As we head into the Overwatch League’s preseason in December, we’ve seen all twelve brands and many of the rosters revealed. The first North American team to be unveiled was the Dallas Fuel: a blue flame, a sharp looking Genji, and the backing of endemic esports organization Team Envy. Since then, we’ve seen a score of other North American teams (and a ton of back and forth on social media), but the Dallas Fuel have managed to distinguish themselves nonetheless.
I’ve had two opportunities now to sit down with Mike Rufail, the team owner of the Dallas Fuel, and each time I’m struck with one thing: his sense of comfort and authenticity. Writers and owners often fall into a comfortable rapport when they talk with each other; writers ask questions, owners pause and identify the keywords in the question that let them talk about their brand values, and the writer dutifully writes that down. Rufail comes across as a touch less media trained, but the trade off is a real sense of honesty and passion.
Meet the Fuel
Part of that comes from the fact that Team Envy were one of the best squads in Overwatch before the League shook everything up. They took an APEX championship in Season 1, and snatched the Overwatch Contenders crown away from Immortals with a dominant run through Season 1. With five first place finishes in 2016, and a Contenders crown in 2017, Envy has always been a terrifying team to face.
Maybe that’s what gives Rufail such a quiet sense of confidence; he’s not worried about whether the Fuel’s brand will connect with fans. “We’re really authentic to the brand of Overwatch.” he says, and he practices what he preaches. “The in-game heroes represent unity around the world, they’re from all over the world in the game. Our roster is really representative of that—we have one of the most international rosters in all of esports.”
As a wise agent of Overwatch once said, the world could always use more heroes. Rufail has ensured that the Fuel is ready to answer the call and recruit the best talent, no matter their country of origin. “Our team is represented by eight different countries. I think that’s really authentic to the game itself, where the premise is an international crew of heroes.
The starting Dallas Fuel roster will be:
Timo "Taimou" Kettunen
Jonathon "HarryHook" Tejedor Rua
Sebastien "Chipshajen" Widlund
Christian "Cocco" Jonsson
Hwang "Effect" Hyeon
Pongphop "Mickie" Rattanasangchod
In addition, Brandon “Seagull” Larned, Scott “Custa” Kennedy, and Felix “xQc” will supplement the roster as a back up crew.
Rufail is eager to see the Fuel tested in the Overwatch League. The teams he’s most excited to face? The Seoul Dynasty, who he considers the upper echelon of Overwatch esports, the Philadelphia Fusion (there’s a longstanding rivalry between the two cities in traditional sports)... and, of course, the Houston Outlaws.
Throwdowns and taunts
The Houston Outlaws have already thrown their fair share of shade at Dallas. The two teams have a long history with each other in other titles, and the Overwatch League will allow them to continue the eClasico rivalry.
*Looks at follower counts.* How does it feel to have lost control of Texas in less than 24 hours? pic.twitter.com/2tx9aF6Gyp— Houston Outlaws (@OutlawsOW) November 1, 2017
We have some bad news for you guys: twitter followers won't be winning you matches. pic.twitter.com/CPCG6zBWaa— Dallas Fuel (@DallasFuel) November 1, 2017
Here’s where the Fuel’s quiet confidence really shrines through. While every team is having a great time bantering on Twitter, the Fuel isn’t always going for the throat. After all, why do you need to get aggro on Twitter when you’ve proven your dominance in game?
That doesn’t mean that the Fuel won’t engage in a good burn from time to time, as seen above. “We like to have fun. It’s all good fun, we let the competition take place on the field.” Hastro laughs. There’s also a business reason behind the banter. “We like to talk a little trash now and then, I think that’s normal in sports to build rivalries, and it’s a brand new League. We like to give our fans a chance to enjoy a bit of that rivalry and that aspect of the League.”
While the first season of the Overwatch League will take place in Los Angeles, Rufail is excited to return to Dallas. Not only is the city an esports haven of history, back in the days of Quake, it’s also Rufail’s hometown. Rufail, throughout both times I’ve sat down with him, keeps returning to the idea of representing Dallas in an authentic way—not a memetic idea of what Dallas is portrayed via media and word of mouth, but the real Dallas he clearly loves.
“We were ahead of the curve and we’re ready to really announce pretty early on, that’s why you saw us announce fairly early compared to the rest of the teams.” he says. “We did a lot of brand building, thinking about what makes the most sense for a Dallas franchise.”
The Fuel is meant to tap into that Dallas imagery, while also being a “cool brand”, and keeping the trademark Envy blue. When I ask Rufail how Fuel stands out among the other twelve teams to people who don’t live in Dallas, his answer is simple: “We just want to make the game really exciting to watch.”
He continues: “I think that’s what our team has been, I think our team has some of the best personalities available in the League. Combining those personalities with raw talent and skill makes a squad that’s really fun to watch. That’s what we’re bringing to the table: the most entertaining team in the Overwatch League.”
That’s certainly an ambitious claim, but Rufail stands behind it. He makes sure that the staff behind the Dallas Fuel get their due credit for their part in the team’s success so far. “We have an amazing head coach in Kyle [“KyKy” Souder], who obviously has a great track record and amazing success. We have a great GM, Matt Taylor, he’s been with the guys since day one making sure they’re taken care of.” Then there’s Rufail himself, who has expanded into business but continues to work with players.
The Overwatch League’s preseason is fast approaching, and perhaps its appropriate that the Fuel will be facing off against the Houston Outlaws immediately. It’s going to be a big match, but if Rufail is worried, he doesn’t show it. In fact, he doesn’t seem concerned with any team but the Fuel.
“I think we’re going to be able to maintain that momentum pretty well. It’s going to be challenging, we’re definitely going to have teams take a run, there are gonna be some really good rosters, but our team is experienced in dealing with the top level.”