He searches for a place in the Red Bull headquarters where he can be alone. It’s not to do anything nefarious; in fact, it’s for quite the opposite. Matt “NaDeSHoT” Haag, a professional Call of Duty player, needs a few seconds to calm himself. He employs breathing techniques taught to him earlier in the month, a fundamental lesson from his training at the Red Bull High Performance boot camp he attended with the rest of his team, OpTic Gaming.
OpTic is at the pinnacle of their game. They took third place at a $1 million tournament, then they won the first-ever X Games Gold Medal for gaming earlier this year, and finally placed second in the Season 2 Call of Duty League Playoffs. There’s always room for improvement though—Haag is never satisfied with anything.
Two years ago, Haag wasn’t sitting inside a lush studio, playing online for tens of thousands of fans as a way to make his living. He was taking orders behind the counter of a McDonald’s in the suburbs of Chicago. It showed him that he needed to do something different with his life if he wanted to be happy. “I didn’t want to be working a full-time job that didn’t pay well,” Haag says. “I didn’t want to struggle for the rest of my life.”
He started gaming on the side while he was working at McDonald’s and attending college full-time. “I’ve always had a really good example of what hard work is actually about,” Haag says. “My parents were really great role models for me to look up to and emulate. My dad is a carpenter and has been working all of his life, ever since we were born, he’s been busting his ass 9 or 10 hours a day, even on the weekends.”
This extreme work ethic is very apparent when you see what Haag had to do over the last year with the reconstruction of OpTic Gaming. When Will “BigTymer” Johnson, a pivotal player in the growth of the team, retired from competitive Call of Duty at the end of last year, Haag was given the chance to rebuild OpTic from scratch. Johnson’s departure paved the way for Haag to start a new team and retool the team dynamic. He found two teammates, James “Clayster” Eubanks and Marcus “MBoze” Blanks (who would later be traded for Jordan “Proofy” Cannon to lead the team to an X Games victory), who were meshing pretty well. They were on the hunt for a fourth when veteran Seth “Scump” Abner decided to return to the team.
It was history from that point on.
The four practiced their hearts out, playing as much and as hard as they could before the Call of Duty Championships. They finished with a third place victory out of 32 teams. It was a great start, but still wasn’t where Haag thought they should be. “We really realistically should have won the event if we just didn’t make a few small mistakes,” he says. “It was right in front of us for the taking, but we faltered and we shouldn’t have.”
That’s where the Red Bull High Performance boot camp came into play. Haag and the rest of the team shacked up in a house in Venice, Calif. and spent their days playing and training in the Red Bull corporate offices. The regimen included daily workouts with a Red Bull trainer, meetings with a nutritionist, yoga with the resident instructor, and nearly a dozen meetings with psychologists and neurologists about team building, working through issues, and better understanding what happens within their body when they’re playing.
The impact was immediate. Communication issues that the team was having—mainly disagreements over scheduling and taking time off—started to subside.
“Everyone is in good spirits. You aren’t really in arguments. You know what needs to be done. Everyone is on the same page and focused towards the same goal,” says Haag.
Haag was skeptical of the whole thing before starting. “The entire thing has really been a learning experience,” he said. “With all the people that I’ve gotten to talk to here at Red Bull and all the advice that I’ve been given, just different ways of going about things, it makes a hell of a difference for us, and me personally as well.”
It’s something that he wishes could have happened prior to Call of Duty Championships. “I can’t imagine how well we would have done at that event if we had access to something like this before,” he says.
With the immediate results that he’s seen in the past few weeks of online matches, it’s hard not to think about what they’ll be able to do at an upcoming in-person tournament.
With mere weeks from the release of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare on Nov. 4, and the training provided in the Red Bull High Performance Boot Camp is sure to provide fruitful results where the team previously struggled. “I’m going to take a lot of things away from this camp and really use them as the future approaches,” he says. “I think we’re going to have a really lethal lineup for that game.”