Welcome back! In part two of our in-depth interview with Gladiators Head Coach David “Dpei” Pei, we broke down the Gladiators’ playoff performance and their next steps as a team. You can review part one here. Enjoy!
OWS: Going into the season playoffs, how did that final loss against the Valiant in Stage 4 affect the team? Did it hang over them, or light a fire for another rematch?
Dpei: I don’t think it affected them too much. I think it was good practice. I thought both teams played really poorly in the stage playoffs, actually. Like, that was not a good match from us. I’m guessing Valiant wasn’t playing to their potential either. So I think it was good for both teams just to get that playoff feel.
The Battle for LA in the stadium feels absolutely insane. There’s so much cheering I can hear it in the dugout – you can hear the chants, you can feel the energy. You feel like it’s a playoff match every time. And so I think it was good for both teams to get that feeling of pressure underneath them and get them a little more experience. I don’t think any of our players took it too hard. We didn’t lose too much confidence from it. I think we were looking ahead to London anyways at that point.
OWS: Speaking of, the Gladiators started out with a spectacular win against the Spitfire in match one. Three days later, the Spitfire took back to back matches to win the series. What changed in those three days?
Dpei: Not much changed with us, to be honest. I think, in the first set of maps, we definitely were more prepared – contrary to what the statistics said, or whatever the desk was saying. The first set of maps was much better for us than the second set of maps. I was even telling Tim, “We really need to win match one, because I’m expecting to have a disadvantage in set two.”
So I don’t think much had changed. I think we played well in the first match – let’s call that 100%. I think we only played at 75% or 85% on the second day. It was good, but it wasn’t good enough to beat the Spitfire. Something happened to the Spitfire – I heard that they were packing their bags to go home, that they didn’t practice the next day because they were demoralized. And I think when they realized that they had nothing to lose, they just – maybe it was the stress getting to them, the pressure or something, but I think once they let go of their fear of losing they just absolutely went on a tear.
Through all of the playoffs, no one really expected that from them, but their true potential really showed there. I think they got a little bit of momentum from the first series with us, and they just felt dominant throughout. After that, they didn’t drop a set to anyone. I’m not sure what happened to London, to be totally honest. It was more about them being on that tear than us being unprepared. I don’t think that’s true. They just went on an absolute tear.
OWS: Would you say there’s a point of pride in taking the one set off of them in the playoffs, then?
Dpei: Oh yeah, I’ll just say we’re the second-best team. No problem. I won’t mind that praise.
OWS: Looking at the Gladiators’ playoff performances throughout the season, are you at all concerned about your team’s ability during these high stakes games?
Dpei: I think all of those were good learning experiences, so I’m not really too concerned. If you look at Stage 4, I think every game was really a high stakes game because we all wanted to make playoffs. That was our goal. The Valiant went 9-1, our team went 9-1 , and our players really performed under clutch situations. We got a lot of 3-2’s. A lot of game fives. We reverse swept New York, I think we reverse swept London- or we reversed two teams back to back, something like that.
Editors note: Dpei was correct on both counts. The Gladiators reverse swept both New York and London in their Stage 4, Week 4 games. Impressive!
So I don’t think my team shies under pressure. I just think they need a little bit more experience. Experience always helps. And it will make them better in the long term for all these things. So I’m not really too worried, because I felt like during the whole regular season they were very clutch.
OWS: With the season now over, what other insights or stories do you think people should pay attention to?
Dpei: I think, just because of how broadcast works and how people follow sports, they need a specific narrative to follow. I think a lot of the time, though, it’s more holistic than that. People don’t always pay attention to the whole narrative. They wanna think that one thing did it all. One player. One coach. Like how people are saying Crusty made the Shock extremely better. In terms of strategy, I would definitely agree. I’ve seen Shock do better things in Stage 4 scrims. It was just very clear they had a game plan, and that they knew how to execute their comp. It didn’t go perfectly, but it was really really good. And it was something systematic that I saw out of Boston as well.
I think people just tend to follow a narrative because of whatever the casters are saying, or whatever the random public opinion is. Most of the time, though, a lot of people are doing a lot of good things. So when a person gets praise, it’s actually a lot of people getting it right together. And when people are getting, you know, kind of trashed, I think the same is true. A lot of people are still doing a lot of good things. It just might not be enough, or there are a couple of things missing. I think people should try to pay more attention to the whole. It’s really hard to really know what’s going on, though, unless you’re inside the team.
Just don’t underrate or overvalue too much, you know? Take everything with a grain of salt. This is the most team-based game, I think, in all of esports. It requires constant coordination, constant talking, it’s very complex, the situation constantly changes. It’s very fast-paced. So I think people should always consider that if there’s something good going on, everyone is doing a good job, from the coaching staff to the players. And there might just be one or two things missing from people who are underperforming, or teams that are underperforming. That’s what I would tell people to pay attention to.
OWS: I really like that! I think it’s interesting to consider how, as a culture, we draw towards narratives. I think we just pick up on anything that makes you say “This makes sense in my head!”
Dpei: Yeah! I do it as a fan too. When I read the NBA subreddit, I’m always like “Yeah yeah yeah, this person just hard carried the team,” or “Oh Carmelo Anthony is just a washed up player now.” I do it too, but it’s not a good thing to do all the time. I always question those things, but when I read it always makes sense, and I want to believe it because it makes things simpler, you know? It’s a one-line explanation. But It’s not really how it is.
