After six years of coaching, two Worlds showings, and one LEC final, veteran coach Jakob "YamatoCannon" Mebdi is still searching for his first gold. Now leading a legacy org in Fnatic, the pressure on YamatoCannon is immense. Fnatic flopped in Spring playoffs and carry the bitterness of the reverse-sweep loss at Worlds 2020 quarterfinals.
After a relatively good start to Summer (5-2), coach YamatoCannon sat down with Inven Global to discuss swapping Selfmade off with Bwipo, philosophy about scouting players, and the difference between European and Korean orgs.
You started 0-2 but now you are sitting on a four-game win streak. What was the main factor in this turnaround?
I think just taking the lessons from the games that we lost. In the beginning, we were a bit nervous playing on stage. Аlways when you have a new split, there is a new dynamic, there are new expectations and there is always a new method too and I think we managed to figure out all those things in the first week.
There are certain things that you can’t really know, there are going to be some problems that you might have to address: you just need to see them happen as you are playing your first stage matches and I think we took our lessons away from them and we applied it and we've kept winning ever since.
"Bwipo is very analytical and understands the game state very well and understands how to use himself to make other people a lot stronger. Selfmade's strength is to carry the game through the force of his own power."
Can you tell me what is the difference between this Fnatic and the one that finished 5th in spring?
I think we are much more aligned in the jungle together with the lanes. I think Bwipo has a very similar mindset to Hylli in regards to how the game should be played and I think that goes a very long way because jungle-support is what drives the decision of how the map will be shaped for your team and which plays you go for.
We also learned a lot from spring in regards to not taking the basics and the scrim days for granted because I think in spring there was this element of arrogance and setting the wrong expectations for what the team is. I think it happened for me, it happened for the players.
When you change two players and you bring in a new coach, it’s very common that the dynamic shifts and you need to reinvent what the basics are for your team and we never went through that motion. By the time we realized, in spring we got hit by Covid... We all got sick, I was sick and that really slowed us down. Now we made sure to attack summer from day 1 because, at the end, we will be tested by what our basics are.
What is the difference individually between Bwipo and Selfmade jungle for the team?
Bwipo is very analytical and understands the game state very well and understands how to use himself to make other people a lot stronger. Selfmade's strength is to carry the game through the force of his own power. I think Selfmade likes to play on his feeling and instinct, and Bwipo is very analytical and prepares and is very good at tying himself together with what the team wants.
I would say that Bwipo is a stronger team player and Selfmade is… yeah, I think his name speaks for himself. I think he has a good intuition for himself and when he has a good game where everything clicks, Selfmade has some great games too.
We recently interviewed Bwipo and asked him whether it will be possible to see him back in top lane next year or whether he will continue his career as a jungler depending on the results from this split. He answered that honestly, he doesn’t know. My question to you is: Do you believe Bwipo is better suited for the jungle and do you think he is going to continue as a jungler?
I think he is a player that any team is fortunate to have because he is like a chameleon. I think it would be silly of him to answer the question, “Oh am gonna jungle forever, I am gonna play top lane forever”, because his doors are always open. If I told him next week, “I want you to play top or AD with Hilly” or something silly like that, he would be ready to make that transition. I think he can keep all the doors open for himself and his career is very, very bright.
It’s easy to forget that his rookie year was 2018: he is a stable player of the LEC and he went to Worlds finals in his rookie year. It’s easy to forget sometimes that this guy is many years ahead of him and he is the type of player that can figure out how to play any role in the context of what his team needs and what the meta needs. I think that’s what makes Bwipo so strong.
What is gonna happen with Bwipo in the future? I don’t know but I am very honored to have him on the team and him being our jungler is just a perfect fit for us right now.
"In spring, there was this element of arrogance and setting the wrong expectations for what the team is. I think it happened for me, it happened for the players."
What is the most important quality that you look for in a player before you want to get him on your team?
Motivation, personality, character. I think these are things that I always judge. Raw talent, in terms of just how they control their champion, is something that’s easier to know. [If] you've played the game on a high level, I can see the clear differences between a good player and a bad player. [But] there are certain elements that you can’t teach.
I can’t plant fake motivation into a player. If a player is satisfied with just being in the LEC and having that type of life and he doesn’t have aspirations to win Worlds, that’s not something that I can implement in a fake manner. Also teaching someone how to have hands is also tough to teach, in terms of how they live their life and how to find efficiency in the day-to-day, and how to apply that motivation.
