Heart and Soul

I made a lot of mistakes as the GM of the Outlaws over the past few years, but each one of those mistakes was a growing experience that I learned from.

Coming into the job of GM… it was very much like a black box. There were moments where I was like: “Holy shit, what did I just sign up for?”

People have asked me what the job of a GM is and it’s hard to give them an answer that truly encompasses everything. There’s no single job description that will hit every point.

A general manager is a very results-based position. But at some point down the line the results are no longer in your hands. I can hire the coaches, find the players, and find great support staff… but in the end if the season goes poorly I don’t really have anything except the losses. I tried my best.

One of the biggest things I had to deal with was maintaining the mindset of the players and the coaches. It’s also one of the hardest things to put a price tag or value on. It was, undoubtedly, one of the hardest things about year one with the Outlaws.

The pressure from social media during the first year was rough on me, much rougher than it was been in the last year or so. It was even more difficult because if the players and coaches were sad I felt like it was my job to make sure they weren’t. Doing that took a toll on me and at the same time as I was trying to keep myself positive.

It felt like I was sort of the team emotional pariah. I would take heat from the players, the coaches, and the org all while trying to prop them up, but as a one or two-man show in Los Angeles it wasn’t easy.

Even when I was able to get out of the depression ruts, I would find myself falling back into them because of how much emotional effort I was putting into propping up the team that I felt directly responsible for.

It’s part of the job, but I guess that’s the dark side of the GM role that doesn’t get talked about enough, if at all. It’s something I’ve learned to deal with better as time went on. It wasn’t nearly as bad this year because the players and coaches are experienced enough to know how to handle social media and negative fan engagement or press coverage.

Year one with the Outlaws was also stressful for other reasons. Even though esports jobs have relatively little job security, it wasn’t what really worried me. I was hesitant in many of my decisions that first year because I wasn’t sure if I was going to do something that was going to piss someone else off. Like if I tweeted X how is Y going to react?

I had a lot of say in the branding and personality for the Outlaws from a media and marketing standpoint. We kind of acted like our own entity in Los Angeles while the rest of Infinite Esports was in Texas dealing with everything else. Pretty soon, I realized how much the job truly encompassed as it just kept getting bigger and bigger.

After we ended Season 1 of the Overwatch League, there was no question in my mind that I would stay with the Outlaws. Honestly, with how poorly things were managed at a high level, I think the team would have ceased to function if I got fired. That may be thinking too highly of myself, but I don’t think anyone else could have taken my position and caught up in an acceptable amount of time that wouldn’t ruin an entire season for the Outlaws.

We also couldn’t really do anything because of the massive budget cuts that came through. If I had released or traded a player I had no guarantee that I would get the budget to bring another player on to replace them. The only reason the Danteh trade went through was because we had a Contenders player that the SF Shock wanted.

Then the sale happened in season two.

Don’t get me wrong, there were good things to come out of the sale to Immortals Gaming Club. Because of the initial sale and the failure of a few sales between Infinite and Beasly Broadcast Group, I operated for seven to eight months without a boss.

That lack of someone above me instilled in me the assuredness that I didn’t have before in my role as GM. I am more confident in myself and my abilities as a GM because the team was able to survive those months. We even got to the playoffs in Stage 3.

But the sale never should have happened. After it fell through it created way too many headaches for me and the players. Here we were in OWL, a massive, multi-million-dollar league and we have no real oversight or structure for over half a year.

It was a terrible experience to go through that I tried to isolate the players from as much as I could. I felt like that was my role as GM, to shield them from the things that were happening at the top. I couldn’t do that as much for the coaches, and they definitely felt the effects of the sale. TaiRong was asking for help and I was trying to get it to him, but there was just nothing I could do most of the time.

Year two should have been less stressful for all of us.

Problems popped up in all sorts of areas. Budgeting was definitely one of the weirdest things I had to deal with. At one point I was spending Infinite’s money, but we were also purchased by Immortals Gaming Club, so I was spending Immortals’ money—I didn’t have a boss either, so no one was really telling me how much I could spend. Then when the sale finally went through, I was spending the new owners’ money, but I didn’t actually know who the new owner was for a while, so I had no idea whose money I was spending.

There were also conflicts of interest that cropped up because of the delayed sale. Rules were in place so that Immortals couldn’t tell me XYZ and I couldn’t ask for XYZ, but when things got delayed it began to get ugly.

Players had payment issues, so I had to talk with Immortals HR, but then Immortals HR would know our player salaries and teams aren’t supposed to discuss player salaries. Not to mention that at the same time they hired ex-Infinite employees that were working on player salaries.

At one point, Mendokusaii asked to be released from his streamer contract. I had to tell him I didn’t have a boss, so I couldn’t actually release him from it. It got to a point where he was messaging me every week. I got fed up with not having an answer for him that I just bit the bullet and let him go because, quite frankly, who was going to come after me for doing so? There wasn’t anyone to come after me for it and it was unfair to him.

We should have had our own group of independent people to manage us at Immortals, but that just didn’t happen.

All things considered, it well about as well as I guess it could have, but it was an incredibly stressful year.

Going into Season 3 was a different monster to tackle. Because of the instability, most of the staff had quit. I don’t blame them, but it meant that we had a laundry list of things to do once we moved to Houston. We had about a month to move from LA to Houston, hire and set up Human Resources, get benefits, salaries, contracts, and visas all set up.

Oh, and find a practice area for the team… twice. To be honest, it sucked having to move so quickly after getting to Houston, but it didn’t set us back that much. Maybe a week at the most. In the second space, the other building tenants are really open to what we were doing. They would often come by to check out the practice space and ask to bring their kids in to meet us.

This year, I found that I was a lot less involved in the everyday actions of the Outlaws. Before, I felt obligated to watch every scrim and be in every coaching session. Instead, I focused on finding ways to build the Outlaws brand and work on the business side of esports.

Part of that meant that I was on Twitter defending decisions by my players. Coolmatt’s retirement is a recent example of this. I look at Coolmatt and see him as an example of a player who had a very high peak and a bright future. Things happen, though, that are out of our control and circumstances change. When I saw people calling for his retirement and calling him a waste of space I felt I had a moral obligation to set the tone as to why he was retiring.

I was able to get rid of the narrative that we’re releasing a bad player and change it to the fact that Coolmatt made a decision that benefited the team. I just wanted everyone that was shit-talking to fuck right off because what he was doing was selfless.

I think it’s a tragedy that we see some of the most beneficial, positive, and good people leave esports. Esports tends to allow a lot of sketchy and not moral stuff to happen. I tried to fight back against that wherever I could. Whatever I could do to set up players, mine or others, for a brighter future, I felt like I had a responsibility to do so.

Despite how things turned out, I am proud of the Outlaws. We took a lot of hits on the chin throughout the time I was GM, but we always got back up and kept trying our best.

I wanted to be there with my team to show you what we could do this year. Our victory at home was a great start, but it was only the beginning.

Now I’m starting on a new journey. I don’t quite know what I’ll be doing, but for now, I’m taking a much-needed break.

I put my heart and soul into being the GM of the Houston Outlaws. Never once did I hold back from putting my blood, sweat, and tears into making the team better for the players, coaches, and the fans.

Farewell, for now.

Photo Credit – Houston Outlaws

Jeff Yabumoto assisted with the creation of this article

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