Overwatch coach Jacob ‘Spilo’ Clifton explains why mindset matters most
Spilo, a burly guy with wild hair and a hood, looks mildly worried as he talks through the webcam. “You’re protecting yourself from the things you really love because of your fear of letting yourself down or letting other people down, and that’s honestly probably pretty frustrating considering that’s really where you’d find more pleasure, but you can’t get it there.” He’s streaming live on Twitch, watching an Overwatch 2 match via a Discord call with a high-ranked Winston player who has struggled with playing ranked mode. It might sound like therapy, but it’s part of the process. of Spilo’s Overwatch training.
At 28 years old, Jacob “Spilo” Clifton has carved out a career as a teacher long before Overwatch came into the picture. He taught high school gymnastics, became the head instructor at an all-ages MMA school, and has even taught advanced math. It should come as no surprise that his career with Overwatch took him all the way to the Overwatch League and he is now a sought-after expert for evaluating players at all levels.
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Spilos’ life and career with the game have given him a specific perspective on improvement. Like many who were drawn to Overwatch, Spilo had little first-person shooter experience; he spent his time doing world wide PVP in Lord of the Rings Online, as the “Best Warg in the World”. After being pressured to try out the popular Blizzard game in 2017 by his brother-in-law, Spilo was instantly hooked. The game felt fast and tactically dense; in an interview with Polygon, he described how he felt Overwatch offered the “perfect combination” of these elements while still not requiring skill in the first-person shooter mechanics.
Spilo’s journey in competitive Overwatch started small. “I was, you know, the typical brass player,” he said. “I actually had a lot of competitive anxiety. I didn’t like playing ranked. I just loved playing Quick Play.” Spilo’s own journey to learn to improve in Overwatch, combined with his love of teaching, first led him to create YouTube videos similar to when he posted montages from his days of Lord of the Rings Online. While he initially made lighter content, his videos still focused on what had helped him improve as he climbed the competitive ranks.
Overwatch content creation on YouTube is an “oversaturated market,” as Spilo told Polygon; he decided to start training instead, as well as create a community to share knowledge. What happened next was the “evolution” of his growing love for the game. “Basically, as time went on, as I got better at training, as I got better at playing, I started doing more and more training sessions and I ended up doing them all. [for my community]. This is basically where the transition started,” he explained. At the time, he said to himself, “I like doing this, maybe I’d be like an educational broadcaster. Maybe this is something I could do long term. I had started watching [season 1 of] Overwatch League, so at the same time, maybe I could do that at some point.”
Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Blizzard Entertainment
Spilo eventually built up a Twitch following as well as working as a professional coach in both Overwatch Contenders and the Overwatch League. He credits his “ability to communicate” as what led him to learning how to coach at that level. According to Spilo, some of the “most rewarding times as a team coach” came from working with shy players for several months and seeing their personal development. He shared an experience coaching an Overwatch League player, who had then returned to him in the postseason. The player told Spilos that he had a lot to think about and that he couldn’t have finished the season without Spilos’ help and support and that it really changed him as a person. “It made my week,” Spilo said. “That was everything to me, knowing that — you feel like you have a lasting impact, you know?”
Aside from esports requiring long hours and location changes, Spilo’s interest in having a personal impact on players led him away from formal esports coaching and back to streaming and engaging one-on-one with players seeking feedback . “Sometimes I just wanted to talk to people,” he said. “You know, sometimes the best parts of my training are when I have honest and sincere, relaxed conversations, or when I feel like I’m having a significant impact on someone in person, or even just the silly things when I’m chatting. with people in the Twitch chat about the patch notes.”
“It’s like toxic masculinity where it’s at – if you’re not a winner, you’re a failure… There’s just nothing wrong with losing sometimes.”
Overwatch, and now Overwatch 2, can be a tricky game; while it’s visually cartoonish, there’s a tactical complexity under the surface that makes it feel closer to chess than Call of Duty. And yet this complexity can be easy to overlook or misunderstand, as the game offers little insight into its mechanics. To many, being “good” in Overwatch 2 might sound like an unnecessary time sink that reduces the fun factor of the game. But for others, getting “good” is the main draw – even though it’s made more difficult by the game’s stressful competitive environment and its often toxic community.
Spilo is aware of the toxicity that can arise in competitive gaming spaces, especially male-dominated ones. “It’s like toxic masculinity where it’s — if you’re not a winner, you’re a failure,” he explained. “So then you’re either doing one of two things: you’re winning at all costs, which becomes toxic in itself, or you’re being disingenuous and pretending that all you’re doing is winning, when there’s simply nothing wrong with it. at a loss sometimes.”
In 2019, Overwatch launched a powerful “replay” feature that gave players the ability to view an updated list of their 10 previously played matches, as well as share them with others via a unique code . A staple of coaching in competitive games is the “VOD review,” where post-match footage is critiqued for areas of improvement. Spilo told Polygon that the replay feature made it easier to watch VOD, being able to see what everyone was doing in a game. “But I think [a positive of the replay feature] that was underestimated, is the ability to go [to a player], ‘Hey, do you know what’s going on behind you?’” Spilo described how he can show someone a game in motion, from a bird’s eye view. “Suddenly, everything opens up and clicks. And they say, “Oh, I didn’t even know that.” It just gives the opportunity to like, zoom […] it just gives context, better context.”
“Can we make you more patient? Can we change the way you see it getting better? Can we change the way you see faith?”
Spilo does these VOD reviews as a service now, and he does a handful of them live on his Twitch stream. To get a coaching session, a potential client fills out a lengthy questionnaire that Spilo uses to get an idea of a person’s goals and lifestyle, which they then talk about, often for a significant amount of time. session. Like Winston’s troubled player from the beginning of this story, many people open up when Spilo talks to them. Despite his prolific teaching and coaching experience, he still sounds surprised by this. “Most of the time, people are really honest with me. I don’t know if it’s just because the people who end up taking the training sessions are happier with it. That’s something I always try and pursue, is that level of open honesty.”
Spilo encourages a level of emotional vulnerability that might feel unusual for a critic if it weren’t also guided by caution; his manner is less like someone picking a Diamond-ranked Overwatch match and more like that of a sharp diagnostician, probing beneath the surface for more serious underlying issues as indicated by the presenting symptoms. He has a deep understanding of the tactical mechanics of the game, but more than that, he just wants to help people with what’s holding them back from success.
Image: Blizzard Entertainment
“There are three levels, I think, of things that we’re attacking. One is the game. This is less important. The second is how you approach the game: your training, your mindset, your mindset [attitude], your exercise habits, things like that. They are much more influential, much more important. The third, which is the most important, is how you are as a person. I think it’s a lot harder to dig.” He continues: “But it’s something like, can we make you more patient? Can we change the way you see it getting better? Can we change the way you see faith?”
For Spilo, the ability to bring out the best in someone, whether it’s a shy Contenders player, or a Mercy main just wanting to break out of Bronze, is what sets him apart from people who just know how to improve in the Game.
“I try to do everything I can in that one-hour call, try to bring whatever value I can to the developing players,” Spilo said. “Because some players are great, and they’re well developed, and they just need some tips and how to position themselves. Some players have a lot of issues with who they are as human beings, don’t they? And they need help with that too. I think my job in that short hour is […] try to find out what will have the biggest impact on them. Because like I said, even if they leave the session and they don’t rank at all, but I’ve made them think about who they are as a person, I just find that much more satisfying than anything else. , to be honest with you.”