Interview: Coach Aurace

April 24 2017

Interest in Overwatch has been reaching a fever pitch over the past few months, and it's difficult to avoid whispers of a big new league on the horizon. Liquid Overwatch had experienced a difficult time over the turn of the year, but our fortunes are finally improving. That isn't a coincidence—our rise in form has coincided with the addition of our new coach Alex "Aurace" Nguyen. Just last week, we slugged it out with some of the best teams in the world in Overwatch PIT Championship North America, earning ourselves 2nd place.

We pulled coach Aurace aside to know exactly how the roster has grown since his arrival:

To start off, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your non-professional history as a gamer.
Aurace: Non professional history? Let’s see, well back when I was a kid, everyone had a Super Nintendo or an N64. My dad bought me a Playstation 1, so I started playing on that back in the 90’s. I fell in love with gaming in general but I was mostly an RPG guy.
Once I got into highschool I started playing things like Call of Duty and Dragon Ball Z: Budokai with some of my friends. When Call of Duty online came out in Call of Duty 3, me and my friend would play LAN over at his house all the time. After that I got really into it and bought my own Xbox, and when Modern Warfare came out I started playing really hardcore. In retrospect that probably wasn’t the best idea as a highschooler.

That was roughly the start of my professional career. I’ve competed professionally in both Call of Duty and Gears of War. Casually though, like I mentioned, I love to play RPGs. There is just something about vast storylines, turn based combat, and flashy abilities that make me love them.

What was your first exposure to the competitive gaming scene?
Aurace: I used to go to LANs for tournaments in Call of Duty and Gears of War here in Colorado. They were pretty small back then but those were my first. It was back in highschool before esports were even a thing. There was some money in it—and obviously the prestige—but it wasn’t taken nearly as seriously as it is now.

However, the first game I got really into watching and analyzing was StarCraft, back when people would post streams to tournament games, VODs, and other things on Liquipedia. That’s when I started diving deep into why things were happening in a game and working on analysis. Not only did it improve my own gameplay to do that but it also exposed me to a bunch of awesome and unique styles of play.

Was there a moment when you decided that esports was the field you wanted to work in? Like you mentioned it hasn’t been seen as a viable option for very long.
Aurace: The biggest thing that was pushed for me, being a gamer, was that I was told that I needed to go to college and get a degree. I ended up as a med student, but even then I was coaching collegiate teams on the side. That’s when I started to realize that these guys could viably move up to the next level like to LCS or similar leagues.

After I graduated, I spent about 3 years in my field. I worked as a personal trainer in a hospital. I started to realize that while I enjoyed the work it wasn’t really my passion. I never woke up saying, “I’m really excited to go in today!”

Here in Colorado there is an esports team called Colorado Clutch, whom I contacted for a position with the hopes that maybe I could do it well. I ended up getting the position and after about half a year I had decided that this is absolutely what I wanted to do. Even with long hours—I was in the office for 8-10 hours per day—I enjoyed it. It was something that I wanted to go and drive an hour every day to do.

You mentioned that you’ve played on pro teams in Call of Duty and Gears of War as well as coaching collegiate teams across several games. Do you have a preference personally between playing or coaching?
Aurace: Obviously I would love to be a player. However, I felt like based on how my life turned out and the decisions I made I don’t think I put in enough time. I’m not saying I’m too old to be a player but financially I don’t have the time to really do that. Also I’ve always been more of an in-game leader or shotcaller because I am far more analytical than mechanically skilled. I feel like it fits my strengths far more to be a coach or an analyst.

Moving on to your work with Liquid specifically, you came into the team during a very critical point of the Overwatch Carbon series. What was it like arriving right in the middle of that chaos?
Aurace: Honestly it gave me mixed feelings, both sad and happy. It made me sad because I had known about a lot of these players since my time on Colorado Clutch when the game first came out in beta. Back then they were a top team in North America, so now I saw them doing poorly and I was so shocked at what was happening.

However it made me happy because it allowed me the opportunity to be the coach and help them turn around and prove my worth. I have the chance to teach this awesome group of players how I think the game should be played. As soon as I arrived the team grew very quickly and worked well with what I was trying to teach them. That’s when we started winning, began an upswing and even took a game off of LG Evil who was undefeated 9-0 at the time.

