After two unsuccessful years in the Call of Duty League, the Seattle Surge hit the reset button. Releasing their 2021 roster, the hunt began for a team that could bring them success. That journey began with the hiring of head coach Sam ‘Fenix’ Spencer, who spoke to Dexerto about the new-look Surge team he was bringing to the CDL.
Coaching has always been a part of Fenix’s life. He grew up watching his father coach American Football and after time in the military, Fenix donned the proverbial whistle himself.
He made a name for himself at Team Singularity, coaching future CDL stars Jamie ‘Insight’ Craven and Tobias ‘CleanX’ Jønsson and helping the team earn a top-12 finish the 2019 CWL Championships. After spending March of 2020 with The Atlas Lions, Fenix returned to Singularity. The team went on to secure 11 podium finishes in 14 events across 2020.
Leaving Singularity in mid-December of 2020, Fenix spent the Cold War season with EastR and WestR. Working with players such as GRVTY, FeLo, John, Zapitus, Venom, and Sib, Fenix-coached teams won eight events at the Challenger level.
Fenix was announced as the new head coach of the Seattle Surge on September 17 and is ready to give Seattle a Call of Duty team the city can be proud of.
The right roster for Seattle
The Surge announced their 2022 roster on September 20, after teasing the identity of each member with a Morse Code message. The roster was put together by a backroom team led by Fenix and new General Manager Brandon ‘Novus’ Hewitt. Taking the stage for the Surge in 2022 would be Lamar ‘Accuracy’ Abedi, Makenzie ‘Mack’ Kelley, Daunte ‘Sib’ Gray, and Amer ‘Pred’ Zulbeari.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Lamar,” Fenix told Dexerto, “As a veteran, he could have wanted more say but he trusted me and Brandon a lot to build this team and put him in a new circle around a bunch of new, young talent.”
Accuracy had been a starter for Minnesota RØKKR in 2021 before being benched ahead of the Stage Four major. The 25-year-old has been present in Call of Duty’s professional scene for nearly a decade but was blamed for RØKKR’s struggles in the Stage Three major, where they finished 10th.
However, Fenix saw the veteran’s value and was eager to make him a key part of Seattle’s lineup.
“I don’t need my main AR to be a superstar,” Fenix said, “I just need them to be someone who can lead the team, and mirror the way I act and say things. And when I met with Lamar, he was the best at getting the best out of young players.”
Fenix also assured his new main AR that the team was being built around him.
“I know everyone loves to talk about how Lamar got benched but I told Lamar that he is my guy. I am bringing him here to lead this team and help these young players grow. Lamar is my Kurt Warner, I know we are going to do great things with him on the roster”.
Mack & Sib
“I’ve known Mack since he was about 15, him and Daunte too. And I knew that if we got Mack, he would help bring the best out of Daunte. They’re a little duo, those two” Fenix said.
Mack spent the first two seasons of the CDL in New York. However, the Subliners never clicked and the 2021 season was especially drama-filled, most notably when James ‘Clayster’ Eubanks benched himself for a month in July.
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At season’s end, New York looked to make moves and it was all but confirmed that Mack would not be in the lineup come 2022.
Sib was an Atlanta FaZe Academy project who was never able to break into the stacked lineup in Atlanta. He spent the 2021 season on loan and spent time working with Fenix at EastR. However, Seattle represents an opportunity for Sib to finally get time as a starter, and Fenix has high hopes for him.
“So many people say that Daunte is too much trouble to be worth it,” he said. “They say he’s this problem kid. I tell them that you just don’t know how to work with him.
“He’s a really sweet kid, you just need to find the right approach with him. That’s why I brought him in — I know how good he is and I know how to work with him.”
If you haven’t followed Call of Duty APAC Challengers, you might not be familiar with Pred. The Australian phenom is an absolute beast, and has helped lead Renegades to 28 APAC trophies across 2020 and 2021.
“It was an absolute no-brainer,” Fenix said of signing Pred, “he should have been over here a while ago but travel restrictions made that almost impossible”
However, aside from his talent, there was something about Pred that really stuck out to Fenix,
“When I had my first interviews with him, he was very mature and very professional. But he also understands the concept of actually getting better. The talent is already there, and the knowledge of how to become great is already there too. The sky is truly the limit with this kid.”
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Fenix also pointed to his previous success stories to back up his predictions about the young Australian.
“I said the same things about Insight and CleanX and HyDra, guys that a lot of people were overlooking. And they’ve all gone on to be huge.”
Fenix takes his coaching inspiration from football legends like Nick Saban and Bill Belichick.
“I’m what you’d call an old-school coach. I don’t allow phones at scrims. If we’re having a meal, I don’t want phones on the table, I want the players talking to one another. I expect hard work out of my players and if they aren’t working hard, they’re going to hear about it.”
But Fenix’s coaching approach also places a heavy emphasis on treating the players as people.
“I don’t see Pred, I see Amer. I don’t see Accuracy, I see Lamar,” Fenix explained. “I know a lot of people laugh at that sort of approach but it’s really important to me that my players know that I see them as people and that I care about them as people rather than products.
“I get to know them, I get to know their families. Because if you know that your coach sees you as more than just someone working for them, you’re going to be able to work harder for that coach because you know they have your back. And you’re going to want to work harder for them knowing that they care about you as a person.”
Unsurprisingly, Fenix is a vocal advocate of promoting strong physical and mental health for his players.
“We have to get rid of all this machismo bullsh*t. If you’re not doing well mentally, you can’t just keep going like nothing’s wrong. You have to talk to someone, you need to get the help that will make you better. Obviously, I want my players to exercise and eat right, but I also want them to be mentally healthy too. They all know they can come to me and talk to me and I will do my best to help them.”
And for Fenix, it’s something that needs to be addressed by the league and sport as a whole.
“I think it should be mandatory to have physical and mental therapists in the CDL. These are things teams need, these are things the players need,” he said.
Putting the players first
Like Saban and Belichick, Fenix vowed never to put himself ahead of his players.
“I asked for the team to announce me first so that the players could enjoy their own moment. I am not here to become famous or get a lot of attention. I’m here to make these young men great players and to help them grow into great individuals.
My dad coached his whole life and one of the biggest things he taught was that great players make great coaches. And if you don’t make an impact in your player’s lives, you have failed as a coach”.
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This attitude extends to how Fenix interacts with the media, too.
“I’m never going to throw my players to the wolves. If the media asks me why we lost a match, it’s because I didn’t do my job well enough. If they ask how I led the team to a title, it’s because the team is great.
“I never blame the team and I never steal their credit. It’s all about the guys playing the game.”
Expectations for 2022
“We can 100% be title contenders next year,” Fenix said, “I’m not making promises, and I didn’t make promises to my bosses when I took the job.
“However, this team is going to be really good and I think we have the talent to be one of the top teams in the league.”
The Surge have finished as a bottom-four team in each of the CDL’s first two seasons and have been viewed as one of the league’s most disappointing teams, despite fielding some of the most recognizable names in Call of Duty.
“Winning is success. I don’t see why every team that rebuilds has to build for future success. We have the talent to contend this year and we’re going to do just that,” Fenix said.
Whether the Surge can compete alongside the likes of the FaZe, Ultra, and RØKKR, remains to be seen. But they have assembled a talented roster, and a head coach in possession of perhaps the most important trait in his field — belief in his team.