Noukky Explains Why Money Might Not Equal Wins, London's Success, And More
The 2022 London Spitfire have been flying circles around its competition and are in the midst of a renaissance, large in part thanks to General Manager Ysabel "Noukky" Müller. While 2021 saw a disappointing finish for the mostly homegrown Spitfire, 2022 has been a resounding success ending the Summer Showdown in a strong position to make a direct playoff berth, something the franchise has not accomplished since winning the inaugural Overwatch League title. Noukky spoke to GGRecon about her philosophy about entering a game they were not comfortable with, why soft skills might be more valuable than you think, and more!
Author's Note: This interview was conducted prior to the start of the Countdown Cup.
I wanted to get a better look at what your philosophy was when building the 2022 London Spitfire. Was there anything you valued that you felt other teams didn't? Was there any attributes outside of the game, outside of mechanics that you and your team valued highly?
"I don't want to speak on us valuing something over other teams because I don't know what other teams are valuing for in their trial process, but I can tell you what we were looking at. So one of the big aspects, for me personally, was that we were doing roster building for a game we didn't know. So what are the variables that a player has outside of just their in-game skill in Overwatch."
"Yes, the in-game skill was really important but what was also [equally] as important was that we found players with good adaptability, ones that were good with feedback, ones that weren't too push or too egotistical, ones who are open to different strategies and trying out different things."
"Because, from the start, when we got into Overwatch 2, we knew that we had to learn this together and no one is above anyone and with pure skill you're not getting anywhere."
"One of the big aspects throughout the trial process was that we would give the players feedback and see how they adapt to it. We went full on 'team synergy' and 'who do we think would fit well into a new game' and 'who would do well without getting frustrated. The character of the players was a big plus."
"Originally we wanted to have a fix between veteran players and rookies. If you've read the article that Overwatch League put out [recently] [Christopher "ChrisTFer" Graham] echoes that you want to have one or two rookie players on your squad for a new team build because they keep the other motivated."
"Rookies are usually super hungry for the game, so it's a good team atmosphere boost if you have someone like that in there and then to have the veterans in there, which for us was like [Gael "Poko" Gouzerch]. [He was] a really really big and important pickup in the end because it helps to ground the rookies and helps them navigate the league."
You mention Poko there and as someone, we haven't seen a massive amount of on stage, is he active in the locker room as an arm of the coaching staff? Does his veteran presence help outside of the game as well and do you think we will see him as we progress through the Countdown Cup?
"It all depends on the metagame, right? We purposefully picked up a main tank and an off-tank player just because we didn't know how Overwatch 2 would shape up. Currently, it looks like main tank heroes are still favoured but D.Va hasn't seen much play, Roadhog hasn't seen much play, and Zarya hasn't seen too much play after of the first stage and that's what Poko tends to specialize in the most and [Hadi "Hadi" Bleinagel] is the lead on the main tanks."
"That's why Poko hasn't been seen much, just because of the meta."
"We believe in him as a player. We didn't just pick him up for the team mentality aspect."
"Poko has been a big help. He always shows up on match day. He's always so supportive of his teammates and I want to describe it like he's their big brother because so many of those European guys have never lived in North America. These could be their first time travelling or their first time playing professionally people like [Jamie "Backbone" O'Neill] and [Oliver "Admiral" Vahar] and [Poko] is the person who brings them out of their shell with his natural goofiness and makes the experience more palatable."
In that way, it speaks to more the "soft skills", these interpersonal skills, these leadership skills, all of these seem quite apparent within the Spitfire this season. And we've also heard ChrisTFer talk about the differences in budgets this season. Do you think these two things are correlated? Are you guys pointing towards more of these soft skills as one big reason as to why you're doing as well as you are?
"Yeah, I think that's one of the things. We basically us on the coaching staff setting the right expectations because if you start too high, and I talked about this last year if you start high and underperform it is way worse than if you set reasonable expectations and you overperform—like we're doing right now."
"We knew we were a team that had a very, very low budget. We knew we had to opt for rookies because some of the options we wanted to have got bought out by teams that spend way more money and are now performing worse than us."
"So we took a leap focusing on more of those soft skills, setting expectations, having a good team mentality, and building that synergy within the team. That's not us putting those above anything else, we want to have good players with good individual skill and stuff, but what we excel in is the team synergy part."
"It's not to say we never have issues, of course, people get frustrated and stuff but [ChrisTFer] does a really good job at smoothing that out."
Obviously, you and the London Spitfire have made a mockery of the preseason power rankings and are doing incredibly well. From British Hurricane to gunning for a 2022 playoff seed, how has this journey been for you both as a person but also from an organisational perspective?
"I'm really proud of the players and how they've shaped up over the year, to be honest."
"After last year and the first year of the project not really flourishing, the effort that we put into relocating the guys and having good staff, it paid out so incredibly well."
"I mean, I wasn't prepared to travel as much as I am now."
"And it's also become a learning experience for me as a General Manager. Last year I wouldn't and didn't have to deal with some of these things, so it really is a growing experience for everyone on the team and that makes me proud of everyone growing into their role."
"This is ChrisTFer's first year as a head coach. He's managing his own staff with [Xavier "CommanderX" Hardy] and [Jacob "Spilo" Clifton] before we had to let him go."
"As I said, from stage one, where we were all scrambled together—to now? Everyone has grown as a person not just within their role but as a person."
"That's the ultimate goal for me."
Would you agree that we're seeing the death of this idea, that money spent equals wins gained? It feels like the 2022 London Spitfire are the poster child of this shift.
"Yeah, I feel like Los Angeles Valiant in season two and us in season five are good examples of that."
"What [Mike "Packing10" Szklanny] did and what we're doing now basically."
I feel like this maybe goes outside of Overwatch as well. When you look at some of the League of Legends stuff that has happened in North America where certain teams don't make Worlds when they've spent so much money? Are we seeing a big shift from chasing stars and big names to fostering and investing more into scouting than ever before?
"I really hope that we do, just generally. When I entered esports that was one of my big goals; to be a person that fosters talent. I'm all about player development and seeing the kids grow into reasonable adults and professional players, you know?"
"So I hope more teams adapt to this but I also do understand the principle behind spending money equalling wins, because it's not just organisations wanting to spend money it's also good players deserving money for how they're playing, their brand, etc."
"So it's a really fine line for the organisation because you don't want to create an industry where we go back to exploiting young talent."
With London's current projections, it seems like you all are in a good position to secure a direct playoffs seed, so I've got to ask; does the Noukky of today …
"I know what you're going to ask and the answer is no."
"I wouldn't have predicted this, at all."
Okay, if you had to go back and you know what you know now, what would you have predicted? How much of a surprise is it to see the Spitfire perform so well?
"My expectations for last year was that we wanted to be in the middle of the pack—and it didn't happen."
"So this year, my expectation was again 'yeah, it would be nice to be middle of the pack'."
"Something like 8th-10th would be cool!"
"So being a contender for 6th? It's just incredible."
"As I said, I didn't plan on doing all the things we're doing right now."
"In my head, at the start of the season I was like 'Yeah, it would be cool to go to a tournament or two!'"
"And now we've travelled to Hawai'i for a week and we've been to Toronto and now we're pretty well placed to go to three out of the four tournaments—and we only barely missed the Kickoff Clash."
"If you would have told me that was going to happen, I wouldn't have believed you probably."