Excel Esports has undoubtedly showcased a stronger presence in the 2020 League of Legends European Championship when compared to its first year in the league in 2019. Now stuck in playoff limbo, Excel depends on the misplays of Misfits and MAD Lions for a chance to join the best teams. Head Coach Joey "YoungBuck" Steltenpool talked to Inven Global about his experience with the team so far, the changes implemented to ensure better performance and his optimism for the Summer Split.
Normally speaking, coaches don’t walk in a team blind. When you joined Excel, what were some of the most prominent changes you knew you would have to work through?
When I joined Excel in the offseason, I talked to some of the players, and it was clear to me that they were not too happy about their bot lane situation. There were a lot of trust issues, even when they would play against Academy bot laners. Caedrel, Expect and Mickey needed to be more trusting, and that was the number one change that we were looking at. On top of that, they needed an upgrade in the coaching staff and structure.
How was your approach to ensure players were confident in each other, then?
Good question. I don’t think it is up to me to make them confident in each other, but the way they practice and the level of focus they have in scrims is what should be giving the confidence to teammates. If one of the players is slacking, they will not earn the confidence of the team, so in that regard it is hard to change their minds about it.
We have brought in a new bot laner and have been having a more systematic approach to the game in terms of macro. If everyone is aware of what they have to perform, as they usually do, there is no distrust. They know how the system is, they know how to play for the objectives, and if they perform well during weekly practice, chances are they will bring this confidence to stage.
What were your expectations working through the team’s issues? Did you expect such a turn in performance?
I went into Excel thinking this was a team that was capable of really big change. I saw our playoffs potential. So far I am quite happy with the progress we’ve had. It is unfortunate that this season is very top heavy, because if we were 6-6 in the other season, we’d probably be in third or fourth place, but we are still fighting for that position. There are a lot of good teams in Europe and we are improving every single week of the LEC both on stage and in practice.
"We have to be confident in the players so they can be confident in themselves."
Excel has been in playoff limbo. I can imagine this imposes an unbelievable amount of stress in your players. What is something that you notice that changes in training when you guys have such a big weekend ahead?
It’s fair to say that there is a little bit less confidence and more stress when a decisive weekend is approaching. There’s also more uncertainty when it comes to drafting, because there is a lot on the line. The way we battle doubt as the coaching staff, we have to be confident in the players so they can be confident in themselves, but we also have to show confidence in ourselves so they trust what we are doing. We have to make sure that we know what to draft and that it’s good for the team.
Regarding this weekend’s matches, what do you think the team’s morale will be like moving forward?
It will really depend on how we perform, but also on how MAD Lions performs in the upcoming matches. We have to find wins here and there, but we have a pretty rough schedule.
And are you confident in Excel’s potential?
After losing to Rogue a couple weeks ago, something we wanted to change is that we knew we did not want to play too much scaling anymore. So we will focus on early and mid-game compositions, showcasing that we can close out games. If we lose, it’s at least because we didn’t execute the plan properly.
We had two games in the last three weeks where we played for scaling and we kind of got the point, but at the same time, it did not feel like the fate of the game was under our control, rather than us hoping the enemy was not good enough to end the game. In the future we will be way more proactive and aggressive, and for the long term that is really good. If we don’t make it to the playoffs, it’s because we are not good enough.
Not good enough? Do you think this would be the reason for your team to miss playoffs?
I would say that 90% of the reason would be because we are not good enough and the other 10% are other unlucky factors, like Misfits or MAD Lions getting a few wins here and there that happened more because their opponents were not trying their best on stage. We still went 0-2 against Rogue and Misfits, so they are the better teams.
Hey, that’s a bit Harsh!
It is harsh, but this is what makes us change. In the first split of the game we lost games that were really close, that made us learn a lot. We have been really improving since then, but other teams are also scaling up. I am confident that if we don’t make it to the playoffs this split, we will do it in Summer.
Expect has crossed paths with you multiple times. What has it been like to be reunited with him?
I remember that after our time at G2 Esports, he took a year off, and I was quite sad to see that best top laner in Europe at the time be left out. He then came to Excel in a team where he was definitely the best player and the best performing player together with Caedrel. I was happy to see his progress and to see he had returned to EU, because we’ve always been really good friends since the first week he came to G2 and he was one of the big reasons why I signed with Excel.
What has your experience been with Excel fans so far?
I think Excel fans are the best fans out there. Some fan bases have a toxic side to them, but Excel fans are only positive. All the cheering and chanting and singing… It’s really British!