Lean and mean for 2021, yeHHH breaks down Mayhem’s future plans and more.
After a promising 2020 Overwatch League season, the Florida Mayhem stand on the cusp of the new year ready for changes, ones that will continue to propel them farther up the Overwatch League ladder. At the helm of the project sits general manager Albert "yeHHH" Yeh an Overwatch veteran who has spent time in nearly every role the competitive ecosystem has to offer.
With experience as a player in Overwatch Contenders, he also was a former assistant coach for NRG Esports, and before becoming the Mayhem’s mastermind, he joined the team as an analyst. Ending with a strong regular-season finish in North America, it’s safe to say that the Mayhem are not to be slept on anymore. YeHHH spoke to GGRecon about the future of the team, how exactly their scouting process is, as well as giving some insights and reflections from their 2020 performance.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
With two star players entering their sophomore season, a nominee for 2020 Coach of the Year presumably remaining on the books, and a ton of space to iterate, there is a lot to be excited about if you are a Florida Mayhem fan coming into the 2021 season. I know the offseason is still young, but what are some of the goals you and the team at the Mayhem are coming into the new year with?
Coming into the 2021 season, the theme is going to be lean and mean. COVID hit every team differently, I mean it hit every team, honestly speaking, and ours is no exception to the rule. So we are on a little bit tighter of a budget this year, but to make up for it, we’re going to go a little leaner. We’re going to be spending appropriate money at each position to make sure we have super solid pieces at each position.
Even though we’re lean, we’re still going to have a really stacked roster; we’re going to be hitting hard in every match. That’s the overarching goal for 2021.
I was looking at a bunch of comments on Reddit, and I think there is this narrative that you need a certain number of players, like a minimum threshold of players to be a good team. I think someone said, “you have to have at least ten [players] to be a good team because all the top teams had ten.” Well, how many of those players played? There are plenty of rosters above ten that didn’t do too well, you look at London Spitfire, they had twelve players, they had a disappointing season—and to me, when I look at building a roster, I’m looking at putting more money into one position instead of spread it out over two.
Say you’ve got $100,000 of your budget left, and you need one position and let’s say its a DPS position, you can either get two DPS for $50,000, or you can get one DPS for $100,000. Assuming your scouting is correct and you’re getting the player at that market value, and the talent is there, I would choose the $100,000 player over the two $50,000 players every time. So that’s how I’m looking at it. We’re going to be leaner, but we’re also going to be meaner for 2021.
I know that you mentioned the narrative around that perceived “player limit” being around ten players. Do you ever see that changing in the future? Is there a world where when COVID quiets down and begins to decrease in its impact on things in general, is there a world where you think that could increase to twelve or do you think we’ll always be generally lean and mean?
I think COVID accelerated the trend, but I think, as teams experiment, every team is at a different stage, you know? It depends on how long the staffs been there, if they have new staff, maybe the new staff is reinventing the wheel so to speak, trying to figure out stuff on their own because there really are things that you have to experience before you go “Oh, I get why that didn’t work” or “So that’s how you run a roster like that” or what have you. I think [Brad "Sephy" Rajani] whose the head coach for [Atlanta Reign] was saying, and Atlanta has historically had larger rosters like almost max size every year, I think he was even saying that they were even going to be going away from that big roster next year. I don’t know, maybe I’m quoting him wrong, but I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere, and he can correct me if I’m wrong.
The way that I’d put this is that there are a large, large number of players trying to get into the Overwatch League (OWL) and most of them, that are going to be picked up, are used to being the man on the team. The Overwatch League is the best of the best. They are used to [saying] “I’m the perma-starter, I’m the hyper-carry”, and then you get to the Overwatch League, and if you get on a twelve-man roster and then you have to fight for your spot every day, eventually it reaches a point where it isn’t always going to be 50/50 and the player that gets to practice against OWL level talent more, usually tends to improve more.
Whereas the other player is playing ranked and that is not as good of a replacement, and some teams have tried the B-Team stuff, but you really need a lot of staff for that to work right? You need like a dedicated B-Team staff, and then you get into the whole thing of hiring coaches to only coach the B-Team—those coaches are used to being head coaches as well, almost all the coaches that have moved up to the Overwatch League used to be a head coach in Overwatch Contenders. So they are already going from head coach to assistant coach, and now you’re telling them, or for some of them, “Hey, you need to coach the B-Team.” You know, that doesn’t make you feel valued as a coach either.
