Fnatic's YoungBuck, on the weight of expectations they face: "It's like the TSM syndrome: if you lose a game, you're almost front page of Reddit."

Fnatic are back on track after posting their second 2-0 week in a row on Week 7.

Once at the bottom of the standings, they have made a full transition to the middle of the pack and into the playoff race. In fact, their record during the second half of the season is the best across the board.

Following their victories, Inven Global sat down with the team’s head coach, Joey “Youngbuck” Steltenpool. The coach spoke of the weight of expectations placed upon Fnatic, his evolution as a head coach, and Fnatic’s performances.

Below is the full transcript of the interview, slightly edited for clarity.


You've made a transition from team director to head coach, and the team had a pretty rocky start to the season. Caps leaving meant that everyone needed to develop their willingness to carry in a way, and trying to identify someone who's willing to take the mantle. It was tricky overall, but ever since the end of Week 2, things seem to look much better. Can you elaborate on all of these transitions (you back into coaching, and the team into a front runner)?

In the end of the year, we reviewed what we wanted to do with the team and the staff. Considering that I was doing the brunt of the work, most of the teaching, and I was still involved in drafting a lot as well, it made a lot of sense that I was moved to the head coach position. At the same time, I didn't like all the managing aspects – for example, the communication between the team and Fnatic [the organization]: my heart was just not in telling the players when we have a content [initiative] or a sponsor event. So, for me, it was [as easy as] 1+1=2.

My father is a very clever man, and he warned me: "No matter what happens this year, it will probably not be as good as last year. Be prepared to get a lot of flame." The standards for Fnatic are so high, because we made the Worlds finals, so people were expecting an 18-0 split or something along those lines, really dominant games. I did know, going into this, that this was not going to be a job that will get me a lot of praise; but I felt like since I was doing most of the work last year, and I was going to do the same this year, it made sense to put me on stage. I have drafting experience.

Then we have the team's transition: the thing that hurt us the most is that the meta shifted away from a mid to late-game approach. In the past, we got a 2k gold deficit, but we had a really strong team-fighting composition you could get away with. Now, there's a lot of snowballing mechanics like Turret Plating; river control and jungle pathing are really important; getting one or two kills or flashes... All of those things start to add up very quickly when you have Plating. If one laner gets a kill and gets some plating, it's almost impossible to lane against, and the game usually snowballs really quickly from an individual point of view. We struggle a lot with that.

When I came in Fnatic in 2018, I was only focusing on everything past 15 minutes, because that was the bread and butter of G2 as well, and we were very successful with that. Did I coach the early-game? Of course, we had many plays for it as well, but it wasn't as polished: it wasn't clear macro. The meta forced us to learn that aspect of the game, and I think that our assistant coach, Mephisto, has helped a lot because he has a few macro concepts for the early game that are very solid for the team.

All in all, we had a big challenge: teaching early-game macro. Now that we're here, it's a good chance of looking back at it: at 0-4, I was really unhappy. But now that I've learned so much about the early-game and the macro surrounding it, losing with a winning team like this, it was a very good challenge. Now that I've overcome it in some way – we haven't made the playoffs yet – I feel like a much more complete coach.

Your father's words are pretty interesting! It's interesting that he saw it coming, even though the meta also decided in that. Of course, people would scrutinize everything when you raise the stakes, and that adds even more pressure.

Yeah. First of all, we set the bar very high by making the Worlds finals, and I felt like our roster didn't change that much. My father told me to keep in mind that there are very high expectations [on us] as a team with a very large fan base, so a lot of people were scrutinizing us last year. It's like the TSM syndrome: if you lose a game, you're almost front page of Reddit. This year pretty much cannot go better than last year, so you will probably be scrutinized and receive some negative comments about whatever is going on.

Of course, this split was very extreme: only 0-4 was not something that we expected. But it was more in the line of: if we finish second, it's a failure. It's a failure for Reddit, for our team, and also for the public. [From my position,] you will be scrutinized because you just went into a head coaching position, and people might question your ability to coach.

