South African esports’ rapid march towards professionalisation is going to change a lot of the ways in which teams operate and facilitate the rise of new roles and responsibilities, one of the most notable of those being that of the coach.
While coaching in and of itself is nothing new to local teams and players, the role of the coach is one that is likely to shift as things get more professional. Previously local coaches tended to be friends of the team, maybe even the MGO owner or the in-game leader serving in kind of a hybrid role. The idea of employing someone with the sole responsibility of guiding the team from the sidelines, mentally, physically and electronically, is one that is certainly going to shake things up.
Anthony ‘scant’ Hodgson, possibly South Africa’s most famous esports coach, feels pretty strongly about the topic and has aired his thoughts on Twitter numerous times.
I wonder if any teams will still attend events without coaches this season. Every time I think we've past that point it turns out we haven't
— Anthony Hodgson (@scantzor) October 3, 2017
Even overseas, where kids are making millions playing games, the role of the coach hasn’t quite been defined yet and teams often go without. Much to scant’s disapproval.
Last year Valve banned coaches from being in the booths with their teams during the CS:GO Majors, stating:
“It has become apparent that teams are, in fact, transitioning away from fielding players that have a wider breadth of skills and instead relying on coaches to handle some of that work.
We intend the Majors and Minors to be events that can be won by any team of five players that demonstrate excellence in all skills of CS and this adjustment is intended to ensure that this remains true.”
Reading between the lines, they’re not keen for teams filled with guys who have impeccable aim, but know nothing about how to really play the game. Fair enough.
Neither do coaches have to really teach the players anything mechanically, these guys know what they are doing, it’s the game knowledge of a seasoned pro that is invaluable.
So what is the role of the coach? We caught up with the most charismatic, recently retired CS:GO pro slash newly appointed coach we could find, James ‘zerOchaNce’ Wijnberg. (GLHF: We wonder if he’s going to change his in game name to ‘Coach zerOchaNce?’)
“A coach brings a lot of impact in helping to prepare players both mentally and physically. This allows them to focus more on themselves and what they need to achieve for the team to be successful.
Coaches fill in the cracks. They allow teams to play at a higher level/skill ceiling within their own style.”
He sounds like a coach already.
Now you might be wondering how this plays out. Well, if you’ve participated in any team activity at a decent level, what would happen if the coach didn’t arrive for practice? One of the more experienced players would take the team through their paces. A decent option when nothing else is available, but it doesn’t do much to improve the team.
We’ve all been part of one of those ‘practice sessions’. There’s a vague attempt at going through some drills, but no-one can really remember any good ones. Then on to a set piece or two before everyone gets bored and you just play a game for the rest of practice. The senior player taking the practice doesn’t have a bigger picture in mind. His ‘coaching’ lacks purpose.
“One of the biggest issues teams currently deal with is attitude and mentality during practices, scrims and officials. Long term this is caused by a number of reasons, but I think the most apparent one is the IGL/team member having to coach during practices.
A coach brings in a second opinion and allows tension between teammates to ease up. This in turn builds an environment where players can perform to their best level and with the confidence to further themselves.”
Having an extra set of eyes and a calm set of emotions has a huge effect on just about every aspect of a team’s performance, whether it be scrims, playing in and preparing for big tournaments, reviewing demos or even settling disagreements between players.
We spoke to zerOchaNce shortly after he announced his retirement from playing and asked him if he would hang around as a coach or caster. At the time he said he wasn’t sure, but when Big 5 approached him his love for the game meant he just couldn’t stay away.
“I still have a lot of passion for the game and believe I can have a big impact on a team with the correct skill and work ethic. Having played with most of the members in Big 5 over the last few years I know that they are hard working and seriously driven to win. This made my decision easy.”
To sweeten the deal for zerOchaNce, Big 5 offered him a share of the team’s winnings. This tells us a couple of things about the coach role. First, it tells us that this is a serious position that will earn him more the better he does at his job.
Another thing it tells us is that the players believe in it enough to give up some of their prize money. In an ideal world they’ll perform better with a coach, win more and earn more money, effectively meaning they don’t give up any money.
ZerOchaNce links back up with former teammate Thulani ‘LighteRTZ’ Sishi at Big 5 and we were interested to find out whether there were any hard feelings between them after the way things ended at Aperture Gaming.
“No hard feelings, I beat APG at rAge 2016.”
There’s obviously a rule about not talking back to the coach at Big 5.
ZerOchaNce was only recently appointed to the role of coach at Big 5 and conceded that they haven’t drilled down what his long-term responsibilities are going to be. He is currently figuring out exactly what his new role entails, but there was one thing he was absolutely certain about.
“We desperately need more coaches in our scene if we want the professionalism and the general skill level within the community to increase.”
Plus we really want to hear some great esports coach speeches.