The Sixth Man - An Introduction to Coaching
The Sixth Man - An Introduction to Coaching
Written by Cameron “Crunch” Russell
I don't know about you, but I love the feeling of helping someone and seeing them succeed. Teaching them all you know and watching them transform that into something amazing, something I could never do. A will to teach, to lead, to coach. (Although we all secretly want to do it so we can suit up and boss players around)
With the legitimization of coaching in Esports being confirmed by Riot's acceptance of the coaching role in their LCS leagues, it has become apparent that the role itself is spreading to all levels of play, however there are not many mentors or sources of information for people to learn how to coach. I'd like to quickly say that it's not as easy as knowing the game, it's far more than just that, and I'm going to outline an introduction to the skills and roles a good coach must adopt.
First of all, lets clear the air of some misconceptions and underline some outlying problems that hinder coaching in the Esports community.
Myth #1:"You have to be highly ranked/experienced player to be a good coach".
This is false in oh so many ways, however being a competitive player can give you a big edge in some factors of game knowledge and understanding the emotions and pressures the players feel. That being said though, it is far, far from being anywhere near compulsory to succeed in a coaching role. Coaches don't require mechanics or the ability to process the different types of information that games like LoL throw at you. Its not a defining factor in the role, and people need to start understanding and respecting that. I will go into what exactly a coach's role is later.
Myth #2: "Good coaching revolves around game knowledge".
Once again this is not as important as the community will lead you to believe. Yes, you will need to know fair amount about the game, but the core values of coaching lie around HOW you convey information so that it is received and applied within the team, as opposed to WHAT you are saying. You could know nearly everything to know about the strategy, metagame and mechanics of the game, but if you cannot translate that into a way which players will receive the information and be able to apply it, then you will not succeed. Coaching revolves around so many more principles including sports psychology, training structure, player mediation and more before the aspect of pure game knowledge is considered.
To lead on from the above myth, I'd like to outline an underlying problem with Esports which is diminishing, but still prominent in many competitive teams. This frustrating stigma floats across the minds of a lot of the developing competitive players in the scene and bars the progression of successful coaching. The line of respect from player to a newly introduced coach.and how tentative the situation really is..
As the competitive community consists of teenage/young adult males behind keyboards, egos will flow and player courtesy isn't generally received for those new to coaching in the scene. LoL went over 3 competitive years in the western scene before coaches were even remotely involved in teams, and its still a fairly new idea. Its very hard to start being told what to do by someone who is generally around the same age, a lower ranking and probably new to the coaching role.
To the players, please try to understand how intimidating it can come across sometimes, and anyone willing to dedicate the time and effort needed to be a good coach should be worth at least a little respect and time.
To the coach, their respect for you shouldn't be expected due to you being in a coaching role, Esports especially will demand you to prove yourself to the team that you are worthy of their respect. This is a challenge, step up to it. Show them that you are there to help them and that you both need each other to grow and be more successful. This means you will need to respect them as well. Here's a few points for your early impressions.
- Confidence is key. When you're having a first meet with a team, introduce yourself with a strong and charismatic voice. There is no appearance for anyone to judge you off on your first meet, just your voice, so you've got to show the players and management you KNOW what you're talking about and charismatic enough to discuss with players.
- Putting in the hard yards. During your first meet with the team you should be soaking up as much information as possible about the players and team. Listen to what they say and note it down, as it will help you understand each player better both in and out of game. Whatever information you manage to note down and soak in you go away and you show them why you're coming in as coach. Analyze as much of it as you can and organize it with the following qualities;
- a) Personalization - paying attention to individual players and catering to their needs. Paying attention to their personality types can help you adjust your approach. This will take a lot of time to perfect, but is a good thing to note down when first doing analytical coaching with players. I touch on this more later
- b) To the point - Players cannot take in every bit of information you have just seen in the replay. Take the biggest issues, translate them in a way which is easy to understand and conveys the core message quickly. This time is NOT for you to show off about every detail in the game (seriously do not rant on about small things in the early days). Start off with identifying a couple of larger core ideas for the team and maybe a smaller individual note personalized to each player to work on.
- c) Scrim Blocks aren't your work hours - Scrim blocks may be the time which you are working with the team the most closely, however the hard yards come in by coming up with a training schedule before the scrims, re-analyzing the scrims after your post-scrim debrief, working with individual players in Solo Queue spectate or theorycrafting, researching strategies and upcoming opponents playstyles and more.
