The Dallas Fuel offseason was a roster rebuild, but it was also a search for a winning culture
“Never underestimate the importance of the clubhouse environment.”
This was advice Mike Rufail had received a few years ago. He’s had the opportunity throughout his career to meet celebrity sports team owners, but that line, which he remembered from the Kansas City Chief’s CEO, Clark Hunt, stood out this year.
Rufail, owner and chief gaming officer of Envy and the Dallas Fuel, had to rebuild the entire culture of a team. COVID-19 derails the Overwatch League’s 2020 globalization plans, in which teams travel the world together to compete on the live stage.
In March, the OWL had to switch to online play to save a season. The feeling of togetherness of the fuel as a unit was hit – they weren’t alone.
There were constant differences of opinion in the fuel depot. The team couldn’t train together in the same room for most of the season. Confidence in one another deteriorated.
Nobody should complain about the direction the fuel is moving for Season 4. Building a strong roster with a strong core of @FuelYong and @Doha_OW. I will no doubt be a strong team to beat
– Nolan Edwards (@paintbrush) November 1, 2020
This team was disbanded; Nine players and three coaches will not return for the 2021 season.
Fuel’s new coach Yun “RUSH” Hee-won already has high expectations after leading the Paris Eternal 2020 to a 16-6 season. He also has some of his favorite toys in Dallas with damage players Kim “SP9RK1E” Yeong-han and Kim “DoHa” Dongha, tank player Choi “Hanbin” Han-been and supporting players Kwon “Fielder” Joon and Kim “Rapel” Jun-keun at his disposal.
Yun also has assistant coaches Kim “Yong” Yong-Jin and Go “Aid” Jae-yoon at his side.
However, the task of maintaining a healthy culture in an online environment is not yet complete. Yun didn’t claim to have the formula when speaking to the Dallas Morning News, but he had an idea.
“I don’t think there will be any specific method or plan that I have to deal with, but since it could be online it is best that we make sure we win,” Yun said of an interpreter . “When we lose, the players feel devastated, so our first focus should be trying to win.”
What could go wrong?
Take a quick look back at March. OWL teams had to call Audibles to see how they worked. Fuel players, of whom DoHa is the only returning face, had to train from their homes. Paris, with RUSH in the lead and Aid, SP9RK1E, Hanbin and Fielder by his side, was in a small room.
“I’m not exactly sure how other teams handled it, but with Paris we trained in isolation and ended up in a group,” said Yun. “When we’re forced to practice separately, I don’t think there is an answer to that (having a healthy team culture).”
There may be no answer at all when teams are isolated from the outside world. When teams work remotely, they have no way of knowing what their players are working on in their free time. Video assessments and exercises become more cumbersome.
Even the champions had problems at the start. Grant “Moth” Espe, who won two consecutive OWL Grand Finals in 2019 and 2020 with the San Francisco Shock, said his team was also struggling.
Like fuel, the shock worked from their apartments and no longer had access to the exercise facility.
“Our losses last season were the worst,” said Espe. “We lost to both California teams and that was a big wake-up call. We realized that we really have to keep trying if we want to stay at the top.”
This is the point where the all-win thought process has merit. Yong tried to implement this way of thinking back in 2019 with the Fuel’s mixed-language roster. With all the discord and head fights, his goal became simple.
“When we were in a bad place last season and the atmosphere was not good, I said the only way to solve this is to win,” Yong said of an interpreter. “No matter how bad we are, we have to win on match days. That will make a difference, so it’s the most important thing. “
The task ahead might be to write on the wall for the fuel. Rufail, who stayed up late in the morning on the phone to compile a roster, often until 3 a.m., made his intentions clear on Twitter.
I’ve stayed up into the morning hours every night for the past 3 weeks to make sure the @DallasFuel is a top team for the next season. Nothing is guaranteed but I feel good about the roster we’re putting together for @rush_coach.
– Mike Rufail (@ hastr0) November 5, 2020
He wants his team to fight for a title. Dallas has a few more steps to take before this trend can begin, particularly the completion of the roster. But a new age has already begun in Dallas.
“Even during scrim and practice”
The fuel already has what many consider to be a charged core. The five players they have are all proven and have shown elite talent. The Fuel is still a main tank lagging behind the top six, but Dallas will add a lot more depth before the season starts.
DoHa, a centerpiece of fuel in 2020, may have one of the toughest roads ahead.
“SP9RK1E doesn’t have any heroes DoHa can make up for, but it’s not necessarily good for DoHa to just be happy he’s on another roster,” said Yong. “Instead, he’ll have to be prepared to practice even harder to actually survive and make the main list.”
This could certainly be found tough on Yong, but he was viewed as a straight shooter. And Yun wasn’t worried about DoHa because the damage player has shown that he is ready to do anything for a team and works tirelessly.
This core has that in common. They want to win and were able to do so as a unit with Element Mystic before their OWL careers began.
Yong said the familiarity of the players with one another can lead them to success because “even during scrim and practice they are very competitive.”
Paris was a mixed squad again in 2020. This core, which comes together for an all-Korean squad, can avoid communication problems last season.
That and the players in that group really care about each other.
“We’re all close friends and I’m personally very close to the players and coaches,” said Yun. “We get along better and I would say that we have a very family atmosphere. Just thinking about it makes me feel a little better. “
Rufail has a team that wants to be together. A team that is ready and willing to work towards a goal that only one team can achieve each year.
He took this advice from Hunt to heart.
“He won a Super Bowl last year,” said Rufail, “so it stays with me.”
Rufail made a healthy clubhouse a priority this off-season.
Strategies or compositions are not fixed. Gosh, the roster is nowhere near complete. But the fuel knows what it wants to be, and that could be enough for a culture change.
For more information on fuel, see the Dallas Morning News here.
More esports coverage from The News can be found here.