Content of the article: "How the T1 coaching staff dropped the ball this season and failed to align with the strengths and ideologies of the players"
Before I begin, I would just like to state that this post isn't meant to be inflammatory, but rather a criticism and analysis of several fundamentally flawed approaches to the management of the team that I have personally perceived. It’s also important to remember that for every interview and 10 min of behind the scenes (BTS) footage, there are hundreds of hours of behind the scenes workings that we don't get to see, so we are far from having the full picture. However, this doesn’t mean that things said in interviews or shown BTS don’t hold any weight, I am also commenting on statements or sentiments I have seen that have consistently been repeated throughout the year. Finally, I want to mention that this post isn’t meant to kick Coach Kim while he’s down in lieu of the unconfirmed rumours of him and T1 parting ways. This is something I’ve been working on since the Summer Split regional finals in my free time between uni work (nice creative outlet tbh) as it was a topic I’m passionate about and feel like I have a lot to mention after religiously following the team’s games, BTS, and interviews all year long.
Spring split victory and Coach Kim’s attitude
To put it plainly, I attribute the spring split victory to the players' skill and ambition alone. If you were watching the behind the scenes, it was always the same story, Coach Kim saying it was fine to lose to x or x team because they're strong, being surprised that we managed to take x team, saying they weren't aiming for a first place finish e.t.c, always looking at the long term.
Look at this clip for example, T1 have just thrown game 1 after a poorly executed nexus push against BDD & Ruler, Faker and Cuzz are insistent that they are the better team and that they will take the series whereas Coach Kim tells them to relax and look at the long term. There is nothing inherently wrong with this attitude in a vacuum, and it made sense with the roster, half the roster were promoted trainees with their only experience being in the trainee program and the scrims and tournament within that program, there is no telling how they’ll perform on stage and how long they will take to adjust, expecting them to be worlds contenders might be a little optimistic.
However, Kim should have adapted his attitude to the changes happening in the team. Similar to Guma and Clozer, Canna had a lot of hype around him going into the year, he had a good standing in solo queue (around 1100 lp), had a lot highlights on mechanical champs like Irelia, and had gained recognition from even western public figures like NA jungler Metaphor. Canna had a decent start in the Kespa cup, there were plenty of mistakes, but he also showed a lot of promise, like the tower dive outplay against GenG. However, what was really impressive was his rate of improvement, he quickly became a player who was good at performing in teamfights while surviving lane well, and then got better at not falling too far behind in cs, and then eventually as we saw became a player that handled himself very well in lane and became a solokilling machine that was very good at taking favourable isolated fights in latter portions of the game.
It was during this period in the spring split when Canna was rapidly growing into a formidable weakside player that Coach Kim should have altered his ideology. As mentioned earlier, it was logical in a roster half composed of former trainees, but once Canna showed such rapid improvement and that he could possibly be a contender on the worlds stage, he should have adapted and changed his approach. Because, barring the uncertainty around the trainees, it is not a philosophy that fits T1. Faker did not participate and win numerous regional and international competitions throughout the years by being grounded and looking at the long run, he did it by believing that if he did his best and played his game he could take down anyone. And it was that drive and ambition from the players like that led to the roster outperforming Coach Kim’s expectations time and time again and winning the lck spring finals, but that only gets you so far.
To accentuate my point, I want to show a clip in contrast to the one that I previously linked. This clip is from T1’s loss streak in the summer split, T1 are currently 1-5 with 5 consecutive losses and the only win being against JAG as their first series. Faker declares that they’re going to win 14 consecutive matches, and Khan and Clid tease him about it saying that he’s not only counting his chickens before they hatch, he’s making fried chicken out of eggs that they don’t even have, but Kkoma has the same mindset and backs Faker up on this. Shortly thereafter, T1 won their first match against KT marking the start of their summer split winstreak. This is the kind of mindset that a T1 coach needs to have to capitalise on the drive and subsequent leadership that a player like Faker possesses.
