The 2021 League of Legends esports season was a striking reminder of the importance of an organization fielding a good staff to support their roster. In several series throughout 2021, both domestically and internationally, the difference-maker often ended up being the team best prepared in the draft and most quick to adapt, which oftentimes ended up superseding an individual skill deficit between the winning and losing team.
In today's edition of the Inven Global Awards, we take a look at the best coaching staff of the 2021 League of Legends esports season. Fans can also vote for the player who they think deserves it the most, and the winners will receive the IGA Community Award.
In the 2015 and 2016 seasons, T1 (SKT at the time) won two consecutive World Championships with only minimal changes to their roster. After winning Worlds 2020, DWG KIA came dangerously close to matching SKT’s legend. DK won both domestic splits in the LCK 2021 season and appeared in the finals of MSI and Worlds only to lose both to a squad from the LPL.
DWG KIA may have fallen short at the final hurdle, but the prowess of the coaching staff can almost be quantified entirely by the achievements of head coach Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun.
kkOma is undoubtedly the best coach in LoL esports history, and after a mediocre year with Vici Gaming in the 2020 LPL season following a parting of ways with arguably the greatest player of all time in T1 mid laner Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, kkOma has proven his greatness independent of Faker throughout 2021, often in a head-to-head matchup with his former organization. Despite impressive results in recent years, kkOma heads into 2022 as the brightest of DWG KIA’s many stars.
It would be easy to say that EDward Gaming’s coaching staff was the best of 2021 because the team won the World Championship. However, when looking at EDG’s domestic placings, a picture of a well-prepared staff guiding teamplay comes into focus. EDG missed MSI 2021, but when considering the last four matches of the LPL Spring Playoffs ended in narrow five-game victories, one could argue that EDG’s draft and execution throughout their series were second to none despite not ultimately winning the title.
Throughout the season, EDG falling short was ultimately a result of execution, not preparation, and the players’ execution reached critical mass at just the right time. EDG took the hard way to a Worlds 2021 title, scraping out five-game series against the likes of Royal Never Give Up, Gen.G, and finally, DWG KIA to take the title. While DWG KIA’s drafts in the finals of Worlds 2021 deserve a dose of criticism, it was ultimately the preparation of EDG’s staff and the stalwart execution of their players that led to the organization’s first World Championship title.
It’s incredibly difficult to oversell MAD Lions’ coaching staff. After qualifying for the 2019 World Championship as Splyce, the rebranded MAD Lions qualified for Worlds 2020 after an impressive LEC season with a roster featuring mid laner Marek "Humanoid" Brázda and four rookies. In 2021, MAD retained 3/5th's of their starting roster while adding two more rookies and trumped previous accomplishments by winning back-to-back LEC titles and finishing their season with a top 8 finish at Worlds 2021.
Good results for a team do not always indicate a strong coaching staff, but the ability of the MAD Lions staff to develop young talent both before and during a season, as well as a proven track record of doing so several times over, speaks for itself.
Royal Never Give Up
RNG maintained the same staff throughout the 2021 season with Wong “Tabe” Pak Kan as head coach and Chang “Poppy” Po-Hao in the assistant coach position. In the finals of the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational, RNG’s upset of defending world champion DWG KIA was in large part due to a draft advantage, often obtained by the Chinese representative via the blue side advantage: in RNG’s 3-2 win, blue side won every game leading up to the MSI 2021 trophy.
RNG’s results began to waver in consistency throughout the rest of 2021 in the form of an early LPL Summer Split slump and a surprising exit from the following domestic post-season, but the coaching staff’s preparation throughout the remainder of 2021, results aside, indicates a strong plan for the team despite the execution leaving much to be desired on a few occasions.
The prowess of T1’s 2021 coaching staff is incredibly difficult to evaluate. On one hand, the staff that completed 2021 were in charge for less than four months. On the other hand, the change in staff ultimately led to a far higher ceiling from the roster after far fewer mid-series substitutions, and T1 enjoyed a top 4 finish at Worlds 2021 after finishing 2nd in the LCK Summer Playoffs.
Credit is due in large part to Son “Stardust” Seok-hee, whose change from assistant coach to interim head coach allowed a greater level of influence for him that led to more success for the organization. However, because of the length of time, the most recent T1 coaching staff was in charge in the context of the frequent roster substitutions of the previous regime in the first half of 2021, their lack of a track record in the long term puts a slight damper on their involvement in T1’s accomplishment to finish out the season.
Honorable mention: Nongshim RedForce
The story of NS RedForce has been one of constant improvement. Through head coach Bae "sBs" Ji-hun, NS went form a bottom-table LCK team to a Worlds seed contender. NS' results couldn't quite net them a top 5 position for the Inven Global Awards, but their smart off-season signings this November might just be enough to have them present next year.
More from the Inven Global Awards
Best top laner
Best mid laner
Best minor region player
Player of the year
Best coaching staff
Best play-by-play caster (Dec. 15)
Best color caster (Dec. 16)
Best story of the year (Dec. 17)
Biggest controversy of the year (Dec. 18)
Best in-game moment (Dec. 19)
Best content piece or series (Dec. 20)
Off-season winner (Dec. 21)
Awards announcement: Player categories (Dec. 29)
Awards announcement: Caster and community categories (Dec. 30)
Inven Global Awards panelists:
Nick Geracie /// @NickGeracie
Daniel "Quest" Kwon /// @LoLQuestKR
David "Viion" Jang /// @David_Viion
John "OddBall" Popko /// @OddballCreator
Kim "Haao" Byung-ho /// @Inven_Haao
Jang "Irro" Min-young
Carver Fisher /// @Carver_Fisher
Josh Tyler /// @joshtyler
Andre Gonzalez Rodriguez /// @Vulv_
Tom Matthiesen /// @TomMatthiesen
Adel Chouadria /// @AdelChouadria
Yohan Markov /// @Esports_Person