Your players are training themselves for 8 hours+ a day with solo queue, scrims, replays etc. You need to realize that your job should match or preferably exceed theirs. Every minute you put into your job makes their role as a player easier, and when it comes down to it they will need you to help them improve and succeed competitively, you will need them to help validate yourself and succeed. Its a mutual relationship which means a minimum of mutual hours working.
ROLES OF A COACH
Player management crossed with some basic psychology principles play a huge part in team performance. Players aren’t all the same, for some its for fun with friends, others its a job with workmates. Regardless of the reason for playing, each team members psychological state will show in game, so heres a few ideas to think about regarding managing your players physically and mentally.
Your role as a coach is to learn about your players as people, not just as mechanical gaming robots. Each member of your team will be affected differently by events in their lives, in game tilt, team synergy and their personal emotional thresholds. A coach must be able to recognize the strengths and the weaknesses of his players personalities, and be able to know how to remedy their lows, and induce their highs in order to maximize team synergy and performance. There will be fights within the team in which you must act as the peacekeeper, mediating the players and coming to a resolve.
As well as being a peacekeeper you need to be a leader. Your team will feel pressure and stress. Highs from the wins, lows from the upsets and everything in between. Esports is a rollercoaster, and with teams being so youthful, a leadership role is definitely required. You will need to be able to speak up to raise moral and hype your teams up, while also preparing them for a potential upset and to never let their guard down. An 0-2 start in a best of 5 is a terrible situation for a player to be in, but its certainly within a teams grasp to come back. Moral plays a big role, and you should be able to be there to relate to the team in order to pick them back up.
Any personal issues within the team can start to affect in game communication, trust and synergy. When this breaks down and games become harder, the problem only gets exponentially worse with the added stress. You will need to gain their respect enough that they can come to you with any problems, as well as being able to reason and negotiate in player/coach disputes. Player management can also include the enforcement of general rules and structure, to keep players in line and in routines which will best help their performance, along with performance analysis and reporting.
The knowledge aspect of coaching is very broad, but I'll outline a few points to look out for when becoming a coach.
- Understanding the current meta-game.
Being able to analyse the style and general strategy of play that is currently being played not only in your region, but worldwide is a core concept in analysis. Although "meta" is certainly not the only way to win or become a good team, but understanding why it is being used as the best received competitive play-style will allow you to learn the strengths and weaknesses of it. You should be able to identify the individual and combinations of champions which are excelling and pair them with a suitable strategy for your players. Just because your team can play the champs which are "top picks" does not mean they can use them in the same way the more successful teams are, teach your players the why and how of the state of the game, not simply what is OP.
- Game Progression Analysis
Every team generally differs in their synergy throughout the 3 primary stages of the game (Early/Mid/Late), as the players and their communication will have certain strengths and weaknesses revolving around factors such as objective control, laning ability, shotcalling etc. Realizing which of these areas your team is strong and weak at and WHY is a great place to start. Initially you'll want to focus on finding and focusing on the strengths of your team, as that will be the easiest form of synergy in the short term. Your team shows a trend in coming out of laning phase strong? Try to synergize some mid game powerspiking champions such as Corki/Leblanc etc to be able to push that advantage. Once a few basic comps and strategies have been formed, you can simultaneously work to finetune them as well as open up the versatility of the team by working to reduce their weaknesses in the other aspects.
- Identifying Win Conditions
Throws throws throws. Whether it be at baron, or getting caught out split pushing, throwing a game becomes less frequent when the players on a team are aware of the win conditions of their composition. This slightly aligns with the above game progression of early/mid/late game, but introduces a more defined strategy such as what champions the comp relies on, need for vision control, objective control, rotational play, pick/siege/fight strengths etc.
The development of your staple team comps will see similar win conditions appearing with the use of that comp each game, but the development of identification of the win condition by the players against a range of opposition champions is needed. Now that coaches have the ability to participate in pick and ban phase, the basic win conditions of the game can be outlined by the coach, however the theory must be known well enough by the players to be able to adapt and apply the concepts based changing on leads or deficits occurring in game. You should be able to ask the question “what are our win conditions” and have at least one communicative team member explain clearly
- Level 1's
The game doesn't start when laning does, it starts the very second your champion touches down on the rift. The information you are able to gather in the first 2 minutes of the game will help to define the pace and strategy of your laning phases. Some basic strategies to develop as a coach will be knowing a general strategy for a defensive formation which can keep your jungler safe and secure from invades, a scouting invade which can provide information regarding jungle routes and lane-swap scenarios, and a full invade scenario which intends to deny the enemy jungler and or laners.
