Coaching in the LCS : Do more teams need a dedicated coach?

Posted on 08 July 2013

I am calling it now – the winners of the Season 3 World Championships *will* have a dedicated “coach” who has has impact in real terms as to how the team play the game and their approach to practice and preparation. I’m not talking about the people who get the players to the studio on time, wake them up in the morning or do any of the other logistical things that many people may do for many of the pro teams – I mean the kind of people that offer genuine insight, feedback on performances and generally help to develop and manage the team.

Prior to the creation of the League Champions Series (LCS), many North American and European professional teams would enter themselves at events run 4-5 times across a year (most notably, the Intel Extreme Masters events) that ran across intensive weekends of weekends or 4-5 days of play. Teams would qualify and enter events with a number of compositions, play their games and then try to quickly react to who was doing well and who wasn’t. While teams of the same region might have an idea of what the ones closest to them might do, knowledge of other regions was generally limited and largely only gained at the event. Everything was largely reactive, and short of some knowledge about certain players and picks for some teams, many teams were usually out-played rather than out-thought. At this stage, coaching was not seen as needed or required – many teams were still basically at an amateur level effectively, with gaming houses not yet in the picture and the limit of preparation being restricted to online play. Regular attendees of these events would usually end up as victors, but with the introduction of Moscow Five and the introduction of Korean and Asian teams that began to end this dominance. It became quite apparent the the teams with the better organisational structures were the ones who began to win the tournaments. This trend continued into the Season Two World championships and was won by the relatively unknown Taipei Assassins, who did have a solid management/coaching team with them up to and for the duration of the tournament. The perceived underachievement of many teams, particularly those from North America, was later seen to be related to a lack of preparation and dedication prior to the event – something that the Asian teams has as a real strength in their coaching set-ups.

lcs

The introduction of the LCS meant weekly games for all the teams – not just the occasional off-line event, such as the Intel Extreme Masters.

This format continued until the start of the Spring Split of LCS, which followed the weekly match series that was the norm for competitive play in Korea. Rather than only playing a small percentage of teams (like at an IEM event, with quick group and knock-out stages), teams would now be playing each other more frequently and against all of the teams competing. While some teams started to move into Korean-style gaming houses, the need for logistical management increased but actual coaching remained a rarity. Through higher frequencies of games, new teams began the LCS as underdogs against the established teams who would frequent events, but through the experience of playing against those teams, they would begin to compete and defeat the big name teams. In North America, Good Game University came through qualifiers to join the LCS, had a dreadful start to the season but after squeezing into the playoffs, they managed to finish second for the split. Similarly in Europe, the Copenhagen Wolves would recover from a similarly awful start to the LCS to become a team in the playoffs that would take a game in a best-of-three playoff against the eventual third place team, Evil Geniuses, and comfortably re-qualify for the Summer Split of LCS. Whilst the bigger teams were finishing with positive win/loss ratios, games against these new upstart teams were very close in the play-offs. With the gap between the teams becoming smaller, the demands on the players who self-coach and self-manage becomes even greater.

Coaching in competitive League of Legends is still only truly prominent in Asia, and most notably in Korea, where all of the professional teams have at least an element of coaching. The coaches and managers there often have a lengthy background in competitive StarCraft player/team management. Whilst the games are vastly different, the required skills of a gamer remains very similar – strategic and mental strength, the ability to have good micro and the innate need for a good work ethic. Without this management, I feel it is very easy for players to become focused on singular facets of the game and become incapable of seeing the bigger picture, particularly if they are so invested in their own role within the team. Leaving someone in charge of the whole team allows for players to be unrestricted from other concerns and focus on playing and winning. In a confined, gaming house environment, I can only imagine the stresses put on many players when they hit a losing streak or under perform. The LCS has proven cut-throat for a number of players who have been riding high one week, only to be cut from the team the next and be left with nothing.

elementz

Former Curse and Counter Logic Gaming Support player Elementz is the first former player to begin coaching in the North American LCS.

I feel the reluctance for some teams to take that natural step of getting a coach will be the undoing of some – particularly with qualification for the Season 3 World Championship looming large. It is refreshing to see Team Coast (formerly known as Good Game University) taking the truly positive step of appointing a former player, Elementz, as their coach for this Summer Split of LCS. I see it as no gamble at all to bring in someone with his experience of those established teams (and personal sports experience) to try and get them into the World Championships – something that those players would have considered unthinkable a few months ago. Solid coaching would improve the majority of all LCS teams, particularly those who are quite obviously struggling right now. While it may be difficult for players to accept an effective third-party joining their team (particularly those long-established ones with strong personalities), the Asian/Korean model of coaching is one that has already led to success in this game.

As LCS teams scramble for the World Championship places, I suspect those teams in both Europe and North America with coaches will be in a lot better position than those without.

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