Justin Woods didn’t like to spend a lot of time eating in the mess hall of the submarine he was stationed on. That’s why his shoulders tensed up when his commanding officer pulled him out of line.
What did he do wrong? Absolutely nothing came to mind during the 50-foot walk from his food to the chief’s quarters just down the hall where other officers were waiting. When they arrived his chief picked up a piece of paper. Woods had seen other sailors receive disciplinary notes and the paper didn’t look quite right. His eyes locked with the piece of paper and he realized it was an email. A little relief flooded through his shoulders.
The officer slowly sat back in his chair and told Woods that he had an important email from his wife. She was pregnant with their second child.
The relief turned to happiness as every officer in the room burst into laughter. They congratulated him before sending him off to spread the good news.
Lycan’s path to Siege took a detour
Family man. Navy veteran. Rainbow Six Siege coach. Woods, who goes by Lycan in the Rainbow Six Siege community, couldn’t have imagined these being the tentpoles of his life 15 years ago, when he was drinking his way through college at the University of Central Missouri.
Lycan’s life now, as the coach of the 2020 Rainbow Six Siege world champion Spacestation Gaming (SSG), is all about supporting the family around him, whether that be his three biological kids – Connor, Liam and Jackson at home – or his five Siege kids – Nathanial, Dylan, Alec, Matthew and Alexander – that make up his team on SSG.
“We were always super tight-knit when we were younger,” Lycan said of his sister and brother. “It’s also driven me to coach the way I coach. The team and I are a hardcore family.”
Lycan’s life has always been about family. That’s what drove him to his success, his failures and a good number of meaningful decisions in the last 33 years. He swam in high school because his sister did, enlisted in the Navy because his brother took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and started playing Rainbow Six Siege because his brother gave him a beta key.
“Oh, cool,” Lycan had said to his wife, Kat, when she got pregnant for the first time, and his thought process was similar the second time around. He was happy, still, telling everyone on the ship about the news. Once he made his way around the football-field sized capsule, he went to the back to the engine room to use the ship computer to send a message to his wife.
“I call him the emotion robot,” Kat said from her home in Blue Springs, Missouri. “He’s so even-keeled most of the time. There aren’t huge fluctuations in his emotions. It’s all sort of with this overlaying of chill on top.”
That even-keeled personality helped him fight through the early days of Siege, where some tournament organizers wouldn’t pay out winnings until three months after a tournament ended. It helped him go over every angle on every map, from Clubhouse to Consulate, to craft the perfect game plan for every match. It helped him fall in love with coaching at DreamHack Austin in 2018, where he realized he was a strategist at heart.
Once you get past that stoic outer layer (one fueled by sarcasm and logic) you’ll find a softer core. A core that acts like a cat for his second oldest son. A core that brings snacks to Paris to make sure his players are fed when the hotel is serving them rotten fruit. A core that values personal relationships above all else.
Lycan’s two sides make for a perfect Siege coach. One whose stoic and logical character makes breaking down complex tactics second nature and whose soft side makes friendships, built within the grind of competing at the highest level, as tight as the routine on a Los Angeles-class submarine. His commitment to Siege, his lengthy career and his players has made him a cornerstone of the Rainbow Six community.
A rift that brought them closer together
Lycan spent most of his childhood in the suburbs of Seattle, moving around the area a number of times for his father’s work. They spent a lot of time with their extended family before relocating to Missouri. Lycan, his siblings and parents eventually lost touch with the rest of their family.
“I was actually too young to remember much of the rift. I do know there was something that happened,” said Lycan’s brother, Kris, who is still in the Navy. “But that allowed our family to be independent and really make it our own.”
Both Kris and Lycan have started to reconnect with their relatives now, but the rift, along with the fact that both of their parents were adopted, made their family tight-knit. It’s part of the reason he values family so much now.
While his commitment to his family was there from the beginning, his competitive drive was anything but. Lycan went through a party phase while studying accounting at the University of Central Missouri, a topic he only chased after acing an easy class in high school. He spent most of his time playing League of Legends and drinking.
“I woke up for a 10 a.m. class, I’m going downstairs in my fraternity house and I can hear music with people laughing and yelling at 8 a.m.,” he said. “I walk down and it’s three of my fraternity brothers and four girls and they’re drinking and playing Rock Band.”
