The story of the Houston Outlaws really begins with the April revamp of the Gale Force eSports roster, rather than the roster announcement of the Overwatch League team. The only player from the GFe roster of old was Muma, and among the new additions were Boink, clockwork, and Bani.
Of the new roster, clockwork was the name most well-known to Overwatch fans. After being regarded as one of the few bright spots of a Splyce team that struggled to find success throughout 2016, he joined NRG in the fall of that year to help create what was dubbed a TF2 super roster. After the team flopped, something that fans would soon become accustomed to with NRG, clockwork fell from grace and was removed from the team. The Gale Force squad seemed to give him the opportunity to redeem himself.
Boink was likely the next most well-known player from this group, mostly from his namesake oink oink Here Comes the BOINK!'s performances in 2016's GosuGamers' Weeklies. Up until this point, Boink was a flex player and joined GFe with the intention of playing flex. It wasn't until eMIL joined the team a month later that Boink would move to the main support role he is known for now.
Although Muma had been playing for Gale Force for several months by this time, the limited success of the team's previous roster had left him in obscurity to the Overwatch world. Any fame Muma had among the community came from his time playing for the ever dominant Froyotech in TF2 just before his move to Overwatch.
Bani was the greatest unknown in the group, as he had never played for an organization (the lone exception being that he played for EnVision for a single Academy Weekly) prior to his signing with GFe.
The roster was released just after it had qualified for the Overwatch Memorial Day Rumble in late May. The players resurfaced alongside buds and enigma a week later in the first Overwatch Contenders Qualifier and charged through the bracket to finish in the top four and qualify for Contenders Season One, beating tournament favorites Selfless along the way. If the underdog story wasn't enough to make them a fan favorite, the team used an image of a literal corndog dog as their logo, cementing themselves a fanbase despite their newness as a team.
If the players on the team weren't well-known before, they were now. Muma and coolmatt earned a reputation as one of the best tank pairs in North America as the duo led the team on Winston and D.Va respectively. clockwork had reestablished himself as a formidable hitscan player, breaking the shackles of his NRG reputation that seemed to have him chained forever. Boink's Lucio play earned him fans from across the world, including Team Japan's Lucio, CLAIRE. Bani was a consistent flex support who caused problems for other teams time and again as he regularly busted out Sombra and churned out EMP after EMP.
FNRGFE's underdog story continued as the unsigned team went 4-3 in the round robin season of Contenders Season One and qualified for the tournament's playoffs. FNRGFE would only play one playoff match, as they could do little to overcome tournament favorites EnVyUs in their opening game.
Although it did not end in a title, the team's Contenders performance earned the players eyeballs and Overwatch League tryouts, something that seemed unlikely for anybody on the roster when they started their journey together on GFe months before.
When ESPN reported that OpTic would be bringing in Muma and coolmatt for their Overwatch League team, there were fears that the roster would be split apart. A later report eased those fears as it was confirmed all but buds would make it into the new Overwatch League roster.
When the full roster was announced, it was revealed that five additional players would be joining FNRGFE on Houston. They would be DPS players JAKE, LiNkzr, and Mendokusaii, flex player SPREE, and flex support Rawkus.
JAKE and Rawkus played with coolmatt during the World Cup for Team USA, while Rawkus and SPREE played with each other in Contenders for FaZe Clan, bringing in some additional synergy outside of the FNRGFE core.
JAKE had previously been the DPS for an LG Evil squad that competed with Immortals for the top of North America in early 2017 and has been known for his intelligence in and outside the game. While some know him for heroes such as Genji, Soldier 76, Pharah, and Junkrat, others may know him for his attempts at reaching out to the casual playerbase on the Blizzard forums with his perspective and for his well-received articles he has written about Overwatch on his blog.
Rawkus and SPREE come from the FaZe Clan squad that established themselves as the second best team in North America during Contenders, only trailing the always favored EnVyUs. Rawkus survived the FaZe Clan rebuild earlier in the year and took the opportunity to continue to prove himself as one of the best support players in the West. While SPREE spent most of Contenders protecting Rawkus and the rest of his team with D.Va's Defense Matrix, SPREE first rose to fame as one of the best Zarya players in the world.
The team is rounded out by the Nordic DPS pair of Mendokusaii and LiNkzr. Mendo was established as one of the better DPS players in the game while it was still in beta, but spent much of 2016 on teams that struggled to find success or as a free agent. He eventually found himself on Cloud9 after their first rebuild. While he and the roster showed a lot of promise, they eventually crumbled after playing in APEX Season 2. Since then and until now, Mendokusaii was somewhat of a streamer journeyman who occasionally played for unsigned teams or subbed for others.
Much like Mendokusaii, LiNkzr had also established himself as a top player back in beta. Unlike Mendo, however, most of his 2016 was spent on just one roster as he stayed with his Creation eSports squad that ended up becoming Team Dignitas. LiNkzr became somewhat of a hidden gem on the team as Dignitas struggled to find success after ESL's Atlantic Showdown. Once "Finland's Gift to Esports" joined Team Gigantti for Contenders in the summer of 2017, however, he shined too brightly to be considered hidden anymore. Instead, he became the star of the team as they beat the roster that would become the Florida Mayhem to win Contenders Season One Europe and secured a major title.
While the team is 100% western, the coaching staff is not. The Outlaws brought in a pair of Afreeca Freecs coaches -- head coach TaiRong and assistant coach HyeonWoo -- to coach alongside MESR. The coaches have had decorated careers themselves; TaiRong was the Lucio for the South Korean nationals that won the first Overwatch World Cup while MESR was often referred to as one of the best tanks in the West when he played for Team Liquid. While TaiRong has demonstrated a decent grasp of English on his Twitter, it will be seen how smoothly his coaching ideas transfer from Korean to English.
The consensus opinion seems to peg the Houston Outlaws around a mid-table finish for the inaugural Overwatch League season. Whether or not that is how they will finish remains to be seen, but the goals for the Outlaws are likely set much higher. After all, they were built around a team that made a habit out of causing upsets and pushing top teams to much closer to defeat than they were used to.
The Houston Outlaws roster is:
- Jake "JAKE" Lyon (DPS)
- Jiri "LiNkzr" Masalin (DPS)
- Lucas "Mendokusaii" Håkansson (DPS)
- Matt "clockwork" Dias (DPS)
- Alexandre "SPREE" Vanhomwegen (Flex)
- Matt "coolmatt69" Iorio (Flex)
- Austin "Muma" Wilmot (Tank)
- Chris "Bani" Benell (Support)
- Daniel "Boink" Pence (Support)
- Shane "Rawkus" Flaherty (Support)
- TaeYeong "TaiRong" Kim (Coach)
- Adam "MESR" De La Torre (Coach)
- HyeonWoo "HyeonWoo" Kim (Coach)
- Matt "flame" Rodriguez (General Manager)