OWL-winning Coach of the Year retires due to 'lack of financial incentives'

OWL-winning Coach of the Year retires due to 'lack of financial incentives'
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Written by 

Sascha Heinisch


25th Apr 2024 14:15

Overwatch League-winning head coach Jordan "Gunba" Graham has announced his retirement from professional Overwatch, citing a lack of financial incentives on top of a gruelling workload as reasons to leave his current position as head coach of ENCE Overwatch.

Gunba will assist his team in trying to qualify for Dreamhack Dallas before taking his leave.

A seasoned and successful career

Image via Blizzard Entertainment
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Starting his career as a Support player in the Australian scene, Gunba had his breakout as an assistant coach on the Los Angeles Valiant, during which he was part of the first-ever regular season Overwatch League.

Here, his team beat the San Francisco Shock with a clean 4-0. They would finish second in the overall rankings and first in the Pacific Division, also winning the stage 4 title match against the New York Excelsior.

Experiencing the lows of the Boston Uprising as a franchise in season 2, during which the team finished second to last in the overall season rankings, Gunba once again became part of the LA Valiant for season 3. 

Gunba took on double duties in both the organisation's Overwatch League franchise, as well as their VALORANT team Immortals. Despite both rosters operating on a budget, both teams punched above their weight.

After a year-long pause in season 4, Florida Mayhem reached out to Gunba to assume the head coach position. Once again in a budget team situation, Gunba helped turn the Mayhem’s franchise trajectory around as the team participated in all four stage playoffs tournaments.

In the final season of the Overwatch League, and with an average budget, the Florida Mayhem finished second in the overall rankings and peaked during the season playoffs, lifting the last-ever Overwatch League Grand Finals trophy.

For his ability to consistently innovate the meta and outperform his resources, Gunba received the Coach of the Year award, also helping his tank player Ham "SOMEONE" Jeong-wan become the only season MVP award winner from the tank role.

After the Overwatch League's closure, Gunba joined ENCE and assembled a star-studded roster of some of Europe's best Overwatch League players, also increasingly incorporating rookie talent as the roster progressed.

The team finished in second place in OWCS EMEA Stage 1, only falling short of Twisted Minds in the final. Currently, ENCE is still in the running for Stage 2 and is seen as one of the favourites for the event.

Throughout his career, he remained a controversial figure for his direct communication and aggressive roster-building strategy especially in Florida Mayhem's head coach position, moving quickly in the market when a beneficial opportunity presented itself and cutting players from his roster to free up resources.

A canary in the coal mine?

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In his retirement announcement, Gunba named several reasons for his departure from the scene, naming long work days and a troubled Overwatch esports ecosystem as reasons for his departure.

On a previous episode of the Overwatch esports podcast Uncoachable, Gunba shared that the formation of ENCE had required the resource pool to be allocated towards players to ensure the best talent could be secured, stating that he himself had cut back on his own salary and was currently receiving welfare.

During negotiations, he shared that he had prioritised a higher prize pool cut going to the team, of which he would receive a percentage. While the prize pools for major events in the Overwatch esports calendar have yet to be officially announced, the rumoured numbers of $1,000,000 for Overwatch at the Esports World Cup tempered expectations for a sustainable ecosystem.

OWCS & FACEIT League are the two other currently ongoing competitions in the EMEA and North American markets, with each offering a prize pool of $75,000. For OWCS's Major at Dreamhack Dallas, as well as for its season Grand Final at Dreamhack Stockholm, no definitive prize pool has been announced yet, though a crowd-funding model has been officially communicated by Blizzard Entertainment.

The only numbers the Overwatch esports community has to go on to estimate the potential prize pools are the earnings from last year's Overwatch World Cup, amounting to a total of $513,162

Despite the event only being five weeks out, Blizzard Entertainment has not communicated how the crowd-funding effort for Dreamhack Dallas will be structured or what kind of digital items will be up for sale, leaving competitors in the dark about their earning potential for the rest of the year.

Gunba evaluates the ecosystem to be in a "worse than expected" shape for 2024 after the transition from the Overwatch League to the open circuit system. In reply to his retirement announcement, the head coach of North American OWCS team M80, Blake "Gator" Scott, appeared to agree, stating he expects "many more to follow" Gunba's example.

Of the former Overwatch League franchise slot-owning organisations, only the Toronto Defiant has continued to field a roster in the title. While several parent companies have departed from esports at large, others like Boston Uprising's Oxygen or San Francisco Shocks' NRG have shown a willingness to still invest in esports entities but have so far avoided Overwatch esports.

Sascha Heinisch
About the author
Sascha Heinisch
Sascha "Yiska" Heinisch is a Senior Esports Journalist at GGRecon. He's been creating content in esports for over 10 years, starting with Warcraft 3.
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