sportsDallas Fuel

TazMom? How Dallas Fuel GM Mat Taylor turned Overwatch League franchise around with warm culture

“TaZmo” and “Yong” met for a beer after the 2020 season, and returned to work with a new roster plan.

The Dallas Fuel roster was in shambles when Mat “TazMo” Taylor and Kim “Yong” Yong-Jin strolled from the Envy Gaming office across Victory Plaza for a beer.

They talked at Hero, a bar in Victory Park, for a while, mapping out their dream roster. Kim, then the Fuel’s interim head coach before returning to an assistant role, wanted his mentor at his side and the Element Mystic players he once coached. Taylor, the Dallas general manager, wanted to build a winning culture.

He had to.

What they both had in common was surviving a franchise overhaul, along with damage player Kim “Doha” Dong-ha and assistant GM Helen “Dear” Jang. Every other player and coach from the previous three seasons were out of Dallas.

“Conversations like that had to happen,” Taylor said. “We knew there was time for a change, and we had the opportunity to do that change and make that change this year.”

Taylor is no stranger to success in Overwatch, but it had been years since Envy Gaming crushed its way through the competition like the days before the Overwatch League’s existence. The first three years with the Dallas Fuel weren’t so fruitful. The 2018 roster had high-profile personalities that didn’t work together. Performance improved a little in 2019, at least until a 12-match losing streak capped the season.

After 2020, when a superstar player and two coaches were out of the picture a month before the playoffs, Taylor knew there would be criticism from the Fuel’s passionate base.

Was Taylor, who helped build a Fuel team that has the No. 1 seed in the West and a playoff matchup against the Washington Justice at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, worried about his job?

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Of course I was concerned,” Taylor said.

“But at the same time, it comes with the territory, right? You are going to have tough games, you are going to have tough matches and everything. It’s not something that I couldn’t deal with and handle.”

Nothing proves worth quite like results. Now the Dallas Fuel have the best record in the West entering the playoffs. For the first time in franchise history, the Fuel have the best team in North America.

It all stemmed from that conversation with Yong-Jin.

“From that conversation we were able to get this staff and this roster,” Yong-Jin said via interpreter. “He fulfilled the GM role pretty well by signing the right people. He definitely does try his best to make sure nothing gets in the way of the players to get the best experience possible.”

The Fuel’s assistant coach wasn’t the only one to sing Taylor’s praises. Both Jang and Dong-ha felt Taylor was crucial to the Fuel’s success, maybe in a way that’s unique to the GM and the Fuel.

“He genuinely cares about the other players,” Jang said, “which is great, because sometimes I hear about GMs that don’t even come to practice or even see the players’ faces often. I’ve heard of that. And I just cannot imagine a GM doing that. Because I have seen everything that TazMo has done so far.”

Most of the Dallas Fuel members had long, thoughtful things to say about Taylor. How he goes above and beyond, that he’s inviting or welcoming.

Not Dong-ha. He went with short and sweet.

“TazMo is cute,” Dong-ha said.

Jokes aside, the quips and togetherness the Fuel have this season isn’t an accident. In between tough losses and roster drama in 2020, there wasn’t much time for bonding, especially in a global pandemic.

Taylor’s mindset is that you’ll learn a lot in defeat, and that’s not limited to Overwatch League matches. The three seasons of mediocrity and a culture that crumbled in a pandemic were defeating — the lessons learned were unforgettable.

Taylor put everything he had into this Dallas Fuel team. Sure the players and coaches all knew each other before arriving in Dallas, but they were still in unfamiliar territory.

Lee “Fearless” Eui-Seok had strangers cough on him outside the Envy office. They’ve had racial slurs shouted at them. Fuel support player Kwon “Fielder” Jun said he didn’t know what to expect when moving to Dallas, including how the staff would be with Asian players.

“Just from rumors I heard from other non-Korean teams, had GMs that have been racist, perhaps. I’ve heard horror stories about that,” Jun said via interpreter. “I was a little wary, but when I got here everybody was really nice in terms of management people, and that was very good.”

Dallas Fuel Damage Per Second player Do Hyeon "Pine" Kim, left, and team general manager Mat "TazMo" Taylor at the Dallas Fuel headquarters in Dallas, on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.
Dallas Fuel Damage Per Second player Do Hyeon "Pine" Kim, left, and team general manager Mat "TazMo" Taylor at the Dallas Fuel headquarters in Dallas, on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. (Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

Kim “Pine” Do-hyeon spent most of his season over in Korea waiting to unite with his teammates. He didn’t blame teammates for being too busy with competition to spend time with him virtually. That didn’t make the three months of waiting for his visa to get approved any more enjoyable.

In a way, Taylor was a rock for all of them. He gave them consistency, and anything they needed.

“The whole TazMom thing is kind of real,” Taylor said. “I hope every player, present and past, has thought that about me. I care, and I think that’s something I learned a lot from Hastr0. You are Envy family even once you’re gone.”

+++

Find more esports coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

Find more Fuel coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

In This Story

Sean Collins, Staff Writer. Sean started at The Dallas Morning News in 2020 and covers North Texas esports, focusing on the Dallas Fuel and Dallas Empire. He covered high school and Kansas State athletics at The Manhattan Mercury. Sean graduated from the University of Kansas in 2018, where he worked for the University Daily Kansan as a sports editor covering Kansas hoops.

sean.collins@dallasnews.com seanzcollins
The Ticker

The Ticker

Get the latest D-FW sports news, analysis and opinion delivered straight to your inbox.

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy