Last weekend in Paris, Riot hosted the All-Star 2014 weekend for the ‘best’ team from each region, along with fun game modes in which the two most popular players from each region participated. I say ‘best’ because SKT T1 K, while the 2013 World Champions, are not currently the best team in Korea after finishing third in the NLB prefaced by being knocked out of Champions Spring. However, this is article is not to prattle about All-Stars or the current power rankings. If you desire said topic, the latest Summoning Insight, hosted by Montecristo and Thorin, gives a large amount of time to reviewing the weekend. No, instead I am concerned with the other prevailing topic that steeply arose to popularity in the past week, and that is the attitude of EU and NA teams to coaches and analysts.
I have four years of coaching experience from when I studied and coached year round, from soccer to basketball and sprints and relays for Track and Field. I understand how a coach thinks and what we bring to the table that players often underestimate.As an avid gamer and League of Legends/Halo fanatic, I often view the actions of in game behaviour from this perspective. This attitude often comes out in solo queue and can be construed as someone being a bit harsh, but in reality I am just questioning actions, plays, movements, item choices and so on. I also tend to give advice based on scenarios that occur, and that applies to my actions as well. This is the problem with tone not carrying over in text! I am actually being friendly about what I am saying. If I watch the replay of a game, which I do to improve, I do it objectively. As you have to as a coach. Naturally, I pick up on certain things that I did that were good and bad, that I otherwise would not notice while in game. It just is not possible to coach and play effectively at the same time.
One needs perspective and context. I am a jungle main so I like to pride myself on having a good macro view of the map and understanding the ebbs and flows of a game. I apply this to streams and LCS and analyse what each team should be doing, what they are doing well/badly, and where they can improve. As I transition into my own game, I cannot analyse both teams play while I am playing (damn that Fog of War). This is why other sports have coaches! The coaches view the game as a whole because they can observe from a macro perspective without having to actually worry about shooting the ball or smiting the baron. Now, a quick search will show that I am currently Gold 1 (or 2 if I am demoted again!). So what do I know about coaching League and strategy of map manipulation? This is also the problem with pro teams finding coaches and analysts (not necessarily the same thing, by the way – at least in the classical sense). As stated on Summoning Insight by Montecristo (link at the bottom of the article – yes, you have to read the whole thing), players can have great knowledge of the game without the mechanics and talent to be a Challenger or pro player. You should also be spending more time watching VODs. I do believe it is important to play the game though, but one’s free time is exactly that. There are countless examples of fantastic coaches in professional sports where they did not play at a professional level but love their respective sport enough to know how to teach and impart knowledge. I can tell you exactly the type of form required to shoot a basketball, and I was good at coaching that aspect, but you will not find me shooting 40% from 3 even in practice. I have the knowledge, but not the talent or mechanics.
Now, as a coach, I can tell you that part of the job is being a motivator, a counsellor for your players, a strong leader, and a strong voice within an organisation. You must command respect. You have to be able to keep your team together. If players do not respect the coach, nothing good will come of the environment and you most certainly will not win much. Let us take basketball as the example here. Coaching staff sizes vary between teams but at the core, you have a Head Coach along with assistant coaches that deal with offense and defence. Further down, there are positional coaches for guards and forwards all the way down to shooting coaches. There is more support staff than players overall. I believe basketball is the closest relatable non-eSports to League. Tell me why each team in NA and EU does not possess at least a few coaching staff members? Korea is known to, they are present in the booth during OGN. They are also significantly ahead of the rest of the world in League. Naturally, there is the case of financial issues preventing having 20 coaches and a masseuse on staff for League teams. We just are not that huge yet. We are growing, though, and I feel a coaching staff is a huge step in the direction of competitiveness. It further legitimizes League as a competitive outlet and creates more jobs in an industry that has countless people finding ways to become involved.
The issue of finding a good coach, and giving them a fair shake without compromising the immediate future is an obvious issue. Monte and Thorin addressed this on Monday. If a team’s future is so contingent on one split, who has the time to risk this? Sometimes coaches need time to mature, to find their identity. This is compounding problem in the NBA at the moment as well. Coaches being fired in short times spans for not having results, instead of looking at the organization as a whole and identifying the true causes, even if players need changing. I suppose this is another topic for another article, but coaches need time and teams need time to gel.
TSM added Amazing and Gleeb to their roster. If Reggie breaks it up after one split that would be a mistake. They will need a split just to become accustomed to playing with one another on stage and to gain experience as a unit. Naturally, if there are glaring issues behind the scene that would be another story, where maybe one member needs replacing. That being said, if the team fails, should Reggie be fired? This cannot happen obviously because of TSM’s singular power figure structure, but it reveals the importance of having multiple people in management. A general manager, a coach, an analyst and so on. Reggie fills all roles, as far as I know, and this much is obvious: He should probably not be coaching or analysing. TSM’s lackadaisical adaption to the 4/0 fast push start and objective focused gameplay shows this. If anything, TSM should really look at bringing in more minds to help Reggie and the players, and to collaborate when it comes to managing the team and creating strategies. That being said, I do not know if they have or have not done this, and this was more for an example.
The philosophies of a competitive team are derived from the coaching staff who work together to create game plans. There is never one person who dictates everything and ignores his players. A good coach knows that you must listen to your players. After all, they are actually playing and can offer specifics on what they can, and cannot do, in certain matchups and scenarios. I may know the abilities of every champion, but I have not played every champion in every matchup, whereas a lot of pros and Challenger players have. Analysts can also help by spectating games from other regions to see what is being used and what is strongest at the current time. The coach, essentially, is the project manager, where he will listen to all information provided and help direct the entire team in a winning direction, with input from everyone. The ‘meta’ is an evolving entity that few consider beyond the obvious ‘Trundle is strong right now’. Well, why did Fnatic’s Soaz choose Trundle during the first game of the EU Spring LCS? Because he could use the ultimate to counter tanks such as Shyvana and Mundo. This is a simple example but shows the importance of watching the evolution of champions used in the competitive scene and why they are being used. Being the first team to break out a strong champion and adapt to a new patch can ultimately determine a season, equally as being the last can cause a stumbling at the finish line like TSM. The players are good enough to assess the matchups, but having a team around you to help develop faster and keep them on track during a long season, not to mention assist in strategy creation, is invaluable.
Another huge aspect of needing a coach is structure. The coach determines practice times, scrim times, and film sessions. You do not practice anything 16 hours a day with no breaks. One needs balance. Scrims are important, solo queue is important, but as is watching VODs, sitting down as a team with your coaching staff to work on other aspects of the game. Finally, it is imperative to also step away from the game for periods of time. Go to the beach like TSM did, go to the movies, or go to the gym a couple times a week. I am sure this gets done already in some teams. In essence, it is about the quality of your practice rather than the quantity. The coach and analysts can watch VODs and create summaries and necessary clips to show the team during meetings for discussion. This happens in every other sport.
Finally, with players such as NintendudeX and Nien retiring due to huge amounts of harsh criticism from fans, coaches can provide a positive solution. The hardest part of coaching is keeping a team positive in tough situations, to maintain your player’s focus on the task at hand and to have the believe they can win every game. One could argue there is also a strong need for sport psychologists within eSports to help players handle the toxicity that anonymity on social media can bring forth. Most professional sporting organisations have this at their disposal to help players through rough patches and mental blocks preventing them from performing. We have a unique industry where professional players interact with their fans on a daily basis. For everyone positive comment, there is sure to be an equally negative insult that will resonate more with some players and can have resounding impact. It is easy to say to ignore it and move on; it is not that simple. This is not my area of expertise, but a head coach will be the first port of call in rough times for a player and he/she needs to understand how to handle the situation, whether it is solvable or if it needs to be referred. It is sad to see players being so dramatically effected by negative words but when you are forced to tackle it yourself without an obvious channel for help, it is harder and harder to leave that negativity behind. While a psychologist may not be available, a coach can be a solution to some of these problems and can identify them early.
In conclusion, League of Legends is in a unique position. It has become big enough and competitive enough to where it is a game that requires a coaching staff for professional teams in order to be successful. The players can focus on playing, the coaches can provide valuable insights, structure, and leadership and to create a team environment lead by respect. Riot needs to amend the structure of LCS to where players are not fighting for their jobs every four months so as to allow this system to continue to develop. Yes, team will get demoted, but as in other sports, they should not mean they are gone from the scene as fast as they joined. Ultimately, there needs to be more money for organizations to have sustainability where they can create a coaching staff. The LCS needs to have a stronger support system for teams not in the LCS so that the scene can develop more talent, more career viability and allow time for the creation of coaching staff.
Disclaimer: I wrote this just from what I believe a team needs in terms of coaching and why it is useful. I do not have any internal sources for any team’s methodology or coaching situation.
Summoning Insight Episode 8