So those are the types of things you have to balance and over the course of a long season, it starts fraying sometimes. I think there is a reason why a lot of players that are benched are usually benched for extended periods of time and may not even play sometimes; it is because the longer that period is when they get benched, the larger that gap grows. Their counter-part is in the scrims every day; they are playing against the best of the best—whereas, if you’re on the bench it’s like “Hey we need you to work on these heroes, but you can only work on those heroes in ranked” and we all know North American ranked is not a place where a pro-player can actually thrive. You can learn a hero in ranked but playing a hero really well in ranked is totally different [from] OWL calibre players.
On social media, you threw out a few new awards you’d like to see added to the ballot in the coming seasons. In your summation, who do you think the Executive of the Year was?
I think I could give you a pool. My criteria when I was thinking about the award was that the award would not be publicly voted, and it’s not in the National Basketball Association (NBA) from what I remember. I’m pretty sure that’s just other executives that are voting on the Executive of the Year because the public doesn’t know what the general manager did or how they are negotiating, you know? They don’t know the rumours on how much they paid for a player or what they got a player to agree to or what trade they negotiated or how much of a say they had in the roster. Did the coach do all the scouting, all the negotiations, all of the persuading to get a player over? The public doesn’t know that, so it doesn’t make sense for it to be a publicly voted on the award.
My personal criteria would be; did they have a big role in the team? How much experience did they have and what were the results of the team that they came up with given their resources—or what I know of their resources? I think all of those are important factors because if you just had unlimited money and you just do your job, that’s not as impressive as if you had a more limited budget and were able to outperform someone with a huge war chest.
I think there are other things outside of just being an executive. For example, [Kim "NineK" Bumhoon], I don’t know how many people know this, but he was also coaching. He originally got hired as head coach, but then he got promoted to general manager and then [Yun "RUSH" Hee-won] was brought on to be the head coach. From what I understand, NineK had a significant say in coaching for Paris. So, NineK would be a candidate for me.
You obviously look at [Mike "Packing10" Szklanny] and the roster he put together with the budget.
I think [Roston “Roston” Yoo], much like me, this was Roston’s first year. I think we were operating on different budgets, but I still think he did a great job, he made a super team. I’d consider Philly a super team in terms of talent on paper this year. I remember talking to Roston at The Gauntlet and were just [talking] like “Hey, it’s our first offseason. How is it going for you?” and we were talking plans, but yeah, he was telling me right from the get-go, he’s like “Yeah, we’re sticking with Kim ["SADO"] Su-min. I don’t know why everyone is giving SADO so much [grief]. Anyone who sees SADO, knows he’s a capable player.” I think he had already talked to [Kim "KDG" Dong-gun] and had him locked in and said, “Yeah, KDG is happy to keep him. We’re happy to keep him. There is potential there. He’ll do well in season three.”
Things like that where they are going against the grain, against the public opinion, which means they have good instincts, and they know what they are talking about, they can identify talent properly. Off the top of my head, those are the candidates that come to mind when talking about Executive of the Year, if it had been an actual award.
Secondly, what do you think the Play of the Year was? Any specific play or moment from last year that stuck out that you want to give a gold star to?
That’s hard. There were so many plays this year; there were so many metagames. I guess—for me—the one that always sticks in my head that I regret the most was done against us was [Matthew "super" DeLisi] when he clutched up on [Lijiang Tower]. It was in the May Melee during the finals, I think we were running a Symetraa strategy, and we were pummeling Shock on that point—and I think had we won that fight, had Super not clutched out, we would have 2-0 them on Lijiang, and we would have had a lead—I think that would have given us three maps. I don’t remember the map count exactly, but I know we would have won that point if Super didn’t clutch, but he killed like four people. It was like a 2v6 or something crazy. I think we had [Sound Barrier] even and somehow he still won? It was absurd. I think that play from Super was super underrated.
I think the flashiest play, from the Mayhem side, was definitely [Kim "Yaki" Jun-ki]’s triple Earthshatter.
In terms of impact on the game, maybe not so much, because it was a losing fight, but just the fact that he was able to do that as an individual, like the amount of coordination it took between he and [Kang "Gangnamjin" Nam-jin] keeping him up and getting three Earthshatters—that was super impressive.
Then [Park "Profit" Joon-yeong] had that super clean 4k on Ashe in the finals. Profit seems to always come up with crazy highlights in playoff situations, even in season one with the 5k on Tracer. Those are the ones that come to my mind immediately, I’m sure I’m missing a lot, but those are the three that stick in my head.
Now, as a retrospective award to your own achievements with the Mayhem, what would you say your proudest moment was from 2020?