OWS: What was your team’s overall goal for the inaugural season? Did you achieve it?
Dpei: Our goal every year, or my goal every year at the very least, is to win the Overwatch League. We didn’t achieve it, but that isn’t the most important thing, it’s just a goal. A goal is something you’re trying to reach for. And I think you should try to make goals hard, but within reach. And I think we were in reach, right? We were in the playoffs. It was certainly possible. We weren’t like Shanghai or Florida, really at the bottom, where that’s an unrealistic goal. We were able to reach for that.
I often asked myself, “What at the end of the season most matters to me?” I think it goes back to our philosophy as Gladiators. We really wanted to make our players better people. I see all our players’ growth, and I am so so impressed and so proud of every single one of them. They’ve done things through really hard times. If I were them, I’m not sure I would be able to do it.
These guys have pulled through, have really fought through adversity and made sure that they were a better person coming out of it. And I think that is really important, that they grew into better people. That’s what sports are about. Sports are about the human spirit in a very general sense. That’s why people love watching it. It’s a test of the human will. It gives you something to rally behind. There’s a sense of community.
I think a team is very similar to that, where your team becomes your family in a lot of ways, and they become people you learn off, grow off of. Even if not everything goes well, right? Not everything has to go well, and often times it doesn’t. But they came out better people for it, and when I look at their progress from the beginning of the season to now, I’m so impressed and so proud of every single one of them. And I think that is more important than winning or losing, or whatever my personal goal is, because that isn’t really what matters.
Editor’s Note: Between the time of interview and the time of publication, Toronto’s Overwatch League team (and Splyce’s involvement) was confirmed in a press release from ESPN writer Jacob Wolf.
OWS: There are rumors of a Splyce run Toronto team for next season. You trialed as an Overwatch coach for Splyce for two weeks before they decided against running an Overwatch team. From your limited time with the organization, what might we expect from Splyce?
Dpei: I know a little bit about them from League and stuff, but having talked to their CEO, even if it was for a brief interview, I really liked his way of thinking. He was really systematic about things, which I think is very important. He understood that things took iteration and took time to really develop. So I think Splyce will be a good organization, I think it’s run well with a really good CEO. I’m kind of excited for them and Toronto to be in the league if the rumors are true.
OWS: Nick from Invenglobal just put out an article that talked about player fatigue. Nick referred to Seagull’s retirement as a result of fatigue, as well as Neptuno’ opting out of the World Cup. As a coach, how do you approach this problem with your team? Do you have any solutions in place or things you are looking ahead for in future seasons?
Dpei: Stress is a really hard problem to deal with, because stress is not something where X turns into Y, right? It’s very individualized, and it’s very contextual – but the context is very unclear. It was something that I was thinking about this season, too. Before this season people were able to play at home for six to eight hours. And they were less burnt out than playing in the Overwatch League, where it started at six hours a day and then went to four hours a day. It’s very strange to me why that’s happened.
I think it could be that people are more introverted, so even going outside or interacting with their team is draining. The breaks aren’t as restful for them as the comfort of their own home. I think it’s strange, but it’s something that we’re constantly trying to figure out and try to push the edge for. You really need the highest production out of your players as possible, but you really aren’t looking to burn them out by any means. You can’t just work ‘em like workhorses. They’re human beings. It’s something that we’re constantly trying to figure out, how to maximize while pushing the edge. But it’s something that I think will vary from player to player, team to team, environment to environment. If your environments are more stressful, the season is more stressful.
Stage 4 for us was more stressful than Stage 1 or Stage 2, but Stage 4’s playoffs were even more stressful than that. So it’s not an exact science – we’re constantly trying to figure out ways to help our players with that. But it’s something that we just have to iterate on and see how the season goes, and evaluate based on the time frame too. We sometimes had to cut scrims because it just wasn’t good for our players. Even if we were to get value out of it strategically, the players are probably better off with a break. We’re happy to do that, but we’re always trying to push the edge for that as much as possible.
OWS: Final question. Have you seen the all-star rosters for the Talent Takedown?
Dpei: I have not. Is that casters vs casters?
OWS: It’s casters and analysts, mixed together on two separate teams.
Dpei: Oh Lordy. I don’t know if I want to watch that level of gameplay.
OWS: After being at the mercy of analysts all season making their picks on whether or not you’re going to win or lose, do you want to serve it back at them?
Dpei: (Laughs) I don’t even know what to say to that, actually. I wish I could cast one of those games. Give a prediction, be wrong, and then everything would be ok. Yeah, I’ll just vote for someone and then be wrong. I loved when people predicted against us, ‘cause we always lost when people voted for us twice. It was so unlucky.
Every time we saw that two casters voted for us, we’d be in the dugout and see it in the corner of our eyes. We were just like, “Oh no, we’re screwed right here! It’s over!” Even if they expected us to beat Shanghai, it was over. They’re gonna have the upset of the century.
A huge thank you to Dpei and the Gladiators for facilitating this interview! Expect great things from the Gladiators in Season 2, and stay tuned here at Overwatchscore for all the action. Thanks for reading!