The Overwatch League off season has been an emotional rollercoaster for teams and fans alike. One team that has experienced the most challenges this season and is looking to start the next year fresh, is the Houston Outlaws. Their most recent signing has left fans hopeful but cautious about what the future of the Outlaws holds.
Former Houston Outlaws Off-Tank player, Matt “coolmatt” Iorio, was announced as the new General Manager of the team on October 19th. Coolmatt has competed in Overwatch since its inception and now becomes the first player in Overwatch League to transition to a General Manager position. Coolmatt shared with Hotspawn why he was chosen for the role, and how he intends to restructure the Outlaws into a team that fans can believe in again.
Hotspawn: The Houston Outlaws had a disappointing end to their play-in run and had a bumpy regular season. In your eyes, what were the contributing factors to Houston not having a better season?
Coolmatt: The play-in run was definitely disappointing. We went into it pretty excited because we felt like we developed a unique way of playing, we were excited to showcase that. We thought we’d have a lot of potential there, but it didn’t work out.
We faced a lot of challenges this year. Everyone was going through COVID-related issues, so that impacted us as much as anyone else. We had other stuff going on too, so it was compounded. We had major staff transitions and we had ownership transitions really early in the year. Our owners are trying to find out how things work, so this year was a big learning experience across the board.
Another thing that was hard for us to get around was that towards the end some of our players retired. So it was really almost half Korean and half western, and we really had trouble bridging that gap and bringing everyone together. We were a bit naive in the building of this roster because I think we kind of underestimated how much it would actually take, on our end, to support a heavily mixed roster. We went into it thinking it would just work. We missed out on some really key steps to make it work on our end. So I think that was a failure on our part.
So next year for us, we’re looking to take the experiences from this year — what we’ve learned, what did work and what didn’t work — and build off of that. Have a structure in place that fits our vision already, and bring players in that are on board from the start, and have this foundation already there to just build off of.
For a period, I was handling the jobs of two or even three people on some days.
Hotspawn: Back in January you retired from competing in Overwatch and took on a role within the organization of the Houston Outlaws. What exactly was this role, and how have you helped grow the team since then?
Coolmatt: When stuff happens behind the scenes, the fans don’t always get the full story. When we went through the changes in staff, my role was evolving every single day. If something that needed to be done that one of the former staff members was doing, then that responsibility would probably fall on me. For a period, I was handling the jobs of two or even three people on some days. I proved myself, in a sense of being able to take on heavy tasks and long work hours. I feel like, as a player, I went through the same thing of playing all the time, I’m used to long hours, I’m used to working weekends, and that continues. I was working a lot behind the scenes, and I was involved in every aspect you can think about. I was participating in sales calls, in tons of meetings, trying to manage the conflicts that happened in the team. Slowly it turned more into the day-to-day stuff on the team. It really started as a vague jack-of-all-trades role, but then it seemed like I excelled at the part that came to the team. It just kind of makes sense, with my history as a player and history with these players. I know from the outside if I was looking at this whole scenario I would be skeptical of myself for sure.
A lot of the times, positions like this are almost like pity. You’re here, so just take the spot from somebody else, we can get you for cheap, and it’s just easy for us to do that. But that’s not how our owners have operated. They want people in those positions because they’re qualified for those positions. I proved to them that I’m capable. I wasn’t given this position out of pity or any kind of obligation that they felt to me or because of my tenure within the team. It was a position that I earned through really showcasing my capabilities and my work ethic. I did earn this position – I would just like to point that out. I know from the outside, just clearing up that perspective, that’s something that I would think about too if I was watching this from a fan perspective or from someone who doesn’t have the full story. Am I really qualified? Am I really capable? I think it’s not really unheard of in traditional sports to have a player go into this position. I’ve been on teams for years and years and years, before Overwatch and within Overwatch, I’ve been with different organizations. I’ve seen how teams should look, I’ve had teammates that have been troublesome and that I didn’t get along with and know how it should have been handled. I feel like I have really good frontline experience for making this the best thing that it could be.
Hotspawn: You were known as such a good player, and instead of taking a coaching route you went for the managerial route. Would you think you would have been better at coaching or did you fit into this role because that’s what was needed?
