On Nov. 12th, T1 announced the acquisition of the new coaching staff of their League of Legends roster, Yang “Daeny” Dae-in and Lee “Zefa” Jae-min, as head coach and coach respectively. This news came as a surprise to many fans, as not only are the two coaches coming straight out of a roster that just became the world champions with DAMWON Gaming, their roles have swapped from their time on DAMWON Gaming.
Various esports media outlets in Korea were invited by T1 for a group Q&A session with the newly instated coaching staff of T1’s main LoL roster. Due to the rise in the cases of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Korea, the interviews were conducted over two days, with a limited number of personnel being invited each day. Inven Global attended day 2 of the two-day long Q&A session, where both Daeny and Zefa spoke out on the reason behind swapping roles, their philosophies behind creating a great team, and how they envision T1’s 2021 season.
This is one of the very first interviews that you’re doing as T1’s new coaching staff. Can you give us your overall impression of the team, as well as what it's been like during your recent tenure with DAMWON Gaming?
Daeny: During Worlds, I was sure that we’d at least make it to the semifinals, and once we did, we felt confident: Zefa and I knew that we were going to win the whole tournament. After Worlds, the initial thought for 2021 was to continue my tenure with DAMWON Gaming.
As I do more interviews, I feel that my philosophies and my mindset will be revealed more and more. For myself, one of the main things I focus on in my life is growth, so I was at a crossroads on whether I remain and continue to set new records, or take on a new challenge. The thought of taking on a new challenge outweighed remaining on DWG, so that’s why I decided to join a prestigious esports team like T1. Not only were there so many talented young players on the academy roster, there was also Faker, who’s the Michael Jordan in this scene, so the idea of working with them and in this new environment excited me.
Zefa: Towards the end of the World Championship, Daeny and I already decided that we’d swap our roles for 2021. My thought process and mindset aligns very closely to that of Daeny’s. My number one goal is growth, and creating a fun team environment follows at a close number two, and I felt that T1 was the most ideal place to achieve both of those goals. I’m excited to be here, and what lies ahead for T1.
“Although I’ll receive great treatment if I remain on DWG, I want to go all out in challenging myself before I turn 30, so I want to receive a crash course in self-improvement. In order to do so, I’ll be joining T1.”
In 2020, the two of you accomplished everything. Are there any goals left that you haven’t achieved yet? What are some of those goals for 2021, and how has your mindset changed? Has it remained the same?
Daeny: Although I’m just a coach, the idea of beating your opponents on stage and overall competitive environment excites me as much as how the players would feel. Since day 1 of entering this scene, my goal was to become the ‘Lionel Messi’ within the coaching talent of the world.
I studied for a year and a half before I entered as a coach for DWG, and Zefa gave me the opportunity in this past Summer split to be more hands-on in shaping the team. I’ve gathered a lot of data during my time, and figured out what works and what doesn’t. Although I did think a lot about spending another year with DWG, I loved the talent pool at T1, and the fact that I could continue to work with Zefa on T1 made it very easy to choose T1.
If it wasn’t for Zefa, I probably would’ve spent more time on DWG to hone my own craft and gain more experience. However, DWG’s performance in 2020 was already absolutely dominating, so I already gained a lot, and I knew which direction I needed to step in. I’ll continue to embark on new challenges in 2021.
I’ll be turning 28 next year, and when the time came to explain to my parents about my career move, I told them, “Although I’ll receive great treatment if I remain on DWG, I want to go all out in challenging myself before I turn 30, so I want to receive a crash course in self-improvement. In order to do so, I’ll be joining T1.”
Zefa: Since I won Worlds this year, the pressure comes from the question, “What’s next?”. I foresee myself working in this industry for a long time, and in order to do so, I feel the need to work hard to stay competitively relevant in the scene. That’s why growth is so important to me, and I thought it’d be highly possible to achieve my goals on T1. With T1 in 2021, I hope that the things I achieve will exceed much higher than my expectations.
(To Daeny) In your introduction video with T1, you stated that “If I combine my strengths and directions with Zefa’s ability [to coach], the outcome would be great.” What are some of Zefa’s strengths that you’ve mentioned, and what are some of your own strengths and your direction?
Daeny: I feel like if I talk about this in-depth, a lot of how I coach the team will be revealed, so I’ll try to water down the answer as much as possible. Many people say that if you’re set to do great things, one part of your life needs to be stable. For example, people say that a man needs to get married to lead a stable and successful life. Another example would be that financial stability would lead to various opportunities in life.
