Interview with LS, the First Western Coach in Korea: His Thoughts on bbq Olivers, Imports in Korea, and More

Since the early days of the League of Legends esports scene, Korean players and coaches have frequently been imported to other leagues worldwide. Korean LoL talents were considered the best for quite some time, and deservingly so, as they have dominated the international scene for the longest period. However, near the end of 2018, for the first time ever in Korean LoL history, a western coach joined a Korean team. The team in question was one that had just been relegated from the LCK, bbq Olivers. 

As the current bbq Olivers roster is comprised of mostly rookie players that have never set foot on an official stage before, their new foreign coach LS has his work cut out for him. By being the team's strategical coach, LS's role in 2019 will be to teach and guide the players and prepare them for the LCK promotions tournament. 

Season 9 is quickly approaching, but LS didn't show any signs of distress. With his years of coaching experience and trust in his players' ability to grow and develop, LS is confident heading into the upcoming challenger series. 

How did LS come in contact with bbq Olivers? What does he plan to bring to the team? Eager to know the answers, we met LS at a local coffee shop to hear from him in person.

** This interview was conducted a few days before bbq Oliver's match against ES Sharks in the KeSPA Cup.

▲ Despite suffering from a cold, LS agreed to go through with the interview

You’re the very first known western coach on a Korean team. How did you come in contact with bbq Olivers?

bq reached out to me in November. I was contacted by a foreigner who is a part of the bbq staff. He asked me if I was interested in returning as a coach, and I replied with a yes.

He mentioned that it was a Korean team. Up until that point, there were 2 NA teams, an EU team, and another Korean team that contacted me. However, I was more intrigued with bbq since the team was formerly LCK.

As a foreigner and coach, what can you bring to the team?

Although I’m a foreigner, I’ve lived in Korea for almost 8 years now. I originally came here for StarCraft 2.

I don’t think I have a western approach to games, because I’ve played so many games here in Korea. I started playing StarCraft 2, Hearthstone, and League of Legends here, and I didn’t even know about the western scene in the beginning.

What I bring is: I’ve coached elite-level players individually for many years. I played the game so much that I believe I have a different perspective on the game compared to others. I don’t see League of Legends as just League of Legends.

What is your primary role as coach in bbq? Are you life coaching the players as well? Perhaps correcting attitudes or removing players’ bad habits?

Strictly strategical.

The attitude stuff, I have a lot of experience with it... that’s because I’ve coached a lot of hours. I coached so many solo queue players and teams that I genuinely don’t know who might have coached more than me in terms of dealing with different types of people. Obviously, there are Korean esports coaches who might’ve.  

I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff because culturally, western attitude is a lot different to the eastern one -- just because of the cultural differences.

If they need my help in terms of life coaching, I can assist with that, but that’s not my set job in the team.

Along with your acquisition, bbq had also signed a western player for its jungle role. Can you tell us a bit about him?

The western player that we picked up, Malice, is a Swedish player that can speak both English and Swedish fluently, and a bit of Chinese. He’s someone that’s lived in Korea for two and a half years, and I saw his skill level progress throughout his time here. When he first got here, he was a mid-diamond player. But in the last two years, he was able to consistently hit challenger.

I actually really disliked him at first. I really, really hated him up until November, when bbq contacted me. He’s someone that I’ve gotten into multiple arguments with in the past, and we never had a friendly relationship. One of the reasons why I disliked him was because I don’t like those who type a lot in solo queue -- I don’t like toxicity. He had a reputation for that in the past and I always held it against him.

When bbq Olivers was recruiting players, the ranked ladder was very thin in terms of free agents. I then thought to myself: “rather than holding a grudge against this player, let me try and take time to talk to him and see where it goes.”

When I personally talked to him over voice for the first time, the experience was a lot different to what I had initially expected. After the conversation, I asked him. “This conversation went really nice. Would you be interested in trying out for bbq?” He had said before that he had no interest in playing competitively, but he is a western player that can -- and at will -- get challenger here in Korea. There aren’t a lot of western pros that can do that.

He tried out for bbq and outperformed the other Korean junglers [tryouts] during scrims. Some of the bbq players were very receptive of him, and they assured us that everything was fine. So I told him to change his summoner name and stop typing during games. I told him, “it doesn’t have to be this way; the toxicity and typing. Especially because you can actually become a good player.” That’s how everything came about.

I know that he feels bad about the reputation that he has and that he doesn’t want it to be associated with him. Most of the clips and screenshots of him [being toxic] that are used as a reference against him in the community happened well over a year ago. I believe that people shouldn’t be condemned like this and that they should be given a second chance.

I’m glad that I gave him a chance because the outcome has been good thus far. I hope that fans can also give him a chance because people make mistakes and people can be idiots.

And in terms of skills, he’s a player that has a reputation for being a two-trick on the ladder for his Evelynn and Kha’Zix. However, he’s really clear and aware of what’s going on in a game -- not just in his jungle. He understands lane matchups at a very high-level, and he paths and ganks differently according to the matchup.

Did you meet the player during a game?