I think my proudest moment was May Melee. Just getting to that height, going toe-to-toe with the Shock, I think the team was feeling really loose, everyone was saying they were having fun. And that was after we set our franchise winning streak for map winning streak and record coming into the tournament. That felt really good. We beat Philly in that tournament, and I think at that moment, even though we lost, I think I was the proudest of that team because I was like “Wow, we’re for real. We are there. We’ve improved so much.” From that point on, I knew we were going to be good for the rest of the season. We were going to be a top-four team in North America for the rest of the season after that performance.
That’s my most proud moment because it was like the tipping point. We proved to ourselves that we are a good time. We were beating up on all of these lesser teams going in, I think we beat Boston twice in the qualifiers, and everyone was saying “Yeah, they have this great map win steak but are they for real?” And then we go into the tournament, and we beat Atlanta, Philly, and then we go toe-to-toe with the Shock. There really isn't much more to say after that. So I’d say that was my proudest moment, hitting the grand finals of the May Melee.
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It’s always interesting hearing members of management from Overwatch League franchises speak on the business side of things, obviously not sure if you can speak on any of the numbers, but 2020 has presented a multitude of problems on that front. Where is the Mayhem looking to adapt on the financial end of things and how do you think teams and the league itself will shift focus when it comes to the business end of Overwatch in this post-pandemic world?
I can’t really reveal anything yet but moving into 2021 there are some levers that the league has let up on in terms of revenue generation. There is some revenue generation potential next year—I can’t say what, but there are a few opportunities there. We’re already doing the tier two and tier three community tournaments. We had the Mayhem Classics, the Summer Classic and the Winter Classic—who knows, maybe we’ll just have one for every season. Maybe we add more? We picked up some streamers [Christopher "Jay3" Pavloff] and [Sam "Samito" Dawahare] are our current streamers and influencers. That is where we are looking at, both of those guys have been super helpful in growing our YouTube and putting out fresh content on behalf of our organisation. That’s been an additional source of potential revenue with branded content and sponsorships and being able to fulfil sponsorship deliverables is an important part of maintaining any esports business.
Also, I’ve been trying to get back into Contenders for a while, we are still looking at options, but when we find something that makes financial sense, I’m confident we’ll pull the trigger at that point. So we are still assessing options and looking at options, but when it makes financial sense, I’ll definitely push Mayhem in that direction to get back into the Contenders scene.
Super spoke on a recent Plat Chat about how strong he thought the Mayhem were for the majority of the 2020 season. Now that the season is over, could you speak a little to just how well the team was doing in practice? Did you also subscribe to the idea that if a few things were to go a bit differently than the Mayhem could have nabbed the second seed in the grand finals weekend?
Yeah, we scrimmed every single team in North America, and the Shock was definitely one of the teams we scrimmed, and we matched up pretty decently against them in practice. So that’s where that is coming from, even though the Shock were beating us every time when we’ve played in matches, but the potential was always there. We were never scared or went into matches against the Shock expecting to lose because we knew we could match up to them—and I think they did too—so there is just a healthy, mutual respect there. Obviously, they got the better of us in the matches, that’s when it counts, but we definitely performed well in scrims against them—not going to say we were pummeling them in scrims, but we gave a good accounting of ourselves in scrims against the Shock, and that’s always a good litmus test. If you’re doing decently against the Shock, you can feel confident in your overall form.
I was speaking to someone recently and was going over the [compositions], and the story about our Sombra Dive [composition] was that we used that to counter the Roadhog. In the beginning, a lot of teams were trying out the Roadhog stuff because that was also the ranked metagame. So they were like “Okay, let’s just try the ranked meta. This is what they are playing on ranked, let’s just see if it works in an OWL setting.” And that’s what teams started to do. They started on the Roadhog, then we countered it super early on with the Sombra Dive, then a lot of teams stopped playing the Roadhog [composition] because it got countered—or it seeming got countered. In scrims, it was doing a pretty good job of countering it, and then we ended up in Sombra Dive mirror matches, right?
Eventually, [Washington] stuck with it and some other teams kept it in their bag like Shock obviously kept it, and Philly came up with a different [composition] to counter [Washington] like a Hanzo spam [composition], but that’s why we stuck to the Sombra [composition] because it worked for us in scrims. The issue was that when it came to match day, it plays out differently because the Sombra Dive require a lot of finesse and coordination. You don’t have burst damage, there is no individual that can burst anyone down based on the [composition] like you have Reaper, sure, but you have to be right in front of someone’s face and in OWL that isn’t going to fly. It’s really hard to one-shot someone in an Overwatch League match as Reaper when you have no range, and Sombra does damage, but it isn’t incredible burst damage. So your burst damage comes from the team, whereas, when you look at the Roadhog [composition] there are what I’d call “x-factors”.
