Thoughts on Amazing’s View on Coaching in League of Legends

I want to start out by saying that I agree with most of what Amazing says about coaching and some of the problems with it in the League scene. Coaching is more complex than people may think and I could go endless tangents about different aspects of coaching or my experiences, but I will try to stop myself.

I believe Amazing’s post was referencing NicoThePico a bit based on his tweets yesterday and there are a lot of similarities between him and me. We both failed at big orgs and were voted out by the players. We didn’t get the respect from some strong willed veteran players and struggled to earn it back or fix the situation. I readily admit to most of my faults and did a lot of introspection during and after my time coaching TSM. I have constantly thought about what went wrong, what I could have done differently, and would it have even made a difference. In that, I understand Amazing’s view and the responsibility of coaches and the problem with it in today’s scene.

At the same time, I saw a lot wrong inherently with the coaching position and the situation I was in. So many things felt out of my control that I had zero chance of success even if I played the part perfect. I try to stick away from that thought process because blaming others and outside forces on my time as coaching isn’t productive besides simply understanding what happened. I can only control myself and how I go forward, so I choose to focus on the faults and mistakes I made. However, it does let me understand how NicoThePico feels when he tries to explain the situation to Kelsey Moser. In that interview, NicoThePico takes a lot of the blame off of himself and blames the situation which felt out of his control. I understand how he can feel that way. I also thinks that Amazing see these problems based on his post and he thinks the coaches can do more to fix it. I agree.

Coaching. Authority. Leadership. When you hear these words, you’d usually imagine a Greg Popovich, a Phil Jackson or a Pat Riley — undeterred, always in control, fighting to get their teams onto the same path steering into the same direction — not to be taken down by adversity, even under pressure, in a crucial game 7, on the road, against the League’s best team. You’d think of a person so strong willed that the players pick up on their energy, rally behind it, and go the extra mile in order to make it work, even with the odds stacked against their favor.

While a basic statement, the only problem I have with this is that I don’t think it leave open the variety of different coaching styles that can be successful. Even within the three coaches given you have a military hard-nosed Gregg Popovich, fiery Pat Riley, and zen Phil Jackson. They each have a different approach and they have each been successful. Coaches don’t need to be Popovich. They need to be themselves and find the approaches that are successful. That may mean taking some things from these coaches and it may mean just doing things their own way. Not all coaches are strong willed and energetic and that is not what defines a successful coach. I would argue that getting players to buy in is one of the most important aspects of being a coach. There are many different ways to do this, but being strong willed in League of Legends can work against you. Locodoco was strong willed and it caused him to constantly clash with his team. There are also ways it can help you such as Deilor, but even then it caused some rift with some players in the end when the winning slowed down.

You’d think of a man’s man. Easily put, though pretty telling, you’d think of a man’s man. In league, you’d think of kkoma, a Deilor or even a Reginald running their ships and keeping everyone on the same track — yet so many teams seem to stray away from having a leader within the coaches role.

I think this is getting at that coaches need to be natural born leaders. Some people just exude leadership qualities. While this definitely makes the job easier, I don’t think it is absolutely necessary. Parth isn’t what I would call a natural born leader, but he gained the respect from the players by putting in quality work that they learned to trust behind the scenes. Being a natural born leader is just one path to gaining the respect of your players. I do think in League of Legends where players are resistant to coaches, it may be more necessary than other sports though.

In a lot of ways coaching within the League of Legends community has become a mere joke. Drafts, execution, general mapplay — when a team loses out in every single one of those categories a coach is to be blamed. “He’d better be kicked”, “Remove him as soon as possible” — reddit threads are full of it. And I can’t blame them.

Fans are fans and I never blame them for being armchair GMs. The difference in League of Legends compared to say the NBA is that the coaches and players are generally reading those reddit posts. Professional athletes and coaches generally stay away from the media and ignore the noise (if they don’t they are susceptible to the same fate), but the League of Legends scene, and probably entire esport scene, is obsessed with it. After games people are checking the reactions and what people are saying. While the players know what is actually going on behind the scenes, if they have some doubts about a coach or a teammate they will find validation for those feelings in the reddit threads or on twitter which can be dangerous to the team environment.

Coaches in the league are mostly on a small leash. Most of them are not going to be able to control the lineup, nor be able to influence it as they are as much part of the puzzle as their players are, and in a lot of ways it has proven to be right way to go.

I agree. Right now coaches are on a tight leash, at least in the west. I also agree that rightly so. The players, for the most part, know more about the game than the coaches. However, someone needs to be the voice of authority in the end. You need a coach who can take all the various pieces of information and perspectives and make a solid final decision. Players don’t always agree with the best way to play the game and never-ending debates are a waste of time and not productive. The coach needs to have at least the authority and respect to make a decision based upon his players thoughts and the players listen to the final say. If you try to let the players do that, they will potentially keep arguing if someone is not willing to give into their other teammates perspective and it can create animosity if a player tried to exert their power over another. In the end, I believe someone who can take multiple perspectives and opinions and make the best decision is more important than a person with more game knowledge. Game knowledge can definitely help making that decision though.

