Ryan Musselman’s teams have always gone their own way. From their FPS origins back more than a decade ago to a recent focus on slick player-produced content, the organization has always had something of an outlaw spirit, happy to demonstrate its independence from esports norms.
It’s something that Houston residents can relate to. A booming oil-and-gas metropolis that blends the best of Texas with many cultural influences, the city’s denizens have never been afraid to follow their freedom wherever it may lead—even to the stars, from NASA’s landmark Johnson Space Center.
It’s the Texas way—the Lone Star feeling, as Musselman put it. And it works. After all, sometimes an outlaw spirit is exactly what you need.
Musselman founded OpTic Gaming alongside team owner Hector Rodriguez in 2006, after the two met playing Call of Duty. Now, OpTic has made its grand entrance into the Overwatch League as the Houston Outlaws, and Musselman is elated to blend Houston’s distinctiveness with OpTic’s unconventionality. Does it come as any surprise that the franchise has cited a certain gun-slinging hero as its inspiration?
“You look at McCree—there’s that freedom, that independent feeling you also get with Houston,” said Musselman, the Outlaws’ team president. “It continues our legacy of doing things differently. You feel that independence that’s synonymous with Houston and McCree, and it just evokes a different vibe.”
That vibe has welcomed the Outlaws to Texas, which thus far has been a match made in Space City.
“It’s awesome that we get to represent Houston,” Musselman said. “It’s a great city from a great state that is already welcoming us. Some of our biggest fans are in Texas. We’re truly a Texas team.”
The organization may be new arrivals to Texas, but their roots go deep. Rodriguez was born in El Paso, and the decision to join Overwatch League and operate out of the Lone Star State was one that the organization spent more than a year planning.
OpTic has long been one of the most popular and well-recognized North American esports brands, and so they’ve been very pleased at the reception of their Overwatch League logo: a pair of neon green-and-black revolvers that form another Texas symbol, the Longhorn. (ESPN praised it, saying the logo “could go toe-to-toe with some of the better traditional sports logos of today.”)
If that wasn’t enough, the organization partnered with Texas Rangers co-owner Neil Leibman to make the dream of an Overwatch Team a reality. No stranger to building successful professional franchises, the partnership with Leibman further puts the Outlaws’ bootmark on Texas.
Green, But Not with Envy
Fans of the Houston Outlaws’ parent organization OpTic Gaming have long been collectively known as “the Green Wall,” hence the neon green in the logo’s horns and star. And as for the Longhorn skull made from two black revolvers, well—as they say, don’t mess with Texas.
“We couldn’t be more excited that he jumped into this space with us—and he did so with such boldness and confidence,” Musselman said. “For us, operating on a different playing field and building such a strong brand already, we wanted to align with the right organization that would be very complimentary to what we’re doing, rather than being a takeover. It’s such a unique partnership we’re building, and we’re excited for our future.”
Building an organization is great—but building a team is the real challenge.
For that, the team turned to General Manager Matt “Flame” Rodriguez, who had a very specific vision. Go out and pay the most money to get some of the game’s biggest names and throw them together to see what happened? No—it was team chemistry that was at the top of Rodriguez’s list of goals for the roster they put together.
The result of that is a team that will look quite familiar to viewers of the 2017 Overwatch World Cup. Three of the Outlaws—Jake “JAKE” Lyon, Matt “Coolmatt” Iorio, and Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty—were members of the U.S. national team that delighted fans by taking the first map of the quarterfinals off South Korea before falling in four games to the eventual champions.
The trio represent half of the six roster spots that belong to Americans on the 10-man squad. Joining them from the States are Matt “Clockwork” Dias, Austin “Muma” Wilmot, and Daniel “Boink” Pence, while the team’s international members are Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin, Lucas “Mendokusaii” Håkansson, Alexandre “SPREE” Vanhomwegen, and Christopher “Bani” Benell. The relatively large roster is another example of the Outlaws going their own way, but it’s been constructed with such care that the team, from the players to the coaching staff, have happily bought in.
Biggest Rivals in the Overwatch League?
Dallas Fuel and the New York Excelsior.
“I’m really excited because the pro players have been looking forward to Overwatch League for a long time,” Mendokusaii said when the team was announced. “I’ve been playing the game since closed beta, but it feels like my career is just starting now, which is very exciting because this is something that’s never been tried before.”
The team knows they have plenty to live up to in Houston. This is, after all, a city fresh off a thrilling, seven-game World Series victory courtesy of the Astros, and Houston fans still vividly remember the back-to-back NBA titles the Rockets delivered in 1994 and 1995. The city is still rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey earlier this year, and the Outlaws know the healing power that sports (and esports) can bring—something they are more than ready to contribute to.
“Our hearts were broken after the hurricane; it was such a tragedy,” Musselman said. “We can’t say enough about all the work that’s been put in by local law enforcement, firefighters, and first responders. But we do want to be a part of the rebuilding. We want to be a positive addition to everything being done to help Houston. It’s an honor to even be mentioned in that conversation, and we hope we can position ourselves to be a part of that.”
They’ll get plenty of chances soon enough. Last week during the preseason the Outlaws rekindled one of esports’ best rivalries—the “eClasico”—against the Dallas Fuel, owned by Team EnVy. And that was just a precursor to new rivalries that will surely emerge once the inaugural season gets underway on Jan. 10.
“As an organization, when we do anything we care about the narrative. It’s never just a game or a video, it’s a piece that fits into who we are as OpTic and as the Houston Outlaws,” Musselman said. “We want to tell the story of our players, and we’re telling an incredible story with the Houston Outlaws.”
They will write the first chapter of that story in a few short weeks. And there’s one thing we can be sure of: the Houston Outlaws will do it their own way.