Exclusive: Dallas Fuel coach KyKy on roster decisions, the OWL schedule and team confidence (Part 1)

Yesterday, while visiting Los Angeles for the Overwatch League, I caught up with Dallas Fuel coach Kyle “KyKy” Souder and talked about some of the struggles Fuel has faced in their first OWL season. KyKy revealed the reasoning behind some of the questionable roster decisions, shared his perspective on the xQc ordeal and commented on what’s happening behind the scenes that the fans can’t see.

What follows is the one of two parts, the second of which will follow tomorrow. Some quotes have been edited for flow and pacing, but the original meaning and intent remains the same. The interview was conducted prior to Fuel’s game with NYXL.

For those who don’t know, how did you get into Overwatch esports and then coaching the Dallas Fuel (formerly Team EnVyUs)?
I just started playing with my friends in the beta. We didn’t really take it too seriously, but we’d always been playing other games competitively. It just seemed so easy. We starting doing the GosuGamers tournaments, then Cloud9 contacted us. There were other orgs, but Cloud9 was a dream come true, even though the money back then was super low. Most of us were still working and I was going to school. Then a year goes by, some of the players were like “ok, I don’t really want to do this with Cloud9 anymore,” so they just went back to doing their jobs. As that happened, the team started to fall apart and it wasn’t like a group of friends anymore but like an actual job. The whole atmosphere changed and it became a little less what I was looking for in a team. A team still has to feel like a bunch of friends — it kind of lost that. EnVyUs decided to buy me as a coach, I didn’t have much of say in that. It just happened — they drew the contract up. My boss signed it and I was on my way. That’s how it all started.

So far, what have been the differences between coaching tournaments and coaching the Overwatch League?
There’s a lot less breaks. You can’t really prepare as much. You would think that you can because you’re like “Oh I get to see what the other team did last week and I get to mimic that.” But by now everyone has kind of caught on that you don’t do the same thing two weeks in a row. All it’s really doing is cutting down on your actual own preparation time. So you have two days to prepare instead of two months.

And that’s not enough time to go back and look over stuff comprehensively.
It seems a little redundant. It just feel like every match is kind of the same, whereas before each tournament had its own meta, its own style and it felt more exciting. Also travelling was more exciting, so it’s a little bit different now.

Do you find the schedule overwhelming?
The schedule is definitely overwhelming. I think all the players are feeling it. I know most teams are experiencing burnout already. It’s got to the point where we have to decide whether to continue to only have one day off or take two days off and make it a burnout race. That’s the discussion teams are having right now. To me, it just doesn’t ever feel like this will be sustainable, considering we’re only halfway in after this week. It’s just so much. The stress is insane, it’s always weighing you down. In my opinion it has to become two splits. It’s always going to be 40 games in one year, which is fine, but instead of having the 4 month break, it should be 20 games, two month break, 20 games, two month break. And if they don’t do that, I don’t think many players will be able to do this long term.

How do you think that’s going to go when they start including international travel into the mix, as Blizzard are supposedly setting up international arenas.
Well I know some people really don’t want to travel, but for me personally I really like it. For me, it’ll be better. I don’t know how the schedule will transfer with the travelling.

Yeah, you’ve only got 3 days off, so travel time will take up some of that.
Well I’ve heard if we go to Shanghai, we might be there for the whole five weeks — the whole stage. But even then, five weeks for everyone to be in a hotel, and plus food… that’s a lot of expenses. It’s crazy. I don’t think that’s something Blizzard actually wants to do, so I don’t how it’s going to work, but travelling is always a good thing.

So it’s certainly been an up and down season for Fuel so far. What do you think Fuel could be doing better as a team?
As a team, I think that the biggest mistake we made was, even before preseason, everyone started becoming pretty complacent. We won Contenders easily and I kept telling them that Overwatch League was not going to be this easy, because Contenders was too easy. Everyone on our team is older, they’re not young. They want to go out, they want to do stuff and have a bit more fun. So the complacency really caught up to everyone and I think that’s out biggest mistake.

How has Rascal’s implementation into the team gone, in regards to different styles of shot calling and communication, having transferred over from London Spitfire?
He definitely talks a lot about strategy. He wants to call strategies in game, but he can’t really do it yet, because of his English. He can only say basic things and I think he’s a very smart person and we’re very lucky to have him. But at the same time, you can definitely notice the clash of culture. Effect was always the Korean that wanted to beat the Koreans, so integrating Effect was much easier than integrating a Korean who wants to impose Korean culture onto everyone else. It’s hard for people to see from the outside, but it’s actually been a real struggle. I really enjoy having Rascal on the team, of course. He brings a lot to the team, but even the difference of culture between his culture and Mickie, who is also from Asia — it’s like two different worlds. Korean culture is very hard to mix with other cultures. I think that’s just been the biggest hardship overall.

Are those difficulties why we didn’t see him as much as people thought that we would, and why aKm was being played on Genji, which was pretty controversial among the online communities?
We’re going to release a questionnaire-style thing answering a lot of these questions really soon. I can assure you that they all had reasons behind them. It’s part of the reason why we didn’t see Rascal, but aKm playing Genji was more so because he was forced into it because Rascal decided that that week was not a good week for him to play. I didn’t have much of a say in that. Rascal wasn’t too happy with the improvements we were making that week and it kind of just took a turn for the worst. So aKm was kind of last minute — our strategies were Genji strategies and we knew that Soldier strategies wouldn’t work there.