Information gathered from level 1 could potentially reveal the first 2-3 minutes of movement for the enemy jungler, allowing you to predict his movements and apply appropriate pressure in lanes and have effective ward timings. It may not sound like much, but that could lead to a 7+cs lead in your lanes, which adds up to 500+ global gold lead, which is significant in the early game. These strategies take time to develop with a team, and require clear outlining of not only the placement, but also the timing of wards to ensure maximum coverage.
You can investigate enemy teams level 1 strategies from any past VOD's and note down their ward placements and map their movements. This will assist you in being able to navigate fog and position appropriately. There are apps or even just Microsoft Paint on a mini-map image which will help you to explain and have a visual guide for your players to learn by. This works similar to the whiteboards you see coaches use in basketball Time-Outs. Level 1's are easily taught by a custom game walk-through scenario.
This may sound contradictory to the 'Understanding the Meta' section, but I believe it goes hand in hand. Theorycrafting is the discussion and implementation of new strategies for the team. This is important in the diversification and progress of a team, as introducing new champions and strategies into your teams pool will avoid predictability. Theorycrafting can be done with individual players to expand champion pools, experiment with new builds, or with entire team comps and strategies.
Understanding the current state of the game allows you to theorycraft strategies which compliment or may even expose a weakness in the metagame. Finding new strategies which work in a meta may give you a natural edge over the competition, confusing enemies and drawing unusual targeted bans which could open up some strong core picks.
Whenever a new patch comes out, in the down time of the patch being loaded on or just before your first training on it, a good long discussion on theorycrafting can help you gain this edge early. Discovering the next "Kassadin" champion 5-6 games before other teams could be the difference between 1st place and last.
- Replay Analysis
Replay analysis is an absolute staple in the analysis process of teamplay coaching. The issue with replay analysis is it can be very time consuming if you have a number of replays lined up. While spectating games live or watching replays, collecting timestamps of significant events within the game will help you to quickly navigate and highlight the core incidents in which you want to focus.
Some replays will need to be watched the entire way through as a team, however if you're starting out with a team who isn't at a high level of competition/training yet, a quick time-stamp recap will help the members absorb the information while it is relevant and then put the information you have given them into practice. To keep everyone on the same page, get one player (or yourself) to stream the replay so it is seen in real time with the same camera focus for everyone, making it simpler to communicate ideas.
A great tip which will help to understand the thought processes and communication of players is to record and sync their in game chat to the replay. Programs such as TeamSpeak3 have record functions which you can utilize with ease to help you reap as much information out of every game possible. When watching replays and doing analysis in general, remember to highlight the positive playmaking of the team such as successful team fighting, rotations etc. Many coaches get strung up on pointing out the negatives which can be bad for team morale, and also why would you not want to have reinforcement on strength?
A note to add is that watching your own teams replays is good and all, but if you have set games against a rival team which has online VOD's or replays you can source, these can be more valuable and worth your time in preparation for one off games such as a weekly league. Studying opponents rotations, picks, ward placements and general laning habits goes a long way in preparation. I’ll touch more on this later
- Pick/Ban Phase (PB)
The importance of pick/ban phase is underrated by a surprising amount of teams and players looking to perform at the highest level. This process has changed greatly for the western League of Legends scene in 2015 due to the coaches being able to help their players draft as opposed to the use of the mystical Lemonnation notebook.
PB phase can take hours of preparation and research to get into some form of comfort and order, yet the system is clearly never flawless, thus you must be prepared for anything. Knowing what side you will be for the match will alter your PB drastically, for example as red side will take the toll of forced upon "OP" bans, whilst looking to secure two strong core components of your comp in the second rotation, and leaving a last pick counter for one of your lanes. A bad pick and ban phase can put your team at a significant disadvantage right from spawn, and now that responsibility is laying on YOUR shoulders.
This is one of your biggest jobs now, so don't just wing it or take it lightly if you think the match matters. Researching the enemy team's champ pools and success rate on certain champions is absolutely essential. If there is a high ban rate champion in the meta, make sure the opponent actually plays that champion before banning it. You may be able to force the ban upon them, freeing up a priority pick champion for yourself. Alternatively, there are ways to eliminate multiple champions for the enemy by removing a core component of their team comp.
Some rough examples could be to first pick/ban Thresh if their ADC has high success on immobile Marksmen. An enemy team may often run engage based junglers such as Rengar, Jarvan IV or Vi paired with Orianna. Rather than banning out the jungler, the core part of that composition could come from the Orianna, so taking that away in FP or Ban could hinder the other champions effectiveness. (These examples are generic and not based on current-meta, i’m trying to keep this as open as possible so the meaning of the article itself stays relevant).
