From living in Korea with Nick “LS” De Cesare for two years to becoming a coach on Cloud9, Max Waldo had a journey in esports that’s quite unlike the rest. At first, he was just a kid that loved to play League of Legends, but after many years under LS' guidance and working with him on many different projects, he has become a LoL esports coach of exceptional skill and merit. Now, as part of the Cloud9 coaching staff for the 2021 season, Waldo looks to help the organization not only reach new heights but ultimately make the LCS great again.
In a lengthy conversation with Inven, Max shared his goals working with players, his opinion on the import rule, Moonstaff, and some advice to those that are aspiring to become a coach in the scene.
You got a new job since the last time we spoke, so can you "reintroduce" yourself to our readers?
My name is Max Waldo, and I "believe" I’m the strategic coach for Cloud9 LCS. I also work with their academy team, in smaller part, because they’re also around the team house.
In your answer just now, you used the word "believe". How come?
Because the title doesn’t have a direct impact on what you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re the assistant coach, the head coach, the analyst, or the strategic coach. What really matters is what value you bring to the team. My number one priority as a coach is to make players better. I’m there to help players approach practice more productively and help them see the game from a different perspective. No matter what specific title you’re given as part of the coaching staff, that should be your number one priority. So, just based on the titles themselves, they almost seem misleading, because it’s really hard to tell who’s actually providing the value.
I’m pretty sure you’ve had multiple offers from different teams. Why did you choose Cloud9?
Out of all the offers that I had, Cloud9's was the best. What I mean by that is that the players are the best, and Cloud9 was the most structured team I was introduced to. I was the most confident in a team like Cloud9 to effectively and quickly solve a certain problem.
What has your experience been like working with one of the most decorated EU talents, Luka "Perkz" Perković? As a player with an incredible career, how do you evaluate him so far in the LCS?
So far, in the LCS, Perkz is very good when he gets out of lane, but there have already been too many games where he struggled during the laning phase. The first 10 minutes of the game, basically. My review with him is mostly just for those 10 minutes. I’m trying to help him get past the first 10 minutes consistently, because the moment he gets out of lane, he’s more aware than the other LCS players he’s playing against, so it’s easier for him to generate more advantages out of lane.
You also have a rookie top laner this split that you’re working with, Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami. Do you feel that there’s more work to do with rookies than with veterans, because of the competitive experience gap?
It hasn't really been different with him than other players, other than having more common fundamental agreements. I was acquainted with him prior to joining the team, based on all the discussions we’ve had about the game so far, and e share a lot of the same understandings on how the game should be played. We’re able to come to efficient conclusions about what happened and find out what was right and wrong. I don’t think that him being less experienced is a huge factor, because he’s definitely got the knowledge.
We’ve recently seen fewer Eastern talent join the LCS, while more EU talent, like Perkz, continues to pour into the LCS. Why do you think that we’re seeing less Koreans and more Europeans in the LCS?
Interesting. I haven’t noticed that until now. Maybe it was hard for teams to communicate with that language barrier, but that wasn’t the opinion that most LCS teams held when they originally started to import Korean talent.
Right? If you look at all the Korean players in the LCS now, a lot of them are becoming eligible for NA residency. At the very least, they’ve been in the LCS for a while.
I think that when they do become NA residents, we’ll see more Korean players join the LCS.
Speaking of residency, according to Travis Gafford, many LCS teams asked for no limitations on import slots. In your opinion, do you think the LCS should get rid of those limitations? Or do you think things are fine the way they are right now?
I think the cap should be removed, but I think that it won’t matter when the current Korean players in the LCS get their residency because similar results will be produced. I think it would make our region more competitive if anyone could come and play here. The academy system is there so that homegrown rookies can be nurtured, but if that system can’t fulfill its purpose, we have to ask ourselves, “Why do academy players tend to not get promoted into the LCS?”
Will importing new players impact the academy players’ careers in a negative way? If the academy really did serve its purpose, then LCS would be producing the players that can compete against any imports, and those players would want the imported talent around because they want the better competition to learn and play against them.
I feel that this issue is more prevalent in NA compared to other regions, but in the scene, there are a lot of underqualified people that get hired without proper background checks. Based on your experience/what you know from the knowledge you have in the scene, can you give us more insight on this topic?
The first and fundamental issue is that there aren’t enough qualified people to fill all the positions. There aren’t enough people that can be useful to players. Let’s say that I’m an owner of a team. When it comes to League of Legends, how can I find those few qualified people out of countless applications that I get, when I’m not fully aware of what being qualified means? If you pick someone at random, it’s more likely that you hire an underqualified person. There needs to be more people that can make educated decisions on who’s qualified and who’s not.
In your opinion, what makes a coach qualified? I’m sure that there are a lot of people that probably haven’t had the right opportunities presented to them.
When you asked me what my responsibility as a coach was, all I said was to help players improve. It’s hard to truly know, but there are ways to tell if someone is qualified as a coach. A big step that I took in my earlier days was offering public coaching and making public content. By putting out videos of yourself coaching, and by coaching anybody who wants to be coached by you, you’re allowing the public to critique how you coach.
