocation, and sunsets over Dallas
Harsha "Harsha" Bandi knows Overwatch. After cutting his teeth covering the title in 2017, he’s gone on to assist the San Francisco Shock, Vancouver Titans, and lead the Houston Outlaws alongside co-head coach Choi "Junkbuck" Jae-won. That kind of experience puts him on a very short list of experts that can give candid and tangible feedback to the league and its teams.
Harsha spoke to GGRecon about what he believes are some of the biggest issues plaguing the league’s mid-table teams, who has separated themselves in the 2022 Coach of the Year discussion, and if the Dallas Fuel’s days are numbered.
The public seems very polarised by how teams like the Florida Mayhem, the Paris Eternal and the Vancouver Titans have been shuffling their rosters mid-season. Where do you land on the issue and is this something you could have seen yourself utilising when you were in the league?
It's hard to fault teams for making the moves they think will give them the most competitive success possible. The old rules allowed players to get away with whatever they wanted, while the new rules strip them of all agency. There has to be an unexplored happy medium somewhere in this situation.
That said, I don't really think you can be too upset that teams are making these shuffles, but fans do have the right to be upset about situations where they might occur unfairly or disrespectfully, as seen in [Adam "Adam" Soong]'s case.
I also don't think it's a coincidence this is happening so often when teams were required to have full rosters without the ability to hold actual tryouts in the game being played.
In a more sensible scenario, the league and developers would be able to run with each other's best interests in mind, but under current constraints, we've ended up in a situation that benefits nobody and hurts several players' careers (possibly irreversibly, when we factor in visas) in the process.
There is also something to be said for replacing players and not achieving better results afterwards, but that's a discussion for another time unrelated to competition.
Speaking of the Eternal, they’ve recently announced their plans to relocate to Las Vegas for the 2023 season. What do you think comes of this? Is this an omen of more teams potentially relocating for Overwatch 2? Do you even think this can help teams?
I'm not really sure what to make of it.
French fans seemed particularly passionate, so it's pretty disappointing that Eternal couldn't monetize or cater to that fanbase, especially after doing so well with their team in Season 3. Obviously, financial situations change, COVID exists, and we likely won't be having large LANs in Europe for this league, so it's clear why the team would want to rebrand, but I don't know if abandoning Europe is what's best for the league either.
I also feel like - what is this change even for? Are people going to flock to this team because they have Vegas in the name? It feels like the only reasoning behind the change is to host events in Vegas, but could Overwatch League not have just granted Eternal the ability to host LANs in America due to the pandemic?
Maybe these organisations see something I don't, but I feel more or less as though Eternal is going to abandon a lot of their fans and gain very few new ones for the chance of hosting LANs, and it's up to them whether the trade-off is worth it.
We have to talk about your former rivals, the Dallas Fuel. As someone who cautioned the public in the preseason, do you still believe the days of Dallas ruling North America are over?
I think that Dallas is still clearly a strong team, but the reason I had my doubts about them is that I felt their roster relied a lot on both Choi "Hanbin" Han-been and Lee "Fearless" Eui-Seok through every meta.
With only one in the match at any given time, the team just isn't the same beast it was when they dominated last season. They do seem to be taking steps to re-integrate Fearless into the roster which is a big positive because his results looked subpar earlier in the season.
In the Zarya meta, Hanbin looked really strong as well, which actually quelled a few of my doubts. Dallas is probably going to continue to be a top team, but so many teams in North America are strong that I just don't think they can dominate the same way they did last year when they just ran over everybody.
On the flip side of that, the Cinderella story this season has to be the London Spitfire. Running on a bare-bones budget they’ve managed to upset some of the best teams in the league all while flying under the radar. As a former coach and general manager, is this a team environment thing, a coaching boon, or some mix of all three?
I think that it's basically all three.
When you lose a lot, it can make players lose motivation and belief in themselves. London probably was not as bad as their record last year, but they ended up in such a deep hole that they had no chance of recovery.
I think Christopher "ChrisTFer" Graham has clearly shown himself as a strong coach and the staff has done a lot to make this team play to their strengths, but I also think taking insane ping away from the equation and putting all the players in the same environment did a lot as well.
London could only fail last year, but this year they gave themselves a chance to succeed and ran with it. I do think if they continue on their current trajectory, it will be hard to ignore [ChrisTFer] as a strong Coach of the Year candidate.
With intimate knowledge of how the front office works at the Vancouver Titans, do you believe Dpei can turn that boat around or are there other issues that really need looking after?
I don't think [David "dpei" Pei] would join this organisation unless he believed they'd let him build the team to his own vision, so my guess is that he will have a lot of autonomy.
Vancouver has almost certainly learned a lot from the last few years, and I don't really expect to see a repeat of what has happened in the past. The team will probably see more success come the second half of this season, but we'll truly see whether Vancouver is serious about competing next offseason depending on the roster that they put together.
The good news for the Titans is that Dpei has come out of every offseason with a stronger roster than before and I doubt that will change.
Lastly Harsha, suit up and grab your mask because we’re making you a doctor for the day. You’ll be seeing three patients today, three Overwatch League teams that have a multitude of ailments and diagnosing their biggest issue, the first of which are the Washington Justice.
For a roster that carries as many stars as it does, how are the Washington Justice unable to find a sense of consistency?
It's pretty hard to defend Justice when they have [Lee "Happy" Jung-woo], [Kim "Mag" Tae-sung], and [Jang "Decay" Gui-un] and still are sitting at 4-7.
With the organisation's history of underperformance despite strong players, I think the only aspect of the team you can change anymore is on the staff side. The alternative is giving up on some top-tier players, and there's no world where I think that's the reasonable answer.
Something has to change, and the simplest answer is staff, even if they're working hard.
It comes down to results at the end of the day.
The second patient for the day is the New York Excelsior. With a lean and not-so-mean roster and an increasing thirst for flex supports, what do you think is plaguing New York?
New York is like a more extreme version of Justice.
All the moves they've made this season seem like band-aids that don't even address their main issues. They have stacked talent and only a single win. With how lean the roster is and [Kim "KuKi" Dae-kuk]'s presence as the original sixth man of the team, you'd think the issues are budget-related, but considering they've made signings, it's hard to imagine that's the only issue.
The simplest fix would be restructuring their staff, because there's no world where you give up on [Kim "Yaki" Jun-ki], and the rest of the players have been solid before for the most part, but I get the feeling they're too deep in the hole this season. They'll probably improve over the second half of the season, but their terrible start has pretty much doomed them.
It might be smart to start planning a rebuild from the top down over this season and slowly start implementing it before the year is up to get a head start on next year.
Finally, we come to the Toronto Defiant. After courting an impregnable support duo and somehow letting go of yet another coach, what’s going on with the Defiant?
Something is wrong with the way Toronto approaches building their teams.
People might argue that the teams they build underperform, but I don't think that's it at all.
I think Defiant invests only in pieces and never in the full team. This year they are stronger than ever, but so is the rest of North America. Whether it's because they don't know who to go after or they can't attract the best free agents, the end result is always the same - they never have a high enough ceiling to do real damage and end up being gatekeepers between the bottom and middle of the pack.
It's been the same story since this team entered the league, I think they just need to find a front office figure who can take full responsibility for the results of the franchise. Easier said than done, but finding a real vision will save them from more years of the same.