The recent departure of Beom-joon “Bishop” Lee from the Toronto Defiant has underscored how quickly coaching staff can change in the Overwatch League. When a team is performing poorly, a common solution is to switch out the coaching staff to see if the players perform better under a new system. This has seen some Overwatch teams go through many head coaches; the Shanghai Dragons are on their fourth head coach, and the Los Angeles Valiant are on their third. However, some teams have stuck with their head coaches for much longer. Who are the longest-serving OWL head coaches, and how have they kept their positions when so many haven’t?
#5: Aaron “Aero” Atkins (459 days)
Team: Dallas Fuel
Head Coach Since: 05/15/2018
Previous Team: Fusion University
At the tail end of the Overwatch League’s inaugural season, the Dallas Fuel were in dire straits. After coming into the league with a mass of hype behind them and a huge number of fans, the first three stages had been crushing disappointments. In order to get a fresh start, Aero was brought in to replace Kyle “KyKy” Souder. Aero’s resume was long and impressive: he’d coached for some of the best western teams, including Immortals and FNRGFE. More recently, he’d just led Fusion University to an undefeated season in Contenders North America Season 1. He seemed like the perfect choice to turn around a struggling Fuel team and make the most of their last stage.
The Fuel’s Stage 4, overseen by Aero, was a massive success. The team not only went 6-4, their first positive record of any stage so far, but made stage playoffs for the first time. In only a few weeks, Aero had turned a struggling roster into a solid team with consistent performances. With this level of success, it was little surprise that Dallas decided to keep Aero in his position going into the 2019 season.
Despite a strong start, and an appearance in Stage 2’s playoffs, a punishing strength of schedule and gaps in their DPS line have thrown the Fuel off during this season’s last two stages. Whether the Fuel decide to keep Aero on for next season depends on if they believe he can pull the same trick twice and turn a struggling team around again.
#4: Da-hee “Crusty” Park (467 days)
Team: San Francisco Shock
Head Coach Since: 05/07/2018
Previous Team: Boston Uprising
Similar to the Dallas Fuel, the San Francisco Shock’s first few stages of the Overwatch League had been thoroughly underwhelming. However, the team’s philosophy had always been to plan for the future. With star pickups like Minho “Architect” Park and young players like Jay “sinatraa” Won coming off the bench, the Shock were already putting pieces together for the stellar 2019 season they’re currently having. One of the final parts of the puzzle would be a new coach. Crusty had past successes, coaching the dominant wNv.KR in China. But it was likely the 10-0 perfect stage the Boston Uprising achieved under his leadership that cemented his image as a top-tier coach. The Shock wanted a strong leadership figure, and Crusty wanted a team where he could implement his coaching style. It was a perfect match.
There were some teething issues in the latter stages of the 2018 season; however, by the time 2019 rolled around Crusty had helped transform the San Francisco Shock into one of the league’s top teams.
The Shock seem unfazed by recent meta shifts, and are on track to be one of the league’s most formidable teams going into playoffs. With Crusty having recently been chosen to coach South Korea’s 2019 Overwatch World Cup team, his resumé is only going to get more star-studded. The Shock will no doubt want to keep Crusty for the 2020 season.
#3: David “dpei” Pei (653 days)
Team: Los Angeles Gladiators
Head Coach Since: 11/02/2017
Previous Team: Kungarna
The Los Angeles Gladiators were something of an enigma coming into the Overwatch League’s inaugural season. They’d signed Team Gigantti support duo of Benjamin “BigGoose” Isohanni and Jonas “Shaz” Suovaraa, who had recently won the first season of Contenders Europe, and Lane “Surefour” Roberts, well-known for his time on Cloud9. Outside of that, however, their roster and coaching staff were comprised of relative unknowns from non-standout teams.
Over the season, however, both the players and coaches proved themselves. Dpei and assistant coach Timothy “Tim” Albanese came up with creative strategies that caught opponents totally off-guard. The “mystery heroes” composition that saw damage-dealer João Pedro “Hydration” Goes Telles playing Lúcio and flex support Shaz playing Tracer showcased the coaching staff’s creativity. The famous “great bamboozle” play in the inaugural season playoffs similarly exemplified the coaching staff’s brilliance.
After losing their star player Chan-hyung “Fissure” Baek, the Gladiators proved that Dpei’s leadership could withstand losing such a key piece. With replacement Chang-hoon “rOar” Gye in his place, the Gladiators have kept up a stellar performance. Arguably the League’s most successful western coach, Dpei’s leadership should continue to benefit the Gladiators for many seasons to come.
#2: Tae-yeong “TaiRong” Kim (655 days)
Team: Houston Outlaws
Head Coach Since: 10/31/2017
Previous Team: Afreeca Freecs
TaiRong has a long and storied history with Overwatch. Notably, he played on South Korea’s 2016 World Cup team. He then went on to work with AF.Red and AF.Blue for Afreeca Freecs before being picked up by the Outlaws. TaiRong has experience and a proven track record. So he was picked up by the Houston Outlaws for the Overwatch League’s inaugural season. Despite missing out on playoffs, the organization kept TaiRong in his position, along with most of the team’s players.
This might be partly attributed to the Outlaws’ difficult financial situation. However, it’s also certainly true that the org has a different philosophy to most teams. Houston’s management seem to believe in the importance of building synergy and utilizing the pieces they already have. This is opposed to many team’s approach of constantly cycling through players and coaching staff. Having only barely missed out on playoffs last year, it was a reasonable approach to give TaiRong another chance for the 2019 season.
The team has also run into difficulties this season; however, organizational problems means it’s difficult to blame the problems on TaiRong or the players. The Outlaws team has recently been sold, finding themselves in a much better financial position. With this in mind, TaiRong might well come back next year with far more resources and support. While many teams would shake up their coaching staff at this juncture, Houston seem unlikely to drop TaiRong without giving him a real shot.
#1: Hyeon-sang “Pavane” Yu (656 days)
Team: New York Excelsior
Head Coach Since: 10/30/2017
Previous Team: LW Blue & LW Red
While many teams coming into the Overwatch League built entirely new squads, a few owners decided to buy the rosters and staff from existing organizations wholesale. The New York Excelsior are a prime example of the latter approach. The team was built around the players and coaches of LW’s two teams, LW Blue and LW Red. The teams, especially LW Blue, had always been highly rated. However, they never managed to reach the top-tier performances everyone knew they were capable of. In 2018, with the integration of the two rosters and the addition of stars Dong-gyu “Mano” Kim, Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang and Hae-song “Libero” Kim, the Excelsior immediately established themselves as the league’s juggernaut.
Pavane’s performance as the head coach of the New York Excelsior is nearly impossible to impugn. He’s won two stage finals, a top place regular season finish; not to mention the gold medal South Korea’s 2018 world cup team achieved under him. Despite the team historically struggling in playoffs, NYXL’s clean, well-executed style owes a lot to Pavane. A second disappointing playoff performance may tempt New York to take a gamble on a different head coach. However, it would be a very risky decision. Pavane has proven himself at the highest level, and it’s clear why he’s the Overwatch League’s longest-serving head coach.
Fondly remember the Great Bamboozle? The Game Haus broke it down for you at the beginning of the season here.
Featured photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Gladiators.
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