A casual meeting at the League of Legends European Championship sparked a very important conversation. Behavior analyst Urszula "Xirreth" Klimczak joined Lara Lunardi to talk about her work at Mindflex developing the mental skills of players to bring in their full potential to the stage, the effects of social media and working out issues that can drag down teams like Schalke-04 and Vitality to 0-6.
Can you explain to us a bit about what performance coaching can do for a team?
In esports performance coaching is still treated a little bit like some tape on a wound. Whenever there is a problem the performance coach is called to help out. Performance coaching, in reality, is prevention mostly. When a performance coach works with a team, they always look at what's going on inside the team. Then we'll try to prevent, whether it's trust issues, drops in energy, burning out or conflict within a team. Those are all aspects we cover, basically.
What are some of the organizations that you have worked with?
I started with ROCCAT a couple of years ago, when they were at a losing streak of 0-7.
Kind of like Schalke 04 and Vitality at the moment. Do they have a performance coach?
I think Schalke has someone, but I'm not sure if Vitality does. They're both amazing teams, and they have great stuff to work on. It's all workable.
So yeah I worked at ROCCAT, to get them out of the slump. There were a lot of issues in the team, and we managed to fix them very quickly. Then we turned it around in a winning streak, and until the end of the season they were actually winning. So that was a fantastic case for me to try and rebuild the team, and wake up the trust and the hunger for success. It's really important that the team is constantly hungry to find solutions and to experiment. That's why G2 is so good, because they're constantly experimenting.
Then there was a project at TSM that I worked on, and also one for Fnatic. I was completing a project with them in 2019. All those projects were kind of like tape to put the team back together so they're able to perform.
Also, kind of a cool story that happened to me was before I worked with ROCCAT. We built an esports coaching network with people like Weldon Green, Summer Scott, Robert Yip, and we were training young coaches and managers. We created some classes for them. We would give them all the knowledge of how to lead a team, how to motivate a team, and everything else we do so esports becomes a place where people have a lot of knowledge and are capable of inspiring. YoungBuck was one of our students back then, and he's actually amazing. He's very motivated and hyped to do his work well. This project was great, and people truly appreciated it. Unfortunately that was the time when our roles weren't perceived as something that would bring value to the teams. I guess this is something that is really needed nowadays.
Well you look at the LEC this year, and you see that almost every team has a performance coach, and they're constantly working things out. What do you think a team like Schalke 04 would be lacking?
I'm not inside the team, but from the faces of the players I can read that there's definitely a trust issue.
And how do you work those out?
You perform a clearing-out session with the team to bring the emotions together, to let them vent.
"Sometimes the players have the feeling that they need to sacrifice themselves, their skills... But the power is in the team. Nobody wins the game alone."
Like family therapy?
Well kind of. I guess it's similar, but I don't like using the word therapy. It's more getting rid of the conflicts. They're definitely hiding stuff inside, and we need to give them the option to explode. As soon as they explode, you start working on accountability. Everyone needs to be assigned to their roles and do them perfectly well, so they can perform. Then you need to wake up the hunger for success. It's very important that they start believing in themselves.
In a situation where Schalke or Vitality are, players lose faith. This is when players go to social media, and beat themselves up with all the crap that is on there. And sometimes even the organizations will Tweet some negative things and that will put the players even lower. When your organization has no faith in you, if the fans don't have faith in you, then the players simply shut down. Right now what they need is a boost of energy.
You say that sometimes the organizations are compliant through social media, and let this happen to the players. Do you think this environment of banter is healthy in esports?
It is to some point, but there is a limit. If you have mentally strong teams like G2: they can allow themselves to do it because for them it's building an advantage over the team they're competing with. There's always banter between G2 and Fnatic, and I definitely feel that G2 loves it. They have fun with it, and that gives them the mental advantage over the other teams, which is great. It's better to keep up and have fun and laugh at stuff, than to keep it to yourself and look for vengeance. The moment you're looking for vengeance or think "I'll show them what I can do," you're turning yourself off from the game and the tactics, everything you had learned from scrims. You go into tryhard mode, blindly following your heart and hunger for revenge.
It's really important for teams that are on losing streaks to get back to the basics. Very often those teams have players of mixed experience. Often, when coaches start working with teams, they assume that the level of knowledge on the game is the same. That is the main reason for miscommunication. If the coaches don't go back to basics and don't start repeating every single thing, the experienced players apply past tactics on their game. Those that are not are just learning it, and if they're not, they'll just assume things, and get lost. Back to basics is the key. Lifting the players up to the level of the rest is really important. The team is as bad as the worst player in the team.
So for the team it should be critical to be on the same level all the time. Then it's really easy to snowball the emotions, the game, the hype train. Sometimes the players have the feeling that they need to sacrifice themselves, their skills et cetera so other lanes can get ahead. But the power is in the team. Nobody wins the game alone. This is a five player game, and you need five players to win it.
Closing out, you have a company called MindFlex. Can you tell a bit more about that?
My company usually focuses on teams. I come from a business environment where I've been a manager and a business coach. It was a high pressure environment, with a large focus on goals. I was managing two teams of 36 people, and I was constantly helping them to get the hunger for success. The goals were really important, so they had to be tuned up constantly.
My passion for esports has been there from the very beginning. I'm a gamer myself, so I decided to quit the business environment to found my own company, and translate all my knowledge and make esports a better, more professional place. What's most important is that players are confident in what they do. It's always a pleasure to watch teams like Fnatic and G2, because they have a lot of confidence. Their games are fast and dynamic, which is a sign of confidence in players. Players play with their fingers, but they win with their heads.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.