Lycan ended up joining them instead of going to class, which he looks back at the kind of mistake that characterized those college years.
Lycan said he had motivation, but was too young, immature and reckless to point it in the right direction. He had no intention of joining the Navy until his brother found himself in the same situation. Kris was failing out of college and needed a clear path forward. He went to join the Coast Guard because he thought it was a good option, but the office was closed.
“The Navy welcomed me as any good recruiting office would,” Kris said. Lycan followed soon after, landing a high enough score to earn him a spot in the Navy’s nuclear program. He took a $25,000 signing bonus that meant he’d commit six years of his life learning how to maintain a submarine’s reactor and then sailing around the world while stationed in Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii.
“He did party some in the Navy, on occasion, but he had a dad role,” said Brad Schultz, another Navy submariner who went to school with Lycan. “Everyone else was young. I would say ‘Justin you trying shotgun beers? Are you trying to do a beer bong?’”
“I don’t do beer bongs anymore,” Lycan would say back, before Brad questioned him. “You’ll find out why soon.”
Then Brad puked on the carpet.
Isolation at sea
Life changed drastically once Lycan finished his two years of Navy schooling. He moved to Hawaii with his family where he would go out to sea for weeks, sometimes months, at a time.
Deployment was monotonous. Lycan was a glorified pool boy for one of the most important pools in the world, making sure the water around the nuclear reactor wasn’t corrosive. Going on watch and working a shift felt like walking around a small kitchen for hours on end, checking the time on the oven repeatedly to make sure nothing was amiss. The importance of the job didn’t fall on deaf ears, but he hated every second of it.
“It was a way to turn my life around,” Lycan said. “I did learn some things, but it felt like I had to go through those six years because I really screwed up my life.”
As Lycan’s commitment to the Navy was wrapping up, he wasn’t quite sure what would be next. He would come home from the base, spend time with his family and then drop hours into video games while still wearing his collared shirt from work.
His brother had gotten a couple of Siege beta codes in late 2015. The two played Siege for hours every night, wanting to be the first to discover secrets on each map while climbing the ranked ladder.
“We were breaking everything down into the smallest little steps you could,” Kris said. “We wanted to be the founders of it.”
Lycan moved his pregnant wife and two kids into his brother’s home in the Kansas City area, where they converted their living room into their own esports facility. They competed together in amatuer tournaments.
Lycan found a second family in Rainbow Six Siege
The scene was like any other emerging esports – cheating controversies and debates over who was the best ruled forums and social media. Nothing from that era is recorded on sites like Liquipedia so Lycan and his brother have little more than a memory of how hard they worked in the lead up to the first installment of Ubisoft’s Pro League in 2016.
Lycan and most of the team were prepared to play before they hit a snag. Kris met a girl.
“She turned me down once before, but I kept trying to gas myself up and talk to her,” he said. “I asked her out again and she said yes.”
The only problem? Their date at Top Golf was set at the same time as their first match. Lycan was upset, but could see it in Kris’ face that it was important to him. They scrambled to find a replacement in Zachary ‘SoV” Sites.
Siege helped Lycan grow his family in more ways than one. Kris would go on to marry that girl who demolished him at Top Golf while SoV is still by Lycan’s side almost five years later as SSG’s assistant coach.
While Lycan views much of his life as an unnecessary detour to get him to where he is now, it’s those very experiences that helped shape him into the coach he is today. He hated the way the military led with barking orders and screams, so he made sure to do the opposite with those he led. He hated being isolated from his family, but that made the connections he built later in life that much deeper.
He believes that he probably would have found his way to Rainbow Six Siege without the help of his brother. It was the perfect mix of all the strategic games he had played before, after all. It’s fitting that he found the game through Kris, though. Family had led him through every other major life decision, so it’s natural that family would lead him to Siege.
Kat jokes that Lycan basically joined the Navy again with Siege. He travels often to places like Mexico City, Montreal and Stockholm in order to compete, but this time he’s surrounded by another family. It’s hard being away from his kids, but it’s nothing like the months spent out at sea.
“This is something I love dearly,” he said. “I don’t take it for granted.”
Catch Lycan and the rest of Spacestation Gaming as they compete in the Six Invitational 2022, running until Feb. 20 in Stockholm, Sweden.