Especially since Fnatic dominated EU LCS, and since you have dominated it on G2 as their head coach.

Sure, we dominated the LCS for four splits straight, and we went undefeated domestically for 400 days. Having said that, I don't feel that I was a good coach in G2. The first year in Fnatic was where I developed a lot. I do feel that my last year on G2 is when I learned some principles and the basics of what I wanted my coaching to be around gameplay-related, and I started to implement that in Fnatic. I continued building on what I thought was good, and I learned as time went by.

Now that we're here, going into this year, I considered myself quite a hotshot coach to be honest, and I was pretty arrogant, I would say. But looking back, I wasn't nearly as good as I should be. Then again, I'm also happy because, every year, I want to look back at myself and say: "Wow, you were a really bad coach last year." That means that progress has been made and that I'm going somewhere.

Now, let's talk about Fnatic itself: something I saw about the team, and maybe the meta demanded it, was bot lane centricity at times during the late game. But now, you look at the situation right now when the game is different on that front. Then you look at Mephisto and go: "What now?"

During the Spring split, there was a crit meta, and playing around bot lane was pretty normal – it was the best way to play League of Legends, like it had been for the last eight years until now. In the summer, the meta changed, and AD carries got hit very hard. Then we started playing around mid, which was more impactful at that time. At Worlds, it was a bit of a hybrid: we played some games around mid, some around bot, and never around top.

It feels like playing around top is usually not good League of Legends, because playing around top lane means that the enemy plays around bot lane, and two people are ahead instead of one. If the two people in the bot lane are ahead, they usually influence the map much more than a top laner does on his own – there's of course a lot of exceptions. Even now, we feel like playing around bot or mid is the best way to play League of Legends, but it doesn't mean that you shouldn't give any resources to Bwipo. That is the one part that we really struggle with.

[Let's say:] we play for this lane first, then we switch to playing for that lane during the game. It's something we usually struggle with; so, usually we go into the game and [decide] that one guy needs to get ahead, then we play in a certain way.

We've talked about a lot of things, but maybe there is something more that you would like to add. I will let you do the part.

We went 0-4 early in the split, but I think a lot of that wasn't because we were worse than the opposing teams. If you look at our Schalke 04 and Team Vitality games, we had insane drafts, but we lost both games falling behind at Level 1 [due to] shenanigans that we didn't discuss before the games. We were not going to do an invade, but I left the stage and saw us doing something level 1 and falling 1k gold behind. I think players should have that creativity: sometimes, it goes well as well. I don't blame them. But it's more: we lose games to opponents that we can easily beat, and you lose at Level 1, so you don't even get to show good League of Legends.

The SK loss: we were just not good enough. I will 100 percent take it. [As for Origen,] if they pick another champion than Vayne, we win the game. We know [about] Vayne into Galio; we're Fnatic, we should know better. Then we go into the Misfits game, and I probably drafted the worst draft of my career, fair and square.

It felt really bad, and it felt like we didn't get to see Fnatic, and everyone was trampling over us and saying we were terrible – worse than we actually were. It's important to say that, because I feel we weren't a 0-5 team even back then. We could have beaten Vitality and Schalke in Week 2 for example. Schalke 04 had a 6-0 AD carry at 12 minutes, and it took them 37 minutes to end the game. We would have won the game if we didn't fall that far behind that early. Vitality also struggled to end the game.

When it comes down to it, we were a bad team in the early game, but not as we showed on stage. Things were exaggerated, and the score line was not representative of our skill level because of what happened on stage.

As for my transition to head coach, this is more towards Dylan: even last year, I was grilling him for drafts and not really pushing what is best vs. comfort, but I now realize that it is a very difficult thing to do, so I feel really bad that I was so hard on him sometimes. It's a very difficult job: you always have to weigh if the "right pick" is actually the right pick and not the comfort pick – and the pick you know that the player will be happy with and is going to be really motivated to win with and put his best effort into.

(Photo Credits by Riot Games)

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