Whether I'm studying, creating, and/or trying to implement a certain concept for the team, Zefa provides me with that stability. If I’m 80% certain that an idea would work, Zefa’s more than competent to fill that other 20%, and the person that not only understands how and what I’m thinking, but also can freely talk about various concepts with, is sitting right next to me this very moment.
The word, “Growth”, is a keyword that both of you talk about in your goals and direction for 2021. With a good mix of veteran and rookies on the team, how do you foresee the team’s growth in 2021?
Daeny: Zefa’s changed a lot since his last tenure with T1, and the fundamentals behind his change come from the word that I like to use a lot. To “carry” means restricting your opponents, not hoping your mistakes to play poorly or make mistakes.
It’s similar to the process of trying to convince someone. The reason why good salesmen are good at what they do is that they’re able to sell their products at the right prices. When I tell the players to just have faith and follow me, it means that I’m going to teach them how many different methods there are in restricting your opponents.
To minimize mistakes is just something that everybody says. The statement may sound different on the surface level, but what that statement really means is, your ability to restrict your opponents will define how good you are at the game. In order for myself to grow, it’ll all depend on how well I can teach the players to restrict their opponents, and how well I’ll be able to see things from the players’ perspective as well.
In order for that process to properly take place, everyone on the team needs to be on the same page, just like how Zefa and I are. Rookie players are like blank canvases, so it’ll be easier for me to paint my picture on them. Veteran players will have their own know-how from their respective player experiences, so I need to break down their walls and get them to think, “If I follow his orders, I’m going to find success".
It’s definitely going to take a long time to convince them, and to successfully pull it off will depend on my abilities as the head coach for T1. That’s why T1’s such an optimal environment for growth, especially with an incredible veteran player that won Worlds four times.
Zefa: Daeny pretty much summed it all up for me very well [laughter].
Alongside growth, what are some key reasons on putting high value in creating a “fun” team environment?
Daeny: Players find fun in playing the game through winning. While players may credit their success to their own abilities, teaching them the direction they need to head in, how to deal with variables in their journey, and implementing ideas that will lead them to success is the coaches’ job. If they know all this, they will definitely have fun, because they know they’ll succeed. To create a fun environment in teaching them all this will also lead to the student having fun while learning.
There are many different meanings behind my definition of fun, but I can tell you two of those meanings at this time. First, I’m confident to lead the players in their paths to success. Second, I find incredible joy in life from growth and improvement, so I'm going to teach them how fun it is to grow, and create an optimal environment to do so is crucial.
"The idea of toppling the giants that I helped shape is incredibly exhilarating to think about."
As the two of you shaped DWG to near perfection, how confident are you in facing them in 2021?
Daeny: This is actually why I keep saying that joining T1 is a huge challenge. In analyzing the game, there are many keywords that associate with toppling any opponent. For the sake of not having all my methods revealed to the public, I’ll focus on two keywords, “macro” and “micro”.
The biggest aspect of the game I worked on with DWG was the macro. I’ve taught the team so much about macro, that I now consider them to be the “final boss”. T1’s biggest goal is to beat the final boss within a year. Although I contributed to the creation of this final boss, I want to beat the game within a year. That’s the number one goal of the team right now, and it’s something I tell the players, almost on a daily basis.
It’s my job to analyze all the player talent on T1 and implement my concepts to the team, based on the player analysis. The reason why I’m working with Zefa is that he’s the key to accelerating such a process. I don’t know how fast that process will be, but the truth is, DWG is undoubtly, very good, and it makes definitely worried. However, the idea of toppling those bosses is incredibly exhilarating to think about, and to think that growth will naturally follow excites me to the bone. The pressure’s on, and I think it’ll definitely be a fun challenge.
"By the time the fans think, 'Although T1 lacks that 2% to make them perfect, they’re playing great', I feel that I’ll sound confident in my interviews by then."
(To Daeny) You’ve previously stated, “At a certain point, I’m going to have a very confident voice in my interviews. If you start to hear that voice, trust me. And watch us. I’ll show you something amazing then.” What are some of the factors that need to be fulfilled in order for such a voice to be heard by the public?
Daeny: Because of so many variables that lie ahead of us, it can come sooner or later than I expected. One of the reasons why I decided to join was because of the vast talent pool. If I’m working with just five players, it’ll be slower, but a firm process of building from the ground up.
However, what if I had more players that were on the same page as I am competing with one another for the starting spot on the main roster? I’m curious to find out how much this factor will accelerate the process of becoming a great team, and if this approach doesn’t work, then I’ll quickly recalibrate.
At this point in time, I’m not sure when that’ll be achieved. However, that time will definitely come, so that’s why I asked the fans to watch over us. You’ll be able to tell through how proactive the players become, but the details of such proactivity will remain a trade secret [laughter]. By the time the fans think, “Although T1 lacks that 2% to make them perfect, they’re playing great”, I feel that I’ll sound confident in my interviews by then.