Coolmatt: I had the opportunity to coach as well, but that’s not something I wanted to do. It’s just not as interesting to me as being a player or managing players. We were trying to figure out where I fit in. At the start, they pretty much offered an open ended thing, and we were trying to figure out what it would look like for me long term. Then it did turn into this, it evolved into this through the trials and tribulations that we went through. Coaching wasn’t ever too interesting to me, and I always wanted to go into this role as well. This is something that was on my way, I just didn’t have the exact day-to-day experience doing it. I just always thought I would be good at it.
I’m much older than a lot of the other players. Even when I was playing — and I don’t like to point it out — but I was known as the oldest player [Laughs]. Maybe I’m a little more level headed here and there than your average player because I’m old. So this role for me does make a lot of sense.
Hotspawn: As the new General Manager, what can you share about your plans for the Houston Outlaws — what are you looking to achieve?
Coolmatt: Our team has been known as a popular team, and we’ve had our ups and downs here and there. We’re known for our strong personalities and high level of content. Being able to amplify our players and build our brand, we want to still maintain that level. The one thing we don’t have is a strong winning history. We want to maintain the spirit of the team, the level of fan engagement, and content — getting our players out there. But also, we want to be a winning team at the same time. We’re trying to build a roster of players that are going to be in line with that — [players] that want to be in front of the camera, that want to turn into the face of the league or the face of the team, and can still perform at the highest level. It sounds like the perfect scenario, but I think we already have half of the puzzle. We want to build a team that can make a deep playoff run and be a serious contender. So that’s one of the main reasons we brought Junkbuck in.
[Co-Head Coach Jae “Junkbuck” Choi] is 100% on board with all the stuff we talked about. We brought him on in record time — we sold him on this thing so fast, right after their [San Francisco Shock] win — it was crazy. Junkbuck is a really great addition, because he is someone that is bringing the perspective of what it’s like to be on the best team — a winning team — and what a winning team needs to run. We’re involving him heavily in the structure. The structure is really important, I don’t want the team to be allowed to slack off or be lazy. Not to be a drill sergeant or anything like that, but I think accountability is really important and that was something we never really had. I think players respect that too, players want to be professional and want their teammates to be professional. If you’re allowed to slack off and nothing happens, you’re gonna ask “Why can’t I do that too?” and it becomes this lazy environment. I want things to be a little more strict than I’m used to — that’s something that I’ve wanted as a player. I think the best players want that environment. You don’t want someone else on your team not taking it seriously, it’s squandering your valuable time and your effort — it’s disrespectful. Discipline is really important.
Hotspawn: You mentioned that you want a roster that is capable of winning. What does a roster capable of winning look like to you?
Coolmatt: We want players that are going to have a major passion for Overwatch, and [players] to be flexible. As rulesets and meta changes, players need to be able to exhibit that talent, [have] the ability to be adaptable, and to work in a team environment. We want players that think no one is greater than the team — that it’s not all about them. We want to have an open minded communication between the players, we want to create an environment where criticism is seen as something they shouldn’t be defensive about. You should feel open to talk about the problems you’re having and you should be able to work through them together. It’s about making the team better.
In terms of who we’re looking at, we are leaning towards more of a western roster. But we’re not against anyone that we think would exhibit what we’re looking for — that comes down to veteran players or new players. We also want to be a team that’s able to develop new talent. That’s something that we haven’t had before, and I think that that’s really important for the future of our team and the future of the League too. New people need motivation to grind the game before they’re in Overwatch League, so the tier 2 (Contenders) scene is really important for the long term growth and health of the League in general. We’re 100% open to anyone, we’re doing open tryouts. The criteria could be a little strict for some people. It’s open to any level of competitive experience, as long as you’re able to perform and we see potential in you.
There’s multiple paths to success — you can be a successful team without winning with popularity. We were still successful despite performing poorly. So I think that says a lot about our ability to connect with our fans and how important our fans are to us. We want to maintain that spirit and still be a team that everyone can look up to and really love. Our ambition is higher than what it was in the past, we’re looking to go all the way. Everyone I’ve talked to has been really excited about what we have in store. Things are going to be different for us, we’re going to be a team that the fans can really be proud of.