On a rainy gray Thursday morning in January, the Florida Mayhem piled into the main room of their new practice facility and immediately toed off their shoes—a matching set of Nike low-tops with yellow laces, red trim, and tags in the back that say “MAY” on the left shoe and “HEM” on the right. These custom sneakers were a welcome (back) gift for the players when they first arrived at their new North Hollywood training base earlier that week. The sentiment is clear: time to get ready to buckle down and finish preparing for the 2019 Overwatch League season.

The influx of new teams in the Overwatch League has necessitated making independent practice arrangements this year, rather than sharing the relatively cramped practice rooms at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles. Mayhem head coach Vytis “Mineral” Lasaitis is a big fan of the change. “It’s crucial to separate work from free time, and to have a spacious area with windows where you can see sunlight outside,” he says. “You can work towards a better work-life balance, even though it’s sort of difficult in esports.”

The space, like the Mayhem roster itself, is a work in progress. The hallway outside the practice rooms—two of them, one for the Overwatch League roster and one for the Mayhem Academy team—is temporarily a tighter squeeze due to more empty boxes, which once housed computer peripherals. There are no snacks on the shelves in the kitchen area, no personal items on display. The undecorated practice room produces a bit of an echo, amplifying the natural soundtrack of professional gaming: keyboard clacks, mouse clicks, exuberant reactions to plays both good and bad.

It feels new, and for the Mayhem, new is a good thing.

“I almost want to say that we’re kind of like an expansion team, as we’re coming in with basically a completely new roster,” DPS Kevin “Tviq” Lindström said. Tviq is one of three returning players from the 2018 team that ended the season with a 7-33 record, along with fellow DPS Jeong-Woo “Sayaplayer” Ha and main tank Sung-Hoon “SNT” Kim (formerly aWesomeGuy). With five new recruits—all Korean—and another player on a two-way contract, the Mayhem aren’t shying away from the “rebuild” label.

“It’s definitely a challenge because we have to rebuild the culture and completely build a new foundation because we have no real synergy to build [off] from last year,” Mineral said. “Everyone has different ideas, everyone has different ways to view the game. We have to combine that, and that’s the biggest challenge.”

Still, he added, he considers the influx of fresh perspectives to be an advantage, especially since most of the reinforcements are veterans. “We want to turn this ship around quickly, and in order to do that, we wanted players who had experience, who had championship experience, who had been winners in the past. If you look across the roster, we do have a ton of APEX veterans, APEX champions, Contenders champions, guys who know what it takes to win.”

2019 Team Preview: Florida

Check out what analysts are saying about the Mayhem’s new roster.

As the team prepared for scrims later that morning, all of that experience was on display during an especially spirited VOD review session, with a translator on hand. Main tank Sang-Won “Swon” Yoon, a mainstay in APEX and Contenders, was very vocal. Jun-Su “Kris” Choe, whose English might be the best among the Koreans on the team, conversed with Tviq and Damon “Apply” Conti.

SNT, who is still on the active roster but decided to take on more coaching duties this season, presented some instructional clips he had compiled. “Right now, I think this is more helpful in terms [of] bringing victories to the team,” he explained. “We don’t have a lot of time left, but we’re approaching this like we’re starting over again, so we’re focusing on communication and team coordination.”

While newly formed teams always require time and care to achieve synthesis, Tviq says he’s excited about the new roster, describing the motivated atmosphere as a “honeymoon period.”

“I think we have a group of people that’s a lot hungrier than we were last season, from even the short amount of time that we’ve been spending together,” he added. “I definitely think [the new guys] can actually feel how much we want to say that this year, we’re not going to go 7-33. We’re gonna go as far as we possibly can and work as hard as we possibly can, to do better than last year.”

“It’s a little hectic, but I can tell we’re definitely making progress fast,” Apply added. As the youngest member of the team, and a prospect on a two-way contract lacking the LAN experience of his teammates, he says he’s just trying to be a sponge after joining the team at the end of Contenders Season 3. “I have to learn fast, and that’s what I’m doing—ask a lot of questions, absorb all the information.”

Sayaplayer and SNT were in his shoes not long ago, having joined the Mayhem in the middle of 2018. “It’s not that the team was complete, but they were already on their way to gelling together without me, and I was just doing my best to catch up with them,” Sayaplayer said. “But this season, we’re all together from the beginning, so that’s new, and because of that I think there’s more of a sense of responsibility, the pressure to do better than last season.”

Despite the pressure, SNT says he’s optimistic about the new group. “I’ve talked to our new players a lot, had a lot of conversations with them, and they’re all really great. They’re passionate and good kids. I really want to do well with this roster. I feel like we can talk amongst each other to get through things, even if it’s hard.”

The team’s trip to Florida—which came after an intensive boot camp in South Korea—certainly helped with group bonding. The organization’s second time visiting their future home state featured fan meets, at least one encounter with a sports car, board games, and bike rides.

“We were all surprised by how good the weather was,” Sayaplayer said. “I told [my teammates] that the weather still wouldn’t be that good, but it turned out to be good, so they made fun of me. Also, it was the seaside, so we could see things like birds, and we were all saying, ‘Wow, you can’t see birds this size in Korea.’”

Back in the sparse practice room, with the pitter-patter of keyboard sounds mirroring the rainfall outside, the players couldn’t be further removed from their sun-blasted Florida memories. The personal touches will come, and general manager Matt Akhavan Kim plans on giving each of the players a plant to take care of, a bit of therapeutic green to break up the practice hours.

The in-game improvements will come too—and soon, they hope. The Mayhem aren’t the only team in the league making big changes, looking to reach that next level. But the team is coming together, one day at a time, and this year they’re all starting on the same page. Together, they’re looking forward to sunnier days ahead.

Photos by Margaret Lee.

The Mayhem will open their season on Friday, Feb. 15, at 5:30 p.m. PST, against the Atlanta Reign. Catch all the action live and on demand on overwatchleague.com, the Overwatch League app, our Twitch channel, MLG.com, and the MLG app.