From core principals to team dynamic, Noukky tells all on the Spitfire rebuild.
Ysabel "Noukky" Müller has been a prominent member in Overwatch community nearly since its inception. A woman who has worn many, many different hats across her stay, Noukky is most known for building the London Spitfire’s academy team, the British Hurricane, into the most dominant team in modern European Overwatch. To put that into perspective, the Hurricane has not lost a match since August of 2019. Overwatch Contenders Europe is that much of a foregone conclusion and a large sum of credit should go her way. She has been tapped to head up the London Spitfire’s western rebuild as the team’s new general manager heading into the 2021 Overwatch League season. Noukky spoke with GGRecon about her core principles in building a team, her ideal team dynamic and what it means to achieve her dreams.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
You mentioned in your video that you wanted to create a path to pro where the London Spitfire and your academy team, the British Hurricane, interact with one another. Could you dive more into that? What would be the ideal schedule or situation for the two of them?
So, in general, I would really like for the teams to interact with each other and scrim each other regularly not only for the sake of implementing drills, testing out [compositions], checking in on the Hurricane players and how they’re doing, but I would also like to have—and this is a really big thing for me—have the coaches interact with each other to basically have open communication about how the players are doing and how to improve the teams.
At the moment we have the head coach of Hurricane, [Mads "fischer" Jehg] giving input [with] most things when it comes to setting up the tryouts and players and we have the other coaches interact with him a ton, and I would like to keep that relationship up where we cultivate everything in one Discord, for example, and have overlapping channels so that they get familiar with each other. This is something we didn’t really have in Hurricane before, because of the differentiation between the South Korean players and us as the European players, but now with everything in Europe, I think we can build a symbiosis of some sort where like in a team house situation where you would have your academy team and your main team in a team house and have them interact with each other, play offline with each other, play ranked with each other, and help each other grow—even though one of them is in the Overwatch League and the other half of them isn’t.
So the players that are actually on the academy team have the benefits of having people to look up to or having people in their same role to practice stuff with and have people to practice setups with them and practice match stuff with them. It’s everything for the bigger picture of creating that synergy between the teams, especially because we will be one of the more European focused western teams. So having an academy team that we can utilise will be very important.
One of the goals is fleshing out the system that we’ve been dreaming to build, a system with Hurricane interacting with the Spitfire and having a clear path for every player that is on Hurricane plus having a path for the people on the Spitfire to grow.
— Ysabel "Noukky" Müller
The team is known for its dominance, but also its iteration. Your former coaching and player list is respectfully long, not in a bad way, as Hurricane are one of the better academy teams at pushing players into the Overwatch League. However, no matter who or how many players the Hurricane ferries up towards the league, your team always manages to consistently perform well. Can London Spitfire fans look forward towards a more iterative and fast-paced roster moving forward?
I don’t think we’re going to do too many significant changes throughout the year. Once we identify the best players in Europe and the west that we want to pick up, I don’t think it will be a very fluid rotation between them and Hurricane. Rather, I think we want to not only have a team that represents the region but also does it justice too within comparisons to its skill level of the region because we all think that the European region definitely has a pretty good skill level in comparison. I don’t think you’re going to see super vast changes throughout the year. I’m aiming to have it as a consistent roster and it's a similar philosophy I had with Hurricane other the years.
Even if we had a bad season like for example like [Overwatch Contenders] 2018 Season 2, where we dropped to Trials, we tried to keep the roster rather consistent and keep the people on that wanted to improve themselves, that wanted to grind, that wanted to be the better teammate—and this is a philosophy that we will bring over to Spitfire. If people are motivated, if we feel like they still have potential even though it might be suboptimal in the first half of the season, we still are going to believe in the players that want to put in the work and that are going to believe in the players that grind.
With that new fluidity with two-way players, do you foresee a world where you’re actively moving players up from Hurricane and vice versa?
At the moment, for the first stage, there are no plans on having many two-way players and have a system where they move up and down regularly.
One thing that focused on a lot is this idea to help or shine a light on the European region. Would you say that is a fair assessment? Are there any other plans outside of the Overwatch League to support the European scene?
Yeah, I’m pretty adamant that much of the European talent that is currently in the region and that is in the Overwatch League are talented players that are on a pretty high level. Of course, there are differences between regions, but I think that Europe deserves a bit more recognition overall. I definitely plan to help out the European region a bit more than just having the academy team still running and having the London Spitfire interact with that regularly. There is the rule where we have five tournaments that we can run—and with my tournament organiser background—I definitely think we can make something work to further help the region.
Could you talk more on your ideal team structure and the core principles that you build your teams with?
Some of the core principles that we have building Hurricane is to not only help our players on a mechanical level or on a [strategic] level for the team but to also develop our players, as bad as it sounds, to [become] better teammates and to be better humans. [This] means we try to teach them core principles that will help them become successful outside of the game like encouraging good sleep patterns, encouraging mental health, and one thing that we’d really like to have is a culture of open communication.
I value highly the ability for my players to talk to me about most of the things they feel strongly about. Be it how critique works, be it how coaches interact and are giving feedback, being comfortable talking with each other and generally building a team culture where you can help each other improve and to not only have the coaches talk down to you. We want them to bring their own ideas, strategies, and having a system where the communication feel level between everyone, but also having enough authority with the coaches and the manager to be comfortable calling the shots.
