On Friday afternoon, the Houston Outlaws announced the departure of head coach Tae-yeong “TaiRong” Kim and assistant coach Hyun-woo “HyunWoo” Kim.
TaiRong and HyunWoo have formed the core of the Outlaws’ coaching staff since the team’s formation. In fact, TaiRong had the second-longest head coach tenure in the League. The two had previously worked together leading Afreeca Freecs, who came in second to Team EnVyUs in APEX Season 1. After two years of disappointing results, however, many fans and analysts are unsurprised to see major front-office changes in Houston.
This announcement puts the Outlaws on the market for coaching talent well ahead of the off-season rush. While other coaches may come up LFT soon, there are only a handful of prominent names entertaining offers right now. But many of them could be worth Houston’s consideration.
OWL Head Coaches
David “dpei” Pei
After the Los Angeles Gladiators’ solid season, much of the community was surprised to see dpei seeking other OWL opportunities as of September 17th. But even before Houston announced TaiRong’s departure, many Outlaws fans were eyeing him as a possible addition.
Pei’s Gladiators haven’t been fantastic, but they’re consistently above average, appearing in three stage playoffs and both postseasons. Previous to his tenure with Los Angeles, Pei was the head coach of Kungarna, which also had solid results in Contenders in 2017. (Aside from performance, his experience with the likes of Lane “Surefour” Roberts and Chanhyung “Fissure” Baek could help him wrangle some of Houston’s more boisterous personalities.)
Beom-joon “Bishop” Lee
The only other OWL head coach currently looking for a team, Bishop had a moderately successful playing career with KongDoo Panthera before moving on to coach Cloud9, which then became the London Spitfire. He then left London in March of 2018, and in 2019 became head coach of the new Toronto Defiant.
Toronto’s performance was poor for most of 2019 — despite reaching the Stage 1 Playoffs, they ended the year in 17th place. And before even that dismal result was reached, Bishop was abruptly “relieved from duties” with no explanation. Neither he nor the Defiant gave an official reason, but the suddenness makes it seem unpleasant. Whatever those reasons were, they might be enough to give Houston pause before considering him for the position.
Other OWL Coaches
Seetoh “JohnGalt” Jian Qing
Dpei isn’t the only Gladiator who might hang up his shield. His assistant coach JohnGalt is also seeking opportunities, specifically in an OWL head coach position. While rumors abound about Houston’s possible financial future, nothing has yet been formally announced, and established OWL head coaches are likely to command high salaries. JohnGalt coached multiple Contenders teams before joining Los Angeles, and also has military leadership experience. His LFT post puts emphasis on empathy and inspiration, traits that could mesh well with Houston’s team culture.
Matthew “Optidox” Sims
Another former Defiant coach, Optidox left the team earlier this month and is open to OWL or Academy opportunities. His time with Toronto was short, but his results with Angry Titans and Montreal Rebellion were solid. However, he doesn’t have as long a history as some other possible choices. This might make him a long shot for the head coach position, but he could be a good fit for HyunWoo’s spot.
Rohit “CurryShot” Nathani
CurryShot is the first name on this list who isn’t publicly seeking opportunities. But he’s a longtime popular figure in the pro Overwatch community with a great track record. He was strategic coach for Mayhem Academy during their stellar Contenders run, then moved to head coach after the team was released and reformed as Revival. He left Revival for his current position with the Guangzhou Charge, who finished 2019 in a respectable 9th place. (Nearly as importantly, he’s a devoted dog dad, a common trait among Houston’s players and staff.)
Tier 2 Talent
Ridouan “ioStux” Bouzrou
While ioStux’s Contenders results with Uprising Academy were unremarkable, he did lead XL2 to their second-place finish against the unbreakable Fusion University in 2018. Since departing UA, he’s made a name for himself as a thoughtful and analytical commentator, as well as working with Jayne “Jayne” Harvard’s Elo Hell Esports. And earlier this year, he famously published a 70-page in-depth guide to the triple-triple GOATS meta.
It’s that kind of work that could make him a potent addition to the Outlaws. Houston has its share of analytically-minded players such as Jacob “JAKE” Lyon and Chris “Bani” Bennell. Watching ioStux’s YouTube videos makes it easy to imagine him hashing out strategy with them. The Outlaws’ bread and butter have always been team synergy and smart play rather than raw mechanical skill. That kind of laser-guided insight might be what it takes to make Houston stand out from the pack.
Thomas “maid” Mok
While still contracted to Gladiators Legion through the upcoming Contenders Gauntlet, maid is looking for future opportunities. He’s had strong results in the challenging Contenders NA East region, against the likes of ATL Academy, Mayhem Academy and Fusion University. He also put up good numbers with Second Wind and with pre-Contenders teams.
Matthew “Clockwork” Dias
It’s unlikely the Outlaws will hire a head coach without extensive experience, but that’s not the only opening. Clockwork is as veteran as esports players come. He’s played professionally since 2011, including two years on froyotech, one of the most successful Team Fortress 2 teams in history. He was widely considered one of the greatest Scout players in the world before moving to Overwatch in 2016.
He’s also been an integral part of the Outlaws as a player and coach, cited by the players as a stabilizing force behind the scenes. And he’s become more of a public face of the team this season, speaking out when the team was criticized or performed poorly. While his title is already assistant coach, that role hasn’t been very clearly defined (at least in public). He’d be well-suited to a more prominent leadership role.
Jacob “JAKE” Lyon
Jake is probably the most unlikely name on this list. He’s shown no indication that he plans to retire from play; if he did, it seems likely he’d pursue an on-camera role. But nearly everyone who’s coached or played with him has lauded his analytical skills and game sense. If he hangs up his tactical visor for good, it could be worth Houston’s time to court him for a staff position. That’s an awfully big brain to have in neutral territory when you could harness it for your own team’s benefit.
Choosing a Path Forward
The head coach is an integral part of a team in more ways than one. Outside of the actual work of coaching, their attitude can set the tone of a team’s entire personality. The Outlaws have been both lauded and criticized for their close-knit character and emphasis on team synergy. A new head coach could either capitalize on those qualities, or guide the team in a different direction. Either way, it’s clear that the 2020 Houston Outlaws will be a very different team.