“This is the struggle every leader faces: how to get members of the team who are driven by the quest for individual glory to give themselves over wholeheartedly to the group effort.” – Phil Jackson
Before Overwatch League started, Dallas Fuel was heralded to be the best Western team going into the league. They had the pedigree, the experience, and the results. They were the first champions of Apex Season 1 in 2016 and have consistently made playoffs in Apex, with their last season being in Season 3 of 2017 where they got top 4. They then went on to win the Contenders NA for Season 1 for 2017. Now 2 stages into OWL, those hopes have been dashed. All we have left now is a broken kingdom and a team tearing itself apart.
The problems with the Dallas Fuel are multifaceted and complex. They are both strategic and individual. The meta wasn’t great for them either stage. The tank line wasn’t up to snuff with the rest of the League and if you have no tank line, there is no consistency of play. You need only look to L.A. Gladiators run in Stage 2 with Chan-hyung “Fissure” Baek to understand the importance of a main tank. On top of that, the synergy was never built between the tanks and the support line, and the support players weren’t performing as well relative to the majority of the rest of the League. On top of that, the only reliable DPS player the team had through the majority of their run was Hyeon “EFFECT” Hwang. This meant they were already down strategic options that all other teams could use (like dive). The team ended the first stage 3-7, third worst in the league.
That however is only the context to understanding what broke this team. Reinforce makes a good argument that the entire team has lost confidence, but I think it’s more than that, I think the entire team is no longer a team, it’s a group of individuals from all the way from the management and down to the individual players. This is speculation on my part as while there is some transparency into the Dallas Fuel situation, there isn’t not enough to draw any firm conclusions. But what we can see is that we have individuals fighting for their own interests and sacrificing the team in the process.
The first and biggest instance of this was with Felix “xQc” Lengyel. He was suspended for what he something he said on stream and the Fuel extended the suspension to have him reflect on his actions and come back a better player. Mike “hastr0” Rufail wrote about it his decision on twitter, “I refuse to give up on a player before putting in a big effort to help them achieve their dreams and goals as a professional.”
It is a noble sentiment, a good sentiment. Something I can understand. But the decision hampered his team and they couldn’t build around xQc for the future as he then got suspended again for using an emote. By that time, people had tried to mentor xQc, to get him to mend his ways and fit into the League with no avail and he had to be cut. The coach, Kyle “KyKy” Souder recalls what it was like working with xQc in an interview with Harry Baker:
“Everyone was trying to work on him. I know me, Tazmo, Hastro, we all put in a lot of time into helping him…It got to a point where Blizzard was putting a lot of weight on all the stuff that was happening. I was involved in the decision to release him, but for me it seemed like he was more focused on his stream and I knew that the players weren’t happy about that. . .Everyone who was part of the organisation was trying to help him. It just got to the point where as we were closing in on the second suspension, we were like, ‘Ok Felix, just lay low. Nothing, nothing at all.’ But he just couldn’t help himself. He knows that he should have stopped but he just couldn’t. He is who he is.”
By the time he was cut however, the Fuel were already three weeks into Stage 2 and doing even worse than before. In essence, what happened here was the team was sacrificed to help xQc and it was a wasted effort. They had nearly reached the end of the first half of OWL and had one of the worst records in the League. By the end of Stage 2, they had the second worst record just above Shanghai Dragons.
xQc is a competitive player, I don’t doubt that for a moment. But he was unwilling to sacrifice his individualism and that was what cost him his spot in OWL. While none of the actions of others were as dramatic, they all fall under a similar category. The individual over the group, the me over the we. The management itself had similar problems. We don’t know what decisions they made or what they did, but we do know that at some point they were making decisions and didn’t give full control to the coaching and management staff. We know this because hastr0 put out a tweet saying,
“It’s been tough for us and the Fuel. Lots to work through still. No one is more passionate and affected than I am by these losses. I’ve put full control into the hands of our coaching and management staff. We’re giving them the opportunity to turn it around. Still burning blue.”
The tweet was made on March 14th, just when OWL was going into the 4th week of the 2nd stage of OWL. By then it was too late as a majority of western teams need to take about two months before they become good. For the entirety of the season, KyKy was playing around with a hand missing cards, with management interference, and the Blizzard/xQc situation. As a coach he is still well respected as he has a proven track record so we know he knows his stuff. One could hardly blame him as the situation he was put in was hard.
Still KyKy himself wasn’t above it all. He did do an interview and interviews can be used as weapons. For instance, they can change public perception about how a player or coach is viewed in the wider community. Or in the case of a coach, they can use it to admonish or put public pressure on players. The most famous person to do this in the Korean scene is Yeonsung “iloveoov” Choi. He used interviews as a weapon to intimidate his opponents when he was a Brood War Champion and now as a League of Legends coach he uses the interviews to incite his own players into becoming better than they are.
I can’t read what KyKy’s intentions were with his interview and what he wanted his players to know, but it certainly incited them. In the interview with Harry Baker Pt. 1, he says,
“Effect was always the Korean that wanted to beat the Koreans, so integrating Effect was much easier than integrating a Korean who wants to impose Korean culture onto everyone else. It’s hard for people to see from the outside, but it’s actually been a real struggle…aKm playing Genji was more so because he was forced into it because Rascal decided that that week was not a good week for him to play.”