Why is that so? Coaches are usually ex-players who never quite made the cut, having to retire early to look for other opportunities within the league in order to make a living. Most of them are underpaid, overworked and usually not in the best mindset to begin with, feeling like they have to do more than they need to.

The same goes for other sports as well. Most basketball coaches are “failed” players. Going back to the examples of coaches Amazing gave at the beginning, Gregg Poppovich played for four years in college but didn’t make it to the NBA and Phil Jackson played for a few years as a backup player in the NBA. Since they “failed” as players, they looked for another job in basketball besides playing and landed on coaching. The difference in League is the failed player population size is pretty small. In basketball, the cream rises to the top. There are so many failed players who want to be coaches, that you have a population that includes many people who can be talented coaches as well.

There is also a healthy coaching structure where you start as a low assistant and work your way up through the ranks until you get a head coaching job by proving yourself. Some structure is being added in League, but it is limited and coaching development is not a priority, they will just fire you rather than work on developing your skills as coach. I personally believe coaching development should be up there with player development. Coaches should have performance goals and improvement plans just like the players. League of Legend organizations need to be a part of improving the coaching pool, good coaches don’t just appear.

Then they are also young and have limited life experiences too. They haven’t gained the skills necessary to be a successful coach yet and LCS may have been their first team environment. They also may have never had a coach until LCS either, so their only example in life of a coach is another subpar one.

Yes, pay matters to. There are only so many people willing to coach in such a stressful, demanding environment for passion. I took about a $20,000 pay cut from my previous job to coach TSM, and look how that turned out. Besides me not being good enough for the job, it made it apparent that I couldn’t take any other job offers I received. Not only was I taking a paycut, but I may go months between jobs with no pay since job security was so low. How many truly talented people and born leaders are willing to risk it?

Though admittably, the nature of the job requires that — a high pressure environment where you have to handle 5 kids living their first outside of home experience, finally having to care for themselves within a team environment, where job security is about as absent as their social skills. Having everyone on the same kind of schedule makes for unusual interactions on a daily basis, coaches living in the same space, same environment as their players having to eat the same meals, breathe the same air and generally having to spend every single minute of their daily lives with people they are ought to influence and are ought to be an idol for, someone they look up to for guidance within the game as well as outside of it, and this is where the issue lays. How do you respect someone that basically does less work, probably has less knowledge than you, and interacts with the same people in the same group of friends and coworkers as you? Well, you don’t — unless that person has so much self control that they never show a sign of weakness.

First, I agree that gaming houses are outdated and do more harm than good. I was forced to live in it to be the “dad” in the house, even though I had an apartment with my girlfriend and dog. Since we were struggling from the start, I felt that any time in the house I took to talk to my girlfriend was looked down upon. If the players didn’t see me constantly working the fix the problems we had then I wasn’t useful and my priorities were not in line with theirs. It took a huge toll on all my relationships. In the three months I was in the house, I didn’t talk to family or friends once. I talked to my girlfriend for a maximum of 5 minutes per day after living with her for 2 years+ prior. I didn’t blame the players either because the situation and gaming house environment caused it.

It happened between players too. We woke up at 8am, worked out, team meeting (go over plan/goals for the day, review vods, teach a concept, etc), scrim, lunch, scrim, one on one meeting with me until 9pm. After 9pm, some players played solo queue until 2am while others played other games and wound down. The players who were playing solo queue until 2am felt some resentment to the players playing other games since we were struggling and they felt the other people were not as committed to fixing the problems. So even after commited 13 hours of your day to your job, you risked the team environment by not committing another 5 hours at the end of the day to it. If you have your own apartments to go home to, that doesn’t happen. People don’t monitor each other. It also allowed people to separate work from their personal lives and have relationships. Should some of your nights still be committed to improving? Yes. After the 9pm meetings I still would need prepare and plan for the next day for 3–4 hours. That wouldn’t change if I went back to my apartment. The players also need play solo queue, watch korean vods, review their own vods, etc after hours in order to improve even if they had their own apartments. The players who choose to be lazy and not do that, don’t deserve to be a world class player and would lose their roster spot eventually.

The other point I want to touch on is when he says that how can you respect someone who doesn’t work as hard as you. Coaches can and should be working harder than the players. Seriously, if you aren’t willing to be a workaholic, don’t become a League of Legends coach. Yes, the players will have a hard time respecting someone who doesn’t work as hard and tirelessly as them. Working hard is important if you want to gain their respect. More importantly, though, good and successful coaching requires it. If you aren’t coaching scrims or conducting meetings, you should be preparing for the next day, watching vods, working with players individually, writing out plans for yourself or others, or anything else to improve either yourself or the team. It would still be beneficial to go home to your own apartment though so you can have just a bit of work/life balance.

Weakness as in, showing that they don’t put in as much effort as their players, weakness as in real life struggles that usually are to be kept behind closed doors, weakness as in not knowing as much as their players in certain situations, weakness as in unwillingness to learn and admit fault, though even that in itself could be seen as weakness. The amount of effort and strenght that is necessary to keep up the illusion of being superhuman is almost impossible to come by, and rarely have I seen any coach succeed — which means that their power has to come from a different kind of level, something succeeding the players prowesses outside of the game — authority from above.

