I am in the middle of a very interesting time in my life, contemplating choices that I have made recently. Was it a good idea to drop a very successful career in IT making a lot more than I am now, leave my family and friends in Australia to work 12+ hour days 7 days a week (its 2am on Saturday and I'm in the office working) Was it all really worth it? A thankless job in most cases and on the receiving of flaming in others. Of all the things I have done in e-sports mostly go unknown to the masses but that doesn't bother me as I am not in this for the fame, I am in this so that one day e-Sports will be on the same level as AFL/MSL/NBA. However the thing that comes to the top of my mind is the efficiency in which FXOpen e-Sports operates with its events and how good they are considering we have no resources and next to no staff, however what I am going to go into here is the results of the training environment that Choya Hell Supreme and myself have created.
In everything I do, I believe cold hard facts and data trump any personal opinions or emotions in any situation. This particular trait I hold dear has been showing great benefits recently with the FXO SC2 team. People have been asking me frequently about what happens in the team house and what makes the team perform so well, how do they practice? Put simply there is no simple answer, it is a combination of many factors.
I have been meaning to put thoughts on paper for a long time, but I've finally set time aside to get this all out. Now you might be thinking WTF why would you do that? giving away secrets Isn't a smart idea. But as someone I was discussing it with recently made a good point, because I use data, showing other people how to get the data is useless without the trial and error that I have created to actually read it.
To start things off, we have to rewind all the way back to June 2011 when FXO was first in Korea. I was put in charge as a "coach", now this was my first experience with this and it was very untested waters. Lots of mistakes were made, not only because of my naivety about the position, but also the differences in the cultures within the team, we had Australians, Canadians, Americans and Koreans all under the one roof. We also had extroverts and introverts, people who would speak their mind and people who would never say anything even if it was about to drive them insane.
Now, there have been many times during my e-Sports career that I've thought to myself "Am I even making a difference, it isn't working yet." But my father told me during this time "I have never seen a project that you decide to get into fail, it may take some time but even the most ridiculous projects you do it always ends up working eventually"
So not having any experience in the matter, I went into the situation going "Ok, lets match what the Koreans are doing" We didn't have time to ease into anything, we had to jump in head first into 12 hour practice schedules. Now I obviously couldn't help the players with in game strategy as they were obviously better than me, but I definitely could help with the basic things that they overlook because their mind is elsewhere.
I sat with each player individually in the first week, explained how things were going to happen and how I wanted them to be completely honest with things that are going on. Things like can they handle the work, are they having a hard time with other people in the house etc. It's hard enough living with 1-2 other people with your own room, 12 people in 2 rooms and even someone on the balcony just isn't worth it.
So we enforced the 4 hour practice, 2 hour break, 4 hour practice, 2 hour break and then 2 hour final practice. Originally it was 3x4 but there was good evidence to show that you have to work up to that much work so we pulled it back. During these times they could be watching replays/laddering/watching VOD's w/e but it had to be about SC2.
Now unfortunately, during this time I was also commentating GSL/GSTL and doing our own events while we were there too. So I didn't have much time to really look much deeper. I also had two root canals so I was constantly high on painkillers. It was most evident when I cast GSL because many people commented "he's inconsistent" but sadly it was just that some days the pain was far worse than others. However I did have time to start my research and see how that worked out.
I sat down and did a test for the MVP VS Slayers first match for GSTL back then. It was just after the finals with both teams so it was a high profile match. I sat down and put everything they have ever done in GSTL on paper, who they sent out, their win percentage, who they played, what build did they do, did they favour a certain style on specific maps, their match up statistics etc.. All the information is out there, you just have to go get it.
Now it wasn't perfect at the time, and the rosters for both teams were very one dimensional but I still correctly analysed every player and their order except for 1. That was boxer coming out instead of Ganzi but it didn't matter because it was a Terran anyway. Wolf even looked at me after the cast and was like "WTF dude"
So I knew it was at least a starting point, and I continued to tweak and perfect this while I had time and was there. I also learned a lot about how different people react under pressure. Some thrive on it, some simply crumble and some just arent cut out to be pro-gamers.
So fast forward to the Korean team. They were not doing well at all, then we picked them up and they started to stress less, being more happy, things were coming together for them. I was speaking to Choya about their practice schedule, and you know what's funny? It was exactly the same as the foreign FXO team had. EXACTLY down to the hours for lunch dinner and sleep. So they started to pick up. Everyone was on the rise and then............
They started slumping and slumping hard. Lucky and ASD fell out of GSL, we lost in GSTL in the semi finals (and yes Choya still made the correct decision not to play oz instead he played, oz did not want to play and you NEVER play a player who says they don't want to play)
This continued for a while, and they said they were practising hard and said they just got unlucky all the time. Now I am a person who doesn't believe in luck, there is always something you can do to change the odd's to be more in your favour. So I headed over to Korea for 2 weeks. I was going to sit in the background, do my own thing and just observe.