These are things that a coach can guide on how you learn and how you improve upon yourself, as long as the motivation, the character, and the talent are there; all the rest can be taught. I know there is always this conversation about people having conflicts and people not being compatible but I think there is always a way. I don’t personally think clashes are... that’s not my main focus. As long as they have motivation and great talent, it’s my job to figure out how to piece it together in the context of the group because most of the time you work with players — if they are motivated and their heart is in the right place and you just need to guide them, the culture of the team will just develop itself if you have this as a fundamental.
I think a lot of people are misjudging the role of the coach because everyone thinks it’s just the in-game stuff but I like how you explained that there are so many other factors and those players are not robots.
For sure. There is the player and there is the person. Those are two things that you need to nurture and in a lot of cases, I am working with guys that haven’t experienced life too much beyond the game.
Usually, the players I get to work with are players that spent most of their youth playing video games and they got good. Then, the shift to moving to Berlin and playing LEC is massive and that puts players trough a lot of stress. They need to grow and figure out how to become veterans. My role is to make sure that the players have guidance and that they are on the right path but the steps that they need to take, they need to take themselves.
"Motivation, personality, character. I think these are things that I always judge. Raw talent, in terms of just how they control their champion, is something that’s easier to know."
I push the players to solve their own problems, I push the player to figure out their own issues. I can’t be with them while playing the games. Sadly, it’s not basketball. I can’t take any timeout and say, “You know guys, get your shit together, you are griefing it, you are inting, you need to do this, this.” I have no option of doing this and it’s important that the players are capable of solving their own problems and functioning as a group.
It’s League of Legends in the end. It’s a game that looks very similar but the nuance comes with a lot of chaos. Different champions every game, different situations, sometimes enemy AD carry gets 3-0, he gets the kills, that changes the impact of the game. And in those moments, I want to have a group that is there for each other emotionally and strategically because the group emotional strength and the group problem solving are at the core of any team that needs to be challenged. The players are their own spirits and they need to have that freedom to throw in their own element of creativity to the game and that’s why I think you almost always see brilliance, especially in my guys.
You are with one of the biggest western organizations. How does it compare to that of the organizations in Korea, whether that be in terms of structure, staff, or freedom to express oneself?
In Korea, I was very impressed by Sandbox, due to the maturity of how they ran the organization. It’s very clear who does what, the roles are very defined. I was fully supported by the organization to take any decision and it was very clear who was supposed to do what.
I also had like three additional coaches that I worked with over there, I had a full-time translator and we were handcuffed to each other, very nice guy, I kinda miss him. We had about 15 players and this was also very intriguing to me: That I had 15 players to work with and in general, it seems like they have a lot more years under their belt in terms of what the expectations are for esports. There is a standard that has been set by the old school organizations that have come all the way from the StarCraft era and culturally, there is also a standard for what the expectations are from the organizations and the players.
I think that goes a super long way in regards to Fnatic. I think the biggest underlying difference is just that the level of players that I have been allowed to work with now comes with massive responsibility. I feel the pressure of needing to win LEC more than ever before.
Since we talked about Bwipo and roleswapping, do you think the scene will be moving more and more into roleswaps, especially after seeing it even from DWG? Is it a new era where players will be flexible to play in multiple positions?
I still think specialization will always matter. I think someone that plays only mid is going to be better than someone who is actively trying to play five roles. I don’t think we are quite there yet because there are some differences between how to play the lanes.
For example, we had Chovy playing against Canyon, right? Chovy is a specialist in playing mid and I know he can play other roles but him spending that extra time on mid is going to be something that he can leverage on the day. Something that I do agree with, though, is that in order for a player to improve, they need to improve their game knowledge, which comes from all lanes and how they work together. There should be an expectation that players should be able to be thrown into a lane and they should understand the core concepts of how to play it because many ideas that you apply to mid you can apply to bot lane.
If I had a time machine and I could grab five of my players and we could go back to season 3, we would win Worlds no questions asked. We would do it very very easily because we are so advanced but at the time, when Faker was playing with T1, they were very advanced, they were ahead of their time.
I think maybe in five years, you are going to have players that are that good that they are capable of playing multiple lanes. But at the same time, the level of the specialists is also going to improve. It’s tough to put that expectation on any player that he is going to play every role on a masterful level because the mid laners are gonna get better as the average gets higher. There will be room for it, for sure, but there will still be specialists. I don’t think it’s going to be like five players and you don't know where they are going. I don’t think it’s gonna be that, I would be surprised if it was.
All images via: Riot Games