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When Jake “Jake” Lyon stood on stage ahead of the Houston Outlaw’s inaugural homestand last year, he thought he was done with the Overwatch League. He had won 32 of the 67 games he played during his first two years and knew he couldn’t keep going at the pace required to remain competitive.
“That was farewell,” he said of that moment on March 1, 2020 when his jersey was retired by the Outlaws. “At that point, when you’re in that situation, you can’t just come back. It’s never guaranteed. I thought that was it. It was the end of my competing days.”
The Houston Outlaws held the retirement ceremony for Jake before a match against the Toronto Defiant, putting the notable Junkrat player into the team’s pseudo hall of fame. It was the first time any jersey had been retired in Overwatch League history. Less than a year later, Jake will be sending his RIP-Tire on a spin through King’s Row, Volskaya Industries and Eichenwalde once again.
The 24-year-old has returned to the Outlaws as a player and a coach.
“I don’t know if I would’ve come back if this wasn’t the best team Houston’s ever had,” Jake said. “In terms of a roster, the coaching staff, everything.”
Jake hadn’t been doing much besides playing Overwatch up until he retired in late 2019. He wasn’t eating well, exercising much or getting enough sleep while competing. It’s what he thought he needed to do to win — put all of his time into Blizzard’s first person shooter.
“I just needed time away from the league to reset,” Jake said “I was burning the candle from both ends during my first two years. I didn’t understand that there was more to it than playing back then.”
Jake had been in a DPS role with the Outlaws for two years, living with his squad in Los Angeles before teams relocated to their respective home cities. His squad finished seventh in the league with a 22-19 record in 2018, and they went 9-19 in Season 2 after capping off the year with a five-game losing streak. When the rest of his team moved to the Lone Star State in Season 2, Jake stayed in Los Angeles to become a commentator for the Overwatch League and live with other broadcasters like Brennon “Bren” Hook.
“I think I was happy,” Jake said. The Junkrat main brought his trademark passion to the mic just like he did while playing. He became a fan favorite, especially after an exciting one and a half map long solo cast when Andrew “ZP” Rush, Jake’s co-caster, disconnected.
“A third one! Yaki god!,” Jake sputtered as his voice cracked over the broadcast. The Florida Mayhem’s Jun-ki “Yaki” Kim was on a tear, pulling off three Earth Shatters in a row while playing with Echo’s duplicate ability. “My mic’s certainly peaking, but I can’t control it.”
Jake spoke more than 2,000 words for the final stretch of the match as the Mayhem finished off the Washington Justice, adding up to more than 183 words per minute. It was the moment fans might remember most from his time in the booth.
“It’s one of those things you can’t sustain forever, knowing it was the end of the series,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be a lesser cast because we had this disconnect. I brought the same mindset I did as a player. It was about bringing that same energy to the booth.”
The unlikely face of the Overwatch League
Jake’s squad barely broke even during his first season and had an abysmal record during his second year, but he’s still managed to become one of the most recognizable faces in Overwatch. Outside his casting pop off on King’s Row, he’s made headlines for pounding the desk after a tough shutout against the New York Excelsior during stage one of the Overwatch League’s second season.
It’s Jake’s dedication to the game — not his mechanical skills — that have earned him a place in the hearts of Houston fans.
“A lot of people look up to him,” said Houston Outlaws DPS Dante “Danteh” Cruz, who also played with Jake in 2019. “He’s a really big poster boy for the league. He’s a really hard worker. He pushes everyone else around him to work harder.”
Jake’s come a long way to become one of the faces of the Overwatch League, going from a notable ranked player known for chewing out random teammates online to doing interviews on The Today Show. His team’s performance in those first two years with the Outlaws, however, hasn’t been nearly as impressive.
“I didn’t achieve what I wanted to,” Jake said. “What I want to achieve is winning. We didn’t achieve that to a satisfactory standard.”
The Outlaw’s squad that Jake is joining now is far different from the one he helped lead at Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California. Outside Cruz and João Pedro “Hydration” Goes Telles, the majority of the team was added to the roster in 2020.
Houston general manager Matt Iorio said the 2019 team lacked “a proper communication structure,” forcing Jake to go into “overdrive” to compensate for that shortfall of leadership. He believes this 2021 roster doesn’t have that same problem.
“This year our team has developed into a far more balanced machine where the onus on one person to micromanage and handhold the group is no longer there,” Iorio said. “One of our goals when we were constructing this roster was to never need another similar band aid solution again.”
Managing an early un-retirement
Few players other than Jake have come out of retirement to return to Overwatch. Kristian “Kellex” Keller played for the Boston Uprising for two years before leaving the game, now he’s back in the league on the London Spitfire. Do-hyung “Stellar” Lee and Baek “Fissure” Chan-hyung both retired in 2019, but have returned to the game since then. Some pros, including Corey “Corey” Nigra and Thomas “brussen” Brussen, have left Overwatch to play VALORANT. That made his return all the more surprising for even some of his teammates.
“I was surprised but excited,” Danteh said. “It’s not very common that you see people come out of retirement.”
Despite his retirement, Jake’s addiction to Overwatch never dried up. He’s made grandmaster, the highest rank in Overwatch, while grinding on support roles like Baptiste, Brigitte, and Ana. He had been speaking with Iorio about a role over the course of the offseason and this new player-coach role came to light.
But Jake didn’t want to experience the same burnout he did during his first two years in the Overwatch League.
“I was doing weightlifting and running mostly last year, but that was hard on my body,” Jake said.. “I recently started a new training program. I’m trying to hit a couple of hours of cardio everyday. I’m far away from any race, but that’s what I’m going for in the long run.”
Jake works out twelve times a week: twice a day for six days with one day off to rest. He went from running and weightlifting to cycling and swimming to avoid the impact running had on his joints. He was even catching his breath in between words while riding an exercise bike during the interview.
“High mileage is key,” he said. “High mileage at an easy pace.”
Jake said he believes this new focus on health and nutrition will help him balance the Overwatch grind.
While he’s been getting some starting time while practicing over the offseason, Jake is adding some coaching responsibilities to his plate for 2021. He said he’ll try to work outside the confinements of a player to help design plays and work with his teammates one-on-one. He hopes to give the rest of the roster more than just strategic tips.
“My focus on health is something I want to share,” he said. “More and more players see that this is the future. Eventually, I hope we won’t see too many players who don’t care about caring for themselves.”
But now, with two years under his belt, Jake has a lot to prove. Jake doesn’t want to be just known for his generic passion for Overwatch. He wants to be remembered as a winner.
That’s why he couldn’t stand to leave his number retired for more than a year. He wanted the opportunity to build a bigger legacy for it.
“We’ve never had that deep playoff run while I was on the team. We didn’t have much success at all,” he said. “The absolute bare minimum is the best season we’ve ever had.”