“We did our best” sometimes isn’t enough. Sometimes, even if we put forth all our strength, the best outcome doesn’t always follow the best effort. It can be difficult to keep trying your best, especially when it never seems to be good enough; despite this, there are people who always do their best no matter what.
Kwang-bok “Coach815” Kim is one of those people. As a former head coach of a StarCraft 2 team and a Heroes of the Storm team, he made his teams the best in the Esports scene. Unfortunately, his accomplishments did not earn him much renown because the games were not one of the mainstream Esports games in Korea.
His new career in the Overwatch League has just begun. It is true that he does not have much experience with Overwatch, but he is going to be the head coach of the London Spitfire, one of the best Overwatch teams in the world. He will now be working with people that he actually used to work with in the past.
Comments from colleagues are one of the best ways to tell what kind of person he is. What made head coach Kim’s former colleagues want to work with him again? In our interview with head coach Kim, we were able to understand what “doing one’s best” means in his life.
Q. Congratulations on becoming the head coach of London Spitfire. How are you spending your time recently?
I am currently experimenting with the new team members for Season 2. I’m also helping MPV Space, which is my former team, with rebuilding the team. I’ll be off to London in October.
Q. Unlike StarCraft, StarCraft 2 is not that popular in Korea. What was the reason that you started your career in StarCraft and then moved on to StarCraft 2?
When I first started working in StarCraft 2 Esports, I didn’t expect StarCraft 2 to be this unpopular. But I could not leave the team because I really liked my team and enjoyed the time I spent with them. I’m like a father to them. I could not stop being their head coach because I did not want them to end their career there. I simply did my best, whether the game was popular or not.
Q. Were there any hardships to being a head coach for the Esports team of an unpopular game?
I’ve been working as a coach and a head coach for over 10 years, and of course I wanted to make money. My friends told me I should not manage my StarCraft 2 team if I have to spend my own money, and I should move to League of Legends to make money. But, for some reason, I didn’t want to. I don’t know the exact reason. I know League of Legends is a fun game, but I only played it once and never played it again. I’m actually more interested in Dota. I guess I followed my heart, not money.
When I think back on it now, I think I was able to have a long career in the field because the game was not popular. The Esports scene of a popular game is extremely competitive in Korea. A lot of resources are invested in the game, and there are many teams and players who are really good. If you look at League of Legends Esports you will know what I mean. The best team has stepped down from the throne, and new powerhouses are rising. If all of the League teams make HotS teams, it would not be the same.
Q. After StarCraft 2, you became the head coach for Heroes of the Storm MVP. How were the two games different?
They are really different from each other. StarCraft is a 1vs1 game so if anything happens to the player it does not affect anyone else. But Heroes of the Storm is a team game, so if one player is having trouble it eventually leads to trouble for the whole team. Each member might have different opinions so it takes time to come up with a solution. I usually observe the players before making orders, and it was harder for me to coach them together as a team.
Resolving conflict among the players was the hardest task. In StarCraft, if two players get into a fight they just don’t practice with each other. They have other players who they can practice with. But in a team game, all five players must play together whether they like it or not. When they get into a fight but still have to practice with each other, they develop more negative feelings towards each other. So I have to make sure the conflict is resolved as soon as possible. It is a team game, so this kind of thing happens pretty often.
Q. When you were in MVP, a lot of players came to the team and left. As a head coach, what do you think about players leaving the team?
When I first became a head coach for StarCraft 2, I swore to myself that I would never make a decision to make player leave my team. If the player wants to quit then I do not have a choice, but other than that I wanted to stay with them as long as possible. This might sound conceited, but I thought it would be harder for them if they leave my team and live with another head coach/team.
It really hurts me if a player wants to leave the team. Maybe I’m being too responsible but it feels like I wasn’t good enough for him.