Preparing the PB information and having it set out in a flow diagram or something of sorts which can allow you to prioritize and adapt your PB phase with ease while achieving the core goals of your intended composition.
- Individual Coaching
When it comes to one on one coaching I mentioned that you may have to adjust your approach based on each player. Just so you have an idea of what basics you can start looking for in one on one analysis. Use of cooldowns, ward placement and timings, recall times, wave manipulation, in lane trading, teamfighting, itemization, roaming etc. The one on one time is where you can start getting into the nitty gritty and try to improve the player, however watch out for information overload. There are a lot of things you can comment on, but make sure you are on friendly terms with your player before you rip him a new one. This is done in solo queue games
Id like to think that this would act as a very simplified idea of what some of the areas of coaching involve and hopefully encourage you to start applying new thought processes when watching games in order to adopt a coaching mindset.
- Opposition Research/Analysis
Aside from Pick and Ban phase there is a further stress to research your important opponents gameplay. Noting how their play-style functions is a huge advantage to giving your team a strategy to counter and outplay them. If they have strong laners, consider implementing a safe lane-swap situation, allowing you to farm freely and make it through laning phase to an easier mid game transition. Do they build around an all-star Doublelift ADC? Alter your team comp for some point click CC and knock-ups that aren’t blockable by a cleanse to help lock down and kill the hyper-carry.
Check how early they rotate and ward objectives such as Dragon and Baron. Some teams may not ward around the Baron area until it has spawned as pressure goes around Dragon. Note these rough timers from their previous games and prepare to use this vision to sneak a Baron, make a pick etc.
Jungle pathing is a huge one. Junglers are creatures of habit (especially in anything under pro level play). If you can give your team a rough route on his first clearing habits, it will give them the information to ward efficiently, prevent his gank and even be able to time his buffs on the map without seeing them go down for future skirmishing.
This list goes on, I’m just trying to feed you some ideas of how you as a coach can give your team an edge leading in to a game. As you can see, having the ability to provide this sort of information and report the predictable and repetitive habits of the enemy will give strategic edge whilst reducing player stress and pressure in game.
Structuring your teams practices and information is absolutely essential to help with time management, efficiency and flow of information. You may need to be able to build for your team;
- Agendas for training sessions - outlining rough timelines and subjects of discussion within the team.
- Weekly Schedules - showing scrim blocks, player availability, tournament times, meetings, expected player Solo Queue sessions etc.
-Cloud Documents- A collection of shared information such a Champ pools, general strategies, pick/bans, notes of other teams etc for easy access use for all players. (Google Drive Docs)
Developing an easy flow of information as well as a structured player environment will help develop a progressive habitual training regime. Having your players all on the same page in regards to training, attendance and information availability should help to increase synergy along with the amount each player gets out of their practices.
GETTING INTO IT
Getting into the scene as a coach at a competitive level wont be too easy without prior experience, but hopefully a few tips could help you to work your way up the ranks. Find a friend who is a rank you think would be appropriate for you to coach (your rank is irrelevant, if you think you can coach higher try it!).
Try to spectate a couple of his games and practice some of the one on one analysis to get some of the basics down. If he has a ranked team of sorts, ask if you can do some spectating, analyst work for them and provide feedback on their games. Im sure that you can find a team that would take FREE feedback from an external source. If they agree, do your best to write up an impressive report on their game and present it to them. Make a good impression with some nice information in there and you could just land yourself your first team. If not try lowering the rank down a bit and trying again.
This process is about the initial experience and confidence building along with building good habits. Every person in that team will have a friends list extending with other higher ranked players. Do a good job with that first team and you could land yourself a referral to a higher ranked team. This is just one way to do this. You could also try posting on forums with some of the work you presented (or maybe even analyze a competitive game from challenger series etc). Network as much as you can and put in the hard yards to provide some good content and people would have to be stupid to not take you on board.
I would like to point out that until you get to the highest level of competitive Esports you will most likely not receive any payment for your services as a coach currently. However with the way the scene is developing, putting your foot in the door and working up the ranks will start to get you recognized as long as you have what it takes. I hope this helped give some insight into coaching at an introductory level, and there are more resources and analytical articles you can find around the web to help you learn more and more in-depth techniques as you go.
I hope to see you in the scene soon, suited up on stage as “The Sixth Man” of your squad.
Cameron “Crunch” Russell