TI6 Roundtable: Dota 2 coaches and analysts describe approaches, challenges to the job

While at The International 6, Slingshot’s Cameron “Turbo” Regan conducted a roundtable with coaches and analysts of various teams to talk about their individual approaches and some of the challenges that come along with the job.

What’s the hardest part about coaching a team at The International?

Benjamin “NotAHax” Läärä, Escape Gaming coach: I think the hardest part is that when you start any team, it’s a huge learning process for any coach. I don’t think you can be a good coach until you spend at least four months with the team to get to know the people in real life and get to know their play styles, their favorite heroes and general hero pool. So I think coaching is — I talked with (Sébastien “7ckingMad” Debs, OG coach) and he said the same thing. It’s a huge learning process. And if you’re new to coaching you have to find your way with what to prioritize with your team.

Alan “Nahaz” Bester, compLexity Gaming coach: The hardest part for me personally is that you can replicate a lot of things in practice, but you can’t replicate the pressure of playing for $20 million. When you’re coming in with a team that is incredibly talented but has three players who have never played at The International before, that’s a heck of a pressure gap. There’s no other event that’s quite like this.

In general, I would say the answer to that question is – particularly because the coaching role in esports in general and Dota in particular is so new – you really have to have the ability to adapt what you’re doing to what the team needs. When compLexity first approached me, my response to, “Do you want to coach us?” was “Are you crazy?” But as I communicated with the team and spent some time with them I realized that what they needed in terms of giving them a shot to be very good at this tournament was something I could provide.

Theeban “1437” Siva, Team Secret coach: I guess the most difficult thing about coaching a team at The International is dealing with the emotions: the ups, the downs. Figuring out the right things to your players to keep their spirits high and let them play their own game, and trying to stay that way. (Editor’s note: 1437 has since left Team Secret)

Muriel “Kipspul” Huisman, Fnatic analyst: I think it’s managing the pressure for the players. Everything that’s going on is adding pressure to them. Your job, as staff, is to make sure that none of it comes from you. Preferably you’re trying to lessen the burden, taking it for yourself.

What’s your approach to post-game and post-scrim talks with the team?

NotAHax: Usually what I do is I tell them why they lost or won, what they did wrong and what they did good. I do that every game, actually, when they play officials. If the team does that on their own there will be arguments, but when it comes from someone outside the team they’ll listen. And of course we’ll talk about why we lost; was it drafting, poor execution, or individual play? Why did we lose a specific team fight? This kind of stuff. And then what was good. Was the warding good? Did they smoke under a ward? Were the smokes good?

Nahaz: Well, the first thing that I lobbied pretty hard for in terms of scrims was getting a built-in 10 to 15 minute period between each of the games just to be able to look at a couple of highlights from the match replays. I’m a big believer that you look at tape, and I’m a big believer that you look at tape together. One of the more useful things that we implemented as well – so we had a fellow by the name of James Leath from IMG Academy come and work with us for a day while we were boot camping. That was incredibly helpful. One of the little things that he did that I thought was amazing was just implement, after the game, everybody gets up from their computer screens for two minutes and goes and decompresses. Then you come back and you start the discussion with “Here’s what I think is the most important factor in that game that we need to take away.” And then you go from big to small.

What I found that did was — a lot of the time Dota is an emotional game. There are a lot of small details. A lot of the time in the early post-scrim or post-match discussions we would get stuck on one thing. We’d get stuck on one mistake that we made in the early game that didn’t decide the game, but it was frustrating to some of the players and it did create an advantageous or disadvantageous position for them. And that’s a really destructive thing when you’re trying to improve as a team. You’ve got to make sure that the things you’re talking about are the right things in terms of what we need to do differently. In terms of winning a game from that situation. And that was another thing I insisted on in our scrims. There was a lot of attention paid to things that we could have done differently in the early game to give ourselves more of an advantage. I was a big believer – and still am – that mistakes, even when you’re behind, are still mistakes. At all times you need to give yourself the best chance you can to win from a given situation.

There’s a little corny thing that Duke Basketball does that I made the guys do. “Next play.” Duke says that constantly. “Fine. You got beat by your man. We made a bad shot on this possession. Next play.” We don’t let that affect the way that we approach the next possession unless it’s a strategic change that we’re making consciously as a team. We did the same thing in our scrims. “You made a mistake? Next play.” We don’t talk about how somebody went for the wrong item or how somebody made a mistake in the last team fight. We talk about how we’re going to win the next one.

1437: When it comes to matches, I like to keep it very positive, very clear and not too confusing. Not trying to go back and forth on some things, just being straightforward and let it be known what the real issues were. Look forward to the next game, and try to make it quick.

Kips: For me as an analyst, it depends on whether they want me to watch things for that game in particular. If we have real matches the next day then I will be prepping those for sure and the coach will be watching the scrim and analyzing it with them. For example, when we were boot camping I would usually be on communication duty. So I would stand behind them during scrims and note when they were not being efficient with how they talked about things, what they noticed. And I would talk about that with them afterwards.

What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve taught your team?

NotAHax: I think I taught them some new heroes and new ideas. We had a small problem where we were picking the same, too much of the same shit. So I suggested a lot of new heroes and we used a few of them during The International qualifiers. Not all of them were successful. And then there was warding. I think I fixed a lot of things with their warding and smoking. I believe that I’ve been useful in a lot of ways, but I think that’s the biggest aspect.

Nahaz: I hope the most important lesson that I taught my team is encapsulated in the previous question. That good teams — yes, good teams do a lot of different things well including drafting, laning and pocket strategies to create advantages. But good teams play – at each point in the game – in a way that gives them the best possible chance of winning from that situation. There is time after the games, and there’s time in replay review in the morning to decide what we should be doing strategically. But in that moment and that game, you’re not talking about your teammate going for an item that you don’t agree with or initiating in a way that you don’t agree with. You’re talking about what the next fight will look like. Where are we going to set up our wards so that we have an advantage for the next Roshan? What’s going to be our next tower push, and how are we going to take that fight if they try to initiate on us when we’re pushing up high ground? It needs to be about the next play. You need to be talking about what you’re going to do to win the game, not what you have done.

1437: It’s hard for me to say. I think there’s a lot of things that I speak about often, a lot of philosophical stuff included. So I really can’t pinpoint any one thing. Plus I wouldn’t want to say like “Yeah, that was me.” A lot of things that coaches say to players can affect them in different ways, and they interpret it different ways as well. So something that I think had a big impact on them might not have, but something I think has low impact might have actually been huge for them individually.

Kips: I think — I’m not sure actually. They wanted me to give them a different perspective. And I think I delivered that. I guess I taught them that there are definitely patterns to see, and being predictable is dangerous. I think that’s actually a really good takeaway from all this. You see that Wings and Digital Chaos are doing really well, and part of it is because they’re unpredictable. I actually couldn’t get a grip on DC, and that’s part of why we lost to them in the end. But that’s also why a lot of teams lost to us: we were unpredictable. The fact that I showed how being predictable can be a detriment, they would play less predictably as a result.

Cover photo: Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com

Cameron "Turbo" Regan is a Dota 2 freelance writer with previous industry experience working for Team Empire.

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