A damage boosted Ashe can one-shot any squishy, then it’s like 80% lost already from that point. Then you have Mercy, so it can be 7v6 at some points. Then you have Roadhog who obviously has the hook; it is a one-shot. Tracer has Pulse Bomb. So the damage output, individually on the heroes in the Roadhog/Zarya [composition] just hits different in a match setting where everything is so much more intense, and it’s much harder to get that coordination down if you don’t snowball it and you lose steam.
That’s exactly what happened against [Washington], we never got started really.
You’ve already teased that you will be keeping an eye on Overwatch Contenders: The Gauntlet, but before we address that directly, as a tier two alumni yourself, how important is something like The Gauntlet for the Overwatch League?
I think a lot of the time, Overwatch League coaches, Overwatch League players and general managers don’t have the luxury of being able to pay attention to Overwatch Contenders all that much because we’re in the middle of the season and we have to worry about our teams. So when it hits the offseason, you remember the names that were doing well the last offseason, you start to remember like “Oh, these guys were hype. I remember this cracked 16-year-old, is he still good? Is he of age?” And you look back, and you start trying to catch up, but now with hero pools and the metagame changes, and even with this past season of Overwatch Contenders, it was a lot of Sombra and Reaper—at least for what I’m looking for, I’m not looking for a Sombra or a Reaper player.
It’d be nice if it was a metagame where a lot of [compositions] and there was a lot of [composition] variety so you could see people flex on different heroes. That would pique my interest a little bit more after Overwatch League, everyone starts to go “Okay, what’s available on the market?” and with this Gauntlet timing, yes, a lot of players have already been signed or haven’t been announced, but there have been a decent number of players already signed, but this is a good chance for the remaining player to show what they have, like “Hey maybe you missed out.” Or “Maybe I did awful in trials, but I do well with team’s I’ve built chemistry with and this is how I can look given the time to build that chemistry.” There are some players who just don’t do well in trials.
I’d say that trials are not always the best indicator because performing in a [pick up game] environment, which is essentially what trials are most of the time, is not the same as “Hey we have set strategies, and we know what the other team is going to do.” then some people get put in a box, and some people feel frozen. You can see that sometimes in matches where you’re like “Why didn’t they switch?” It’s because when you’re in the game—and you’re losing—it takes a lot of being in the flow state to understand that if you were to have made that one switch you can change the dynamic of the whole game. Whereas a lot of players are focused on the gameplan, don’t deviate, and sometimes you end up slamming your head into the wall over and over again in a match.
Anyways, back to The Gauntlet, it’s a good opportunity for players to showcase to scouts and to Overwatch League teams that maybe they missed out or maybe you’ve not sure on a player and are comparing them, and maybe this gives the player that plays in The Gauntlet the edge. It’s super important. Anytime you get to merge multiple regions, and you get to see them play, for example, there are a bunch of Chinese teams that would be interesting to see compete against South Korean teams in a tournament setting, you don’t often get to see that. The Gauntlet is super important to see who the best is from each region and to merge regions together and showcase the best of the best.
Now, without naming any names, could you walk us through exactly how you are keeping an eye on The Gauntlet this year? From a General Manager’s perspective, do you and the Mayhem coaching staff have shortlists that you’re going to be scouting from or is this a looser, more “if you see someone, let’s see what we can work out” type of viewing experience?
Yeah, I always have a shortlist going into the offseason. I always have a pool of players I’m looking at, and I like to rank players going into the offseason. So I always have a talent board every offseason that I can reference so I don’t negotiate against myself and end up in a position where “Oh, I think this player would be tenth in the league”, and I end up throwing him a bag when there is someone that could be cheaper. Maybe there is someone at eleven, and you ask yourself if that one slot is worth that much more money? A talent board is a way to keep yourself grounded when you’re looking at talent and making sure [everyone is on the same page]. It’s a holistic ranking that involves everyone.
At The Gauntlet, there always is room for someone to come up [our] radar. Generally, I know most of the names going into The Gauntlet, but at the very least I know all the Korean players because we're an all-Korean team. If someone pops off, it’d be very evident like “Wow, maybe that guy should be on our radar?” There are always situations like that, but normally, I’d say like 90% of the time, there are not too many surprises. It’s just verifying that players are still good or this person underperformed and looks a little shaky, and we’re not certain on his talent level. That’s generally how I approach scouting—and that’s not just The Gauntlet—just going into any match. Say I’m looking at Element Mystic versus RunAway match and I noted that “Hey, I’m interested in this player and that player” or it’s “Hey, I think this player is really good, I think this player should have a dominating performance this match up. Does my hypothesis still hold true at the end of the match?” Just always checking and verifying my opinions on players.
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