If I had to sum up what it takes to be a champion…

Don’t be afraid to fail.

There are a multitude of things that a player needs to be a champion in the Overwatch League: A solid understanding of the game, mastery of heroes, and the ability to bounce back after a loss, to name just a few.

But all of that is pointless is you don’t take that first chance – where you have the biggest chance to fail. That’s when you have to make the decision to be a champion.

It isn’t enough to just make that decision though. You have to have that attitude while you’re on the path to greatness. It doesn’t matter if you are second, third, or ninth place. Without the confidence that you can be the best, you’ll never get there.

Again. Don’t be afraid to fail.

That is what I told myself when I was trying to break into esports.

At the time I was studying to be a software developer – a choice my parents were very happy about. Video games, on the other hand, was not something they admired quite as much.

Obviously, when they told me not to pursue esports, I only wanted to do it more.

It turns out things get a bit harder when you’re not good enough to be a professional player.

 I almost gave up on my dream of being involved in esports, but then Overwatch came out in 2016 and it lit a fire inside of me. I thought to myself: “Maybe I could be a coach.”

So I took that first step.

One of the biggest challenges I faced initially was earning the respect of the players as a coach. In this industry, most coaches for teams are former players, and they instantly have at least a base level of respect – as long as they were a good enough player.

I did not have that.

It was a case of telling myself that I could earn that respect by taking risks without being afraid of making mistakes. The worst coaches are the ones who choose to walk the safest paths.

The path has not been an easy one. It’s certainly a long one, that’s for sure. Full of long days, long nights, mountains of stress, and more than a few health problems.

The stress really hit me for the first time when I came to the San Francisco Shock. The Boston Uprising were on a winning streak when I left them, and the Shock was completely out of playoff contention at the time. I had to really focus on every match in order to make this team better.

Not only did I have to take care of my own mental health while being the head coach, but I also had to look after my players and make sure their mental health was good too. It wasn’t an easy period for me.

But then, I would look at my players. I would see them working so incredibly hard, and I would tell myself:

“Yo, Crusty, you’re the head coach and they’re working hard. You need to work even harder.”

Their hard work and dedication must be reflected in my work too. I have a lot of respect for them, and it’s what allows this team to operate at the level that we are. It’s their hard work and their passion for winning.

When I look at those players, I see the potential that I have to bring out and shape.

After the Stage 1 loss to the Vancouver Titans, I just kept watching Sinatraa to try and find ways to maximize his playstyle. I noticed that he wasn’t being very vocal about what he wanted to do, and I had to change that.

I encouraged him to be bolder in making calls so that the team knew what they had to do to support him.

During finals, I basically don’t sleep…none of the coaches do.

We’ll all be in bed running through all the possible scenarios or trying to think of new strategies. Sometimes we’ll go to a bar – which most people do to have fun – where we end up fighting with each other over which strategy is the best.

We don’t always agree, but it’s one of the things that makes us stronger.

For example, I know people looked at the GOATS meta and thought it looked very simple. You just grav, D.Va bomb, shatter, and win right?

In reality, it was a very coach-based meta in terms of strategy. All of us put in an enormous amount of work behind the scenes.

That kind of intensity for an extended period of time can lead to even the smallest problem having a large effect on your, or a player’s, mentality.

There isn’t a lot of downtime to relax and reset your mind in the Overwatch League when you consistently make the finals. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honor to be able to compete for titles – something we strive to achieve every stage – but the breaks are very short.

You usually only have a few days to recuperate before you have to be practicing again. For many of our players, especially the South Korean guys, it can be tough to even head home and see family.

This kind of schedule is not healthy for the players. Burnout is a big problem at this level and it happens all the time.

We usually have to force the players to go out and enjoy what little vacation time they have. Recently, NineK took the team to Six Flags Magic Mountain, and before that, it was Universal Studios Hollywood. Better than nothing, but it’s not the same as spending some extended time at home with your family and friends.

And believe it or not, coaches need a break too!

I’ve been so busy taking care of the players, that I often neglected my own health. After stage 3 of the Overwatch League, I flew back to South Korea to get things checked out because I knew something was wrong.

I was so eager to be a champion that I was irresponsible with my own body to get there.

A few days at home relaxing felt like it could be enough to allow me to recover, but that’s not what happened. I spent just enough time in Korea to be diagnosed before heading back with diabetes and a fatty liver.

Now that I’ve made some changes to my lifestyle, I feel a lot better. It became clear to me that if I wanted to keep working in esports, then I would have to maintain my health better. A lesson that everyone should take to heart…or liver…wherever your problems happen to show up.

Despite all of that, I can still stand proudly and say: “San Francisco Shock are champions.”

“I am a champion”

There were defeats along the way – Shanghai Dragons in the Stage 3 finals. That loss hurt.

But we kept moving forward. Our players have the confidence that we are the best team in the league – even if we actually aren’t sometimes.

Teamwork, knowledge, skill, perseverance, confidence, self-reflection, and most importantly, we have the courage to risk failure.

That’s what it takes to be a champion.


Image Credit: San Francisco Shock & Overwatch League

Jeff Yabumoto assisted in the creation of this article.

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