When remembering legendary teams, or moments of greatness and perfection, it is not only the playmakers on the field, court, or keyboard that we think of. The names of coaches – strategists, motivators, leaders – are recognized as being just as, if not more, instrumental to achieving these feats. To further understand the role of coaching in Overwatch, we sat down with Joshua “Elbion” Tuffs, Jean-Louis “KnOxXx” Boyer – Coach and Head Coach of the British Hurricane, respectively – , and Chris “Dream” Myrick, Head Coach of the Montreal Rebellion.
Behind the Screens
KnOxXx has been a staple in the Overwatch community since the 2015 beta, but before the game launched, he played Team Fortress 2 for five years at the highest level, winning a world title at Insomnia 49 with Epsilon eSports, as well as eight career ETF2L Premiership Championships. Following his illustrious TF2 career, KnOxXx played both support and main tank roles in a variety of European Overwatch teams. These included G2 Esports, Rogue, and notably Eagle Gaming where he won the 2018 Season 2 EU Contenders title.
Although KnOxXx acheived great success as a player, there were key factors spurring his transition into the coaching role. “First, I’m not young anymore and my future to join the Overwatch League is very small.
Because I have always been a leader or captain of my former teams, I have always been confident in my ability to guide a team. Also, I already had skills thanks to my professional experience in IT, management, and organization.” KnOxXx is able to apply his natural leadership abilities and advanced game knowledge as Head Coach of the British Hurricane, the academy team for the London Spitfire. He will be working to lead his team to a championship of their own, but a place in the Atlantic Showdown LAN later this year.
Like his Head Coach KnOxXx, Elbion began his journey to coaching through other titles, specifically being introduced to esports through watching the League of Legends Season 3 World Championships. He quickly began to prove his analytical skill in the esport for Team 8 in the NA LCS. “I literally just tracked upcoming enemy pick/bans and level one strategies, and presented them to the coaches once a week. From there, I worked with the Chiefs’ ESC in the OPL as a coach, winning a season with them.”
This dedication to his craft and passion for working in esports has led the Hurricane coach in many directions. “I’ve done pretty much whatever I could to find a job in the scene. Worked as an analyst, a coach, a content creator, and even tried being on broadcast with Broadcast.GG this past season – to varying degrees of success, mind you. But I’ve just taken every shot I was given in the pursuit of being here, employed in esports.” Elbion’s well-rounded set of skills and drive were rewarded when his written features were recognized by EnVision eSports, where he spent a season as an analyst. Soon after, Elbion accepted a coaching position with British Hurricane, where he has worked for the past seven months.
Dream also had a strong interest in the analysis, being a fan of a variety of titles including Halo 2, Shadowrun, and Super Smash Bros. Melee since 2005. It wasn’t until Overwatch that Dream decided to jump into content creation, inspired by his visit to the Blizzard Arena. “When I attended matches in the OWL arena last April, I decided I wanted to make esports more than a hobby… I made some videos and casted a few events but the interest in in-depth analysis really wasn’t there, so I decided coaching would be a better fit for me.” Coaching has certainly been proved to be Dream’s strong suit, spending the last season of EU Contenders as an Analyst for the British Hurricane and quickly being picked up to be Head Coach of the Montreal Rebellion – the academy team of the Toronto Defiant in Overwatch Contenders.
It Takes a Village
Dream describes his role as Head Coach to be predominantly macro-oriented: “I am responsible for dictating our team structure, environment and attitude. Making sure we have clear team and player goals that everyone understands as well as a plan on how to progress towards those goals on a daily basis. Strategically I decide our overall philosophy as to what compositions we favor, what style of play we employ, and how our comms structure will work.” KnOxXx shares many of these tasks on British Hurricane, including planning structure for heightened productivity, integrating VOD and strategy review, and creating overall strategy. “There are different [types] of coaches, some are more in the analysis, others on the mind and even the morale. The coach will therefore have a direct impact on the team’s performance because he is the guarantor of the group’s cohesion and strategy.” While these many requirements may seem intimidating, all coaches have a supporting team they are able to rely upon to perfect every detail before game day.
Elbion’s day to day routine supports KnOxXx’s overall structure by discussing areas of improvement with the Head Coach and team analyst, then implementing his knowledge and studies into a variety of practice routines. “I watch scrims […and] provide feedback to players and generally try to help guide the direction of the team’s practice regimen. Tracking scrim results, collecting data, and generally watching other regions and OWL to see what’s working for other teams is a large part of it as well.” Dream also credits his players, Assistant Coach ByZenith, and Manager Blizzard with contributing to all elements of strategy. “There is a lot to balance, but we have a particularly well equipped staff so the thing that is the most crucial for me to do is hammer down our milestones and plans for progression and make sure every scrim, every VOD review, and every one-on-one is done in service of meeting our goals.”
The impact of coaches is a variable often hard to measure but is paramount to success, especially in a multiplayer game as layered as Overwatch. Dream expands, stating that “Coaches are insanely important in Overwatch compared to other esports. The nature of the game is very complex and very teamwork reliant, so staff can impact the team much more than usual. Creating a cohesive unit out of the players and giving them an identity and goals centered around that is essential when the game is this developed.” What are these goals? Elbion defines them clearly: “In the end, the goal is supposed to be the same, and that’s results. Wins on the scoreboard. The coach, however they do so, is supposed to lead the team to victory.”
The Future of Coaching
While coaches’ goal of victory will remain the priority as Overwatch continues to evolve, the roles and responsibilities of these leaders may change with time. KnOxXx believes that coaches and analysts will become more specialized over time, with his ideal organization for an Overwatch League level team: Manager, Head Coach, Coach Assistant, analysts for the Tank, Support, and DPS positions, and a Mental Coach. Elbion notes that mental health has already been prioritized in British Hurricane, revealing that “Cloud9 had a sports psychologist who helped our players with mental health concerns and breathing exercises to calm players’ nerves. Because healthier, happier players are players who perform at their best.”
Player mentality and well-being has continued to be a major topic when discussing the Overwatch League, with the 0-40 Shanghai Dragons’ intense practice schedule being widely criticized last season. Dream anticipates coaching structures emphasizing mental well-being in the future, also enhancing overall performance. “I think as time goes on, we will focus more and more on player mentality and team environment as the ways to create long term success, and the emphasis on strategic analysis will decrease. These long league formats can put very large amounts of stress on teams over time and keeping the players in a good mental state will prevail over small strategic advantages.”
Dream, Elbion, and KnOxXx all agree that successful coaches often share qualities that allow them to lead their teams to victory. Elbion notes that adaptability is one of a coaches’ greatest assets. “In esports, there is no set or agreed upon way to approach meta changes, disciplining players, building team structures, and a dozen other things. Each team does it differently, and even within those teams, they change constantly. So perhaps the most important quality is the ability to adapt to different needs.” Dream also references this adaptability, especially when tailoring methodology and coaching interactions with each player, when saying that coaches “won’t survive without being able to communicate with people who think about the game in very different ways.”
KnOxXx summarizes his coaching philosophy as such: “Being a coach is above all knowing his players to know how to transmit the best to them according to their aptitudes. It’s not just about showing them their mistakes, but it’s about finding the best way to fix them or avoid them. A coach must also know how to communicate to ensure a bond of trust and a real cohesion of the team.”
Knowledge, adaptability, patience, trust. The prerequisite list is long, the hours even more so. But as these three coaches have shown in their experiences and hope to continue in 2019 Season 1 of Contenders, their efforts will positively impact not only the team record, but more importantly, the players they inspire for the rest of their careers.