What is the most important skill that is needed to maintain a career as a coach? Being able to boost a team’s overall performance? Perhaps it’s entrepreneurship or being able to form a strong relationship with the players. In truth, there is usually no one single feature that makes a great coach; all of those that were just mentioned are just a few of the many traits that a coach needs to be great.
The word “professional” should never be taken lightly. Whether someone is coaching in the esports scene or in traditional sports, it is a career that is packed with harsh competition and pressure.
Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi is a coach that has managed to make it through all those troubles; now he is considered one of the best LoL coaches in the EU LCS. His precise in-game observations established him as one of the most well-known analysts in the League scene. He is also renowned for raising underdogs to a “Worlds qualifying” level.
To prepare for the upcoming EU LCS Summer split, YamatoCannon visited Korea with his team for boot camp. We had the chance to meet the head coach of Team Vitality in a cafe near Insa-dong, Seoul.
In the hour or so we sat together, we were able to hear about his love towards his team and his own predictions for the EU LCS. The highlight of this interview was when he shared some of his secrets to becoming a ‘quality’ coach. It was a priceless experience for us to hear from a renowned coach’s point of view. We highly recommend this interview to anyone who aspires to take part in professional coaching.
Below is our interview with YamatoCannon.
Q. This is your second time visiting Korea. How is it so far?
I think the food is something I love. When I was in Berlin, I went to a Korean BBQ place and a Korean style fried chicken restaurant… But it’s not quite the same as being in the heart of it.
Also, practicing against Chinese and Korean teams is so motivating because they are currently the best. I think the LoL culture here is at the perfect tone as well.
Q. We went through your Instagram account and found out that the Vitality crew were invited to the Afreeca Freecs gaming house.
They wanted to see us play, and we wanted to see them play. It was quite an experience, especially for me because I wanted to see how the gaming houses in Korea worked out. It was such an interesting concept since they were running a 10 men roster. In fact, the Afreeca Freecs crew and JoyLuck helped set up our boot camp.
Well talking about JoyLuck, he is a ‘Maestro’... He set up the scrims and he set up the meeting with Afreeca. The team greeted us with a huge banner. It was great and I learned a lot from them. Afreeca, I think is an amazing team. What they did last split was remarkable and for sure they will do something greater in the near future. Practicing with them in general was a good experience for the team.
Q. Did you do anything memorable in Korea?
We visited one of the temples in Korea. A huge golden Buddha statue greeted us. Well, it was quite an experience because we were able to feel a unique energy in the room. The atmosphere was rather quiet but at the same time so powerful. We visited Namsan Tower as well. It was beautiful.
But, the favorite thing I personally did was visiting a tailor here. Well, MonteCristo recommended a place near Itaewon. Since, he knew about my love towards suits and watches he told me to go take a look. (Q. So how was it?) When I used to go to another tailor, the first time I could try it on was after 9 weeks. But you know what? Here it only took 4 days. I told the owner, “I’m leaving in 7 days, so can you send it to Berlin?” He was like “No, just visit again after 3 days.” I got it yesterday and I’m so happy. The price, quality and the service were amazing. For me, this is my highlight in Korea.
Q. You have a diverse experience as a coach. You’ve been in Splyce and currently you are coaching in another team. So, what took you to coach in Team Vitality and how is your experience here different compared to other teams?
I like to coach teams that seem like a challenge; I just want to make more out of them. When I was in ROCCAT, they had an amazing roster. There were a lot of good players. However, at first, they were not interested in me. So I asked for their address and said that I’ll visit the house to prove that I should be the coach. Soon, I did visit. The crew opened the door. Probably they would have thought that I was a crazy person or something. Anyways, I got the chance to see them scrim and after the game I tried to coach them about their plays. I did give out my best and afterwards they asked me to step outside of the room for about 3 minutes. Soon, they came out and said “You’re in.”
I had a similar experience in Splyce as well. But the difference was that they were not regarded highly at all. In the first week we played, I only made one change: bringing in Mikyx. He was a player I found in solo queue. Well, I saw a lot of things in the players, so I worked and spent a lot of time. I was basically with them all day long.