My observations boiled down to a few things. They were practising a lot yes but it wasn't refined practice, just a heap of games over and over. So I noted this and sat there observing for a week.
During this time both Gumiho and Leenock had their code S matches which I went to see with Choya for Gumiho and just me and Leenock for Leenock's games. I noticed that because they were not doing as well, they felt like they were embarrassing me because they lost. It was an interesting scenario because I have never actually said anything other than "do your best and have fun, win or lose doesn't matter" But they have a hard time getting that into their heads regardless of what I say.
A big example of this was Leenock VS Ryung, he just didn't play as he normally would. He didn't stop drops, he was making massive mistakes and me and wolf were both sitting there on the bench watching going "uh what's up with him". In-between games I tried to cheer him up but he was just extremely embarrassed because I was there to watch and he couldn't win. While Leenock can speak some English lots is still lost in translation. After the games we went to the GOM house picked up slog and went for some Korean BBQ for him to feel better and I could make sure he understood what I was saying. As it happened, he couldn't hear the "you are under attack" warnings which explained everything but he was too nervous to tell someone. Choya being there would have completely fixed that but sadly I am not fluent in Korean.
So taking this experience on board, after I had left Korea me and FXOBoSs did up a letter to the team, had it translated into Korean so they they truly understood what we meant, and they were very thankful to hear the words and allowed them to chill out a bit.
Now the GSTL match VS TSL was coming up, and I decided to help out with my analysis of things that I learned last year. Their preparation for the GSTL match with TSL was very simple and relied only on their own strengths and didn't involve any research or analysis of the other team. After their talk Choya came over to me and showed me their plans, and something stuck out to me. They were going to use ASD VS symbol on Antiga, and symbol had a 80%+ win rate on Antiga VS Terran. Choya was like "WTF how do you know" and I showed him the spreadsheet, he took one glance, grabbed hell and supreme and looked through it instantly and then asked me to send it to him so they can redo their plans. Now this information is out there, but a lot of it is in English. So they had no way to know where it was. Choya saw the potential immediately, I always thought they already had this info but apparently not.
Now in the match it didn't actually matter because shine decided to go beast mode. The team was in very poor spirits, they had not won a single match in the 3+ that they had while I was there and were extremely embarrassed. But as I kept saying, you learn more from defeat and mistakes than from victory.
That night after the game, we all headed home and everyone sat back down and began practising, they were all very emotional but they knew the best thing for them was to get back to practice. During this time Choya asked me to come into the other room to discuss things. I figured he was just doing it to apologise for everything and say they would work harder for next match. But to my surprise it was something completely different, it was "I don't know what to do, we try everything but still can't win, what do you think we can do to keep getting better"
At first I was a little taken aback, since usually my thoughts on such matters when talking to players or other coaches is dismissed because I am not a top tier pro or use to be one. But turns out Choya had noticed me taking notes and watching carefully, the spreadsheet really made him open his eyes to newer possibilities about how they practice and prepare.
So I discussed with him what I saw. They are putting in the hours and now it was time to refine everything. While they were practising specific strategies, it was time to go insanely accurate with them. Whole days dedicated to one build on one map VS a specific race. You open build A, play the first 10 minutes VS every possible build you can think of and then more, then do it again with each individual build and its follow ups. It just exponentially gets intricate, but that is what they have been working on since I was there last.
Hell and supreme now do the research that I showed them how to do, this way they can anticipate much easier. I have also shown them how to find VOD's of all the games they find as well, not only ones from GSL, but also stream sessions and on-line events etc. They also have a very intricate practice schedule, its not just "4 hours of practice" each section is broken up into each players matches and what specific build they are working on at that time as well.
Sometimes when you are so heavily invested in things, and worried its not working it pays off to have someone with a fresh eye take a look and see if there are any fundamental changes you can make. Without all of us working together we would not have come this far. Hell/Supreme/Choya are great coaches and really care about the players.
Since transitioning to this new more intricate way, their attitudes have been much happier than ever, they have been winning again, been making correct decisions and overall just completely coming out of the slump they were in. Will this hold? we will have to see, but with everything in life. If they start slumping again, we take another step back and have a look, were they analysing wrong? were they slacking off in practice etc.
Unfortunately while some people excel with this, some do not. We sadly said goodbye to tree and weekend from the team. Weekend could not get into code A after 2 years of trying (he got in once but fell 2-0) and tree has to retire due to wrist problems. But we did get two new Protoss and a Terran so I look forward to what they can do in a few months time.
This took me so much longer to write than I thought but at least I finally got it done! So for now the training and practice is all good!
Now the next impossible task, having them break their culture and show emotion and their personalities on stream and to the public, the challenge continues....