And because once you’ve planned something in scrims, it’s probably worse to just change practiced strategies entirely at the last minute.
aKm’s Genji in scrims didn’t do that bad at all. In the match, it was kind of underwhelming. It was his first time playing Genji on the stage — even though he says he doesn’t get nervous, I’m sure he felt a little bit nervous knowing he was playing a new hero and he was going to get judged for it.

With the decision to switch Taimou to main tank, Taimou said it was for shot calling purposes, but how did the decision come about? Where did the conversation start?
So I talked to Timo and I asked him about it. I said, “Timo I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do, it’s your choice.” He wanted to do it. We didn’t really have any other main tank options at the time — Cocco has kind of lost his way, I would say, at this point. We don’t really know how to use Cocco anymore. We had to make something work and Timo was probably our best option. In hindsight, we probably should have used Seagull, just because Taimou is very much an up and down player. He’s super smart, he has amazing game sense and is super intelligent about which calls to make, but putting that onto a tank role is actually super hard, because it’s a role that he’s not comfortable with and if you’re in the front and you’re always getting shut down, it makes it super hard to call. He’s getting frustrated, he doesn’t really know what’s going on. So having him on tank was probably the wrong call to make, in hindsight.

With Seagull switching over to off-tank, is his role still meant to be as a substitute, where he only comes in for emergencies or will it be more map dependent?
Well for now, he’s still learning. I guess you could say it’s for emergencies, but we are going to see him today against NYXL, so there’s that. In the future, it’ll be a little bit weird. There’s a lot of behind the scenes things that go into the decision, but nothing about it is random for the most part. It’s hard to talk about it.

Once OGE comes in, do you foresee Taimou staying on main tank or sharing the role, or will he go back to DPS?
Once OGE gets here, I’m fairly certain OGE will be playing 90% of the time. Taimou is probably going go back to DPS because I think that’s what he wants to do and I don’t want players to play roles they don’t want to play. He wanted to go tank but then he kind of regretted it.

The fans have been questioning all these decisions, but as you said, there’s always reasons behind them. Do you feel like the fans are focusing too hard on the minutia, whereas in general it’s more of a team synergy and confidence problem, irrespective of who is playing what?
Reinforce actually put out an article yesterday, which explained pretty much exactly what we had come to realise ourselves. All last week, our scrim results were actually really good, we made very good progress last week. And then as soon as we got on stage, some people didn’t want to play or weren’t feeling it. Some people weren’t having a good day. It was all over the place. We worked on a lot of communication problems last week and once we got on stage, all of that went out the window. I was just like, “man what’s going on here, this has to be a confidence thing.” We can’t do so well in scrims then go on stage and everything’s completely different. So that was kind of when I realised it was a confidence issue. Then Reinforce put that article out and I was like, “Ok, I guess everyone can see it.”

Looking at all the teams, I would say Fuel is probably the one with the least fan engagement. Are there any plans to boost fan engagement in the future?
I know after Stage 3, we’re probably going to go to Dallas and we’ll do some things there. I also know in the future we’re going to be doing more weekly updates about why a person didn’t play or the reasons behind stuff. By next stage, our videos will finally be caught up, so they won’t be like a month behind. Hopefully all that should help a little bit. But whenever fans come to stadium, I feel like we’re one of the most engaged teams. If people come to the stadium with little kids or fans travel to come see us, usually the players will come out to take photos and sign their stuff.

With the support role, it’s been quite flexible all season. You’ve not really settled on two or even one of the supports as consistent picks for the roster. What would be the reasons for swapping between the supports? I would say hero pool, but Custa is playing Lucio when people would expect HarryHook to play Lucio, so what would be some of the other reasons besides hero pools?
Well before Overwatch League, I already knew about a lot of the problems that we were having, which was shot calling and all that. So before we even took Custa onto the team, I told him that he would need to learn Lucio and take over the Lucio main healer role. So he practiced a lot. People noticed that he was practicing Lucio a lot on his stream.

We had Chips and Harry for all of Stage 1 and that was us trying to maintain as much consistency as possible, because every roster we had was never the same in Stage 1. We always only had six players, because someone was sick, someone didn’t want to play…

Moving into Stage 2, we started out with HarryHook and Chips again and then decided it was time to change things. We needed our supports to start talking more, because our supports are traditionally quiet. We needed to bring Custa in. We tried Custa and Harry at first, because Harry is the best at tracking ultimates. Then we realised Custa can’t really effectively call from Zenyatta, so we had to move Custa back over to the Lucio and put Chips in on Zen. And then people wonder why Chips isn’t playing Ana… I think Custa said this on his stream, but every Zenyatta player right now in the league only plays Zenyatta and they get really good at Zenyatta. So, that’s kind of what we’ve been doing with Chips while allowing Custa to be more of the main healer, which is where we’re at right now. What happens next depends on the outcomes.

Keep an eye out for the second part of the interview tomorrow, featuring KyKy’s thoughts and involvement in the xQc ordeal, why OGE is the right main tank for the team and how player egos affect OWL teams.