On the main roster, there are multiple players in each position, except for support. Are there any plans for additional acquisition in the support role?
Daeny: I’ll just say this. Because Keria’s such a great player, I’m unsure if other support players are up to the challenge of outperforming him. This does not mean that we’re not open to having more support players on the team, so feel free to contact us if you feel that you have what it takes to join our team [laughter].
I’m pretty sure that BeryL outperforms him right now. However, even when I was facing Keria as his opponent, he was a very hard player to deal with. I think he’ll become an even greater player when he gets min/max’d through me.
"To win Worlds, both the players and the coaching staff need to be crazy people."
When we asked this next question to various coaches in the scene, we got had many different answers to it. In a team, do you believe players’ abilities outweigh the coaching staff (or vice-versa)?
Daeny: To this answer, I feel that this question needs to be asked: What is your goal? Is it winning Worlds? Making it to just the semifinals? Or is just making Worlds the goal of the team?
If it’s just making it to Worlds, I feel that you can do it with just a decent player roster and coaching staff. To win Worlds, both the players and the coaches need to be crazy people. The LPL teams have performed very well on the international stages recently, because not only is the LPL’s talent pool incredible as a whole, but the competition between one another is also insane as well.
I previously stated that I want to become the Lionel Messi of the coaches in this industry, and I firmly believe that such a coach should be able to see a lot more than the players. While it’ll be up to the players to mechanically outplay their opponents during the laning phases well, it’ll be up to me to teach them how to operate around the map, as a single unit.
Zefa: At least in the past, I believed that players’ abilities outweighed the coaches’. However, my perspective recently changed by working with Daeny. I now think it’s split right down the middle between the players and the coaches, and both parties need to be on the same page and harmonize with one another to be a great team.
Is there a specific reason why you decided to call up Oner as the third jungler on the main roster, alongside Cuzz and Ellim?
Daeny: All three players have different strengths and weaknesses. Cuzz and Ellim had different sets of strengths and weaknesses, and Oner, being the amateur player that he is, is like a blank canvas. I feel that the competition between these three players will lift each other up.
Although it’s only the preseason, what are your impressions about the current meta right now? Do you like the direction of how the game is headed?
Daeny: I’ll need to be very careful about my answer to this question because I feel like the final bosses at DWG will read this and be like, “Ooh, Daeny said this and that about the current meta” [laughter]. I feel that the in-game shop interface is very good because it’s all organized and easy to navigate. To see Riot patching in a direction that encourages versatility with all these new items is a very good sign.
Zefa: While I felt that a certain item felt like it was too good, to the point where it determined the meta, the new items feel like a good step in the right direction. I’ll admit, I did struggle to get used to the new items, and even new icons. While everything may seem chaotic because it’s preseason, the meta that really matters is the Worlds patch. No one knows how things will be like then, and we’ve got a long road ahead of us until then.
Ultimately, how do you want to be remembered as coaches in the scene?
Daeny: There are so many things I want to achieve as a coach, but ultimately, I want people to know that I definitely know what I’m doing, and that when I take charge of a team, the team always shows up. To the players, I want to have the ‘friendly brother’ vibe with the players, but scold players, if necessary, when a problem arises. That’s the ideal image of how I envision myself as a coach, but to become that, there are so many things that need to be talked about.
Zefa: When I first started out as a coach, my initial goal was to just be good at the job. Over time, that goal changed, and right now, I want to become a coach where players feel comfortable putting their faith in me, and trust in my decision making.
"I’ll prove that the coaching staff can ‘carry’ the team as well."
Lastly, what are your realistic goals for the upcoming Spring Split and your resolutions for this upcoming season as a whole?
Zefa: Through growth in a fun environment, I’ll make sure that I lead the team into becoming great again, and I’m confident that I’ll achieve it with Daeny and the players on this team.
Daeny: I want to be at a point where I’m confident with my voice in the interviews by the end of the Spring split. Obviously, we can’t set our sights too low for Spring, but as I’ve stated in our introduction video, creating a stable internal system is key. Even if our Spring standings are lower than the fans’ expectations, I’ll take on any criticism that arises from the concepts that don’t work, recalibrate, study, and execute it. I’ll prove that the coaching staff can ‘carry’ the team as well.
By this time next year, I want to reflect on my year and have no regrets. I’m going to be working very hard to not only be recognized by everyone that I have so much to offer, but also wish that this team will be recognized as the greatest. Winning Worlds will just a part of that process.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports