USC’s Varsity Overwatch team performed on the cusp of brilliance in many of their matches last year, but failed to close the door on tight matches, the most notable instance being Conquest 2019′s slugfest of a tiebreaker with UCLA that culminated in a 1-2 loss.

The varsity team saw the gold expanse of victory hovering beyond the third point of Dorado, UCLA’s digital hamburger hill, but gold quickly turned to black as they failed to topple UCLA’s ursine defense.

There were indeed moments of individual prowess throughout the course of November’s match, but in this individuality lay the crux of Varsity’s shortcomings.

“I think the main problem was not having a coach to help us with fight plans and different strategies against UCLA, like not knowing what to do in certain situations,” said Kenneth “Patriot” Peralta, the captain of the Varsity team.

Many of the team’s issues regarded practice schedules and overall team cohesion. For Patriot, it seemed like the team’s chemistry was always there, but just needed some outside expertise to push them to a higher level.

Things appear to have changed for the better with the acquisition of Nathan “Natter” Pitchaikani, the team’s new coach. They lost this past weekend, but on the whole are seeing a positive trend in the Battlefy open division bracket at six wins and four losses.

“It’s going really really well, I’m seeing a lot of improvement that I wouldn’t normally see out of most players, like people who wouldn’t normally comm, they’re comm-ing now,” said Natter.

His efforts include trying to get them away from the “solo-queue mindset,” saying that “they’re not used to playing in a team environment… so I have to take away that solo queue mindset and that’s what we’ve been working on for probably the last week or two.”

Before Natter arrived, Patriot said, “all we did was scrim matches once a week and talk about what needs to be worked on. Sometimes if people weren’t available we wouldn’t practice at all.”

But now they practice three times a week, and Natter hosts 1-on-1 sessions regarding mechanics and individual skill with many of the players. They also discuss strategy during scrims and after games, which helps players like Ignatius Mullin who said, “my mechanics have always been my strong point so it’s nice to have someone talk to me about bigger macro concepts.”

Natter embodies ‘coach’ in the modern sense of the word, imparting Overwatch knowledge from 2000 miles away at the University of Illinois. He studies computer science, coaching various teams – most notably 3rd Impact, a NA Contenders team – across the country to make some extra money.

For the rest of the season, Natter is focused on solidifying the team in their current bracket preparing them for the coming Tespa tournament starting Feb 22. He’d like them to get into the top 32, but also sees the team “definitely beat UCLA,” he said. “I’m honestly not too worried about that… I don’t know what their skill gap is but we’ll probably be fine.”

Patriot believes the team can make playoffs, especially with a “new coach reminding us that with more practice and teamwork will be consistently improving. If bad things happen, we’ll keep our heads up and continue practicing.”

*Updated to correct a mistake which said that 3rd Impact was an Overwatch 2nd division team. 3rd Impact is an NA Contenders team.