For three seasons, the rivalry between the Houston Outlaws and Dallas Fuel played out at the bottom of the Overwatch League standings.
In 2021, however, The Battle for Texas — seriously, the league has pushed the matchup to the point it has its own formal name — is playing out in some high-stakes situations.
They squared off in the first match of Overwatch’s fourth season on April 16, with Houston taking the last map for a 3-2 victory. The Fuel enacted revenge 16 days later with a 3-0 sweep during qualifiers to advance to the May Melee, which they went on to win in Hawaii.
“Neither team were really pushing for the top,” Dallas general manager Mat Taylor told USA TODAY Sports. “It was just our own battle. Now, it’s great to see.”
Still, the Outlaws are undefeated during the regular season and are tied for the best map-differential in the league (+9).
The respective turnarounds for each side means The Battle for Texas finally has the spotlight.
'So far, it's looking good'
Jake Lyon was burned out. A member of the Outlaws for the first two seasons of the league, Lyon — simply known as “Jake” in the Overwatch community — said negative results combined with a desire to better his health led to his decision to step away.
“You have to understand, when you do something like that, you’re probably not ever going to play again,” Lyon told USA TODAY Sports. “This was a sacrifice, but it was the right call for the personal well-being.”
The Dallas Fuel pose in Hawaii after winning the May Melee. (Photo: Courtesy of Overwatch League)
That didn’t mean Lyon was ready to step away from esports completely. He took on a role as a caster (aka broadcaster) for Overwatch matches and built league-wide popularity.
Then Houston general manager Matt “CoolMatt” Iorio, a former Outlaws teammate, called. He’d stepped aside around the same time as Lyon and was named general manager in October.
Lyon had still been playing Overwatch and remained ranked. The two began spit-balling ideas of how Lyon would fit into the Outlaws’ future, and settled on a player-coach position. He’s appeared in a few matches this season, but his main priority is strategy and getting the best out of the roster.
“I can still help them continue to improve, because I have a really good ability to read the game and understand how to optimize strategy, how to min-max everything,” he said. “Coaching a pro team is the epitome of it and that’s where I’m really most comfortable in a competitive setting. I’m really glad I came back this route, it’s kind of the best of both worlds for me.”
He's not taking the credit for the newfound success, though. Most of that lies with Iorio’s roster building and also the hiring of Jae-won “Junkbuck” Choi, formerly an assistant with two-time champion San Francisco, as co-head coach.
“I think this is the year we can be the team we want to be, with the new leadership and everything,” Lyon said. “This year, I feel like, is a referendum on Matt’s ability to build. So far, it’s looking good.”
With a facility of its own just outside Dallas, expectations have always been high for the Fuel.
The disappointment ate at Taylor.
“We never put the pieces together to really have a consistent, championship-caliber year,” Taylor told USA TODAY Sports.
The pieces are in place now, starting with the coaching staff. The Fuel are now led by Yun “Rush” Hee-won, who came over from the Paris Eternal, along with a few key players. Dallas defeated the Shanghai Dragons twice to capture the inaugural May Melee.
“People were looking at us to not be one of the better teams coming into the bracket,” Taylor said.
The Fuel should only be stronger: two-time All-Star Kim “Pine” Do-hyeon is set to join the team starting in Week 7.
Aside from potential in-season tournament qualifying matches — certainly a possibility if both teams remain near the top of the standings — the next matchup between Dallas and Houston won’t be until July 9.
“Hopefully it’s a good game,” Taylor said. “But we come out on top.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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