Breaking Out Of My Shell

What a difference a few years has made.

In 2019, I stand as Fnatic’s head coach, one year after reaching the World Championship finals.

Before I got into esports, I was very shy and timid.

I wasn’t always that way. For the first 10 or 11 years of my life, I was very outgoing, and I excelled at sports and at school.

But then my parents divorced, and it changed me.

I didn’t even realize at the time, but I became less confident in myself; I didn’t want to socialize as much, and I gained a lot of weight.

Looking back, I was definitely using video games to escape the real world, and I found a world where I was confident being myself.

The contrast was very noticeable. Online, I was a leader. Offline, I was extremely quiet and timid.

It’s quite likely that I would have stayed that way if I hadn’t met my girlfriend, Jacqueline.

Some people know her as Lelovena or Lelo, and she was my first real partner. We’ve been together for seven years now.

When I first met her, she was my opposite: very assertive and she had a lot of life experience. That’s why we connected so well.

Meeting her, becoming a pro player, and travelling around the world forced me to get back out of my shell. I became comfortable again and owned up to being a leader type in-person.

Even after I qualified for the LCS and had to spend all day working, she always stuck by my side.

Ever since I went professional – first as a player and now as a coach – she has had her own stuff to focus on too. We don’t get to see each other very often, but whenever there is a break, we make sure to make up for the lost time.

Success in Europe over the last few years has meant that I’m only able to go home for a couple of months a year. We didn’t make it to MSI this time around, and that hurt, but spending time together was nice for a change.

Lelo and my entire family have always given me their full support. It’s great to have that, but it does make me feel bad sometimes that I can’t get back home enough to spend time with them. It’s part of the job.

My father, Jaap, was a successful manager in one of the largest companies in the Netherlands. He has a lot of experience, and he’s always sharing his wisdom on how he manages people or how he handles situations.

He’s someone I looked up to in terms of how to be a captain and how to lead. He had a big impact on me before I became a coach. 

My father has never hesitated to remind me that running a team is a business. The toughest decisions are the ones you have to make for the team, not for the individual. If I make the wrong decision, or if I make a decision that only makes my life easier, it can have a big impact on the career trajectory or on the financial situation of other teammates.

I’ve been listening to him for a while now, and he knows that I always think about the decisions I make – or don’t make – carefully.

We still talk almost every day. We talk about scrims, about the team, everything really.

But one thing he told me last year was: “Joey, do whatever you want; I know you’ll be fine.”

I think he’s happy knowing that he has two sons that can take care of themselves in the world. It’s like he’s letting go because he knows we’ll land on our feet no matter what happens.

If I got my business sense from my father, then I definitely got my competitive drive from my mother. She’s very intelligent and extremely competitive.

Every time I play a video game…or even a board game, I realize how competitive I am. To be honest, I’m a pretty sore loser, but that part of my personality helps me compete.

There’s a bit of an obsessive side to excellence going on. I think I share that with a lot of pros out there. Being good isn’t enough anymore: it’s about being the best in whatever I pour my heart and soul into.

When I was becoming a professional player, I perhaps showed that obsessive side a little too much at the start. It was Petar “Unlimited” Georgiev who helped me tone it down and make friends.

Petar was the first friend I made in esports, and to this day I class him as one of my best friends still.

What struck me about Petar was how damn friendly he is. He’s so friendly that sometimes you just want to shout at him: “Surely something must annoy you?” 

But it never did. The guy is just that nice. I think I’ve only seen him angry once in the two and a half years we played at Copenhagen Wolves, and even then it was quite tame.

We met on an amateur team many years ago, and once that team disbanded I decided to form another one. Petar was the first person I recruited. We’ve always had a great connection, and even though we work on separate teams now, we still keep in touch.

I’ve also always had good relationships with the Korean players that I’ve worked with – Emperor, Trick, and Expect. But Expect and I were closest. We’ve always kept a connection and a bond, and in both 2017 and 2018, I’ve tried to help him when he’s been looking for a team.

In 2018, it didn’t really work out, because he wanted to go back to Korea and prove himself there. Even then, we needed a substitute for Worlds so I brought him along. Thankfully, he ended up finding a new home in Excel Esports on his own.

From my experience as a player, I’ve learned that players need to be taken care of much better than they were back in my day: we did not have coaches or managers.

So, I wanted to take on that role when I got into G2.

Because of that attitude, besides coaching, I also put a lot of effort into making sure the players did not have to worry about things outside the game, such as doing groceries, cooking, filing invoices for player salaries and other managerial things.

However, when my contract was about to run out, I knew that this wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be in a position where I could focus completely on coaching League of Legends, and coaching other skills related to being a professional gamer.

When I moved to Fnatic, I got to be the head coach and team director. I got to put my stamp on the team. They trusted that I had a lot of game knowledge from my coaching years in G2 and from my playing days as a professional.

Because of my past success, the players trusted me. So, I got to be the head coach/team director that I wanted to be. 

Last split, I realized that we wouldn’t get very far just with macro, so I focused more on team bonding. Making sure that players can trust each other, talk to each other and fight for each other is as important as anything else.

I didn’t realize how important it was back in G2, and Fnatic in 2018, because it came naturally to those lineups for the most part. Last split, it did not.

The hardest thing to coach has always been to bring a team back on track after reaching its goals. This year was no exception.

After reaching the World Finals in 2018, the usual symptoms of achieving one’s goals arose.

Going into 2019, the expectations were as high as they were the year before, but we forgot how much effort we put into achieving those results and took a lot of things for granted.

After a few weeks, I had to step in to address complacency in terms of office hours and solo queue; the importance of drafting as a team; and the importance of trusting teammates – with a responsibility to perform well – to actually do so and to give them space in-game.

There was also a lack of chemistry and unity because of the bad results and the low amount of effort we spent together as a team. Since then, every player has put the effort to fix that. It did not come naturally: by creating schedules where players have to duo queue and spend more time in the office, we have improved the feeling of being a team and have consequently been getting great results ever since.

Thanks to the people I have met, coached, and that I have yet to meet, I am not done growing.

The lessons might come now or later, but in the end, those experiences will transform me. Just as they did in the past when I was shy and timid.

Back then, I had to break out of my shell. Now, I look forward to whatever comes tomorrow.

Image Credit: Riot Games and Copenhagen Wolves

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