What is a Coach?

What does it mean to be a coach in League Champions Korea? The hierarchy of professional teams tend to be head coach, coaching staff, and player. It’s easy to understand what a coach might do, but the term of coaching in esports has seldom been looked at. With no concrete definition and responsibility of a coach, how does one team find more success than another?

Lets take a look at SK Telecom T1’s League of Legends coach, Kim “KkOma” Jeong-Gyun. As a coach, KkOma has been with SKT through two world championships and won every international trophy that a team can win, as long as championships from SKT’s home region of Korea. Many in Korea, and even in the west, attribute a large part of SKT’s success to its coaching. If nothing else, his coaching is indeed the most diligent in the LCK, as almost every post-match video looking into the booth shows KkOma nearly kicking down the door, notebook in hand. He’s also known to be a perfectionist, and probably his most powerful sentence was after winning the 2016 spring split against the ROX Tigers in the finals:

“SKT might have some periods of trouble, but we will never collapse. As long as the fans support us, we will always be able to stand here again.”

So if we can safely say that a coach is a person who works closely with the players in order to direct and push the players, what does a head coach do? In SKT’s case he doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of attention in comparison to KkOma, but he has to have some function. For that answer, we can look towards Samsung Galaxy.

Samsung’s head coach Choi Woo-Beom has been getting a lot of attention from Korean esports media because of his background. He was one of the more successful Starcraft pros in Korea, but when he was appointed as head coach of Samsung in 2015, literally nothing was left. He then had to watch solo queue endlessly to find talented players to make a team, and now his hard work blossomed into a ticket to worlds. His role seems to be more supportive, someone who manages the team from behind the scenes, and although not as visible, imperative nonetheless. Samsung’s mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-Ho said that the head coach spends a lot of time with him so that he doesn’t go on tilt, and even more recently had to talk with the team so that their most recent success didn’t go too much into the team’s head. He seems to be the mental center to the team, and someone who was imperative to their current success.

That doesn’t mean that a head coach couldn’t potentially do both. If we turn our attention to the ROX Tigers, Jeong “NoFe” No-Chul was a pro League of Legends player for MVP Blue and Najin White Shield before turning into the head coach of LCK’s first seed team into worlds. NoFe can also be found often in player interviews, who especially attribute picks and ban strategy to NoFe. The understanding of NoFe as a head coach is that he’s the brains of the drafting phase, which seems to be more important as Riot switches the meta from season to season. His pick and ban phases are strategically astounding, throwing opposing teams into a confusion frenzy while giving the most choice picks for his own team. He’s also very good at sealing out certain opposing players to create openings in other lanes, thus giving the Tigers ample opportunities to abuse their advantages. Post match interviews also ask about the picks and bans every time they get a hold of NoFe, and in Korea he is known as the mastermind of ROX.

What I’m trying to say is that its certainly interesting to see a player-coach dynamic in the context of a team based game. Managing multiple people who always must play and live one another is a challenge onto itself, and I’m sure that trait isn’t region specific. We all know the impacts of a good coach and how a change in strategy can bring a team up. In that context, esports coaches aren’t that much different from any other sport out there. Each coach has their own style, their own role, and their own impact.

Whatever unites a team, whether it be charisma, loving support, or strategic genius, there is always room for a good coach in every esports organization. What’s important is that they bring something to the team that makes that team unique and powerful.

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