It’s the end of the Houston Outlaws’ first week of Stage 4. Flex tank player Matthew “Coolmatt” Iorio is in the middle of addressing a media narrative about his team, when his voice slowly trails off and he looks at the door. There’s a conversation happening in the hallway that’s just too loud for him to speak clearly over; his point will have to wait.
After a few moments, his teammate Jacob “Jake” Lyon continues down the hall, and Coolmatt can finish his thought. “He’s so loud,” he sighs, sounding resigned, but unmistakably fond.
That theme of loyalty to and investment in his team carried through the entire conversation. After laughing at Jake’s interruption, he later tells the story of first getting to know his teammate in 2017 on Team USA. Yeah, he was loud, Coolmatt recalled, but he was also skilled, and smart, and still early in his career. “So I figured I’d try to stick around him, because he was definitely going places.”
The Company You Keep
Those places would eventually include the Overwatch League. The core of the Houston Outlaws was a fusion of that Team USA and NA Contenders’ FNRGFE — he was the only player who was on both rosters. He’s been a mainstay of this group of players for years, which made his absence for much of the 2019 season jarring.
But Coolmatt’s been in the game long enough that a few months on the bench don’t phase him. “It kind of stings, but if it’s for the best, then that’s really all that matters at the end of the day. It’s a team effort. Your personal satisfaction or glory, that comes second, always. It has to. Maybe if I was a little bit younger, it would have struck more of a nerve, but it just comes with the territory. I just want the team to succeed.”
While fans may have felt his absence on the stage, he made sure his team didn’t feel it behind the scenes. “I was always there for emotional support, of course — I think everyone has that responsibility, too, so that was my role. Not complain, try to keep spirits up, stuff like that. Always be there to watch scrims — if I could offer input, then I would.”
Ups and Downs
The new role lock system is in place now, and that’s brought Coolmatt back into the lineup. Like most pro players who’ve commented on it, he’s in favor of the change. “I think players, both professionals and the average player, like to identify with their character and their role. A player wants to be like, I’m a tank player … Someone else is like, I identify as a support player. This gives validation to that. You’re a high rated tank player, high rated support player, and that’s what you want to be.” While some critics of the change have worried that the change will stifle creativity in compositions, he isn’t convinced. “[Y]ou’ve seen already, within the first week of matches, that there’s a wide variety of heroes being played. As many heroes being played as there ever have been before. So the creativity is still there.”
Of course, he acknowledges that the change will be beneficial for the Outlaws, who struggled in the 3-3 meta that dominated the first half of the 2019 season. But after they recovered in Stage 3, it’s not as straightforward an advantage as it might have been.
“[I]f we’d seen role lock for stage 3, we’d have been so happy, right? They were actually teasing role lock for stage 3 for a little bit, so during stage 2, we’re 0-7, we’re like, oh shit, role lock’s coming! Stage 3’s gonna be really good for us! Then they’re like… alright, no role lock-in stage 3. And we’re like, Shit. What are we gonna do now?”
Luckily, Stage 3 was where things came together for the Outlaws, with Dante “Danteh” Cruz’s Sombra as the centerpiece of the lineup. “We did all these really great Sombra EMP-Rein Earthshatter combos, stuff like that, that are really fun to watch. We found success with that, and then they’re like… role lock next stage! Shit. Again! The timing there was not fortunate for us. Three stages in we finally find our footing … and, oh! Let’s change it again.”
The Peanut Gallery
Coolmatt acknowledges that Houston’s adaptation over the course of the season was much slower than that of other teams. But, he adds, it’s not as simple as the Outlaws simply refusing to do what needed to be done. “When we start playing again after a stage break, you’re kind of relearning the game a little bit, there’s usually a patch, so there’s a new meta. And during that time, we’re gonna experiment with different rosters, people in different positions. It might seem weird sometimes, I know we get a lot of criticism for who we play. People need to understand that we’re playing a roster based off of our performance in scrims. It’s not something willy-nilly, or for fun, or for any other reason besides ‘we’ve had success with this more than we’ve had with that.’”
While the bankruptcy and sale of the team’s backing organization, Infinite Esports and Entertainment, didn’t directly affect the players, Coolmatt says the lack of resources compared to other teams made that trial-and-error process more difficult. “It’s just the process of scrimming and digesting the results and creating new strategies. So who does that primarily? It’s coaches, coaches and players in collaboration. But the more coaches you have, the faster that process goes. Other teams will have coaches for individual roles and stuff … you don’t want to be like, oh, we’re losing because of this, but there’s a factor there. Otherwise, why even have coaches?”
When it comes to the team’s trouble with the 3-3 ‘GOATS’ composition, and some fans’ criticism of it, he’s even more pointed. “We did try [other strats], before Reddit told us to. We tried it long before that. People need to have a little more trust in the teams to try these things behind the scenes, and not be so quick to jump down our throats … Because at the end of the day, this is our lives and our jobs. It’s a little bit silly to think that we’re not gonna try all these combinations and use the tools that are at our disposal.”
Back in the Saddle
If there’s anyone who knows how to do this job, after all, it’s him. Coolmatt is one of the longest-time professional players in the Overwatch scene. He was briefly part of Team EnVyUs’ very first Overwatch roster in 2016, before joining Fnatic with several other teammates later that year. And he’s the oldest active player in the League — this interview happened only a few days shy of his 30th birthday. So what kind of advice does such a veteran have for the young players considering esports as a career?
“Stay in school, that’s the classic, right? Don’t do drugs?” He laughs. “The landscape is going to be different in coming years, since a lot of these games have leagues that support their tier 2 scene. The tier 2 scene is really necessary for new players to be able to survive. … I would say to make sure you’re careful of going all-in on it. Stay in school, try to have a backup plan, because most people that try to make it don’t make it. Not to say that you shouldn’t try, but I wouldn’t go 100% in. I went 100% in, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody else! Because if you don’t get that contract, then you’re kinda f—ed.”
Even for those who do reach the highest levels, he warns that some preparation for the rest of your life is still important. “It’s not a permanent career. It’s like being an athlete in any other sport. Esports is new enough that the upper end of it is unknown. There’s examples of people in their mid-30s in CS and stuff like that, that have been around for a while, but those are pioneers. It’s still a question mark, what the upper limit is.”
But upper limits aren’t something overly concerning Coolmatt or the Outlaws right now. It’s been a rough season, but the playoffs are still within reach if they play their cards right. And even if that goal eludes them, a team whose veteran players are this committed to its success can only get better with age.