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The perfect League of Legends coaching staff

·2554 words·12 mins
Gary <Tolki> Mialaret
Gary Mialaret
Gaming, Software Development, Data Science, Fitness
Table of Contents

How to organize coaching in League of Legends is still a pretty contentious point. Each team has its own way of doing it, and the coaching staffs varies wildly from one team to the other. Working at Splyce with maybe the most renowned coaching staff in the west taught me a lot.

But what is the perfect LoL coaching staff? How many people do you need, and what should they be doing?

In this article, I will focus only on gameplay-related positions. A team also needs dedicated out-of-game positions, overseeing physical and mental wellbeing, but those are outside my area of expertise.

During my time at Splyce I have experienced a successful coaching organization that grew an LEC underdog team into a Worlds quarter finalist in one year. I have also spent a lot of time thinking about where that organization could be improved, and I have developed a vision for some fundamental tenets of an ideal coaching staff.

Before we dive too deeply into what this means, let us talk a little bit about the Splyce organization and how it informed my vision for an ideal coaching staff

Splyce’s competitive staff

Splyce’s competitive staff

Splyce’s organization #

At Splyce, we had the chance of being a team that emphasised coaching a lot. Over the course of the year we built a strong coaching staff that peaked during our world run. From head coach to strategic coach to analyst to data analyst to lane-specific coaches, we had it all.

Among those, we had three main in-house positions.

Duke was the head coach in LEC terms, but his official title was strategic coach. He oversaw training, overall strategy, and on-stage picks and bans. He usually would be the first one to give feedback after a scrim, and focused a lot on map movement and decision-making. As he was doing picks and bans, he needed to have a great understanding of the current meta, existing counter picks, and team compositions. This means he needed to digest information from multiple sources, from players to analysts through other coaches.

Peter was Splyce’s head coach, overseeing both Splyce and Splyce Vipers/Mad Lions. He handled a lot of the opponent’s scouting but was still close to the players. In case of motivation dips, he would be the first interlocutor. He also watched an insane amount of League of Legends, from all the leagues in the world, including a lot of pro view. He might very well be the person who watched the most LoL content in 2019!

Mac was Duke’s shadow, in a good sense. He doubled up on Duke’s role, offering balance to it and presenting a counterpoint when needed. He was instrumental in draft preparation, scrims feedback, and team strategy. He would often give feedback in scrims after Duke, going deeper on specific points or raising ones that went unnoticed. He also balanced negative feedback with positive reinforcement when needed.

To those were added three “remote” positions, of which I was part of. When I say remote, I mean that most of the work was done outside of the usual team organization, even though all three of us where there IRL at some point.

Jensen handled a lot of gameplay-related presentations. He would often do a presentation at the beginning of the week, helping the team find a specific point to improve on. He also handled a lot of the scouting work, presenting the team with scouting reports during the week, with the info then being reinforced by Mac on game day.

Malaclypse was a top-lane positional coach, heavily focusing on Csacsi during scrims and giving him instant feedback by message after each game. He also worked closely with Orome, our academy top laner, and helped improve our understanding of top lane matchups. Thanks to him, we understood better how to play the matchups and influence them with mid and jungle pressure.

Finally, as a data analyst I directly supported all those positions, trying to supply everybody with information relevant to their position. I was working most closely with Duke, but would regularly interact directly with players to talk about possible picks or new builds. Whenever I would see someone ask a question on the team chat, I would try and see if it was answerable with available data by crafting relevant metrics.

So we were six, with some responsibilities crossing from one to another, but all bringing different information and skills to the team.

Answering the team’s needs #

In my eyes, a team needs:

  • Strong training direction and structure. Making sure players’ time is not wasted should be the #1 focus of any team.
  • Picks and bans preparation, done closely with players, to make sure everybody is on the same page regarding match-ups and compositions.
  • Map movement (“macro”) and communication coaching, as it is the most important skill in competitive while being almost nonexistent in solo queue.
  • Scouting reports, since making sure the team is ready to exploit weaknesses of opponents is crucial.
  • Moral support and clear interlocutors for the players. Pro player’s life is rough and taxing, and making sure the players know they are well supported and taken care of goes a long way.

At Splyce, we checked all those boxes one way or another. Some points were a joint effort from all the coaching staff, while others were more specific to one or two people.

Optimizing staff #

In my eyes, the perfect coaching staff should work closely together to only present already-digested information to the players. Players’ time and focus are a premium, and any useless meeting or faulty information can lead to days of lost training. It should also focus on being strongly structured so every member can focus on their strengths while still benefiting from the expertise of others.

I will not shock anybody when I say a setup of head coach, strategic coach, and analyst is likely the best for League of Legends. Despite this, I think it is important to understand what each person is supposed to bring to the team.

Players’ time is the most valuable commodity, and the head coach role is to ensure only necessary information gets to them. On the other side, the strategic coach and analyst work together and provide the head coach with support to take the right decisions.

Players’ time is the most valuable commodity, and the head coach role is to ensure only necessary information gets to them. On the other side, the strategic coach and analyst work together and provide the head coach with support to take the right decisions.

Head coach #

There needs to be a leading figure who will be the main interface between players and coaching staff.

They need to:

  • Lead scrims reviews as it is the main opportunity to pass information from the coaching staff to the players
  • Regularly have one-on-one meetings with players and help them break through any plateau they face
  • Be the one defining training goals through interacting with both the players and the coaching staff
  • Support the players and protect them when needed

Somebody like Kkoma in 2015–2016 embodies my vision of a head coach, being very close to the players while being their bridge to the rest of the coaching staff.

