Slingshot’s Andrew Kim caught up with Phoenix1 coach Kim “Fly” Sang-chul (in Korean and translated to English) during a trip to the team’s house at the end of January. They talked about coaching in three regions, comparing them and how his current team is built.
Andrew Kim: You joined Phoenix 1 after your time in China with Royal Never Give Up. What was the process like to move from China to the US?
Kim “Fly” Sang-chul: I didn’t only work in China, but I also worked in Korea before that, and since then I’ve also worked with Team Impulse, previously LMQ in NA. Now I’m the coach for Phoenix1. Last year I spent time as the coach for RNG, and after the season was over with the end of worlds, I was looking for a team, and I found that Phoenix1 was a team that kept contact with me, and seemed to value me. I thought this would be a good opportunity for me as well, so I joined.
AK: Phoenix1 didn’t really do all that well last split, but with the addition of Arrow and Ryu, it seemed to be a rebuild. When you were first offered the position of coach, were you aware of the new imports?
KSC: I didn’t know exactly. It was in the plan to import Korean players, but I joined first temporarily and held tryouts and worked with Phoenix1.
AK: You have a very global career across three regions. Which was the region that was the most comfortable?
KSC: I think the time when I had the least to worry about, it was Team Impulse. I was working in NA, but I was very concerned after the season because we didn’t perform well.
AK: The team atmosphere seemed to change with Arrow and Ryu. Did you also feel that way as the coach?
KSC: Yes, since they are very experienced players. I think Ryu in particular has a large impact in game. He’s the mid laner, he knows how to request what kind of plays he wants from his teammates, and I think that’s a big part of it.
AK: Being a coach means you have to be the adult while working with very young players. After your long career, what was the hardest thing about your job?
KSC: It’s always hard to do this job. Trying to have a conversation with young players — like you said, even the older ones are kind of like children because they play a game for a living — can be very difficult. I think understanding what the player is thinking is the most difficult, which can be said about all human relationships.
AK: Working in NA means you need a translator at all times. In your opinion, how large of an impact does a translator make in a team?
KSC: As a coach, my English skills aren’t great, so I do think (translator Celine Cheung) has a large impact on the team right now. I’m not a person who studied a lot in my life, so it’s difficult to fill whatever shortcomings I have without a translator. I can do simple things, but when having a serious conversation with the players, a translator is indeed needed.
AK: Do you have a coaching philosophy? What does being a coach mean to you?
KSC: I’ve never really thought about a particular philosophy. I think I did start to form one, rather than a philosophy, I haven’t been able to have a firm vision of what to do, like what I needed to do for the players, but now I have a clear idea on what I need to do. It’s not really a philosophy, but it’s clear to me now what my role is as a coach is and how to communicate with the players well after a couple of years.
AK: The reason many regions look for Korean coaching staff seems to be because of the success Korea has as a region. What kind of coaching methods can one bring to a different region?
KSC: I think Korean coaches work really hard. I also think players tend to follow those who are also working as hard as they are. I haven’t met a lot of foreign coaches, but I think consistently showing hard work and trying to talk with players even with a language barrier can be a way for the players to open up themselves to the staff. I think they follow by example.
AK: Andy “Reginald” Dinh said that the teams that added imports this season don’t really know what they’re doing in the context of expecting success. Do you also find yourself in agreement with Reginald or do you disagree with him?
KSC: I do agree with him to an extent, because just importing players doesn’t mean success. But as I’ve been in NA with Impulse and played against TSM, I think it’s because we’re not that worried right now. If we take the time to work well together, I think we can take TSM on. Of the teams that have imports this season, I think we have the most balanced team. Of course teams like TSM has good teamwork since they have worked together for a long time, so it might be difficult right now, but I don’t think we can’t win against them.
AK: What are some of the most important coaching methods that you subscribe to?
KSC: I try to respect the players as much as I can. I have worked with gamers for a long time, so I know that even living in a gaming house is work, and can be laborious. So I try my best to not stress them, but I do say what the players need to hear even if it does give them stress in that moment. Of course I also check how the players are doing after having a conversation like that with them.
AK: I’m sure you have a goal for 2017 with the new roster. What are your goals for the spring split?
KSC: Honestly, this might come to bite me later on, but I think we’ll make the playoffs, and I want to win the split, and that’s the goal, since I did win in China once and would love to win a split here as well.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games