November 20, 2020
League of Legends

The evolution of coaching in League of Legends

Over the years, we have seen a growing importance of the roles of coaches within the League of Legends ecosystem. While in the early years of the game there were plenty of teams that didn’t have a single coach, it is now rare to see professional organisations without a complete coaching staff, each with a specialized role. 

We’ll take a look at the historical developments that the role has seen, as well as discuss some of the most iconic coaches that we have seen throughout the years within competitive League of Legends. Coaches like Joey ‘Youngbuck’ Steltenpool, Bok ‘Reapered’ Han-gyu and the greatest coach in the history of the game, Kim ‘kkOma’ Jeong-gyun, have all left a big impression on the scene and can’t be ignored when looking at the success of the organisations that they worked at. 

Young and fresh

In the early days of League of Legends (season 1 and 2), the coaching position was rarely filled. This, of course, made a lot of sense considering the incredibly young age of the competitive scene as a whole. The game itself was still in a state of flux and there was a decided lack of resources and a structural professional approach to the game.

Esports, outside of the Starcraft 2 scene, which was built upon the foundations of Brood War, was also fairly fragmented and consisted mostly of single tournaments and weeklies as opposed to regularly scheduled competitions. While coaches might have been part of organisations during these early seasons, they are not listed as an official part of the roster on Leaguepedia and were not mentioned on the broadcast. 

Laying the foundation

More attention didn’t come to the coaching role until SKT T1 started their dynasty, flanked by the greatest coach we have seen within the game’s 10 years as an esport: Kim ‘kkOma’ Jeong-gyun. While I feel like it is too easy to completely heap the creation of coaching staff structures on a single individual, it is important to note the significance of kkOma and his impact on the League of Legends scene. It was in no small part due to his guidance that Bengi and Faker were able to take the World Championship three times, a feat no other players or coaches have been able to recreate since. One of his most famed decisions was banning the cheese Miss Fortune support in the semi’s against Rox Tigers after seeing his team losing to it twice – a call not many coaches might have made, and one that turned out to be enough to let SKT secure their finals spot and a subsequent Worlds win.

A coach that similarly has garnered fame is ex-C9 coach Reapered, who was one of the most prolific coaches who heavily involved himself in the drafts and has been one of the few consistent factors in the C9 roster. While the LCS traditionally has performed abysmally on the international stage C9 as a whole has a fairly positive track record with them, even reaching the semifinals in 2018. 2020 was the first time in the organisation’s history that they failed to make Worlds. Reapered has been praised for his talent development as well, discovering and honing the skills of players like Eric ‘Licorice’ Ritchie and Robert ‘Blaber’ Huang. 

The influence of a coaching staff

While singular coaches used to be the norm, we can look at a more recent example of how coaching staff has developed within League of Legends: LEC’s Mad Lions. Coming in with a rookie roster, the expectations were fairly low amongst the community. Unbeknownst to all, Head of Coaching Stuff Peter Dun (now head coach for EG), Head coach James ‘Mac’ MacCormick and Christophe ‘Kaas’ van Oudheusden had turned the rookie roster into a force to be reckoned with. 

The Mad Lions team would become one of the strongest  teams within the LEC for a large part of the year, getting third place in Spring and holding the first place position for a long time in Summer. While they dropped off near the end and their rookies clearly were not ready for a tournament the size of Worlds, with them dropping out unceremoniously in playins, it still speaks to the skill of the coaches that a team without any established names could become such a successful and cohesive unit in a short amount of time.

From shadows to bright stars

In conclusion, we have seen coaches go from being shadows in the distance to being on the forefront of organisations, with each match being started with the two of them shaking hands. In conjunction to that, there has been more and more specialization within the realm of coaches – one can only imagine where we will be in 10 years!

Who is your favourite coach? What do you think is the greatest coaching achievement within League of Legends? Join the discussion on social media or our Discord!

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Image Credit: Riot Games
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