Later on he talks about the difficulty of managing players, “As soon as you hit seven players, the egos come in. It’s like, ‘Oh why am I not playing, I want more playtime.’ It’s one thing if you have six main players that are big names that have been playing for a while and then six players that are rookies, up and coming players. They’ll be happy to play with the big names and learn from them. They just get to be a part of the team and then get better. But for our team, it’s much harder. The ego clashes were insane.
His interview certainly incited the players, just in the worst way possible. Dylan “aKm” Bignet complained about the hate he got on his public discord saying, “Idk why are people hating on me that much….just because I had to fill in a role that I wasn’t comfortable on to help the team because the guy supposed to play decided to be unprofessional and not play last minute. He wasn’t a good teammate.”
He continues to complain about Dong-jun “Rascal” Kim, “It was a nice way of saying it, because he fucked me…Its just that it makes me look so bad as a player. And I lose all my value that I had….no matter what I do, I’ll get hated because everyone love rascal so much. Even if I hard carry and play extremely well, I’ll be told to stay on the bench.”
Rascal then responded with his own stream to both Kyky and aKm clarifying what had happened from his perspective, “AKM played Genji in scrims, because I was ‘told’ by KyKy that I clouded the team atmosphere during past games, and showed a less mature form because I got mad…What I’m ‘really’ mad and frustrated about is this: KyKy saying that I just “suddenly decided not to play”? This is completely wrong.”
Rascal goes on to give a timeline of when everything happened, how he didn’t play in scrims, wasn’t invited to spectate in scrims and wasn’t informed on any of it. He then responds to KyKy’s assertions about his imposing Korean values on the team,
“I asked KyKy exactly what was the cultural difference that I tried to force on the other players. He told me that in Western teams they have more leisure, and rest more, and do games when they need to play. And he told me not to force the Korean hard work ethic onto the other players. The thing is, I didn’t tell the other players not to rest and keep playing games. What I said was: yes, there might be a difference between our culture regarding tryharding, but waiting for the problems to fix themselves, and trying our best to actively solve the problems is not a cultural difference issue, but just a matter of professionalism. I thought that looking at our results recently, regardless of our tryharding, if needed, we had to practice harder. Because imo we had no time for leisure (looking at our performance)…………”
Rascal then finishes the stream by saying he personally apologized to aKm and cleared up the misunderstanding with him. From this mini-episode alone, we can see that everyone has their own agenda. KyKy did an interview for whatever reason and publicly shamed Rascal. aKm did the same thing and Rascal responded. From the outside, each person in this chain of events is trying to protect their own ego. They are putting the I in front of the team and instead of hashing things out directly, they need to use the public as a medium.
In the midst of all of these private disputes, players are being left behind. Players like Timo “Taimou” Kettunen, Brandon “Seagull” Larned, and Christian “cocco” Jonsson are being lost in the mix. Taimou is trying to do what he can to help and so he tried to become a tank. Seagull ended up playing scrims as Taimou was in the bathroom for a long time and they needed someone to fill. It went well so they stuck with him. As for cocco, KyKy admits that, “Cocco has kind of lost his way, I would say, at this point. We don’t really know how to use Cocco anymore.”
Now stand back for a moment and take all of this in perspective. The management had been making some kind of decisions that clashed with the coach and management since the beginning and didn’t give full control over until it was too late. The team sacrificed the first stage trying to reform xQc and he wouldn’t do it. KyKy openly criticized Rascal as a bad teammate, aKm did the same, and Rascal came out to defend himself.
This isn’t a team. This is a group of individuals purporting to be a team. To put in some context, similar problems have plagued NA Counter-Strike for a majority of its history. Epitacio “TACO” de Melo, a support player for one of the all-time greatest cores to play CS:GO explained the essential problem from his AMA, “Great organizations. The best ones. Really supportive fans and now really good players. But IMO the biggest problem is that every player wants to be the star, the best NA player or w/e, and it does not work like this, at least in my mind. First should be the team, then you. But you have to REALLY believe in it. Some just pretend to believe.”
I don’t doubt for a single minute that every person in the entire chain from the management to the coach to the players wants to win. I don’t doubt that they have the players to do it. The roster on paper is still a great roster that should be capable of making a Stage playoffs. But none of that matters because this isn’t a team that is sacrificing their individual goals to become something greater. This is a group of individuals sacrificing the team for their own self-interest.
Before they can solve their strategic problems, their individual problems, or their confidence problems, the Fuel needs to first fix their mentality as a team. On some level, they all understand that. The process however is arduous as they are all talented in what they do. They all have different visions and are all too stubborn to back down because they believe that their own strengths which got them there are the right answers as to how to push forward. So what then can be done?
The first step is to shut down the social media, the streams, the interviews. At this point, they are exacerbating problems, not helping them. I like transparency and I don’t believe conflict between can stop teams from being great. Hell, Newbee got into fist fights before winning The International, the biggest prize pool tournament in esports. But even Newbee tried to not do it in the public eye because they understood that it would only get worse if they put it out there.
Then after that the team must find what it means to be a team. Who is going to be their set core, who is willing to sacrifice their playtime to be a role player or team player. Who is unwilling to do this and thus must be cut? Can KyKy finally unite the team and get them onto the same page? These are the hard questions that have to be answered and if they don’t, then the broken kingdom of Fuel must be blown up as there is nothing left to salvage. But if they do find those answers, if they do find a way to become a team once again, then we could see the resurrection of the Dallas Fuel to their former glory.