The Importance of Esports Coaches in League of Legends: Their Role within a Team

▲ 'The Coach of 2018 NA LCS Summer Split', C9 Reapered

What is a League of Legends esports coach?

A coach’s role within a team may seem almost trivial on the surface. They don’t directly play the game themselves, and what they do behind the scenes is almost always veiled. But historically, coaches have been behind some of the greatest team victories.

In traditional sports, a coach is highly-valued. A team’s performance often spikes up or down depending on who is standing behind the clipboard. Take football (soccer) for example; Korea, who had placed 30th at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, defied all odds by placing 4th in the 2002 World Cup, defeating heavy tournament favorites such as Portugal along the way. Before their strong run in 2002, Korea was a team that competed in the World Cup five-consecutive times, only to have lost every single one of their matches. The secret weapon Korea had in 2002 was a new coach; a renowned football manager known for bringing success to teams.

Similar to football coaches, coaches in League of Legends -- and almost all esports -- are a vital part of a team. There have been many cases in esports where a coach has directly impacted a team’s performance and brought major success to teams that were previously struggling. The fact that the LCK, arguably the first league in the world to take esports coaching seriously, found so much success in the past, adds strength to this argument. But what exactly does an esports coach do? Though we mainly see them standing behind their players on stage, the majority of their work takes place behind the curtain. The examples given in this article will revolve around coaches from the LCK.


The Different Types of Coaches: Life Coach

To begin, League of Legends esports coaches can be divided into two major categories.

In one category, the coaches don’t directly get involved with the game; these are the ones who manage the players outside the game, and they are often referred to as ‘life coaches’. Simply put, a life coach is responsible for maintaining a good team atmosphere within his team house and keeping up motivation and positivity in his or her players. Often time, they also help keep them out of trouble.

Head coach Kkoma rushes to the teamhouse to prevent Peanut from making a 'drunk' mistake

Although this may seem like an easy job on the surface, not everyone can pull it off or do it well. It requires the coaches to understand what being an athlete -- or more specifically -- an esports athlete is like. Therefore, although it’s a completely different game, many professional former StarCraft players and coaches work in the Korean League of Legends esports scene.

Ranging from player management to planning out events, a life coach is bound to more duties than traditional sports coaches. Unlike in traditional sports, most esports coaches have their hands full engaging in duties meant for a team’s front office staff. There have even been multiple cases in which life coaches have reached out to certain free agent players to personally persuade them into joining their team. One good example is when head coach Hirai visited Peanut’s house late at night when the player's contract with his previous team expired to talk him into signing.

By taking care of the smallest and largest problems that a team faces, life coaches, in essence, take on the ‘manager’ role of a team. Although some of them may seem lacking in terms of in-game knowledge, their irreplaceable expertise on the world of esports and player management form the foundations necessary for a healthy and adaptable team environment.

▲ Lee Ji-Hoon, one of the most well-known life coaches in the LCK scene

Strategy Coach

The counterpart of life coaches are coaches who oversee what the players do in-game. They analyze games, pinpoint a player’s strengths and flaws, and plan out a direction for their players to follow. These are the type of coaches that you’ll often see standing on stage with the players during a game, aiding the players with picks and bans. They’ll be referred to as ‘strategy coaches’ in this article.

A professional esports player spends hours and hours a day practicing; keeping their mechanics finely-tuned at all times. With the esports scene growing more competitive by the day, players can’t waste any time. This is where strategy coaches come in: creating an environment where players can focus solely on playing the game, while at the same time strengthening their individual gameplay through feedback.

Unlike life coaches, who don’t need a deep understanding of the game to put out maximum performance as a coach, strategy coaches need to understand the game and its meta inside and out. That's why a large number of strategy coaches are former players themselves.

Strategy coaches spend hours and hours a day, watching and analyzing professional games played worldwide. With the new information they gather, these coaches construct and provide their players with the ideas and tactics necessary to stay ahead of their opponents. One good example is the Predator-Gragas that became insanely popular in the LCK during the Summer of 2018. It was an idea constructed by Afreeca Freecs’ head coach, an idea that the players tried out before ultimately bringing it onto the stage.

▲ Coach Heart, providing feedback to XiaoHu during his time in RNG

When they're not strengthening their own team, strategy coaches will work to find weaknesses in their competition. By analyzing past games, they list exploitable habits that a certain player or team has. For example, an LCK coach took note of how a certain player dodged most of his foe’s skillshots by strafing to the left. He advised his own players to shoot towards the left against that player if they're to meet on stage, and can’t guarantee a hit. Strategy coaches also take note of their competitions’ frequent ward placements, recall locations, and jungle routes; finding ways to take advantage of their opponent’s smallest flaw or habit.

Strategy coaches need to look at the bigger picture, while at the same time, note every minuscule detail. By constantly tracking the meta and discovering new ideas, strategy coaches give the players more time to focus on their training. These coaches give the players swords that they then take to sharpen and hone.

The One In Charge

Just like traditional sports coaches, an esports coach’s main role within a team is to keep his or her players in top-notch shape so that they can deliver the best possible performance on stage. In order to do that, the players need to be constantly trained both physically and mentally -- to be both in shape and motivated. Coaches are the ones in charge, and therefore, they’re the ones who are responsible for a team’s overall performance. That is why coaches are highly praised when a team succeeds, but also take heavy blame when they fail or fall short of expectations.

With all that said, not all teams divide their coaching staff in this way. Though every coach has a main role, that does not limit the spectrum of what they can do within a team. There are life coaches who also actively aid the players with strategy and vice versa. There are also teams like Griffin that have only one dedicated coach that fills the role of both life and strategy coaches. The classification of coaches made here is based on which side coaches tend to lean towards.


Esports Coaches Are Important

From managing players to forming the tactics played on stage, esports coaches are often the strongest supporting pillar acting outside the game. They create a foundation; a structure necessary for a team to stay organized. And until pretty recently, their efforts were often overlooked.

More and more coaches are entering the scene each year, and teams are competing against each other to pick up the most suitable coach for their team.

As more and more people notice the strength coaches provide for players personally and teams overall, the industry started acknowledging the value of esports coaches. It’s also worth noting that some star coaches earn just as much as the players themselves.

As of December 2018, almost every single professional League of Legends esports team has at least one coach in their employment. We have seen the public image of pro players change in the past, from crazy dream to respectable occupation, and it seems a similar transformation is happening with esports coaches. While before they were seen as a small boost to strength, people all over the world are beginning to see them as vital components of any team that wants to be the best.

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