When I was in Heroes of the Storm MVP, one of the members left the team. I tried to stop Tae-jun “Merryday” Yi from leaving the team. MVP Black (current Gen.G) was doing great, but he was skeptical about whether he should keep on playing the game. He has achieved almost everything, so his enthusiasm had burnt out. I could not stop him. I told him he will regret his decision later. I asserted that he will be back someday, and he won’t be able to find a good team like this again. In the end he returned to HotS, but I still respect his decision. He wanted to finish school and he did, and is doing great on his new team.
Q. You transferred to Overwatch from HotS before last year’s BlizzCon. How did you start your new career as a head coach for an Overwatch team?
Yo-han “Nugget” Kim, who used to be a coach in the Seoul Dynasty, was leading MVP back then. I didn’t know about Overwatch very well then. The team asked me to coach both a HotS team and Overwatch team, but when Nugget transferred to the Seoul Dynasty there was no one to lead the Overwatch team. The HotS team knows my way of coaching very well and I thought they would do well without me, so I started coaching the Overwatch team by myself. I started managing the Overwatch team by myself since last September.
Q. How did you come to join the London Spitfire?
There was a period during the season when the London Spitfire was not performing well. Susie Kim, the general manager, once called me and asked me if I wanted to join the Overwatch League. We used to know each other well. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to the Overwatch League, but I did not want to leave MVP Space. I had been coaching MVP Space for more than 6 months, but the team wasn’t performing well. I told Susie that I want to concentrate on the Contenders more, and I will think about it when the season ends. Soon the London Spitfire’s rank dropped drastically. I started watching the Overwatch League and thought maybe there is something I can do.
But when I was focusing on the Contenders, the London Spitfire won the grand final. Their performance was really great. I thought they wouldn’t need me anymore but after the Contenders season ended they called me and asked me to become a head coach. Coach Jfeel from the London Spitfire used to be a pro in MVP Heroes team. Susie Kim and Jfeel talked about recruiting a new head coach, and they both mentioned me. That’s how I joined the London Spitfire.
Being the head coach of the team who won the last season comes with a lot of pressure for me. Winning first place again is just protecting the current position, and winning second place means that the team is performing worse than before. Other real life problems like if I could get married in a foreign country also made me hesitate. But when I saw the audience in the grand finals, I made up my mind. I had never been in front of such a huge audience when I was a head coach for StarCraft 2 and HotS. I wanted to be on a big stage like that.
Q. You’ve already met with the pros in London Spitfire. What was your first impression on them?
I don’t know if this is because they are young, but they are very bright and playful. I wanted to coach a bright and playful team and I try to keep the mood that way. I remember Jae-hui “Gesture” Hong being very friendly to me, even though it was his first time seeing me. I really like that.
But on the other hand, they might be too playful. They are always lighthearted. I’ve been watching pro gamers since the first generation of professional gaming and in my opinion pro gamers nowadays are going an easier path. Not only the pros in London Spitfire but also everyone else in the Overwatch League are accepting the way everything is right now without any doubts. London has won the season without me, so they might think they don’t need me. Everything is complicated and I must work on it.
Q. The London Spitfire won the grand final in Season 1. What responsibility are they expecting from you as a head coach?
Basically everything that a head coach must do. I noticed that a lot of teams are having hard times managing the players. The pros can be sensitive about transferring to other teams and their salary. They share this information with each other and this cannot be prevented. I can’t manage financial issues but I can provide emotional support for them. I think that’s what the team wants me to focus on the most.
Q. You have seen HotS MVP Black (current Gen.G.) both outperforming other teams and underperforming. Do you think the experience might help you with coaching the Overwatch team?
Eventually every best team will step down from the throne. MVP Black has won many tournaments and it felt like making it to the grand finals was nothing special. In HotS, losing one set can be fatal to a team’s reputation and it makes the players discouraged. If this continues, they cannot enjoy the game anymore and will feel burnt down.
I cannot guarantee that team London will be successful this year. As you can see in League of Legends Esports, a team often underperforms after winning a season. The players need to take an emotional break, and it’s the head coach’s job to help them recover faster. Pro gamers are human too, so it’s natural to have those moments.
The final winner is at the top of the meta. In order to defend the title, there has to be something new. But the winner stays as a winner for a long time, and there is no progression. They just keep doing what they usually do and when someone challenges them with a new strategy, they become weak. Especially when a new meta rises during mid to late season, the former champion cannot deal with it and the tournaments just ends like that.
Q. The London Spitfire has won the season without a head coach before. A lot of coaching staff say that when they join a new team they could not lead the team the way they want to because they had to stick with the existing coaching method.
I usually have my own method of coaching. I don’t think my way is always the right way, but I’ve been successful with my method so I insist on it. But the London Spitfire has already won the season, so I have to see what kind of system they are using. If I believe there has to be some changes I will change it, and if not, I will go with the team’s original strategy. I’m not planning on changing too many things, as the team has already won the championship. If there is something I need to learn from them, I will.
Q. The pros in the London Spitfire said that the OWL is a long league and it makes them exhausted at the end, but they can pour their all their energy into a short-term game like the grand final. How would you balance the playoff and the official season?
I think if you are a pro you must pour your energy into every match, whether it’s a long-term league or a single game. If they think they must save their energy for the long run I should help them change their mind. You cannot be a pro gamer for a long time. You only have two to three years and if you can’t throw in everything you have during that period you should not have started.
Q. The London Spitfire is recruiting players for all positions. What type of roster are you thinking about for Season 2?
First, I want to stay with the members who won season 1. I asked the team about this but I don’t know of everyone will sign the contract again. Once I get to the team house I can get the exact roster.
I’m going to recruit someone that all the members and coaching staff agree on. I’ve talked a lot about the roster with the team members. Right now we are exploring who we can recruit, considering their salary.
Q. More pro gamers will be joining the Overwatch League for season 2. Do you think there will be a change in the OWL?
There will be 20 teams in season 2 so I can’t imagine how the matches will go. All of the teams are rebuilding their team so we don’t know which team will be more powerful. We will see more in October but right now everyone is confused because no one knows who is going where.
Q. You said that the London Spitfire will recruit someone who has not caused any controversy for ELO boosting or attitude.
I want to work with someone honest and hard working. I believe that an honest and loyal person, someone who can sacrifice for others, must be successful. I understand ELO boosting can be tempting. You can make a lot of money from it. But I think the ones who can resist that temptation and always do the right thing are the ones who should win. If I have something they need, I will help them with my best effort.
Q. You have been a head coach for different games. How is Overwatch different from other games that you have coached for?
The biggest difference is that Overwatch is an FPS game, whereas StarCraft and HotS are third person perspective games. It’s hard to see why the team is losing in Overwatch. In other games, I can see why the team is losing. But in Overwatch, you don’t know what’s happening in the back if you are confronting two enemies at the frontline. You have to make a decision very quickly, and it’s not easy to do so in Overwatch. The whole team must work together, and you have to deal with the situation that you can’t see by listening to what your teammates tell you.
Q. In Overwatch there are many cases where you have to switch out a player or switch to another hero, depending on the map or the situation. What is the hardest thing about everything changing so quickly during a match?
Certain heroes in Overwatch are harder to play compared to others. Sombra is a good example. I believe that the tanks are the core element in Overwatch. The tanks must examine the situation from the frontline. But Sombra can see where the enemies are while invisible. A well-played Sombra can be a game changer, and there is a big difference between the teams that can use Sombra well and those who cannot.
Q. What would you say about your role as a head coach for an Overwatch team?
I do more than managing the players. I want to support them in both gameplay strategy and other issues like the team roster, recruitment, and the support they can get from the management team.
Q. This is the last question. Would you like to say anything to the fans?
It is my responsibility if the London Spitfire underperforms. There might be conflict among the members, and some old ways must change. These can affect the team performance. But you know, the one who smiles at the end is the final winner. I’ll try my best to make London Spitfire the final winner. Thank you for your continuous support for the London Spitfire and I hope you can stay with us.
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