It’s a really weird thing to say because usually, you would think that the coaches and the manager are the upper positions and they decide everything and the players just go for it, but we would like to have a system where the players feel comfortable being able to stand their ground or critique the staff when they feel they’ve done something wrong and just having a healthy culture of debate.
The thing is everyone wants to push each other to improve and having the right mindset about where the critique is coming from and how to implement it and what the other person means is very important. If you feel constantly attacked by people critiquing you, it will have a negative connotation, but if you have a healthy team culture where you can interact with each other without this negative background that you have in your head we think, and I personally think, this helps the team grow way faster.
Where did the idea of this culture of debate stem from? Was this something that you valued from experience outside of esports or was this born and bred with Hurricane?
It definitely sprung from both sides a tiny bit, I am a person that has very strong opinions and passions, and that voices them. I don’t know if that’s negative, but I’m a rather emotional person, but I do stand my ground when it comes to things, and I learned very early on that, especially in this space or rather in the space I wanted to work in, it’s really helpful to be authentic and to act upon your ideals and your standards. It’s a thing that I’ve brought with me from my core principles of life, and that developed even more with Hurricane.
Our first roster was a rather veteran-focused roster with players like [Hafþór "Hafficool" Hákonarson] and with players like [Jakob "bock1" Kleveland] who were in the scene for so long, and of course, people are going to bump heads early on, so I tried to implement what I found as my core principals, and I tried to see if this was something that was healthy in a team environment too and it worked out well. This was something that we passed down from the first iteration of the roster from the Hurricane, and we want to implement that in the London Spitfire too!
You’ve been quick to get ahead and set the expectation for European fans that this is not a team that will likely be top five. Pride aside, what are some of the goals that you have for this team? What are some of your measurements for success for the 2021 season?
I think many fans took it the wrong way when I said that. I think that setting the expectations a little lower was definitely something I wanted to do and I wanted that transparency with the fans, but it isn’t that we don’t believe in the team or we have a losing mentality. It’s more setting realistic goals that we can grow towards together rather than setting an unrealistic goal and that we cannot reach and we then feel bad about. Some of the core goals that we have with this team is setting and building the team culture that we talked about earlier.
One of the goals is fleshing out the system that we’ve been dreaming to build, a system with Hurricane interacting with the Spitfire and having a clear path for every player that is on Hurricane plus having a path for the people on the Spitfire to grow. This is a goal that isn’t just something like “oh, throw this in there” but we’re aiming to build the best team out of these core principals and getting as high a placement as we can, we’re not going to sit here and be like “yeah, if we don’t make playoffs it’s not that bad” of course we want to make playoffs, and we want to go in, and we want to grind hard, and we want to show everyone that the European region and the western region is something that is competitive. Of course, reaching for the stars is always good, but hitting goals is also pretty good. So we will be excited to reach the playoffs and see how far we can go and celebrate every moment.
'General Manager' is a nebulous and vague title in esports and specifically in Overwatch. Could you talk a bit about what is your day to day like?
Now that I’m being promoted as the general manager, my day to day is very heavy on coordinating different things and tasks. Some things we general managers like to do in the offseason is evaluating people! One of the first things I did when I was told that I was going to be the general manager of the Spitfire was seeking out staff because I think that staff is a really solid foundation to build a team and it’s needed for me to have staff that resonates with my idea of how the team should be run and how the team culture should be. So the first task was doing a ton of staff interviews and coach interviews, so I could find the ideal candidate to build this team with me.
The other day to day stuff is basically keeping up with media, doing interviews, setting up new ones, doing podcasts, and generally being the public-facing person which is really weird for me because I usually like to work in the background and being the face of something makes me a little nervous. Other stuff we have to do is talking and meeting with investors, sponsors, talking to the organisation as a whole about budgeting and marketing like “how do we want to build this?” and asking the experts in their fields “hey, what do you think of this? can we post this video like this? can we do this social media campaign?” Basically, you’re organising a whole bunch of different people; it’s similar to a team manager where you take care of the players, but here you look more at the organisational level where you take care of the different departments in the organisation that are under you and have an overview of those departments.
Lastly, from working as a tournament organiser, from doing freelance work, from working with Those Guys and building into the dynasty we now know as British Hurricane, I’ve got to ask; how does it feel becoming the General Manager of the London Spitfire? Is this a dream come true? Could you expand on what it means to you to finally enter the Overwatch League?
I don’t know how to explain how I’m feeling. It has been really surreal because in the first three years I wanted to be in the Overwatch League really badly and I wanted to be a general manager. I tried to apply for positions but it never really worked so I settled with what I have here at Cloud9, doing the Hurricane stuff. Then I got a bit more responsibility here doing VALORANT now and balancing between both games and becoming a master of multitasking in these two different areas. Having [Jack Etienne] say “hey if we go in this direction you would be the ideal candidate for this” that was something that made me smile really hard even though it was a mix of feelings of “do I want to tackle this? can I tackle this?” It was a big mix of those. I was nervous and excited all at the same time, and I still am, and I don’t expect that to go away for the next month or so.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment