Golden Guardians' head coach, Nick "Inero" Smith, spoke with us about GG's season and their roster swap between Yuri "Keith" Jew and Choi "huhi" Jae-hyun. He also detailed what makes the OCE and other minor region players special, and how he approaches coaching in a unique manner that helps players learn more about themselves and the game.
This interview was conducted during Week 7 in the LCS.
Watch the video interview on our YouTube channel or read the transcript below.
Parkes Ousley here with Inven Global, joined by Inero on his birthday! Happy Birthday Inero!! *Throws confetti*
Oh my god, you actually have confetti.
Yeah! Happy Birthday, you guys just got a win, I know you're pushing for playoffs, you also just made a roster swap - what is the team focused on right now?
Our focus is just on getting better in practice. There's not like a focus of, "Ah, sh** we gotta make playoffs," or, "Ah, we gotta beat this team this week." Nah, we're just focused on ourselves. Just focused on improving.
So I know you talked about the swap a little bit in the pre-game interview, can you expand on that at all and your mindset there. My criticism of it was that you chose Keith at the start of the season so you must be aware that he isn't as good. To me it just looks like a push for playoffs, but what all is going on with the swap?
Yeah, it's definitely not done as a playoff push. I think that would be pretty dumb to do actually, like, "Hey let's swap this up, that'll work to get us to playoffs." Yeah it was a really tough decision. Obviously coming into the split we kind of knew what to expect from Keith. And the reason the decision was so hard for me to make was because none of this had to do with a problem with Keith. Keith did what was asked of him, he got better on all the things that we asked of him. He was constantly improving and getting better.
But we came into the split with the expectation that we had a lot of good communicators on our team. And we do, we do have good communicators, but in our core group of three people in mid game, where it's our support, jungle, and either ADC or mid laner, we needed consistency for various things when it came to communication. And that wasn't something that was Keith's strength. He's already trying to improve on all these other things so it's really hard for him to add that. And he did, still. But the level that we needed was already being provided by huhi.
And the reason for huhi not starting at the beginning of the split had to do with a bunch of other factors. Which played in just from how they were subbed in last year in the LCS. And unfortunately, we ended up in the case where this is what we need, we needed this from huhi. Throughout the split, we had Samuel Bradley, our two-way player coach, working with our players in Academy that we see as a viable transition up to LCS constantly doing things with them and making sure they're both working on the same things that the LCS team is doing and also on little individual goals they can have to make them valuable pieces for the LCS team.
So huhi was getting constant feedback from Sam and I think he did well with it. Jae has gotten so much better than he was last year and that's good to see. I just want to make sure it's not seen as a thing of like, "Hey, we're doing this because Keith is bad - or that we think Keith is bad." I think Keith is f****** good. I'm really happy with Keith and what he's done this split, and I would still be in the same position where I'm happier to have Keith than some of the other supports that are out there.
Thank you for that insight. It's interesting for us to see, so I appreciate the context. what's the plan moving forward? Will you reevaluate often, how's it going to look?
This is what we told both the guys is that this is most likely a thing where we're committing to the change so that we know. I think it's pretty unfair to go in and say, "Hey we're going to start off this week and give you three days of scrims and the other three days of scrims." That makes it really hard on the team to also gel and see.
Because at the start of this week, when we started with huhi, it didn't start off that great. Like we kinda ran it down in some scrims and stuff initially because the communication stuff is different. And the team setup is just a little bit different. But towards the end, all of our games felt and looked more like the one we played today vs. DIG. And it's not like the game was perfect, it was really slow, but it was controlled with us doing exactly what we wanted to do in the game.
And whether the decisions were right or not is the main issue rather than, "We weren't on the same page for this," which is the issue we were running into before. A lot of people hit on the isolated death stuff that was happening and like, that's unfortunately from that [lack of communication] unfortunately.
So I think it's a thing where we're sticking with this, sticking with giving huhi time, and if it's something that we have to reevaluate at the end of the splits, then that's what it is. We want to constantly make sure we're putting the best foot forward given the 10 people that we have.
And you know, if this could be something that Keith improves on then maybe he's the better person, because I think Keith is a great f****** laner for us to have. But right now, it's a commitment till the end of the split for sure, and we made sure both of the guys knew that outside of like disaster stuff.
I think that's a healthy approach, but I will miss Keith. It was nice watching his progression, as well as the progression of Golden Guardians as a whole. Before the split, a lot of people were claiming GG would be a 9th or 10th place team no matter what, but I think you've proven to be better than that. How did you deal with that criticism/expectation?
Expectations from people are always going to be off. No one - if they're not working the scene - has the best idea of what they're looking at. It's too difficult. Up until Pro View was here, people would have the same type of defined expectation of players from the outside looking in, and you'd have absolutely no way to know that. Unless you're watching all their solo queue games when they're streaming, I mean spectating their games, you don't get to see all the sh** they're doing with their mouse, you don't see any of those inputs.
So Pro View has definitely helped people start to look at that, but it's not like people have the best expectations for anything yet. Of course, people were accurate that Keith was going to start as a bottom tier support. Like that was our expectation! That's literally what we were looking at. We wanted someone that was open minded and actually able to play the game well in lane and had an understanding of what he wanted to do in lane. And Keith did that. Keith did really well with that.
But our expectations were met with what we had, and our internal expectations are that this team should be able to get playoffs. We have a bunch of people who are very open minded and want to work together as a team. And they're good teammates. So it's really on us as the coaching staff to bring that out of them. So if we can actually give them good direction as a team and help them build up on concepts and learn how to play the game, then yeah of course we'll be a playoff team.
And I know people had pretty low expectations saying, "Oh the players are bad." And I guess I don't have this crazy reputation of, "Inero is always winning LCS," or anything like that, so people probably think, "Oh this guy is sh** too!" And then with Aaron and Sam coming out, they're coming from Australia, Raz is coming in coaching for the first time in a long time, people just have low expectations of the coaching staff.
But ehh, I'm so happy with all our players, I'm happy with everyone we ended up with. And I'm happy with our staff too. Like we're not where we want to be yet, but the way we improve is so much better than a lot of other teams are improving. So I'm really confident in it.
Good! And as far as your reputation, from what I've seen people respect you! But maybe not on Reddit, who knows! But what I'm more concerned with is the players. I haven't seen any other coach have the same respect and following from former players as you. It's pretty clear to me that every player you've had before appreciates their time with you. How is it that you approach coaching that allows you to have this impact on these players?
It's obviously probably not like that with every player I've worked with, but that's honestly just kind of the goal as a coach, to make sure that people learn something from their experience with you. Or felt like they improved as a person or a player, just from being around you and learning things from you.
For me, honestly, for practice I didn't have the best attempt at it with the first GG(S) roster I worked with, but I took a really hard look at myself with how I was doing things when I moved to Academy and it's a big reason why I moved to Academy because I felt like I really needed to change how I was approaching things. But I really make sure that I have very set ideas that we focus on during the week, and everyone has their own level of goals that they can look at.
Like coming in this year, the reason we hired two former professional players for our coaching spots is because I want players to get individual feedback for things they're doing early on in the game that I'm not necessarily going to be able to look at all the time. I've set up these concepts as team concepts I want us to focus on, and I look at those things through the game and obviously I don't have the same perspective as a former player.
I've definitely been a high elo player, but at this point it's been so long since I was at that point that I don't have the same perspective I used to. So having guys like that is really important to help players get another view at how they're looking at things with someone who really does understand it at a relatively similar level to them.
And then I'm focusing on the team concepts of, "This is how we should play out the game, these are the things we should look for." And then the day to day team environment issues, you know the normal team sh** is my focus. And I just try to have it very zeroed in on something. A few teams I've worked on, when I worked as an assistant, or when I just looked in on a team, it ends up being a lot of things where they just fast forward through the game starting at 0 minutes and then talking about every mistake that happened, and no one improves that way.
That's always been one of my biggest focuses, just never do that. Focus on one or two things per game, get better at this. I think at the start of the year - it was actually when we had Jatt, he came in and watched our scrims one day - that whole week we just said we were going to Herald flip in scrims.
We didn't care what was happening in the game, at that time, we're gonna flip. And then we learned from that. "This time is bad because of this, this time is good because of this." And even though we had our own ideas of, "we think it's good in these conditions," we wanted to do it even when it was bad. And it gave us a better understanding of knowing when we can stay during what timings. And it just helps you understand things deeply when you focus on something like that.
That's kind of always been my thing, it's a pretty good way to improve. I kind of picked up on doing that based on my experience with leadership experience growing up.
That's cool, I'm a big fan of running drills, but again, I think it's clear to me that there's a more personal aspect there based on what I've seen.
I just want people to know that I care about them improving. I'm not in it to win for me. Like, I want to win but... I mean f*** at the end of the day I'm a coach, I won't look cool. Who cares? I want everyone else get better. I think that's my biggest thing, I like seeing other people improve and get better and be happy because they got better.
What is your fascination with the OCE league? I know you have FBI on your team and you brought over the guys you mentioned earlier, but then a bunch of other guys came over this year and even they talked about you. So what did you see there?
First, it's not like a fascination with Australia.
Hahaha I probably worded that wrong!
Haha. No no, it's okay. Like people look at it like that. Like, "Oh look at this guy, he's importing his Australian friends," or people from that. I think Wildcard talent are good. I think people are pretty bad at identifying talent in the first place. These guys aren't going to be as smart about the game in a lot of ways because their region kind of inhibits them from doing that as players. And I think there're guys that just have raw talent and they're not in the right place to mold that.
Like my biggest thing was just finding people like that and helping them get that opportunity. So because I went and worked in Australia, the easiest avenue for me to find people like that was through Australia, just because I had connections with people there so I talked a lot with them. And I tried to help those players, and I still try to. Like, "Just understand these are things you need to work on that you're not necessarily doing. Your practice isn't giving you this and you need to work on this to be a pro player."
As you'll notice, this year with us picking up Can "Closer" Çelik that's another wildcard region. I really think wildcard region players are good. There are people there people should be looking at, and there's no reason they shouldn't be. Outside of I guess, "I can't get a visa for this person because of where they live." I don't know.
I've always hated the idea of just importing someone from Korea or China or whatever because we know those regions are good. Sometimes, it's just kind of a cop out, "I wan't a good player now because I can't teach them." And I really believe in myself to grow players and help them become better pros. And eventually they'll be top players. I tried to do it with Lost when he was on Fox, but Fox was a mess, so I never got to see that one out. But I still obviously have really high hopes for Lawrence, and I hope he does have a successful career and then it turned into doing the same thing for FBI.
And yeah I feel like FBI is a great player. He's got his own issues, but I'm trying to help him get through those and improve. And then on staff, we interviewed a lot of staff, and I even told management, "I want you guys to be in the interviews and give me your honest opinions of people we're looking at," because I don't want to just come and be that I'm biased towards these guys and people see it that I'm biased towards them. They were just the best interview candidates by far. It wasn't even close. They're just more passionate about this.
The reason they're playing in Australia is not for money, they're not making anything over there. They're just passionate about it, and it shows in their work and what they're willing to put in. So they just won out over every other candidate because of that.
I think that last point is really interesting. It's not one that people usually focus on, but yeah if they're not making the same salary as NA, China, Korea, then they must be in it because they really want it.
They're in it because it's their thing man. They've dumped their life into it, so it's kinda like they have to do this or... Sh**! It's kinda over. And they'd have to fall back on some other options. So yeah they're just passionate people, and that's who I want to work with. That was the whole idea behind building our team in the first place with players and staff.
I want to work with passionate people who actually care about getting better as a team. And that's who we put together, so that's how I knew we weren't going to be 10th. Nobody was going to accept that from each other. At all.
One last thing before we go, what are your career aspirations? You've been around a few years, you've been on a few teams, what are the next steps for you?
I mean there's always going to be the boring ones, like "Let's win." Yeah I want to win some sh**! This is probably the first time I've been kind of stabilized in an org in my entire career. Like it's been a tough time even finding that, just to build up a foundation of anything.
So that's probably my biggest aspiration, just to settle down in a team and build out a long term vision of how to make players better, how to have infrastructure and process with people. That's kind of my biggest focus, I really want to get that and be set with that, because I think that's what will lead to the winning thing, and yeah winning is the ultimate goal.