As you might have remarked, I haven’t talked about game knowledge for this position. I think the role of the head coach is not to bring knowledge, but to absorb it while moving it from one part of the team to the other. Of course, good understanding of the game at a professional level is crucial. But what matters most is being a good listener, and once they are done gathering information they need to be able to take the right decision.

As you might see, this is a tough position, requiring charisma, human skills, game knowledge, and dedication. At Splyce it was split among multiple people, but I am sure that as esports develop people capable of doing it alone will emerge. I also think it is clearly different from a general manager position, as it is linked only to competitive performance.

Overall this is mostly a management position, overseeing both players and staff, and I think someone with a background in project management or similar would be the best suited for it.

Strategic coach #

Most teams already have strategic/assistant coaches, but they usually act more as a secondary coach, reinforcing the work of the head coach and supporting them.

I think that in a perfect staff setup, their roles are clearly differentiated. Where the head coach is the one helping the information flow, the strategic coach is the one creating it.

Therefore, I see them needing to:

  • Have the deepest game knowledge on the team, from lane matchups to macro through team compositions
  • Help the head coach take decisions by presenting him relevant information
  • Help players improve by giving more targeted feedback than the head coach

Duke fits my image of a good strategic coach, and it was actually his job’s name. He has great game knowledge and was the one giving information to the rest of the team, but wasn’t always the one managing the players individually.

As the driving energy behind the team’s game understanding, the strategic coach needs to be irreproachable in regards to game knowledge. This doesn’t mean presenting their opinion as fact, but being able to form a plausible argument for it while being willing to change. Seeing that some pro players are reticent to listening to coach’s advice, being a good orator and debater are also must-have skills in my mind.

Since the strategic coach needs to win people to their way of thinking, I think ex professional players are a great fit. Most pro players don’t have what it takes to become a strategic coach, but the ones who do will be a prized commodity on the market. Knowing the game from the inside is an asset that is hard to replace.

And to properly validate their opinions and convince the head coach as well as the player, they need information.

Analyst #

In my eyes, the analyst is the ultimate “shadow” position. The analyst should be backing everyone off on the team, and be a very selfless position.

For me, the analyst’s role is to:

  • Validate the strategic coach’s opinion about the game
  • Make sure the team’s game understanding doesn’t become inbred and bring objectivity to the process
  • Analyze the opponents (with data and VODs)
  • Do the research pertaining to any question players or coaches have about the game

As I see it, the main interlocutor to the analyst should be the strategic coach. The strategic coach should actively seek validation from the analyst before bringing information to the rest of the team. Conversely, the analyst should go to the strategic coach with new information regularly, making sure they are aware of the latest trends before anybody.

Since analysts are almost hidden, it is very hard to know which ones to take as examples here. In my eyes, the perfect analyst mixes data and VODs to understand the game and the opponents, then uses them both to paint a clear picture. Most analysts are focused towards VODs watching, but I do not think it is sustainable.

In my opinion, analysts need to be data-driven at heart but they don’t necessarily need to be the ones building the tools. If they are unable to build tools themselves, working with a developer is the best solution.

With my vision of the position, I think a technical background is key for this position. Being able to not fall for statistical fallacies or understand what a meaningful sample size is is crucial. More than a degree, strong critical thinking skills matter.

The trifecta #

It is not by chance that I think a coaching staff needs to be composed of one management position, one endemic position, and one technical position. I think those are the backgrounds and experiences that will best create the environment players need to succeed.

The head coach, strategic coach, and analyst should complete each other to offer players the most efficient training environment possible.

You can of course expand the coaching staff with remote and part-time positions like positional coaches. Giving players a direct interlocutor with deep knowledge about their role can of course help.

But the reception will vary a lot from player to player and from positional coach to positional coach, so I do not see it as mandatory. Players might also find this information through their usual contacts or other pros and find a positional coach to be extraneous.

Picks and bans #

You might have noticed that I didn’t touch upon on-stage picks and bans responsibility in my explanation of roles. It is because I think this depends a lot on the exact people you get in the three coaching positions.

I think by default the strategic coach should be the one doing picks and bans on stage, as they are the ones with the deepest LoL knowledge.

But ideally, I would prefer the head coach to do it, as they should have been fed the necessary information from both the analyst and the strategic coach. They should also be the ones with the best decision-making skills and understanding of the players.

To say it another way, I think drafting is not about discussion, but about the application of what has been trained. If you are finalizing your drafting plans on stage, something went very wrong in your preparation. Opponents might pick unexpected champions, but the deviations from the original should be minimal if preparation was good.

Riot might allow multiple coaches on stage very soon, but I also think it is needed to have a single voice with the players during the drafting phase to avoid chaos. Therefore I think it should always be one coach with the analyst, and the analyst should interact scarcely, if any.

The right stuff #

Finally, I think everybody on the coaching staff needs to be a paragon of professionalism. Players in esports are young, with no professional experience, and need examples set by the coaches.

This means that anything that wouldn’t fly in a standard company shouldn’t fly in an esports team coaching staff. Tardiness, useless meetings, misplaced ego, unkemptness, poor use of communication tools, inability to present ideas, or inability to give good and actionable feedback should be instant deal-breakers.

As esports will mature, teams will be asking for more. Some teams might currently not see the benefits of “traditional” work requirements, but they exist for a reason. Esports is about excellence and competition, and teams should be asking for more than traditional companies, not less.

Closing thoughts #

A million things in LoL coaching are deserving of standalone articles. Draft preparation, scrims, scrim and VOD reviews, … Every single part of the coaching job is deep and worthy of attention.

But this blog post is aimed only at covering the human organization of the coaching staff, so we are reaching its end!

I am more than willing to talk about it on Twitter, especially if you disagree, and to change my point of view. Iteration is always the solution!

If you want to know more about my year 2019, you can read my previous article which was much more personal. See you after the Worlds finals.