Ottawa University of Kansas (OUK) has been a newer addition to the CCA scene, but in their short time they already have high hopes of making an impact. OUK’s program has been around for almost two years now, and has quickly grown. The entire varsity team is now on scholarship, and are looking to expand to other sports as well. They closed out their last CRL season with a 7-8 season of league play, and by making it to the quarter-finals in the west playoff. I had the opportunity to talk to head coach Hiro recently, and heard about his time with OUK and their hopes heading into the Level Next season.
Hiro has been coaching OUK after the previous esports director reached out and asked him to come. He’s personally a consistent Rocket League player for all of the game’s history and started at Cal Fullerton in 2017 with the inception of CCA. His team is made up of Otis, Nitrovity, and Taos, and has worked with the three for all of his time at OUK so far.
Hiro has led the team for a little over a year. Although he was a fairly successful ice hockey player in his youth, esports was his passion and he turned down D1 hockey offers in order to play CRL with Cal Fullerton. While there, he worked as a hockey coach and realized how much he loved the trade, but also how much it kept him from rocket league. He ended up staying on with Cal as a coach for two years, before relocating to OUK.
“I was like, ‘Okay, well, let’s see if I can do that on the esports side of things,” he said. “I fell in love with it.”
The program has grown quickly under Hiro, who credits lots of help to OUK’s investment in their students from the inception of the esports teams.
“(They) wanted to do everything they could to present opportunities for students to explore their passions, including esports,” Hiro said. “It can be a career for people at Ottawa wanting to do whatever they could to, to allow the option to our students to pursue that and then to bring other people to the university to pursue their passions and dreams.”
Hiro has watched the team grow even across the last season. After being reverse swept twice in the CRL season by Mizzou and University of Washington, he watched them work to come back from defeat.
“The Mizzou loss really hit us hard and that’s why we struggled in the mid season so much,” He said. “After the Washington one, everybody’s like, ‘Okay, we gotta figure this out.’ so we took a step back and asked what was wrong.”
Hiro recognizes the range of personalities and playstyles that exist on the team, and the way it’s kept him on his feat. As a recent hire, he has had to adapt to coaching different personalities he’s known in a short time, as opposed to his team at Fullerton that he played with before coaching.
“It’s been a challenge for me, and definitely something that’s pushed me quite a bit but I’m glad I’m finally starting to get the hang of it. We didn’t have conflicting play styles, but just play styles that needed more time to adjust to each other,” he said. “People saw towards the end of this year of playoffs, we started to play like a completely different team than we had the entirety of the regular season.”
Hiro credits much of the team unity that’s been built over time to the amount of time the players spend together both on and off the pitch. In OKU’s esports arena, in class, working out together, and traveling to LANS together, they’ve been able to develop a strong bond. Their coach has been pleased with the motivation and grind he now sees in his team, and what they’ve put into becoming a unified team.
“There’s not one individual player that stepped up to the plate for me,” he said. “It’s each individual’s decision to put in the work because they want to be on the best team in the nation.”
Outside of the desire to be the best, Hiro is focused on the guys having fun and creating a place for them that teaches skills going forward.
“We want to foster an environment that creates success, whether it’s on the pitch, off the pitch in real life, or in a professional workplace environment,” he said. “That’s the main goal.”
He particularly gives credit to Taos, and how much initiative he has taken in his own professional development, and complements all of the players’ improvements he’s even seen within the last week.
Going into LevelNext, Hiro is excited for this recent shift he’s seen in the team and feels it’s set them off on the right foot. While he recognizes scrim results don’t mean too much, he’s proud of the way the team has been playing.
Hiro is excited about the pool OUK is placed in, and feels it will set them up for the final tournament event.
“That’s really where we’re hoping to shine,” he said. “To prove yourself against all the East teams that say they’re better”
Hiro encourages current students interested in OKU, no matter what esport background or level of experience they have, to reach out to the team on Twitter @esports_ottowa or their community discord at https://t.co/QnLyOV8Aib if they would like to get in touch with Hiro or one of the program directors.
“We’re always looking to expand our program,” he said. “To expand the reach that we have, and the impact that we have on people in their life and career.”