Mike Rufail, Co-Owner and CEO of Team EnVyUs and Dallas Fuel, is currently hosting a Reddit AMA an answering questions about the Dallas Fuel and addressing the rumors and issues facing the team since the beginning of the Overwatch League.
Note: Q=Question, MR=Mike Rufail
Question: When you mentioned handing over all decision-making to KyKy, what powers did he not have beforehand that he gained from your decision?
Mike Rufail: First, I want to be clear that Kyle had nearly all of the control over the team from the beginning. I did interfere once with a roster decision. That was to play xQc vs LA Gladiators and Shanghai in Week 1 of Stage 2. I wanted Felix to get his shot. That resulted in a 2-0 week, but it was absolutely not right because it caused Kyle to question what control he did have. I also want to be clear that not one roster addition or player transaction occurred without me consulting heavily with Kyle or our GM Mat Taylor. As mentioned above, the players should have been more involved in those decisions and we have already corrected that.
I think I needed to rephrase that. By saying “I really don’t know why”, I am saying we made a mistake there. Definitely the biggest mistake we made this season which has been corrected. It’s hard to say why that happened. I hope that helps clear things up a bit more.
Q: What was the reasoning in removing KyKy compared to keeping him on as an assistant coach? Things seemed to be looking up. No wins, but at least taking NYXL to game 5.
MR: The players needed a reset. That was obvious after our team discussions. We offered the idea to the players in discussion that Kyle could remain with the team as an assistant coach. As a team, we decided that would not be ideal for us to make progress.
Q: Why has there been a lack of transparency and then why now (TBD if this AMA is transparent)? I understand if things are bad, you don’t want to stir the pot more, but it’s pretty equally bad now as before.
MR: The fans always ask for more transparency, but when they get it, things are often twisted out of context. That’s why we tend to address questions officially when we really feel the need to. Fans are able to get a general sense of the team from performance or from our video/social content. That’s how I feel things should usually be offered when things are going well. Obviously, things haven’t been going so well so I am here to chat with you all.
Q: Why not just bench Rascal instead of releasing him after the trading period?
MR: After a full team discussion, it was a necessity to remove Rascal from the team. I know our coaches continually tried to include Rascal into the team as evident by his appearance in the last map of our series vs LA Valiant in Stage 3.
It is so unfortunate that this happened after the roster lock period, but because of the situation there was no other way for our team to move forward.
Q: Genuinely interested to know: what was your reasonings behind choosing to sign Rascal? Rumours flying round are saying he wasn’t cheap, and with the recent signing of AKM, you had just filled a dps slot, and it was clear EFFECT wouldn’t be going anywhere. On the other hand you had potential language barriers to face. So just curious what the reason was? Hero pool, calibre of talent, or something else?
MR: It simply came down to the fact that we think Rascal is extremely talented and versatile with his Hero pool. In hindsight, our coaching staff should not have agreed to bring him into the roster because of the situation that resulted from it, but I think their willingness to do that was a result of factors I mentioned previously in the AMA.
Q: What’s up with Cocco? Any details? What did he do to warrant running Taimou as an MT?
MR: Cocco is still on our roster and everyone in the organization still loves him. Coming into the season, we all knew that Cocco still had some work to do on his Winston play and that’s why we signed xQc to the team to fill that gap. xQc just did not pan out on the team so it put Cocco in a position where he really had to catch up. The decision to play Taimou instead of Cocco on main tank was not made by me nor did I have influence on that decision. That was purely a coach’s decision. We’re working with him to find out what is best for his future whether that be remaining with us or having him available for another team. Sorry I don’t have more for you on that at the moment.
Q: What were you thinking signing OGE and knowing Effect / Rascal would hate him since he’s a booster? I’m not condemning him, he probably needed money, he apologized and was penalized. But seeing Effect not even looking at him makes me think they can’t form a great team.
Edit: apparently it wasn’t known he was a booster before Fuel signed him. The question then is: what did the org do to remedy that fact? To make Effect and OGE real teammates?
MR: Before we signed OGE, we had absolutely no idea he had participated in boosting. The league completed the standard investigation in his approval process. There was just no way for anyone to know he had done that without some really detailed knowledge. When we found out, OGE was very forthcoming about his minor involvement which the league addressed with a suspension and we addressed with OGE. He is really a great person who made a mistake that we find to be forgiveable and hope the fans do too. At this point, we think both Effect and OGE are true teammates.
Q: With Rascal gone what are Seagull’s play prospects since Fuel has a more solid tank line with OGE and Mickie?
MR: This is a decision I am leaving to our current coaches and the team, but I think it is safe to say that you will see a lot more of The Bird.
Q: You mentioned these recent decisions for releasing Kyky and Rascal were team decisions. Was this done in an open forum with the team? A vote with everyone present?
MR: I personally reserved 1 hour long individual discussions with each player on the team and we also had a long, open group discussion with the team to make these decisions.
Q: How do the Dallas Fuel choose their starting lineup for scrims and matches?
MR: This is 100% decided by our coaches and/or players leading up to each match. The only case of myself or our management getting involved was in Week 1 of Stage 2 where we asked our head coach to give xQc a shot in the starting main tank position.
Q: According to XQC you didn’t try out your mid-season acquisitions, is it true or not?
How much (percentage wise) coaches’ opinions (well to be specific Kyky’s) mattered on signings/trades/buyouts of players that you acquired mid-season?
MR: We did not try out our mid-season acquisitions by playing with our current roster, but we did consider what our players perception of the new additions would be. In this specific case, we should have and will absolutely hold more of a tryout period for new players if we can in the future. I’ve already mentioned this, but will mention it again: all of our players will be able to give input on player acquisitions moving forward.
Q: How does it go from Kyky stating Rascal is one of the most communicative players in the team and is really trying to get the rest of the team to practice more, to all of a sudden not communicating at all? Perhaps you should look into what Fissure posted about the importance of have an in-game translator as it seems very likely Rascal was being misunderstood
MR: It isn’t going to be helpful or productive for me to discuss how Kyle’s statement about Rascal changed. I will say that the situation changed and it was in our best interested to release Rascal from the team because of that. We obviously do not have a player in game that can act as an English-Korean translator or vice versa, but we do have help on staff for that communication. That was a tough spot to be in for Rascal, but that is not what led to his release.
Q: Which moves do you plan for the Fuel to improve in Season 2 or in other words: What is needed for the Fuel to get a food on the ground? (e.g. roster changes, player synergies, mental support etc.)
MR: I think this is a great question. We have decided to add more support staff in assistant coaches, player management, analysts and team psychology. Currently, we have 2 assistant coaches, 1 player manager, 1 physical trainer and meals provided to the players. In addition, our GM Mat Taylor and Director of Team Operations Graham Henry assist the team from a logistical standpoint.
Q: How do you plan on getting all those “big egos” back on the ground? We always are being told that it is a big problem but apparently not everybody can be main roster player. So how will you address this?
MR: I think the mood on the team has changed after the latest roster moves we have made. It is extremely difficult for this kind of team to work and I commend the other OWL teams who have made it work with such international rosters. We addressing these issues by having a completely group approach to our decision making and discussions.
Q: Is it true that you hired a hypnotist? Why did you decide not to hire a psychologist or sports psychologist?
MR: We provided seminars with a mind coach who has a positive track record of success with numerous sports figures, competitors and olympians. He specializes in focus coaching and also incorporates some hypnotherapy in some cases. We are evaluating additional psychologists for work with the team in the near future. At the end of the day, the players themselves have to be open or receptive to the idea. We also provide benefits to each player that would allow them to seek their own counsel there.
Q: With regards to language issues, I understand you have a korean translator on staff from your previous tweets, but have the korean players been recieving formal language lessons, or is it a casual/voluntary type of approach to learning english?
To add to that, are the non korean players learning korean in any formal format, or just casually from teammates/not at all?
MR: We have recently hired an esteemed English teacher who has tremendous experience teaching esports professionals from Korea. I think we’ll continue to see a lot of progress from that. On the other side. Our players on Fuel who spent 8 months competing in Korea with our Envy team that won APEX have some limited Korean speaking capability, but probably not enough to make a huge difference. We are encouraging English as the means of in game communication.
Q: Why release Kyky now that the team is finally performing better? Was this really the best moment?
MR: This wasn’t a decision made on whether or not this was Kyle’s best moment, but instead a decision made to help the team make progress as a whole.
Q: Are you looking to fully rebuild or use the roster you have now and add to it?
MR: It’s hard to say what we will do in the offseason. There are plenty of variables. However, I do think we will look to fill gaps that we have as opposed to fully rebuilding the roster. The team is making some great progress.
Q: When was the last time you did sime social activity with the players?
MR: I have been very communicative with the team remotely from our offices here in Dallas. I have personally attended the Blizzcon/World Cup and 3 weeks of competition with the team this season. Whenever I am there, I am in the practice room with them and in the dugout during matches. I also take the guys out to a nice team dinner each time I visit. The last time that occurred was in Stage 2.
Q: Any reasoning behind choosing individual apartments for players instead of a team house? Imo a team house improves chemistry among teammates. Cheers
MR: We were actually the first Overwatch organization in North America (maybe the world) to provide our players with a team house. While it is an excellent tool in building the short-term chemistry within a team, we determined that the best route in the long run is with the privacy that apartments provide.
Q: Seriously, what is going on? I get that there are so many cogs in a machine, but it seems like everyone has an itchy trigger finger, and is scared for their jobs. Why has the solution to so many problems been just to remove players/coaches, rather than work through them alternatively. Also, does the fuel look at reddit in order to glean fan sentiment? You don’t have to answer all of those by any means, but I think we all have a lot of questions. I’m trying pretty hard to be a fuel fan, but it seems to get more difficult by the day.
MR: Just because we don’t come out and discuss alternative solutions we have tried with our team publicly doesn’t mean we haven’t made serious effort to fix issues. I promise you, we have. We read a lot of comments from our social accounts and on Reddit/Discord. I can tell you that there is a lot of misconception and that comes with the territory. It is unreasonable to expect a response from us on all of those instances as there are so many.
Q: Early in the season, you said on a podcast that your plan was to create a culture where players are in healthy competition for their starting spot. Seagull seems to have the best performance record for winning, and great game sense and communication, why has he not been a starter more often?
It seems like anyone who is benched doesn’t feel good about it, which means it’s either not skill based, they don’t understand the decision, or they don’t feel like they are in control of getting off the bench. What needs to change to make the environment more healthy and motivating for your players?
MR: I think this would be a great question for our new head coach when we have them join the team as I won’t be the one making those decisions.