I saw him typing when I was spectating other people’s games. That’s when I messaged him directly and told him to stop being toxic.

It wasn’t a very nice experience. He was like the stereotypical NA or EU West rager, and his raging was happening in Korean solo queue. I find typing to be pointless. There is almost no reason to type during a game.

How does the communication work between the players?

Quick and short calls, and lots of pings.

Our mid laner speaks really good English. Our support player had also experienced playing overseas, so his English is surprisingly good. In addition to that, for reviews and feedback, we have a translator/interpreter who I personally feel is the second best translator I've ever seen in terms of speed and accuracy, who I'd only put behind Susie Kim in this industry. Malice has also been learning Korean, and it’s been progressing really well.

Do you think that the act of Korean teams picking up foreign talent will trend? Or do you believe this will be something that’ll remain unique to bbq Olivers?

About a year ago, Winners (previously known as Ever8 Winners) was interested in potentially picking up Zven and Mithy. Another player that they looked into was Forgiven. I don’t think that it’s unheard of for a Korean team to look for and contact foreign players, but they would have to truly be at a god-status in the west in order for them to even be able to raise an eyebrow here in Korea. So one, they would need to be at a high status, and two, they would have to be willing to move to Korea. I’d say there's probably less than a handful of players.

Also, it’s very difficult for Korea to compete with NA or China money. A lot of European players go to NA because of this. I don’t know if Korea picking up foreign talent will actually become a future trend, but I do hope that bbq’s run will be successful and show that imports [here in Korea] are actually viable.

Have you met the bbq players? Have you been to the teamhouse?

Yes. I’ve met them. I’ve been to the teamhouse a couple of times.

I actually knew the ADC player prior to joining the team. I had briefly freelance coached him a while ago. When the FA market opened, I was very adamant about him being picked up.

One of the things that I developed a reputation for -- or infamous for -- is how adamant I am about how a player clicks, how he moves, and how his screen looks while playing. I believe these things are defining traits that show their foundation; showing me how much I can work with them while coaching. He was very invaluable as a free agent, and I’m really glad that we were able to get him. He’s like a hidden gem.

What’s your impression on the current roster?

So I have 4 rookies and then Zzus… so I have my work cut out for me. The first few weeks will be a bit rough, as to be expected.

It’s going to be a work-in-progress since we have four players that have never played competitively. It’s like a solo queue team right now because you can’t expect to throw in 5 random players and form a super team. However, it won’t take too long to bang out the problems.

I expect it to be rough right in the beginning, but it’ll smoothen out. I have plenty of experience not only coaching Korean players but teams as well.

In the KeSPA Cup, we play against ES Sharks first, so we can win that. But then... we meet SK Telecom T1 next.

Looking forward, do you think bbq will be at a good spot in terms of power-level out of all the Korean challenger teams?

I haven’t checked all the enemy teams in detail, but no roster truly stands out. There are no standout super teams currently in the challenger series.

I’m not concerned at all, to be completely honest with you. If there are no super teams, it really evens out the playing field. Arguably, during the previous challenger series, a super team was present. Historically, challenger series across the globe always had super teams. This time, it doesn’t seem like there is one.

However, this could be scary during promotions because it’d mean that the LCK teams playing in the relegations won’t meet a potential super team.

The two new challenger teams going into the LCK: SANDBOX Gaming (Previously known as BattleComics), and DAMWON Gaming. They’re really under the radar, and not many western fans know about them. How do you think they’ll fare in the LCK?

I had dinner with Bwipo before his Finals against IG, and he’s someone that I know that is very factual and has no gray areas.

We talked, and Bwipo made it sound like you just couldn’t touch DAMWON or Griffin in scrims, and that there was nothing that Fnatic could come up with to beat them. Now, it is only scrims and a lot of time has passed, but he was very adamant at the time that the two best teams in the world weren’t competing at the tournament.

However, I haven’t seen the scrims personally, so I can’t know for certain.

Is there anything notable for what’s to come next LCK split?

One of the saddest things about the next split is that PraY is not there. I feel like, at least in the west, he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves. I’m genuinely sad that he’s sitting out a split. I believe that PraY and Teddy are the two ADC players that are the best at playing the support ADC playstyle.

Let’s talk about the meta.

I know for a fact that I disagree with just about everyone on that matter. (Laughs) A lot of people believe that aggressive comps are good, but I don’t think that’s true at all. I believe plating in competitive is a placebo. I believe it’s fake, because you don’t sacrifice lane manipulation, recall timings, or map movements just to make a single play. Even if you can argue that the plating is worth 160 gold, what’s more important is the state of the lane and what that does for the matchup.

Additionally, I believe that the comeback experience and bounties incentivize mid-range team compositions or compositions that scale better than the opponent. Coming into Season 9, if the meta stays anywhere near the meta that we have right now, people will come to see that hyper-aggressive comps aren’t good.

Lastly, do you have anything you want to say to the previous fans of bbq Olivers?

Please don’t be alarmed by the foreigner coach or player. Please be open-minded with everything, and expect good things, because I don’t like losing.


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