No team in the 2021 League of Legends Championship Series can match the rollercoaster ride that has been Team Liquid's Summer Split. Star top laner Barney "Alphari" Morris was benched after the first game of the split, and while TL Academy's Thomas "Jenkins" Tran has exceeded expectations in his place, the squad has also been caught off balance by a sudden resignation from head coach Joshua "Jatt" Leesman.
Simultaneously, a return of the migraines that sidelined jungler Lucas "Santorin" Larsen in the 2021 LCS Mid-Season Showdown have once again barred him from competing, and while Alphari was announced as returning to what would be a six-man roster for TL on June 27, only Jenkins has continued to start.
Jonas "Kold" Anderson, Team Liquid's strategic-coach-turned-interim-head-coach following Jatt's resignation, spoke to Inven Global about the team's recent changes and his perspective on coaching as a whole.
You've stepped in as Team Liquid's interim head coach following Jatt’s resignation. How would you say your individual responsibilities have changed since working as the team's strategic coach?
I mean, whenever you have to step up to the plate and take on a bigger leadership role, you obviously get more responsibilities about managing people, so I guess that would be the biggest one. I'm managing the guys with our general manager Kang "Dodo" Jun-hyeok, so naturally, there will be more conversations that I need to have with the guys and just have more of the overview of how we're doing things.
Before, it was a little bit more narrow in the sense that I was working very closely with the guys about strategy, but to be honest, I don't think I actually don't really think it has changed too much. There are just a couple of things added on to what I was doing before.
Team Liquid has been starting Jonathan "Armao" Armao in the jungle because of Santorin's current health alongside Jenkins in the top lane in place of Alphari for all games this summer sans the first of the split. Both players have done well in their own respective rights, but how would you say that the team's style has changed?
I guess the biggest difference is the change between Thomas...Jenkins...sorry, I always call them by first name. The biggest basis has been between Jenkins and Alphari is that Alphari is more focused on getting himself ahead, where Jenkins is more focused on being, a lot of times, actually, too selfless. This is something we are trying very hard to work on with Jenkins. He can use his teammates more to gain advantage when he should. I guess that's the biggest difference.
In terms of the jungle, I think we are very fortunate to have two junglers that are both very, very good and understand the role well. When Jenkins is playing we have more resources towards the bottom side of the map, whereas when Alphari was playing, there were more resources on the top side. Maybe people will remember some our games in spring where we were playing Camille and our support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in was just laning top — I don't think we'll see that as much with Jenkins.
There are pros and cons on both sides, and we're just kind of exploring what will give us the highest possibility of winning when it comes to playoffs. So we're trying out different things, and we will see then what kind of style we will go with.
In TL's recent press conference addressing these changes, it was said that Alphari was officially returning to the roster on the 27th and that it would be a six man roster. Since we've established both players play different styles, can you give us any information on the sort of decision making and goes into who starts when and how scrims are split?
It's really important for me for people out there to know that I generally hate the word benching. It was really important for Alphari to take time off. He needed it. He will be playing or he will start playing again on stage when he is ready, and I don't think I can share much more than that. But he's back. He is playing solo queue, he's been re-introduced to the team and before our week 6 matches we will start scrimming with him as well.
Both Jenkins and Alphari know that our goal is set that we'll be playing with the guys that give us the highest possibility of winning. That's why I can't really say exactly who will be playing when; this is just how performance teams work. In the end, the person who is better for the team will be playing, so we will be trying out different things coming into the coming weeks. How, exactly, I can’t know.
This is your first time in a head coach position, and it's not under normal circumstances. What was your reaction, to finding out that you are going to basically being the head coach of the team, and is this something that you looked towards as a potential future for you in your coaching career?
I think it's important to understand my view on coaching. I think the best coaches out there are people that have the skillset and the experience. As a lot of the stuff that is happening in the moment where there's a lot of times where you can draw from prior experiences within coaching and managing high performance teams that can help you make much better decisions.
When I joined TL as strategic coach, it was to learn about the role because I have a lot of respect for head coaches, because there's much more to it than just coaching League of Legends. It's a lot about how you manage, a majority of the time, five people, but sometimes you expand more and have like in our case six, even to some extent, seven is a possibility.
How you manage people, how you make a group connect and envision a goal — there's a lot of things like that I wanted to just learn about and observe and be able to gain experience so that in the future, when I felt like I was ready to it, I could step up to be a head coach. So I actually had no intention of being a head coach this year at all. I even got an offer to be a head coach going into the year. As I said, I have a lot of respect for the role.
I think the natural progression to become a head coach is through experience and gradually working your way up. And that might have not even been next year, maybe that's in two years, maybe that's in three years...I don't know, but right now, the team needed someone to step up to the plate and put on the leadership hat. That's why I am where I am now.
We've seen coaches who have been players and coaches who haven’t been players have success before in League of Legends. Does being a former pro change your approach to coaching at all, and are there benefits in your experience when it comes to working with players?
I do think being a former player helps. It definitely helps in terms of being a better coach, but I don’t think it’s ever justified to say that being a good player will make you a good coach. However, if you have the skillset to be a good coach, the experience of being a player is definitely a benefit.
I think it’s usually easier for the players to trust a coach who have actually been in the chair whey they are, so maybe it’s easier for me in that regard. I can’t tell because I can only go by what I’ve experienced, but I probably have a little bit of an advantage compared to what non-former pro players have. It’s very easy for me to put myself in their shoes, both in the highs and the lows, so I think that probably helps a little bit.