Building The Best

Having a player who came through one of my teams and went on to be one of the most successful players in the west is something I’m very proud of.

Zven was on an amateur Danish team when I signed him to SK Prime a few years ago – back then, he was called “Zvanillan”. The roster we had wasn’t that good on the whole, he was definitely the best player on it.

His talent was obvious even then. He was a little immature – I mean he was sixteen years old – he’s shaken that immaturity off now and I’m pretty proud of what he’s accomplished. He’s won several European LCS titles, gone to Worlds every year, he’s definitely been successful.

There was no spectator mode back then, so all you could really do to scout talent was watch streams. I remember watching a lot of Wickd because he streamed quite a lot. I hadn’t had six odd years of watching pro level League of Legends by that point, so my game knowledge wasn’t at the level it is now. 

Really I was just looking for raw mechanical ability when it came to picking players. That’s one of the reasons that at the start of League of Legends esports, there were a lot of teams with clashing personalities because all you really looked for was technical ability.

The first team I ever worked with used to play in some tiny tournaments that I ran. This was pre-Season One, so they were still using the Elo system in League of Legends. I think the players were probably around 1500 to 1800 elo and they would just smash every single tournament. I wanted to get them into better tournaments and really see what they could do.

At the time I think ESL had just launched Go4LoL, which isn’t really considered a big deal now, but back then, all the best teams were playing in it, like SK Gaming and Fnatic. Usually, we would finish around top eight or top sixteen depending on who was playing that week and how stacked the bracket was, so the team wasn’t quite as good as I initially anticipated. Certain players weren’t really improving and so I decided to try and make some changes.

I began to understand the importance of the mindset a top player needed to have. It was a process of realising: “ok, this is the kind of work ethic I need, this is the time commitment, this is the attitude I want”. You also need to find out what motivates them, whether it’s money, success, whatever.

Every player tells me they want to win and every player genuinely thinks that they want to win, but over time you eventually see who really wants it and who doesn’t. I guess a lot of my job in the early days was trying to predict and judge which type of player they would be before deciding to work with them.

Everyone in esports comes from a different background, and I can relate to that myself, so I understand when a player says ‘well I have to make a certain amount of money’, but it depends to what extent they’re motivated by it for me. You never know what sort of financial situation a person is in, so you can’t really judge someone for wanting to make as much as they can.

I don’t see it as an exclusively negative thing when a player is motivated by money. I think these days there are a lot more players who are more financially motivated, not 100%, but the majority of their motivation comes from making the most money they can. Again, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, really – to make more money you have to win anyway.

I think money started becoming a big factor around late season three. Back in the day you only found players who wanted to win because making money wasn’t even really an option. When the LCS came in, naturally, players started becoming more drawn to organizations that could offer higher salaries, even if they perhaps had weaker teammates.

I don’t know him personally, but as an example, I assume that Imp is that kind of player, because he left South Korea, as one of the best in the world, to play in China, where he definitely got offered a better deal.

It’s the similar situation with a lot of the Europeans who go over to America. Not all of them go for the money; some people just like the lifestyle over there. Berlin certainly isn’t for everyone and California is a really nice place, but skill-wise it hasn’t ever really been an upgrade, at least historically.

Transitioning from League onto other titles certainly wasn’t easy. I think the first thing you need to do is play the game. It sounds simple, but if you want to judge someone’s ability you have to play the game, a lot, just so you have a basic understanding of what’s going on in the game.

One of my first tasks at Misfits was to rebuild their Overwatch team, pre-Overwatch League. The team was historically one of the best ever so getting that team back on track was a big challenge, especially in a game I’d never worked in before or really even played properly.

It might sound odd, but I spent a lot of my first few days with Misfits just playing Overwatch. I’d have meetings in the morning and maybe the afternoon, but after I got home I’d be straight on the game. I did it just so that I could get a concept of the game and what a good player should be doing.

My time in CS:GO and League helped me a lot when it came to working in Overwatch. It’s obviously not as black and white as this, but Overwatch is kind of a mix behind the standard FPS games and then something like League of Legends or Smite.

You can tell when someone is naturally gifted with their aim and their movement if you’ve watched FPS games before. I found that players who came from a MOBA background were often more suited to support or tank characters, whereas players from FPS backgrounds were usually better at DPS characters. It’s not a rule that’s set in stone, just something I’ve observed.

Aside from that, I obviously got a lot of outside help from speaking to other pro players to get their opinions. We’d find players together and then I’d talk to them about players’ aforementioned mindsets and motivations, and eventually, we built a really strong team.

Finding players and scouting, in general, has changed a lot since the early days of esports. Right now, if I’m looking at a player I’m interested in, I can look up every game they’ve played and watch them for 16 hours a day, which is actually something I’ve done before. You can get much more of a sense of someone’s ability now in every game that they play.

Stats now play a part in the process and teams have dedicated analysts that can look at things like that. I wouldn’t say it’s possible to ‘moneyball’ an esport however, because these games change a lot more than regular sports do with things like balance patches and meta changes. Stats can, however, provide a nice supplement to the process. The stats just don’t exist yet to make it feasible.

I’ve seen people start as remote analysts for teams who are now head coaches or managers. One of the most important things is building a portfolio so that people can trust your judgement, so you usually do have to start by taking a lesser role and proving yourself. I did that over many years in League of Legends, and now I’m a GM working in the LCS and the Overwatch League.

The most important thing for me, if you want to get into something like this, is to make sure that you absolutely love whatever game it is you want to work in. To be successful you will have to watch thousands of hours of footage. I don’t think anyone would be able to do that without being passionate about the scene.

That might be exciting matches at times, but it could also mean watching how a team operates at a specific time, on a certain point on a map, over and over again, just so you can identify their tendencies and habits. That’s not only at a professional level either, you’ll need to watch solo queue just to keep on top of who the upcoming talents are – it’s a lot of work.

That’s just one facet, you also have to be able to judge people just be seeing how they play and from having a couple of conversations with them. There are a lot of talented players out there but not all of them will make it, and many throw potential careers down the drain just from having bad attitudes.

There are only 24 hours in the day, and I can never talk to those players as much as I’d like to, and sometimes I have to make a judgement call. As bad as it sounds, a lot of what I do is judging people based on very little information, and I know that I don’t – and won’t – always get it right.

Image Credit: Riot Games/Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

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