BURBANK, Calif. -- After long matches in the Overwatch League, many players and coaches collapse with long sighs in the couches and chairs of the interview rooms in the Blizzard Arena. They express exhaustion, relief, or disappointment in their or their team's performances, depending on match results, before dutifully answering questions from various members of the press.
Following the San Francisco Shock's 3-1 Stage 4 victory over the Boston Uprising on Friday, Shock coach Park "Crusty" Dae-hee sat up straight, with focus and attention, on a large coach in the colorful second Blizzard Arena skybox. Round-faced and cheerful, Crusty spoke emphatically of his team with pride. Spend less than a minute with Crusty, and it's easy to see why he's respected as a coach.
"Honestly, today I was a bit nervous," he said. "If we lose, you know? It's like, 'Crusty's now your problem, you know?'" His English was clear and strong. He waved his hands wildly for emphasis.
San Francisco Shock analyst Harsha Bandi and manager Chris Chung burst out laughing. Crusty joined in, a bit more nervously than his Shock staff counterparts. His response was equally self-deprecating and joyful. He leaned forward, as if he was about to impart a choice piece of wisdom.
"Also, we prepared for Dallas more; we only prepared one day for Boston."
On May 7, the Boston Uprising announced the departure of Crusty as the team's head coach. Moments later, the San Francisco Shock announced Crusty as their new coach. The move was startling. Crusty had just led Boston to a 10-0 regular season in Stage 3, deftly navigated an appalling situation with the team's former DPS player, and had brought Boston to a stage finals. Boston lost to the New York Excelsior, but the finals appearance alone was a monumental achievement. Few coaches leave their teams on such a high, especially one with obvious room for growth moving forward.
As news of Crusty's departure circulated, rumors of a payday windfall from the Shock and growing tension in Boston circulated, even as Crusty and the team denied them. "I had a lot of stress and due to personal reasons and I also needed a change," Crusty wrote when the coaching change was made.
In the brightly lit Blizzard Arena skybox, after beating his former team in their first matchup since he left, Crusty elaborated on his decision to leave Boston for the Shock.
"[The Shock] team's management is very good," Crusty said. He smiled, glancing briefly at Chris and Harsha. "It feels like we have a lot of smart staff, and that helps a lot. It helps me a lot. Every time it's really stressful thinking of strategy -- I still feel really comfortable and supported, so it's fun."
On the Shock, all Crusty has to worry about is coaching the players. The rest of the Shock staff takes care of the players' mentality, which gives Crusty more space to criticize the players freely.
"At Boston, it was really hard because I also need to control the players' mind," he said. "Sometimes players would have mental breaks and I would have to be kind. I can't scold. For here, our management is good at controlling the players so I can scold the players." Crusty's impression of himself scolding the players was very direct. "'Hey, you are not good,'" he quoted himself, putting on a stern expression before breaking into a smile. Harsha hid his face behind his hand as he and Chris laughed loudly.
"All of the company together is the carrot and stick," Crusty said. "It gives us a lot of motivation."
In South Korea, Crusty helped scout players for all of his teams. His connections were invaluable in forming Boston's initial lineup, including Shin "Kalios" Woo-yeol and Park "Neko" Se-hyeong, both of whom he had coached previously. Former CONBOX main tank Noh "Gamsu" Young-jin also credits Crusty for scouting him to play for Boston. The Shock is the first team that Crusty has coached where he hasn't handpicked his own lineup. Yet, Crusty doesn't mind this. His focus has narrowed to how each individual works within the greater team as a whole, map depending. Due to the Shock's larger support staff, all Crusty has to do is coach, another first in his coaching career.
"My former teams [in South Korea] didn't have sponsorships," he said of his early coaching career. "Holding good players without sponsorship is very hard. During that time, I learned how to control the players, how to understand the players; it makes me who I am now."
The current lineup of the Shock has been a long time in the making, and it was just recently rounded out by the latest additions of DPS player Park "Architect" Min-ho, support Grant "moth" Espe, and flex tank Choi "ChoiHyoBin" Hyo-bin. His attention to his players' strengths and weaknesses has led the Shock to substitution success, whereas other teams, NYXL aside, have struggled. In the first three weeks of Stage 4, the Shock have successfully rotated members of their DPS line to suit the team's needs, using Andrej "Babybay" Francisty as a specialist with Architect and Jay "sinatraa" Won.
"Sometimes it looks stupid, but Super [Matthew "Super" DeLisi] plays really aggressive, so the enemies will focus on him and DPS can play more wide," Crusty said. "Sinatraa and Babybay can get more advantages. But Architect is a more passive style, so when we use Babybay, we're more aggressive, and he talks a lot."
Under Crusty, the Shock are 4-2 in Stage 4 with a plus-7 map differential. Although season playoffs are out of the question, Stage 4 playoffs are in the Shock's sights. If the stage ended today, the Shock would be in fourth place, well above pre-stage expectations. ChoiHyoBin may be the final piece of the Shock's lineup, but it's Crusty and the Shock staff who have used these pieces to continuously improve.
"We are growing and growing," Crusty said. "I'm very happy."