These are just the first steps, as no random person can just suddenly talk to pros on how to play the game better. That’s why you start with anyone, then you work your way up. I feel that being able to play the game on a high level is also very important. Can you be in a low MMR and help players improve? In some ways, yes, but in a lot of ways, you’re not well equipped to help pro players play the game.
You previously stated that while working with certain players in the past, you had a hard time drilling certain ideas into them due to their mentality towards the game. What kind of mindset should a pro player have when trying to learn more about the game?
If you want to improve as a player, at any skill level, being open to new ideas isn’t enough; you have to be willing to test new ideas. Testing and experimenting are the only ways you’ll figure out what’s good or bad in League of Legends.
Defining what’s most valuable in LoL is very dangerous in itself, as it'll lead to a clash in ideals that may sometimes be hard to solve. Let’s say a player defines, ‘push’, as the most important resource in League of Legends. It can shape how that player makes every decision in the game. That player will then clash with someone else that defines ‘gold’ and ‘exp’ as the most important resource in the game.
Defining value, and doing it accurately, based on the situation, is critical in improving as a player because these things aren’t static; their value changes in between games. It’s important to recognize and assess each individual situation for what it is, and define value based on the uniqueness of the situation. This is a very difficult thing to do, as it requires a good understanding of every situation and the ability to recognize different patterns.
I do want to talk about "Moonstaff". For our readers that are unaware of what I’m talking about, can you break down what it is, and why it’s been talked about so much in the community?
The term "Moonstaff" describes the item combination of Moonstone Renewer and Staff of Flowing Water, on champions that can either buff or heal their allies. It’s talked about a lot because LS talked about it so much [laughter]. He tries to push for them to be built on even non-enchanter champions as well. The math behind the item combination, as well as how it fits into and enables team compositions all checks out. Lots of people either have a problem with how he talked about Moonstaff, or just totally disagreed with it. However, it’ll be pretty hard to disagree with how that item combination is overpowered. Most of the disagreement comes from building it on non-enchanter champions, like Nidalee and Lillia, but in many game scenarios, there’s just no better option.
When I talked to various Korean pros in the scene, many were unsure whether or not Moonstaff really is OP as others think. When I asked Ryu “Keria” Min-seok, about it, he said "[Moonstaff] is good, but apart from Seraphine, other enchanter supports suffer before they complete them.” Do you believe that with the changes on the recent patch, champions who can make great use of Moonstaff take over the meta?
Yes. Definitely. Coming into the next few patches, items like Goredrinker, Sterak’s Gage, and even Ravenous Hydra will get nerfed. Jungle EXP is also going to get nerfed, so I think it’ll be easier for champions that build Moonstaff to have an easier time getting out of the first 15 minutes of the game, the time frame that junglers in the current meta are very oppressive.
I do agree with what Keria said because Seraphine has access to so much more, so she has an easier time getting out of that early 15-minute mark. I think Keria was referring to champions like Soraka and Lulu, who are mostly going to be counterpicks. A good example of this is with Lulu and Karma top, as these champions are mostly picked as counterpicks. Their goal is to survive the early game and get their two-item power spike. Seraphine, however, not only is a really good flex and blind pick, but she also has more tools to work with in her kit, so she's naturally stronger than the other enchanters.
What is your overall impression of the state of the jungle in S11? Do you think that the recent patch that nerfed most of the meta junglers (Olaf, Ivern, Udyr, Pantheon), as well as the jungle EXP changes, will completely reshape the meta?
It’s a running joke inside our team to say that the jungle is weak because we all obviously believe that the jungle is really overtuned. With the nerfs to jungle EXP, I think… The changes themselves are very important in determining how fast the junglers hit level 6, but I’m wondering if the junglers that six-camp in their first clear will be able to get level 4 from it.
If junglers don’t hit level 4 from the first full clear, a couple of things can happen. Although I’m not completely sure, junglers will look to become even more aggressive, and champions that love to gank early and skirmish can become meta. If such junglers can’t take over, we can see tank junglers, or junglers that require low economy to function, come back into the meta; champions like Sejuani. Carry junglers, such as Graves and Olaf, were popular because of the insane amount of gold they were able to farm from the jungle, but the gold itself is also being hit with nerfs, so the only way I’ll know for sure is to play on the patch to get an elevated understanding.
Goals for this year?
Prior to joining C9, I asked, “How far did C9 get at Worlds?” The answer was 4th, so the goal is to get 4th or higher at Worlds. Right now, I think we only have about 20-30% chance of achieving that goal, so we just have to keep working at shaping the team into optimal form. Yes, we’ve been winning a lot in the split so far, and we’ve even got 2nd in the Lock-in tournament, but the issues lie with how we win games, and against better teams, I don’t think that we’ll be able to win the same ways that we’ve been winning. If you asked anyone on the team, they’d all say that their goal was to win Worlds, but I think a realistic personal goal would be, 4th or higher.
Lastly, a word to the C9 fans/our readers.
I want to thank everyone for watching our games and supporting the team, and am sending a personal shoutout to Donna.
[Editor’s note: Max calls his mom by her first name, Donna]
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports