Having become a part of esports through StarCraft, Nick "LS" Cesare has been a part of the scene for a long time. He's one of the most famous coaches/analysts in the current League of Legends esports scene, having gained renown for his in-depth analysis.
His devotion to the game is unmatched; his love of LoL even drove him to move to Korea, a country half the globe away from his hometown. And although there are many coaches and analysts in the current League of Legends esports scene, LS is a special case; he has been playing the game at some of the highest levels for the longest time. Currently, LS offers special coaching packages to teams and players, supplying his services to regulars and professionals alike.
Due to his curt personality, LS is often viewed by the community as a rude coach. Despite his notoriety, however, he's still highly respected by professionals, and he consistently receives requests for his coaching services. His method is definitely unique and may seem harsh at first, but there’s no denying the results it brings. He approaches his players with a strict attitude and enforces a rigorous schedule in order to remove their unnecessary ego and habits.
Our team grew curious after hearing the stories surrounding him. What brought LS to Korea? How has he adapted to his life here? After getting in contact, we happened upon an opportunity to speak with him at a local coffee shop.
Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
I go by LS, I’m American, and I moved to South Korea about 7 years ago.
What are you doing here in Korea right now?
Basically, I just stream from my apartment. I came back from Tempo Storm last August, and I haven’t moved ever since.
My streaming has gone through a lot of phases in the last couple of months -- I just recently came off of a pretty big break where I didn’t stream for about 90 days. Basically, at the moment, I stream, coach, and play League of Legends.
You moved to a country that’s on the opposite side of the globe from your home. What made you come to Korea?
I came to South Korea because… I really didn’t have a choice. My adolescence was pretty rough.
I originally wanted to come to Korea for StarCraft, but my parents didn’t let me. Prior to StarCraft 2 coming out, I almost became like a ward of the state, and I didn’t have anywhere to live. So I ended up living with someone I met through StarCraft -- someone that I coached. His family was willing to take me in and my father signed off on it.
So I moved in with him, then StarCraft 2 came out. I played that for a few weeks and I even attended MLG Raleigh. When I went back to Rhode Island, however, I stopped playing StarCraft 2; and I started living on college campuses with my friends and played poker -- illegally.
Eventually, things didn’t go well, and during the winter break, I lost my ability to keep playing poker and travel. Then I received an offer from GosuGamers, which got me back into StarCraft 2. They provided me with a laptop and a small salary of about a hundred Euro per month -- which was just pitiful at the time. I played at Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts on wifi until I started to break into my mother’s house to use her internet. She caught me eventually and threatened to call the police…
During this whole ordeal, Skew, a Terran player in StarCraft 2, was on a Skype call and heard everything. The next day, he bought me a plane ticket to Phoenix Arizona, and I flew over there to live with him -- I basically lived off of ramen noodles every single day. Eventually, I went to MLG Anaheim, too.
Then, with time, Skew’s brother wanted me out of the house because he owned the place and Skew had lied about how long I’d be staying. So I was looking at either going to EvilGenius’ house -- which had no electricity and was abandoned at the time -- or remain homeless. Skew was looking for a solution for me.
The MVP Zerg player, Galaxy, recommended I try out for MVP, and so, I played a bunch of cross-server games and practiced all sorts of matchups. Eventually, I passed the test, and I was invited to the B Team house in Korea. So the owner of GosuGamers, the team that I was a part of, used all of my stiffened travel money to book me a flight to Korea. I landed here with $200 in cash, and I never looked back.
How is Korea? Have you adapted to the life here? I heard that you’re fluent in Korean.
Oh no, no -- not fluent. In League of Legends, I have no problem communicating. I can read basically everything -- for the most part. I do have problems with grammar, but I’m completely self-taught. I never took any classes, I learned through League. I used translation through the internet to learn, and I learned word by word. Eventually, I just got to the point where I started dating Koreans that didn’t speak English, and it just went from there.
However, back in the day, it was pretty rough. And right now, although my grammar is pretty bad, I have a big vocabulary, so I can get a gist of pretty much anything said to me.
I heard that you’re helping players who aspire to be professionals.
When I first arrived in Korea, I didn't know how to live cheaply and I didn't know about **goshitels and/or how to get affordable, cheap PCs. So when they reach out to me, I wanted to be able to help people who are trying to bootcamp, by trying to show them the cheapest way to live and how to focus solely on their bootcamp. Most people don't realize you can live in Korea for around $500 a month if you know what you're doing, and they'll get ripped off by guesthouse prices or by not knowing where to get food. Whenever a team reaches out to me, I often advise them to contact Joyluck and try to set that up for them if they don't know him already.
**goshitels are extremely cheap hotels in Korea.
Occasionally, I offer players coaching packages, where they fly out to Korea and meet me in person. I think that being here and playing in the KR server is really good -- I can do more as a coach. I think it’s the best server, as the ping is really, really low, so there’s few to no in-game issues that can come into play. It allows me to get a strong hands-on approach with the player and see what kind of issues they have. Over the course of the two months that the players stay here, I can see how they react to the sudden change in lifestyle and see if they can endure the “push” that they’re given.
What are the advantages of living in Korea in regards to gaming?
In terms of gaming, what players like myself can find is that the servers are harder. Even if you look at Overwatch or Heroes of the Storm, it has always been documented that Korea has the hardest servers -- in any game that Korea has “chosen” to accept or embrace as an esport. In that regard, you get better practice in the ladder.
Ping is also pretty much non-existent here, whereas, in North America, you can have anywhere from 20 ping upwards to 100 plus. You also almost never experience internet problems here. In addition, I think the culture here is really, really good. I think that it’s extremely healthy for the growth of esports in terms of competition. I find North America to be more laid back, whereas Korea has a more rigorous and serious nature, creating a more competitive environment for players.
In the League of Legends community, you’re very well-known for your in-depth and accurate analysis of patches and professional games. However, you’re also notorious for having a rough personality. Is it something that you’re working on toning down? Or is it something that you embrace as one of your qualities?
I think that a lot of people see me as controversial and/or divisive, and I think a lot of that stems from my strong opinions and standpoint -- because I know how much work I have put in. This doesn’t just account for League of Legends, but esports as a whole. I have been a part of it now for 12 years, and not a lot of people can say that, especially with League of Legends. Although there are people that have been in the industry just as much or longer than I, I have been playing games at some of the highest levels for such a long time. Esports is basically my life.
So when I take it as serious as I do, and I communicate with the people that I do, I tend to have strong views in terms of strategy or the game in general. This can lead me to not having the most polite of conversations with people that also have strong viewpoints, especially if they don’t have an equally experienced background or a background that has credentials. Also, when an argument can unfold, I want to see people speaking not from emotion, but actual facts. I feel like a lot of people who I can argue with sometimes are often speaking out of emotion, and it clouds the argument. I also realize that this may sound condescending and rude to some people…
It is something that I’m trying to work on, I don’t like being known for being rude. But I feel like I’m constantly on the defensive, as I’m constantly questioned on why I’m able to do what I do.
You can see that if you look at my history -- ever since my emergence in esports.
Regarding your background in the StarCraft scene, are there any parallels between StarCraft and League of Legends? Did your SC background help? Or do you simply have a good eye for games?
I started gaming at around 2 years old. My uncles who introduced me to gaming were very competitive, and one uncle in particular, David, opened my eyes to competitive gaming -- strategy, and how to perceive the game -- by constantly grilling me.
Now, comparing StarCraft to League of Legends; macrowise, I think League of Legends is a lot simple than StarCraft. When I first came to League of Legends, I was only a part of the game for 6 months before I became a coach in the LCS. Concepts that seemed very surface level to me weren’t commonly understood at the time. I just viewed it as Terran, Zerg, and Protoss moving across the map.
I also saw some timing attacks in StarCraft that could be put to use in League of Legends rotations. I feel that there are so many similarities between the two games in regards to map movement and economy management. My SC background definitely helped me.
This is kind of off-topic, but you gave birth to a lot of memes in the community. What do you think about that? Especially the “audacity” meme.
(Laughs) The only bitterness I have with that meme, in particular, is that I don’t think people looked at the context of how it occurred. I don’t like that some people formed an entire opinion on me by looking at a single isolated clip. I don’t mind making memes -- I like making people laugh -- although my humor tends to be on the dark side, especially with my match history roasts.
I don’t mind the memes, as long as it doesn’t take away my core identity as an educator and/or someone that's knowledgeable about the game. That’s why I stopped doing comedy stuff on my stream because I was frustrated that the comedy stuff was becoming the focal point of my stream and not my analysis/knowledge about the game.
From watching a couple of your coaching videos, I saw that you put a lot of emphasis on player mentality and the player’s ability to humble himself. For someone to go professional, what do you find is most important outside of mechanics?
The willingness to ask yourself, “what can be refined?” The viewpoint of never being satisfied with his or her current state. I don’t think people look deep enough at themselves when it comes to how they can improve, especially when they’re getting positive results -- it’s almost always based on what is present. For instance, I remember saying back in Season 4, that at the time, Faker was arguably the best player in the world. However, if you were viewing him objectively there were still many things that he was bad at in terms of what was humanly capable. Now we’re in Season 8, and if you look at the top players like Bdd, PraY, Uzi, Khan, etc., then look back at the VODS of the earlier seasons, you would be surprised at how bad some of the old plays were -- compared to what exists now.
In StarCraft, I was there when Lee Jaedong played and when Lee Youngho played; it was easy for me to see the game constantly growing and evolving. As a professional, the ability to see what’s next and see how to get to that next is really important. I think the StarCraft history does a good job at showing a detailed line on how to see that there’s still so much to come.
What makes a good coach?
I think people have a misconception on coaching -- that there’s only one type of coach and only one style of coaching. But there’s lots of different approaches in that regard. There are life coaches, strategy coaches, and more. Also, people have a perception that a coach is someone that tells another what to do. I think that’s misguided and wrong, but if you asked me this a few years ago, I’d actually say that that’s right. Over the years, however, my opinion changed; a coach isn’t just person A telling person B what to do, it’s more of person A telling person B what to do and making them understand so that person B can tell person C what to do.
It’s not always giving them the direct answer, but to give them a guide and path and set them up with a foundation necessary to keep promoting success and to remain stable without relying on another person. I think that’s what real coaching is. Sometimes, this requires you to push or challenge the players even to the point where their emotions may get heated or break down.
Sometimes, coaching is hard. Sometimes you have to be harsh, and other times you have to understand them. You have to talk to them and get to the core of their emotions. Other times, you have to push them to do things that they may not want to do -- even if they say no to you. It’s necessary sometimes. They have to get over the hump and feel the impact so that they can have a life change. You really have to rattle their core so that they can break a habit that’s been ingrained in them, sometimes for years.
I don’t think a lot of people see coaching as that, especially in NA where most people perceive coaching as just someone telling another what to do. It’s really black and white. But there’s a lot more to it, it’s a pretty big topic.
Korean culture is a lot more strict and coaches have a lot more power in a team. Recently, we published an article where one of our journalists stayed with Cloud9 in their teamhouse. He was surprised at the players eating at their computers. What do you think about that lenient style?
When I went to Gravity, which was my first experience living with a western team, things were very different to Korea. When I lived with MVP -- which later became Samsung -- for two years; I loved my time there. I really appreciated the strict schedule and I loved how everyone felt like family -- living and doing a job together. I think that’s an aspect that western organizations try to force, but it really feels unnatural. But in terms of the freedom that western teams grant, although it feels a bit unregulated for me, I believe that there are advantages and disadvantages to both styles. I believe that both cultures can learn a thing or two from each other.
Recently, there was a lot of talk in regards to hotfixes in the League of Legends community. How did that come to happen? What was your opinion on it?
I wasn’t upset with Riot. The most recent hotfix that came to light, I think, was the Banner of Command patch. I think the problem is that in the recent weeks, even leading up to 8.11, Banner of Command was insanely popular, and not only for supports but midlaners that could evade the laning phase and build into Banner -- Sion, Ornn, Lulu, and non-traditional champions. They were coming into the midlane and building it, and because of the midlaners that [had a safe laning phase], the item was extremely oppressive. It was less common in AD matchups -- almost unbuildable, but with the changes, they made it so that you can still sometimes build it even when playing against AD champions. The biggest point, however, is that some of the champions that build Banner were already good against AD champions; such as Karma and Lulu.
So suddenly, the item became not only good against AP champions, but it now has utility against AD champions as well. And because of how the item now adds more power to the mid-game due to the split-push mechanic of the item, utility-support junglers can also itemize into it.
On the surface, however, after playing and talking to Korean professional players about it, I think the panic was over-exaggerated. I don’t think the item was that broken. It was simply just a solo queue menace because this item naturally punishes miscoordination with the sidelane push -- especially if there are no teleports. Items like Banner of Command and Zz’Rot will always be strong in that environment.
Also, it’s a massive snowball item. If you get ahead, you get further ahead. And if you’re behind, if you gradually and slowly keep winning teamfights while playing defensively, the item will begin to cause problems for the enemy team. But there’s still the middle ground where you’re NOT ahead, and you’re not able to play defensively, it could be a problem. I often heard players saying stuff like, “if only my ADC didn’t build Banner of Command, he would’ve had more damage.” I saw a lot of games lost because they built Banner instead of building an actual item.
What is your opinion on the most recent jungle changes? Scuttle crabs, and level 2 all-ins…
Similar to Banner, I think the Scuttle crab changes were overhyped as well. In the west, they called it League of Scuttle, but in Korea, no one went out of their way for them. In Korea, toplaners, midlaners, and even bottom laners know and understand how to freeze, split-push, and lane manipulate. Junglers also know how to play around his or her team’s lane to a certain extent. But for the most part, laners interact with their junglers more and vice versa. Because of this, the laners aren’t going to compromise their laning phase to help their jungler secure a Scuttle crab. Also, the junglers won’t risk ruining their pathing relative to ganking for a crab.
I think the changes are nice for the long term. The only thing I hate about the change is that it has gotten a lot harder to destroy your enemy jungler with experience. I’m probably one of the very few that enjoys the new crabs. (Laughs)
Is there a sleeper OP champion in the current patch?
I mean, Taliyah is one of the hot topics to talk about for support and jungle.
There are a lot of players in the Korean ladder that get insane win ratios with certain champions in masters/challenger.
In addition, I think Karthus and Zyra support is under-researched -- easily overlooked. But outside of that, I don’t think there is truly an “Overpowered” champion. I think the meta hasn’t changed too much in the last couple of patches.
What do you think about the Master Yi and Taric strategy?
I think it’s a gamble -- in professional play especially.
Obviously, there are both pros and cons. In professional play, the enemy is a lot more coordinated, so it’ll take a lot to make it work. Master Yi looks very easy on the surface. He has a very low skill floor, but a very high skill ceiling in terms of his mechanics. That’ll take some time for people to learn. Also, you have to ask yourself, “is it worth practicing this strategy?” especially because the entire thing can be locked out with just one ban. You need to secure both. In professional play, there are multiple ways to counter it, but in solo queue, it’ll be considerably harder to do that.
What do you think about Pyke? Will he make an appearance in pro play?
When Pyke first came out, I played him in the jungle, and I immediately thought that he was bad -- but his kit is really insane. I can also see why Riot doesn’t let him build defensively [with health and armor]. If he could get health, armor, and CDR, he’d be tank Ekko on steroids.
I theorized a few days ago before Aftershock became really popular, I noticed that Maknoon started playing Pyke top with the Predator rune. I then turned and asked an NA academy toplaner that’s living with me right now, “well, that’s bad, but what if he takes Aftershock?” It’ll provide Pyke with the stats -- the durability -- to trade early and get him through some possible sticky situations throughout a game.
I still think that his cooldowns and numbers need a little tweaking, though I don’t think he’s that busted. I think in solo queue, he can cause a lot more chaos than in competitive. Bard is a champion that we don’t see in competitive, but in high ladder solo queue, he’s a monster when played by certain players and/or solo queue specialists. He’s a nightmare to deal with, and I think Pyke is a mix of Bard and Rakan. His kit is beautiful, but I don’t know if his numbers are there for competitive.
Riot designed Pyke to be a support champion, but I heard that you don’t consider him to be.
I think his kit looks really, really good as a jungler. So I speculated that he’d be a jungler. However, after seeing Maknoon play him toplane -- he was having relative success with it -- that made me look at him as maybe a toplaner that needs to quickly end the laning phase or maybe build tanky in the support role and be effective there.
Let’s talk about MSI now. What do you think the problem with Kingzone was during the tournament?
I tweeted before the Finals that I think Kingzone’s level of play was grossly underwhelming. They didn’t look like the same team I saw in the LCK. It was pretty difficult for me and some others to even get through the games. I was doing VOD reviews on stream and I was very frustrated. It was like a game straight out of solo queue. That’s honestly what it looked like.
Peanut didn’t look like he knew what he was doing throughout the games. In some games, he’d get considerable leads but do absolutely nothing with it. I also questioned his pathing. In the laning phase, sometimes they did well, but PraY, he did look completely out of character from time to time.
Then you ask the question, “will Korea win Worlds this year?” Then you remember 2015 MSI where Korea lost, but if you look at the top 4 of Worlds that year…
I’m not too worried about Worlds -- It’d be more concerning if I had thought that Kingzone played well. But I think that they were playing like a middle of the pack, low tier LCK team when I was watching the Final series.
I don’t watch too much LPL, so my opinion won’t be as informed as the other analysts, but I was really impressed with RNG in many different points of the tournament. It’s because, throughout the years when I did watch LPL teams play, I was concerned about their mid-to-late game macro. RNG definitely looked a lot more refined and crisp. However, after watching the games, if Kingzone performed as the LCK-winning team, I’m not sure if RNG would’ve won. But that’s also the reason why I’m really excited for Worlds this year. In addition, I’m hoping to see Rookie play because I think he’s the best midlaner in the world currently. It’s going to be a real treat for fans that don’t follow the LPL.
Uzi was really hyped after the tournament. Do you think RNG’s success at MSI solely depended on Uzi?
Uzi is a player that you cannot let get out of control. He’s a player that gets increasingly scarier with every advantage that he gets. It’s been a pretty long time since the world stage has feared an ADC player, especially to that degree. In that regard, Uzi has taken the title or mantle similar to what Khan has got in the toplane or Faker in the midlane. He’s the standalone scariest ADC when he’s ahead. His mechanics are also really refined. He was a big factor in RNG’s success, for sure.
Do you think SKT will make a comeback in the Summer split?
Unless they make changes to the roster, I don’t see them making a comeback. I did notice that Faker is really high up on the ladder right now. I think he’s really, really motivated; but I don’t think he was the issue, to begin with -- I don’t think anyone would argue with that. If I have to make a bet, at best, they would be third seed for Worlds.
Lastly, is there anything you want to add to this interview?
I'd like to thank Tempo Storm and their sponsors, Twitch, Nvidia, and Red Bull for having provided me with a great place to utilize my passion for League of Legends and esports.
Also, I really want to thank Hyun-seok Lim and Yoon-sang Choi from the MVP organization. Without Hyun-suk, all of this wouldn't have been possible and I most likely would've never found League of Legends.
A managing editor who can do more things than you think.