Few coaches have had as bombastic a track record as Brad “Sephy” Rajani. His first claim to fame was at the helm of a team called Selfless, where players like San Francisco’s Jay “Sinatraa” Won and preeminent McDonald’s employee Daniel “dafran” Francesca cut their teeth in the cut-throat pre-OWL scene. They even had a composition named after them, though it wasn’t as prevalent (or oppressive, depending on who you ask) as today’s GOATS comp.
Mechanical skill and coachability have always been important in teams formed by Rajani, and we at The Game Haus knew that the Atlanta Reign would prove no different. With that in mind, we sat down with Brad to talk about his new team and where they’re headed. Enjoy!
Let’s talk about the offseason, and the Reign’s formation process. What were the first things the team looked for when building their roster? Was there anything you were really looking out for specifically?
The first thing we did was build the coaching staff, before we recruited any of the players or held any tryouts. Our first focus being on coaching staff gave us the chance to have more than me and the GM picking players. [That let us] have a whole team of people trying to evaluate talent, to come up with ideas and point out certain things.
We really did take a talent first approach, I would say. We didn’t try to pick from any single country – or language region, more importantly. I felt like communication issues could be overcome, and we thought coachability is a function of your team environment and overall team culture. So we really went with that strong focus on talent, no matter where they came from. That’s how we ended up with a very international roster.
So once you had your staff picked out, what happened next?
We started out by reviewing any match VOD or scrim VOD we could get our hands on. Sometimes we reached out to Contenders teams and asked them for VODs so we could better evaluate their players, when we could get those. When we couldn’t get those, we would simply watch tournament matches and Contenders and things like that.
We pored over hundreds of hours of VODs, and we came up with a list of about 60 or 70 names that we felt were people we wanted to bring into tryouts. Then we did that – we conducted tryouts, and we had volunteers that were recording every point of view. We really went in-depth in terms of capturing everything that we could so that we would be able to go back and watch all the tapes later. We looked at all of the individual micro-decisions that these players were making, what their communication was like, all this other stuff. It was a huge endeavor. Far more work and effort than when I helped build Shock. We probably put in a couple of [orders of magnitude] more this time around.
So was this over a period of a month? Two months?
About two months.
Was the effort to build a mixed roster, as opposed to just Koreans or just Europeans or anything like that, based on the success of teams like Philadelphia? Or was that more from your experience with the Shock?
Bit of both, really. At the start of Season 1 with the Shock, I had reservations about mixed-language teams, right? Having never had a mixed-language team… the furthest we had gone down that road was when I was on Selfless, when we brought in Carpe. Thing is, it was such a short period of time that we didn’t really have time to work through much of the communication issues. Carpe was actually pretty astute with English, but there’s only so much you can do in the span of like a month, month and a half.
I was worried about building a mixed roster in Season 1 for the Shock. But as the season went on, and as we felt we needed to fill some holes in our hero pool, and we added Architect and ChoiHyoBin, I started to realize that the language issue… there’s so much shared context in Overwatch, you can work your way through these things. And then the success of Boston and Philly last season also kind of showed, “Hey, this mixed-language stuff can work.” The Valiant as well, you know what I mean? These other teams proving that it could work allowed me to shed my fear of it. So this time around, that didn’t come into play. We decided to just totally ignore any language issues and focus on the talent.
How has it been getting everyone to bond together? You’re all staying together in a team house. What’s the day-to-day like? What do you do in your free time, to get to know each other better?
We’ve been doing some team activities where we take everyone out and we go go-karting, or do some VR stuff. There’s definitely been those ‘get out of the house and go somewhere,’ team band type interactions. But also, our house is so cool – we have a pool, we have a hot tub, a basketball court. We’ve got ping-pong, we’ve got a Nintendo Switch that we play a lot.
You've asked, you've patiently waited, and NOW it's finally here!
What's a better place for our team to Reign over @overwatchleague Season 2 than from our own castle?
— Atlanta Reign (@ATLReign) January 5, 2019
We have a lot of things that we can do around the house, and there’s a lot of space for everyone. Including personal space for everyone. Every single player on the team has their own room. So if they want to be alone, they can. When you get to be alone at night, though, it kind of recharges your batteries to hang out with your teammates during the next day. We have a giant room where all the computers are, one big space. It’s like a great hall in a mansion. We have so much fun there. A lot of bonding, for sure.
Are there any messages you might want to get out there to “clear the air” on any common misconceptions about the Reign? Have you seen anything that made you say “That’s not even close to right!”?
I think the season as a whole is gonna be super competitive. It was last season too, right? Last season, how many teams ended up within a handful of games of each other? There was a big section in the middle, there was NYXL at the top in terms of record and then there was a couple of teams way towards the bottom. I think it’s gonna be a pretty similar outcome this year. But there’s so many more teams! There’s so much more competition in that center range. So, I’ve seen every team show strength at various moments, during our practices over the last month. I think anything could happen.
[A big thank you to Brad for sitting down with us and talking about the Reign! Good luck this season from all of us at The Game Haus!]