More of the same and I agree with it. The gaming house exacerbates all these issues. However, I don’t think a coach needs to be seen as superhuman. It is hard in the gaming house as you do become more of a peer/friend in a house, than an authority figure. While you don’t need to be superhuman, you need to be respected which can be harder when living together.

Authority from above is enforced authority, and not a natural one therefore conflicting within itself — noone is gonna take you serious even if they do want to keep their jobs. Once your character shows flaws within one single minute of your time residing with the players, you lose grip and you lose control. And you won’t regain it. If that happens continously, you’ll eventually come to a breaking point where either you’ve lost so much space and respect within the lineup that you either have to go or fight around in order to create space for yourself, while becoming and unreliable source of knowledge and power and thus a liability by definition, or you decide to step down in order to become something bigger by reworking yourself and becoming better or stronger as an individual. And I do hope you’ll make the right choice next time around.

I experienced this and it can be a problem. I don’t know if it was a character flaw, but the minute the players find weakness and doubt, they lose confidence in you and it is really hard to gain back. You try new things, get push back, try to learn from your mistakes, and the whole time you are losing respect as you figure it out. It is part of the gig though. If you can’t earn the respect of your players then you learn from your mistakes and hope you get another chance to try again elsewhere. Just make sure you actually change and don’t repeat what you did before. It’s tough, and you can lose the respect quickly, but when you are coaching at a world class level, they are not going to be content with a high school level coach.

One thing that the players and organizations need to understand is that fixes don’t happen overnight. Teams don’t get better just because you understand what the problem is. Just because you can’t fix something right away, doesn’t mean you should lose respect from players. However, coaches need to understand how to get organizations and their players to buy in and understand that. That is still the coaches responsibility, and one of my biggest weaknesses while at TSM.

League of Legends is very much about the present. If things are not going well people are looking to immediately blame someone for it. If TSM or Fnatic started out winning their rosters as they were supposed to (at least in my case with a superstar roster), the respect from the players would have probably been much easier to earn and then keep. It didn’t work out that way for a multitude of reasons and, from my experience, many players and organizations don’t understand that struggle, challenges, and, most of all, time is needed to develop a team from bad to decent, decent to good, and then good to world class. It doesn’t happen overnight. One quick fix in practice is not going to do it. Coaches aren’t magicians or miracle workers. It is a culmination of all the hard work and effort over many months of practices. The progress is slow and can be grueling and not everything is apparent how it will improve the team. In my experience, players in League of Legends are obsessed with getting better and that is usually a good thing, but it can hurt in this situation. When it is a slow process and not everything is super apparent how it is improving the team since the payoff is way down the road, they push back a lot and want to stick to quick band aid fixes that don’t fix the root problem. They can see the result immediately from the band aid fix while fixing the root of the problem may take months with a lot of failure in between.

The catch is, if the players are not patient and do not want to go down the road you are setting them on, it is still the coaches responsibility to convince them. That was one of my biggest failures and something I saw Weldon succeed in after me. I couldn’t get the players to buy in. When Weldon came in, it seemed about 90% of what he was teaching I had already implemented or at least attempted to implement. Many of things that people credit for TSM’s eventual success after I left was initially put into place by me, but I doubt anyone in the organization would remember or credit me which is fine because I still failed at convincing the players it was worth their time to do those things, which is just as important as the task itself.

Some people reading who have played other sports may think that you can just force the players to do it and it is the players responsibility to listen to their coach. This may work in certain situations with the right players and organization, but when the players have more power than the coaches since they are the stars of the brand, this is close to impossible. After my initial approach to the TSM roster failed, I attempted to take an authoritarian coaching style and took control of the situation and forced the players onto my path or else they faced consequences. It worked in getting them to do what I wanted and it may have worked in the long run if I had the power and job security to stay with it long term. Within a couple of weeks, Regi had the players vote on whether they wanted me as their coach and not many players will vote to keep someone they don’t fully trust who is imposing a strict environment.

Regi can do it because he has all the authority. He can walk in to the scrim room and be the authoritarian without any push back because he knows he is not going anywhere and the players will listen because they rely on him. They also trust him and respect him because of what he has done in the past.

In short, there are a lot of ways to earn the respect of players. You don’t need to be Gregg Poppovich to do it. You can be hard working like Tony at CLG. You can put in a lot quality work behind the scenes until the players trust you with authority like Parth at TSM. You can be a salesman of what you are implementing like Weldon at G2. You can be knowledgeable and have a playing history like Reapered at C9. How a coach goes about it will be different, there is no one size fits all. What works for someone may not work for you. It just needs to work, and you need to have the ability to get your players to buy in and trust you. That is not the players responsibility. The scene may be responsible for the lack of decent coaches, but it not the scenes fault for players not respecting their coaches. It is on the coach. It is on the coach to earn and keep the players respect and get them to buy into their plan. If you can’t do that, then you don’t deserve to be coaching in LCS. Work on your skills, learn from your mistakes, and find out what works.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.