Liquid Jatt: "We play TSM first; it's an immediate test. But for me, my focus is improvement."

▲ Image Source: Riot Games


Joshua "Jatt" Leesman has been with Riot Games for the past eight years, working in many various facets, but most often as a member of their broadcast team as an analyst and color caster. This off-season, however, he left commentating behind, joining Team Liquid as their new head coach. Just before his arrival, Team Liquid released NA star Bot Laner, Yiliang "Peter" "Doublelift" Peng for a misalignment in team culture, and part of Jatt's addition as head coach is to address any further culture issues.


He and Team Liquid will face off against TSM in their Season Opener, and it'll be an exciting peek at who improved more with their off-season moves. Read below to hear about Jatt's anticipation of the season, as well as how he has slotted in the team so far, and check out a podcast show hosted by James "Dash" Patterson for more. 



How did this ever happen. How did this come up as a possibility of even happening? I don't think anyone expected this at all.


Well I mean even if we go back to the last time that we talked, I think I made the point where I mentioned in traditional sports, it's pretty common - or more common than in esports - for former coaches to become commentators or even for former commentators to become coaches. And I think part of me knowing that and talking to you about it is because coaching is something that I've been considering for years. I just never saw the opportunity or had the right opportunity to want to make such a big jump, right?


I mean it was big news, I was at Riot for eight years. That was really the company I've been attached to for so long. I've caught myself in the past weeks still using "we" language, like "Oh yeah, 'we' need to do this," but then it's like. Oh, I'm not there [at Riot], I can't say that anymore. I'm with Team Liquid now.


So it's a huge change, but for your question again, "How it happened." It's something I've been thinking about for a long time. I had some exploratory questions with Steve back in 2018. I think he remembered those conversations, and we're pretty aligned in how we look at esports, at League, at how to grow, plus the general process of things... So when Steve felt like he needed someone, we picked back up on that conversation and made it work. 


▲ Image Source: Riot Games


I did think it was funny that you made that move right after we talked about all of that. I was like, "Ah he's just trying to make himself more interesting!" 


Hahah. No not quite, although, I guess it could have that side benefit down the road.



Yeah! So what has it been like so far? As far as I know you haven't coached before, so how's it been transitioning into this new work? 


It's super challenging. I was the offensive coordinator of my high school football team when I was 20, so that was some 13 years ago coaching experience. But yeah not exactly the same as head coach for a professional League of Legends team. Hahaha. But it's been good. I think I was fortunate enough to join a team that already knows what they're doing. There are already systems in place, there's already a process, so I didn't need to build that from scratch.


So the first month or so has been a lot of learning what the current systems and processes are, getting feedback from players and the other coaches about how those systems perform, and then figure out the right ways for me to contribute and change things when necessary. So, for the most part I'm taking a really open minded approach where I'm trying to learn first, and then have action later. 



So I talked to Edward "Tactical" Ra about this about a week after you joined, and you hadn't started practicing yet so he didn't have a perfect answer for me. So I want to hear what exactly your role will be, especially how it relates to Jang "Cain" Nu-ri and other members of the staff. 


So I work very closely with Cain. He's the strategic coach, I'm the head coach, so for now he is the guy who leads draft and leads reviews. What I'm doing as the head coach is coordinating between the coaching staff, because it's more than just the two of us. It's Cain and myself, but also Chris "Croissant" Sun, who was with OpTic before, and Tyler, our head analyst. But then there's also all the players.


So I will do a lot of conflict management if that comes up, I'll give feedback to Cain on the drafts, and I'll also currently be doing drafts with Cain as well, so we build out draft plans together. We strategize how we are approaching review, how we're doing review, I do some of it and he does some of it. So it's very collaborative in some sense.


So basically overall, as the head coach, it's more on me to provide the overarching strategy or the direction that we're moving next or make decisions on the things that have multiple paths. And then Cain get's to focus on the stuff that he really loves doing, like finding the best drafts and the best ways to win games and strategize. 


▲ Photo by Parkes Ousley for Inven Global


I figured it might be something like that, but it's always confusing since we have no insight and different teams call different roles various titles. So what's your favorite part about it so far? 


Geez, I guess my favorite part is the one on one conversations that I've had with players or coaches where we go more in depth on strategies or game review. Overall, the day to day process has been good, but yeah my favorite part has probably been the more in depth stuff when we really feel like we're learning something. 



Are you starting to freak out at all? I talked with PapaSmithy at the beginning of Spring - who was in a similar situation as you are right now - and he laughed, saying he was not okay. He was very stressed having a team to look after that he needed to win. How are you handling that? 


It's definitely stressful. But the benefit I have is that I've been really stressed about sports and League in the past. And when I was trying to be a pro in League, back in 2011 before the real pro scene even happened, that was more stressful because we would play in an online qualifier, just one game. And winning or losing that game basically determined if your team existed or if it didn't.Because if you win, you qualify for a tournament so you get to travel and maybe go to an even bigger tournament, and if you lose... Too bad. That's it. There's no funding, there's nothing.


Whereas here, sure there's pressure because we play TSM first. That's the matchup Riot decided people would be interested in, and I think it's really smart that they put that at Week 1. And it's high pressure, it's an immediate test. But for me, my focus is improvement.


▲ Photo by Parkes Ousley for Inven Global


So if I feel like we're improving, I'm okay. And if I feel like we're not improving, that's when I get stressed. So there's been a few days where I felt like I was stressed, but right now I'm not stressed, because I feel like we're improving. So while the TSM game is going to be a good measuring stick to where we currently are and they currently are, winning or losing isn't going to change that much. It'll change our record by one win or one loss, and they'll be 17 more games after that and way more scrims.


So that's kind of the mindset I have to try and be okay. Because yeah the pressure is high and that's a big game, but as long as we keep focusing on the little things and improvement, then we'll be fine. 



Do you have any thoughts looking at all the pre-season rankings? It used to always be you making them, but now you're on the other side, and people have a lot of opinions on whether Liquid will be good or bad this season. So is that weird for you at all? And do you give them any merit? 


Actually, not really. And I haven't actually paid too much attention to it because it's much different being on the inside. Scrims is one thing, but even with scrims, there are players who play differently in scrims than on stage. so yeah I guess this may not be the answer you're looking for but I haven't really paid much attention to it. The biggest thing I'm focusing on is how do we give ourselves the best chance to win this Summer Split, and that's really all it comes down to.


I don't care where people think we'll finish. All that matters is where we do finish. But I'm not putting down power rankings. I think as content creators and fans, those are the best conversations to have. It's a super boring conversation to just say, "Oh I guess we'll wait and see." There's fun in it, but I just can't think about it. 


▲ Image Source: Riot Games


The other funny meme I loved from this whole thing was that you were just a plant for TSM, that they got Doublelift and then planted you in TL, so I think you should be feeling a bit more pressure in this opening game. 


Sure, because the best way to disprove the theory is to beat TSM. Hahaha.

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