MAD Lions has bet on a roster made almost entirely of rookies for the year of 2020 of the League of Legends European Championship, and it turns out to be a rather successful move. Currently in 5th place, the Lions have outperformed giants like Fnatic and G2 Esports. Head Coach James "Mac" MacCormack talks about his relationship with the team and what they need to keep pushing forward in standings.
Has the team exceeded your expectations in this Split so far?
My hopes were that we would be top six by the end of the split. At the same time, I am aware that our ceiling is higher, but our floor is much lower. I anticipated that our start would be a bit more rocky than it’s been, a bit more up and down, because usually younger players are a bit more inconsistent.
Your team is built almost entirely of rookies. What has it been like for you to develop its talent?
With veteran players, you get more of a finished product, in a sense, someone who already knows how to play the game and know what they are good at, what they like and what they dislike. Your job as a coach in that situation is to refine and maintain their skillset, making sure that you cover their weaknesses and amplify their strengths while you coach the team.
The younger players tend to be more flexible and are able to do a lot of things. We are lucky that our players can play everything, it makes drafting really easy. In this case, instead of maintaining and refining their strengths, you need to find them and make sure that they can build them and grow as a player.
What is your approach when it comes to developing both kinds of players in a team? How do you ensure they get the same growth?
Humanoid is in, as Peter calls, his Sophomore year. He is no longer a rookie, but not exactly a veteran either. Last year he learned all of the skills you need to be a good League of Legends player. He had insane potential, but learned really, really fast. He learned wave management, how to shotcall, how to coordinate his teammates. This year, I think he is still learning a lot, but in a very different way. The skill set he has is incredibly polished, and we are lucky that his strengths are so clear I don’t need to do much work to refine and maintain them.
Is Humanoid taking the lead on the team?
That is what we are working on this year. Rather than learning how to be a good player, he is being a leader and a good teammate. He is making really good strides on that, he is being a lot more vocal, he has been teaching a lot of the younger players, contributed a lot to reviews and I think right now it will be a different kind of learning for him. This is the next step for his career, and he is so young. Humanoid is only 19 right now, he is not even fully developed, his brain has not even fully formed! *laughs*
Right, by the time League of Legends players brains are fully formed, they are “too old” and have to retire… *laughs*
Exactly! There is a really good opportunity for him to improve on relationships and people management, which is something he has taken quite well.
Mac, every time I speak to your players, they always have such wonderful things to say about you. Especially Carzzy. It seems, from what I see on stage and social media, that you guys have such a good relationship. There is a picture of you two on twitter and you are looking at him like the proudest dad in the world *laughs*, so what has it been like to work with him?
How do I quantify my relationship with Carzzy, oof! He is a very special person, a very special player, but definitely a very special person. *laughs* Carzzy has no filter. He is loud, constantly running around, making noises and being hyperactive. It’s really entertaining to be around him. It’s so easy. Carzzy is the type of person that needs support and encouragement from his teammates, and aside from that, he is good to go.
Carzzy is very flexible in game. If we have a discussion about drafts, he is always willing to sacrifice his champions, taking the bullet for the team when they need better matchups, because he is so flexible, he’ll say cheerfully “I can take this horrendous matchup, it will be fine!” I think a lot of times because of his funny personality, he doesn’t always seem to be the most intellectual or academic, but he is actually a really good problem solver and a very intelligent person. I couldn’t be happier working with him.
What were you hoping to do when you got into coaching? Is rookie player development side something that always interested you?
I can’t say I had a really firm idea of what my role was going to be like. Prior to the LEC, I was always the Head Coach and one-to-one coaching is always something I did a lot of, but the rookie side of the thing, I picked up with Peter a lot more. When I went to Splyce, there were three coaches: Peter was leading scrims in the first year, and the second, Duke led scrims, so I always tried to find ways to make myself useful, so I did a lot of one-to-one coaching. I would sit behind Nisqy for an entire day, or any player, really.
Nisqy is great.
Yes, Nisqy is great. I really want to experience Nisqy and Carzzy in the same room. It’s probably crazy.
Maybe at MSI?
Yeah, Cloud 9 is doing really well in the LCS, really happy for Nisqy, what a guy.
Back to coaching…
So, yes, that became my role within the team in general. The Head Coach position has a lot of stresses on it, especially because you are an outwards facing person. Sometimes it is your job to put your hands up and say “this is my bad” and take all the flack for your players, to protect the young players from the pressure they are constantly on.
The Head Coach role is very demanding, it’s very difficult to keep track of every single thing the team needs done, like paying attention to early game vision control, or whatever the goal of the week is, so you lose sight of the individual players. Moving to Head Coach, I brought with me my knowledge of minimizing the stress around the coaches, that I had picked up from my previous roles. Now, I set myself up with people that are very useful for preparation, scouting, preparing presentations, and one-on-one coaching.
"Our ceiling is higher, but our floor is much lower"
In your eyes, what is MAD Lions missing to perform more consistently throughout the split and make its way to the top of standings?
We have quite a clear identity as a team already, with quite visible strengths. Our team is really decisive, good in the mid-game, have highly skilled players, so I am happy to say that we are seeing skill matchups everywhere. Right now, we need to diversify a bit. I have a feeling that teams are not pushing us that much, especially in draft. It’s no secret, we have played six Miss Fortune games and five Lee-Sin games, so in the moment we are not needing to show much else. We have really clear strengths on certain champions and certain play styles, but we need to diversify as a team, because come playoffs, people will start doing more scouting and start banning us out.
Lastly, what would you like to say to your team?
I would like to thank all the players for all the work they have put in so far, in game and out of game, to grow as people. This team is one of the nicest I have ever been in, and that is possible only because they are constantly looking for ways to improve themselves, taking responsibilities for their mistakes, owning up to them and working together to surpass them.
There was a day last week, when we lost to Misfits, I felt like that game was completely on me and it was just my fault for the draft being bad. Instantly, four people put their hands up to say “this is on me, I should have done this. It’s honestly so nice.