For KC “Woodbuck” Woods, the job of coaching Team SoloMid, North America’s top team, was not an easy one. His run with TSM may not have been long but he hopes to return to eSports one day, if an opportunity presents itself to him. Break The Game’s Natsu talked to Woodbuck about his time on TSM, coaching within eSports, a potential comeback in the scene and more:
Natsu: You haven’t been a coach within eSports for a long time now. Do you miss coaching? If so, what do you miss about it?
KC: I don’t miss coaching as much as I miss working in esports. Coaching was extremely stressful especially on a team like TSM. Pressure is high and if results don’t go as well as expected, people begin to look at someone to blame. In addition, the team environments require long hours and if I expected my players to work from the moment they woke up until they went to sleep after midnight, I needed to do the same. Everything I asked of them, I put in myself, and that took a toll. I had no time for my family, friends, or girlfriend. I was consumed with work and had a lot of anxiety because of how difficult the job became. That being said, it was still an amazing experience and I don’t regret doing it. It would just take a lot for me to do coaching again in esports. It would probably need to be a situation where I have more of an opportunity to grow and learn without the “win now” atmosphere. Working in esports in-general is great and I would take the opportunity to work with a team in a different capacity. It is hard to turn down getting paid to work with video games.
N: What was the hardest part about being a coach on Team SoloMid? Do you think you would have had an easier time coaching a team that isn’t as big as TSM?
KC: As I previously mentioned the pressure to win immediately and consistently is high on a team like TSM, and that was rough for a coach with no background in the industry. I definitely believe if I was on one of the teams building their brands and had less pressure, I could have had much more time to learn and grow without being on the hot seat within a week or two. The was one of the hardest parts of the job. The other was that our team had visa issues with the other coach and some of the players. We weren’t able to practice until two weeks before the season started and I had to run the first weeks of practice by myself. I was a brand new coach that was not supposed to have any control over the strategic part of the game, but I had to run the first weeks of scrims. It cost me a lot of my credibility and respect with the players since it was obvious I didn’t know what I was doing. I tried to just listen to them and make decisions, but they were looking for someone to take the lead. There was no one else there to do it except me.
N: Did you feel any pressure on TSM because of how big the team’s fan base is? Did you feel like you had to get good results otherwise you’d take a lot of blame for it?
KC: I didn’t feel too much pressure from the fan base. I am comfortable with taking criticism publicly. The organization feels the pressure though because their popularity depends on results and their success as a business depends on their popularity (more exposure for sponsors). The players also feel a lot of pressure on TSM to succeed, especially when the team was seen as a super team. So the pressure I felt was from the players and the organization. I was stressed because I didn’t want to let them down and because I knew they were putting a lot of the blame on me. They expected me to have the answer to everything, since they didn’t have the answers themselves. Most of my answers were processes that were not immediate, but took work and time before results showed. The nature of TSM though doesn’t lend itself to results down the road, so since I wasn’t able to fix things right away, it was rough.
N: Which player did you enjoy working with the most and why?
KC: I enjoyed working with Bjergsen the most. He is one of the hardest working players I have come across in any sport. If he is not playing, he is using his time in other ways to improve. Any instruction or feedback he takes to heart and does his best to work on. He would ask for my advice and trust what I told him without always doubting me like some of the other players. There is a reason he is one of the best players in world. He looks for every opportunity to improve and separate himself from his competition. While other players are sleeping, eating, or fooling around, Søren is watching Korean VODs, replays of scrims, developing his own improvement plans, or discussing strategy with others. I was thoroughly impressed with him and loved working with him.
N: In your opinion, what is the hardest thing about coaching an eSports team in-general?
KC: Besides my own struggles, I think the hardest thing about coaching in esports for any coach is that so much depends on the present. Splits are pretty short and there isn’t much work done in the offseason. Teams also don’t tend to stick together with the same exact roster from split to split. That makes it hard to work on concepts that may take months to master. I wanted to isolate problems and break them down and work on them bit by bit, slowly improving the small pieces that make up the whole. Focusing on weaknesses tends to put you in uncomfortable positions and results tend to not be the best, but once you get more comfortable and put all those pieces together, you will improve. Doing this takes time though and many teams don’t have that time. If you want to make worlds or even just playoffs, it makes it really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
N: There are different opinions on coaches in eSports. Some people think they deserve more love while others think they are overrated and not a 100% necessary. What is your stance on this subject?
KC: Coaching and support staffs are crucial and necessary for teams if they wish to improve past a certain point. However, many of the coaches are just not good in the scene. Many of them are past players who also do not have any coaching experience or even life experience. They don’t know how to handle certain situations or help people improve. Since so many coaches haven’t had great impact, the perception has been that the position is useless. Even a lot of the coaches that people think are respected and good because of their public perception are not that good of coaches when you talk to people who have worked with them. As more talented people come into coaching since it’s more established now, it will get better. Teams also need to be willing to pay better to get better talent as well, just like they would for players. They are afraid of getting coaches who are not worth it though so they aren’t willing to risk the investment. Hopefully that will improve too with more money in the scene and coaches establishing themselves as people who are worth the money.
N: When it comes to stress, who do you think is under more pressure to succeed and be good at their job, the players or the coaches?
KC: Players. While I was more stressed than I have ever been in my life and gained more grey hairs than I can count, I can’t compare it to the grind the player’s experience. The players blame themselves for everything and they constantly need to be able to perform at the highest level. The coaching position is in a bit more of the spotlight at TSM, but other coaching positions are not under the microscope as much. Performance issues are usually put on the players and they put it on themselves as well.
N: If you could change one thing within the League of Legends eSports scene that directly affects coaches, what would it be? Are you happy with their position in the scene as it is now?
KC: The money invested in support staff. Coaches should be paid more or at the very least the staffs should be expanded. I had to spread myself so thin to do all the responsibilities required of me that it was hard to do everything at a 100%. Having more support staff specializing in certain aspects would let coaches focus on the core responsibilities better. Investing more into coaches would bring in more talent and make it a viable career path to pursue long-term.
N: Any chance we could see you making a return within the League scene? If so, which team would you want to coach the most and why?
KC: Chance is pretty slim. I was in talks with various investors to come in a general manager capacity, but none of those investors ended up winning a bid for a team. The longer I am out of the scene the less relevant I am for someone to pick me up. I also am not sure I would be willing to quit my job again to do it full-time because of the job security. The contingent offers I had would have allowed me to do it part-time while keeping my full-time job at least for a while. The position would need to be perfect and be secure enough for me to leave my steady job. If I was coaching I would probably want to work for a team that is building so I could grow with them. Dignitas would be a good option where I feel like I can have some time to develop with the support from the ownership group. I think Immortals is one of the best ran organizations, so down the line if I was able to establish myself, they may be my ultimate goal. Coaching in-general is extremely unlikely though. Managing or the business side would be more likely and Immortals would be the organization I would like to work with the most.
N: Any last words or shoutouts?
KC: I have always appreciated the support I have gotten from the TSM fans. Results were not the best and I did not do as well as the fans deserved, but I still only felt support. I rarely saw haters or people bashing me, which I felt like I deserved more of. So thank you to all the TSM fans for supporting me through it all.