Vitality was pretty much the same. I went through the rosters and I just had a vision. I really wanted to coach these players. When I first joined, the team’s roster was stacked with a lot of players. Hachani, GBM, Cabochard… There were a lot of ‘known’ names but they were not performing well. It was an interesting project that had a lot of potential. I knew that the team wasn’t adapted in a proper way. I always look out for those challenging projects.
Q. Do you want something to drink? Well this place is a Cafe.
Can I take a look at the menu? “Mango Banana Smoothie” perhaps? Oh, I get to choose my own banana? Okay Let me choose the best one. You know, one of my players accidently took this… Plate or should I say waiting bell? Well, he accidently took this home. It was probably when the team visited 'Mom's touch(Korean fast food franchise)'. The bell never rang. We had such a huge order, so they just gave it directly to us. After a few days, I noticed that it was on our table.(laugh) Sorry 'Mom's touch'.
Notes: In most Korean fast food restaurants or cafes, once you order, you receive a circle shaped bell. If it rings it means your order is ready.
Q. Can you talk about the Team Vitality players? Their pros and cons, or some personal characteristic that caught your attention.
I love working with the players. We all have so much fun; I’ve never had this much fun working as a coach. Of course, the entire crew did a lot in the beginning to make the team atmosphere and the team spirit. I think that was the thing that pushed us forward.
First of all, Cabochard… He is very similar to me in how he thinks about the game. As a veteran, he is so experienced and I have a lot of experience as well; it’s very important that we have the same idea about how the game is played. In general, I think he is very calm and collective. He is the type of player I can imagine of becoming a coach in the near future. He is willing to bring everyone in when people gets stressed and things get hectic. Also, he is a leader in games but outside of the game he likes to joke and play with others.
He likes to try new things as well. He’s the one who’d try eating crickets and worms. He actually wanted to try the Korean food, fermented ray. (Q. Well, I’m Korean, but I can’t even eat that.) Haha, well, he is adventurous. He once tried skydiving and he just simply looked ice-cold. Overall, I’d like to say he is a very good guy. In my first split in Vitality, I knew right away that I wanted to work with him.
Gilius is a character for sure. His plays are very interesting to watch because he is so confident. The interesting thing about him is that this confidence from him is so high that it infects others. Gilius, Jiizuke, Minitroupax(currently changed his name to Attila) and Jactroll came from the same team, so they were all so confident when they joined Vitality. You know what? I think that really had a good impact. The players kept on telling me that they would be good on stage. They did prove themselves; the team performed very well in official matches.
This was a totally new concept for me because the players that I used to work with usually did well in scrims, but they weren’t as good on stage. This time, it was the other way around. Players did well on stage, but they weren’t good in scrims. Eventually, I had to point out the importance of scrims. We spent 10 hours a day in the room and focused on our scrims. It did work out. Our scrims became so much better. Well, back to Gilius. His confidence is so infectious that everyone else becomes super confident. The energy in the room becomes very positive when Gilius is around. I think as a person, he is confident and that’s how I would summarize him. Confidence.
In terms of Jiizuke, he is like a sunshine. After he kills someone in 1 vs 1, he just laughs. It’s nothing in a taunting way of course; he is just simply enjoying that situation. That’s the type of player he is. He is very emotional. This sometimes benefits Jiizuke, but sometimes it doesn’t. The way he is… He is so joyful. It would be similar to Gilius’ confidence. It is infectious as well.
I’d also like to appreciate his attitude. He never stops thinking about how he could improve his performance. When I tell him to learn a certain champion, he simply learns everything; he is not satisfied until he can play perfectly. His Ryze was banned so much. People just didn’t want to play against it. Zoe as well. As a matter of fact, she is a champ that has a very high skill cap. Jiizuke used Zoe in solo queues and numerous skrims. Eventually he was able to use her in such a high level. When he wants to learn something, he does it 100%. He is very humble as well.
Minitroupax is now called Attila. Minitroupax was a name he used since 14, but he decided to change his name. As a player, he is highly focused. The most impressive thing for me is that Minitroupax and Jactroll maintains to work as a perfect duo. I’ve worked with a lot of Bot lanes in the past. Some of them would play together in scrims and after the game they would simply don’t want to sit next to each other. But these two players… I didn’t need to explain the importance of the Bottom duo to them. They were already constantly playing a lot of duo queues. It was just a joke, but some complained because they weren’t playing enough solo queues. This signifies them.
If I would summarize Minitroupax in one word, it would be improvement. On our last match against Splyce, his performance was remarkable; he was at least 50 CS ahead of the enemy ADC. This was surprising. Especially because he was playing against my former ADC, Kobbe. He was dominating their Bottom lane. I love the fact that I can put him on any champion, even though if it is his first time playing. He might have practiced the champ a few times, but I trust him because he delivers the results. His performance on stage was never shaky. He always try to improve. He is lovely to be around as well. This guy is the type of player that I know for sure that his peak is yet far from reach because he always pushes himself to improve.
I believe that in the next split, he will be the only ADC that is going to be competitive against Rekkles. If there were a player that is capable of winning against him, it would be Minitroupax.
We don’t hesitate on our feedbacks. It was a concrete culture that we made in the very beginning. Our Support, Jacktroll came into the gaming house with this attitude already. He always strives to be better. He tries to find ways to impact the game. You may know how to lane, but if you don’t know how to impact the whole game it means that you’re just an ‘ordinary’ Support. To be a ‘quality’ Support, you need creativity. Jacktroll is always trying to find ways. He is getting better and better.
Minitroupax and Jacktroll makes the perfect match. I would not want to break the duo up for anything because they are actually constantly improving. Um… I want to say that they are like a working engine. When an engine is working, it progresses without hesitation; I’m happy to be able to place it in my team. Jacktroll might be hard to define as a person. Well, I would say he is similar to Minitroupax.
Q. In the last split, the team’s Swain ban in the playoffs semifinals was quite a thing. Can you explain what happened at the time?
Overall, it was my bad. But to elaborate about the situation… Well, it’s quite a story. Our idea was to use Camille against the Swain matchup. That’s why the team practiced a lot using Camille. We wanted to target Bwipo. Okay, what happened was that we were so used to banning Jhin, that when the opponent banned Camille, we kind of got caught off guard. After the Cammile ban, I said, “Jiizuke, ban Swain.” But, Jiizuke seemed to be sleeping or he might have been meditating. So, I grabbed him and said “Jiizuke, you have to ban.” Then he started to panic because he didn’t know how much time he had. He was used to banning Jhin, so I felt something might go wrong so I started to shout, “No, no please!” Well, it didn’t work; he banned Jhin.
I looked angry for 1 second. However, I knew that I was on stage, so I tried to fix this problem. We didn’t have Camille, so we eventually went with Gnar, because I thought he would help our split push. Still, he was not that worth it because Swain was so powerful at that time. We did think that Camille was on a similar level. Jiizuke was sorry about this. He still feels bad about it. I always tell him not to worry because things like this can happen anytime. Without being said, it is an anecdote for sure. You guys are getting this story for the first time.
Q. In this MSI, EU went beyond NA. (YamatoCannon: Like always.) But, the fans were concerned about their poor overall performance in international tournaments. Some thought that the system of the league itself still needed improvement compared to other major leagues. What is your personal opinion about the current EU LCS?
If a region sends a team, I see the team as a product of the region. We’ve practiced against Fnatic a lot and in my personal opinion, I think we helped them to learn how to play the 2 vs 2 Mid strategy. Vitality was focusing on the 2 vs 2 Mid and this was the main reason why we beat them in the regular split/scrims. It made a pressure for Caps and we were able to snowball quickly from that advantage.
The reason why it was exciting to see Fnatic in this MSI was that it seemed like they didn’t have that problem anymore. In the last Worlds, Caps seemed to be ignored. The strategy was about Broxah ganking Bottom. Fnatic were playing tank champions on Top, so it was hard to get progress in Top ganks.
Well, moving on to the league. You know, some good players are starting to leave EU. Without being said, I wasn’t actually worried at all about the players leaving. I think Mithy and Zven were fantastic; I learned a lot from them, but EU has such a big player base. Eventually, new players are going to emerge. The region will soon prosper. I think there are already fantastic players in the EU LCS.
In the past, there were players that seemed to not have the competitiveness to play in the league. Well, things look different now. When the league has a big player base, it balances the overall league quality. Let’s look at the latest split. Unicorns of Love was ranked last, but if they managed to win 2 more games, they might have made it to the playoffs. That’s how close it was. I’m really satisfied towards Vitality; we are improving. G2, Fnatic are good as well. With the franchise concept coming into the picture, all those organizations might come in. It will lead to investments and I think everyone will start building the infrastructure. Maybe someday we can even catch up with Korea and China.
I did predict that China will be the best region in a couple of years. They have a significant advantage in the fact that they have such a large player base. Let’s say that only 1 out of a 1000 LoL users are exceptional. Then it means that China already has so many significant players. Mechanically, the LPL has always been on top. Some of their ADCs such as iBoy and Uzi were one of a kind. They just didn’t have the proper culture and structure. Now it seems like they’ve made a lot of changes. I mean, developments. RNG’s Top was their weak spot. Macro-wise they were not that great. The team just kept on fighting and fighting. RNG solved these problems; their macro game improved and their Top laner was better as well. There are nothing more to talk about regarding mechanics; they’ve been better than any other teams already. I was bit frightened because I thought it would still take a few more years.
Back to the question. I think EU’s meta and culture is better than the NA. I personally think NA has a ‘fun’ atmosphere in solo queue. But, I believe that it is wrong to have too much fun in solo queues; it’s just a wrong approach. The culture, from what I’ve heard from a lot of people is that it’s very focused on being a “brand”. A lot of players tend to stream in their free time and I do understand because it can bring you money. Yes, this can be the focus for others, but in Europe, players stream less compared to NA. For some it is an obligation to stream, but mostly players try to practice more. It comes down to the culture, structure and the player base. I think EU LCS is slowly improving in that matter. As a part of the region, I’m trying my best as well. I want to set a standard for what professional coaching really is. EU will continue to grow. However, it’s still a bit hard for me to imagine us catching up with Korea and China anytime soon. Well, we’re getting there.
Q. Now the Summer split is on its way. How is the team preparing for it and what is your prediction on the team’s performance?
Our ultimate goal is to qualify for the Worlds. In the EU LCS, I’m seeing a ‘Fnatic vs Vitality’ finals. Well, the result might go either way. It depends on how hard we prepare for the split. It’s on me to get our players and the whole crew to prepare well.
In terms of preparation, we’re having a boot camp in Korea. We were able to scrim against the best LPL, LCK teams. The experience we had with Afreeca Freecs was amazing. It’s a great feeling to know that I’m learning a lot; this means that things are going great. We found a lot of problems. Actually, we couldn’t see those in the past when we practiced against European teams. It was a very good experience indeed. We’re kind of afraid to go back and compete with EU teams since we don’t know what’s going on there.
Well, I got to say that the boot camp went great; everyone played a lot of solo queues and we’ve been improving day by day. We pushed ourselves to the limit. That’s what I loved about the boot camp here. When we faced the better teams on our first 2 games, we were literally smacked on the head. The team made a lot of mistakes. But, you know, all of a sudden, scrims became quite competitive. It’s all about pushing yourself and playing against fantastic teams.
Q. In Korea you are well-known as a quality coach. Do you feel any pressure towards your responsibilities and fame as a coach?
Something that made me really angry when I started coaching was…
(after a long silence) Well, the people who called themselves ‘coaches’ were blaming their players so much in the past. I noticed that the standards for coaches were so low. Coaching was seemed as a joke in western LoL. Probably the whole western esports scene wasn’t taking it as a professional role in general. On the other hand, over in Korea I saw that former Starcraft pros were becoming coaches. And the standards of coaching were already there you know. The example of Korea was a big motivation.
I was very lucky to work with H0R0, a player from SKT. Since he experienced working with kkOma, who is one of the very best, I learned so many things back in season 5. The things I learned were revolutionary. If I’ve learned it now it would be thought as obvious things that everyone knows, but at that time, things were different. I wanted to make the coaching role something to be respected upon.
Back to the question, I believe that the highest amount of pressure depends on what I put on myself. I like to think that I can give an impact on anything and anyone. This is what I try to push for my players too. Of course, knowing how to lane is important, but a player should always find a way to try to impact the team as well. It’s about responsibility.
I also try to focus on my wording because a slight difference might impact the player’s performance. This is my philosophy on coaching. I always try to figure out how I can give a positive impact to the team and players. If things are going wrong, I blame no one but myself because I am in a position where I spend 15 hours with the players; I can do so much with it.
I’m doing my own things to get better. These days I’m reading psychology books. My goal is to simply become the best version of me.
Q. Can you share a remarkable moment that you can’t forget during your coaching career?
The first time I qualified for the World Championship. It was a bo5 series against Unicorns of Love. It was intense, full of energy. There were a lot of drama to it because I made a decision to cancel the scrims against Unicorns of Love and only scrim with Fnatic. I believed it was the right decision. From my point of view, nothing else was important than to qualify for the Worlds.
It was such an emotional moment for me because on game 5 we were starting to play so good; it was the best game by all. We had a fantastic start on that game. Indeed it was memorable. My boys delivered their best. Me as a coach, when the series goes to game 5, there are nothing I can do. It’s the last game, so sometimes I imagine about the worst case scenario. I also think about the players and so much more. It’s finally the moment where I get to relax, but at the same time I get pressured towards the result. It was like releasing birds to fly for the first time. But, like you know, they brought it home. Just simply amazing stuff from my boys.
Q. How about a moment you want to forget?
Okay, in terms of bad. It was the time when I made a team with players that were known to be… (Q. Team Solo Mebdi?) Ah, yes. We were actually really good. We destroyed everyone in practice. We won most of the tournaments that we participated. Jensen was in the team, who is currently playing for Cloud9. There was also DarkwinJax who I regard as the most toxic player that I’ve ever played with.
We were a team with some crazy dynamics. Sometimes, the team were flaming each other. But, it was fine because at the end of the day everyone was cool. People were so used to flaming that no one actually took it serious. It was a relationship that worked. We managed to find the balance to it.
At that time, we were practicing to qualify for the LCS and we were basically living in a gaming cafe. The place closed down at 10 PM. On the day time, we mostly had access on everything.
I was taking a short break playing Guitar Hero and Jensen suddenly came up to me and said, “Yo you have to come and see this.” I was thinking of what would have happened because I was on an edge for a very long time. I was talking with Riot about how we have to behave in order to not get banned.
(Q. You were the leader of the team right?) Yes. Team Solo “Mebdi”. It’s from my last name. So, I was always on edge. We invested 2 months on this in order to perform on stage. I talked with organizations and signed contracts. We qualified for the LCS. I was constantly in contact with Riot Games. They said everything was fine.
Well back to the story, Jensen was like “You have to come and see this.” I followed him and opened the room. I was shocked to see what was in front of me. On every screen, there was a permanent ban message. The ban was until 2226. I was furious. Like I said, I was talking with Riot trying to sort out things. That’s why I thought that either Riot betrayed me or my teammates betrayed me. I started shouting. But all of a sudden I hear our Jungler giggling. I was dumbfounded. He said, “We are trolling you.” So, it turned out that they logged in to their old accounts that were already banned in the past. It was a relief. Afterwards, I got a call from Riot, that I had to coin flip to choose sides and so on.
But the weirdest thing happened on the next day when we were getting ready to go to the airport. When I was trying to open the front door, I got a message from Marc Merrill from Riot. He said that we are going to be suspended. We couldn’t believe it. We were telling ourselves that one of our enemies are playing with us and they’re just sending messages to make us not leave. Eventually, we got to the airport and somehow Riot got my phone number. They called me on my actual phone and I talked with one of the officers in Riot.
The person told me that we were suspended from the tournament. We were at the airport and it was just 5 minutes before entering the gate. I felt so tired. The time we've invested... The team really put in the effort to make it good. But in the end, my understanding was that Riot made a final decision that we couldn’t play. Sure, our players had a toxic history. I do understand that they didn’t want these players to represent the league. I would have completely respected their decision if they’ve informed us beforehand. It was simply a massive waste of time. Well, when I got that phone call and heard that we were banned… It was just one of the worst things that happened in my life.
Q. You’ve stated in your past interviews that you have quite a good insight on recognizing a good player. Do you have any personal standards on doing so?