After the acquisition of both Shadder2K and yourself the team did indeed start coming back. What did you see that needed changing when you first arrived?
Aurace: The fundamentals of the game. My biggest focus is macro play which includes thing from: Team communication, overall communication, and teamwork. That is something that they were missing.

When I think back about watching them play, they are all great players mechanically. Most of them come from huge backgrounds. From what I know, rapha is a Quake champion, a hall of famer. DaHanG and id_ are top tier Quake players. It’s hard to beat something like that. AZK came from one of the best teams in CS:GO and is mechanically great. However the thing that was a downfall was that they had no direction or knew what the problems were. Nowadays though, people have figured out the game and mechanics are just the prerequisite. These guys have been really open minded. Having Shadder helps as well because he’s very young in comparison so he brings a lot of new ideas and energy to the team.

What strengths do you feel the players bring to team cohesion as a whole? Any particular personality traits or quirks that have caught your eye?
Aurace: I mean I haven’t been with them for that long. For what I’ve seen to start, rapha is very much an in-game leader. He will speak his mind regardless of whether or not people are talking over him; if something isn’t right he will voice it. It’s a very refreshing thing to see. Shadder, like I mentioned before, brings that new energy and new blood. Now it’s just a matter of him syncing up with the rest of the team and them understanding each other.

You worked with collegiate teams and “smaller dogs” in the past. What has it been like working for Team Liquid in comparison?
Aurace: Honestly it hasn’t been all that different. I don’t treat the players like they’re celebrities or at all different. They are players to me and I am their coach. I am here to improve their game. They picked me as their coach for a reason which is they believe I can lead them in the right direction. I tell them how it is. If they are unhappy with something and we disagree then by all means we can discuss it. If they prove that they have another option rather than simply disagreeing then that is a conversation we can have. I don’t think there is anything too different. That being said, the fact that the players are pro simply means I will hold them to a higher standard. That level is expected of them already.

With the announcement and the coming push of Blizzard’s E-league, do you feel that this is something you full on commit to where you would have to move to a gaming house and live in with the players?
Aurace: Hell yea. I don’t think there is any other answer than that. For me it’s a once in a lifetime thing. How many people who want to be pro gamers or coaches get the chance to go and live in the gaming capital of the U.S? To be able to live with the players and go to a studio and analyze games every single week is something I have dreamed of.

Going forward towards future tournaments, and eventually the league, what plans do you have to help your players continue to grow and remain sharp?
Aurace: Well for me it’s just making sure that the fundamentals are taken care of. Things like skillsets, communication, teamwork, et cetera need to be practiced constantly. After all that is secure we move onto team compositions and strategy. I also have been keeping a keen eye on new regions entering the professional space like Taiwan and Japan. I would say that honestly there is no formula. It’s all based on how I analyze the game and how I present that information to my players while working with their strengths. I’m working to make them the best team possible with the current roster and grow with them as well.

How is it that you present criticism in a way that is accepted and not seen as inflammatory or offensive?
Aurace: Compliment sandwich! Naw I’m kidding. For me, the guys specifically said when I was trialing to be honest and blunt. They are all older guys, but if I were working with a younger team, with players seventeen years old to the early twenties, I would have to take a different approach. However all of these guys have competitive experience and most of them have LAN experience.

If they are messing up I just call them on it, there is no sugar coating it. That being said, if they are doing something well I will reinforce that but if they mess up on something that I have brought up to them I will call them on it. I never will yell but I will get very stern and very upset at the fact that it’s something we’ve gone over and acknowledged. If they don’t uphold their end of me being the coach with something we’ve talked about then that results in losses, and they know that. Here’s the thing, if you’re blunt and honest and the problem you are bringing up is actually there then it should be fine.

Finally, do you feel that you and this roster can win?
Aurace: I believe so. After Overwatch PIT, I believe the sky's the limit. This team is committed, has the passion, and grows at an amazing rate! We can win, as long as EVERYONE is open to improvement and has a good attitude. We brought down two titans, we can bring down the rest.


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Writer // Grant "Maleok" Johnson
Graphics // Shiroiusagi

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