I wasn’t amazing as a player. I did play with other good players such as Rekkles, Zven, Mithy, Nukeduck. There are so many other names that I can’t think of, but as I played with these remarkable players, I learned how to tell whether a player is a genius in League or not. The main thing that I’d be looking for is what level can their mechanics improve to. So basically, there is a big difference between someone that plays 98% of the champion and 100%.. You can see glimpses of the player’s talents when that person delivers a 100% play. Personality is a highly important factor as well.
In the question of my Vitality players. Their story before they joined the team was absolutely amazing. It was a story of hard work, like climbing up a very steep mountain. It was a big thing to hear about their personal stories. It gave me a big picture of how they would be as an individual. They also managed to show their in-game flares in practice. I knew that they would push themselves to go mechanically beyond average players.
If someone has good mechanics but lacks game knowledge, it actually can be fixed if you put in a lot of effort. Unfortunately, if it’s the other way around, it’s quite hard. For example, I can always ask a player to do certain plays in a game. However, about how the player deliver my calls are totally reliant on the player’s fingers. You know, I can’t get the physiotherapist to change his fingers or something. So, that’s what I’m looking for. It’s kind of hard to explain in words. It’s something that you have to know when you see it. It comes down to intuition and understanding the game well enough.
Also, you have to remember that any personality can go well with any other personality. Yes, some might be more difficult to team up, but there is always a way to make them get along. If talent is there as well… Okay, I would like to say that talent is how naturally someone can improve themself. For instance, Michael Jordan had the physical capabilities and at the same time he had that work ethic to become the best. In League it’s more about the talent in terms of how good you are in improving yourself and how good you are at problem solving; LoL is about solving small problems all the time. It’s all about distance, skill range… Basically, it’s about those small numbers. The player has to use his mechanical skill to solve those problems. Afterwards, as a coach, I can add more things to the mix.
The Vitality players, personality-wise, they were very hungry and motivated; they wanted to become the best. They each had inspiring stories which speaks of how they are as an individual. It turned out that my predictions about the boys were right. They proved everything. I don’t want to brag, but I think I do have a history of being “right” as a coach. It comes from diverse experience.
Q. What do you think is the key factor of becoming a good coach? You can explain it in a short word.
The number one thing is responsibility. You have to always look at the ways that will make your players better because simply that’s your job. You have to make every part of the day matter. The coach must consider players’ diet, how they sleep, think and practice… It’s about taking responsibilities for all these small things.
In my eyes, coaching is about making the players improve quickly and this can be fulfilled by taking responsibility in your actions. If something is not working, I don’t blame anyone. I am the one to seek for the solution. I’ve actually heard a lot of coaches blaming players and it was quite shocking for me. To hear that, it seems that they are less professional.
You should also lead as an example. If you don’t do that, you won’t be trusted as a coach. The players have to be able to get strength and guidance from their coach, whenever needed. If there’s no trust, nothing will happen.
Q. What do you want to do after you retire?
Well, I want to be in the scene for ages. I’m hoping that I could move up to a more higher position to hire people that I can truly trust. I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to sustain all this working hours as I become older. I’m happy to do a lot of work right now. I’m quite reserved about giving out my responsibilities to others because I like to work using my own ways. But, if I get a crew that I can really trust, I’ll probably be able to share some of my burdens.
I want to create a legacy once I retire. I want to be that guy that can soon hear, “Oh wait it’s that guy. He coached for more than 30 years!” I’m already the part of the beginning of esports and I’d like to maintain this as long as I can. Well, after 10 years from now, I hope that I can send my experience to the younger generation.
Also, one of my dream is to be able to coach in all of the LoL regions. I’d like to learn every language used in the particular region. Well, before moving to other leagues, I’d have to win the EU LCS.
Q. Any last words for our viewers?
I always put a lot of thought in this. The usual would be thanking everyone, but this time I’d like to say something different.
I want to give out a small tip for the viewers. To everyone who are reading this interview, you should always try to be responsible. Blaming others is unnecessary. Taking responsibility in your actions is the key to going forward. That’s how you can make your life constructive and shape the world a better place to live.
Lastly, I would like to thank all the Vitality fans and hopefully after this interview, people will have more interest in the EU LCS. Thank you again.
A managing editor who can do more things than you think.