Coach Kim vs Kkoma’s approach, Failure to capitalize, and the misuse of the T1 players
There are 2 very large differences in the approach that Coach Kim and Kkoma have towards coaching that I have noticed. The first is mindset difference I highlighted in the 2 clips above. The 2nd is their approach to their players’ soloqueue. Kkoma notoriously cared about soloqueue ranking and put a lot of emphasis on it, an advantage of this is that it serious in soloqueue and giving an honest effort. On the other hand, Coach Kim feels that soloqueue is a good tool to get recognized by ranking high, but once you’ve done it and been scouted, you should use it as a tool to expand your champion pool.
Both approaches have their merits, but if I had to agree with one, I’d say I favour Coach Kim’s approach more. However, where I take issue lies in the failure to capitalise on this approach, of course I can’t speak for what was being practised in scrims, but I was never impressed by the picks I saw on stage, the only pick that I can remember ever really wowed me, was the Graves first pick in the first game of the Spring Split finals. I feel like Coach Kim could have done a better job of utilizing this soloqueue approach that he was implementing and prompting the players to practice certain picks that he would want to try out, ofcourse these feelings aren’t very grounded and I can’t say what he did or didn’t do, but I feel like very little came out of it regardless. I’ll be talking more about the drafting more below when I discuss the rest of the coaching staff.
My final point is about the misuse of the players, one of the most recent and grave examples is the drafting around Canna during the Regionals. For me, 2 of Canna’s best attributes are his wide champ pool and ability to handle himself very well weakside while being a very potent carry threat as a result of being left on an island by Cuzz all year as he mentions in an inv_nglobal interview: “While both the coaching staff and the players help me, Cuzz is especially stern with me. Since the beginning of the split, he told me that I need to play on my own. I think that really helped. Obviously, in the beginning, when I didn’t know anything about the team game, I told myself, ‘Well, he told me I need to do things on my own, so I should try”, but nowadays, I do wish he would babysit me top (laughter)”.
I wouldn’t say that Canna showed the best performance during the regionals, but the drafting didn’t help and essentially negated two of his strong suits. They didn’t capitalize on his champ pool with the renekton fixation, and they consistently drafted him into ranged matchups and volibear which not only negate renekton’s strengths but also negate his strengths, there’s nothing to be done in lane against ranged matchups and voli, neither of which struggle vs renek in lane, and both are good at pressuring him under tower and setting up dives. However, the biggest misuse of players in my opinions this year is that of Faker and Cuzz. I’m not sold on Cuzz being a bad player, and I do believe he was severely misused in a lot of the same ways that Faker was.
Champion pool. Both players have very flexible champion pools in my eyes. Faker speaks for himself, but Cuzz has always felt like a premier AP jungler player in the LCK, while also being able to pilot tanks, and also ad bruisers. Both players were severely underutilized in terms of champion flexibility throughout the year, and despite Coach Kim’s promises of draft and playstyle experimentation during the regular split, it seemed like the only experimentation we got was the same lazy drafting and uninspired gameplay that rested on the premier Faker Teddy duo winning out in the late-game. I still remember the respect bans Cuzz’s signature reksai was pulling at the beginning of spring until it slipped through a couple of drafts and became apparent to other teams that T1 was never planning on drafting it.
Game sense. Both players are regarded as very smart and knowledgeable players and it’s a big reason as to why Cuzz has consistently placed high in soloq with good winrates and kda on any champ he plays. For a lot of people (me included), Cuzz’s signing seemed like a match made in heaven serving as the first real arrival of a proper Bengi style jungler. To say that the complete lack of synergy and cohesion being built between these two players throughout the year is disappointing would be an understatement. It feels like no strides were really taken towards integrating Cuzz as a functioning cog into the team and instead we got left with power-farm to a decent state before the jungle becomes a source of funneling for the players playstyle.
Shotcalling & Adaptation. This ties in to the previous point so there’s not much to be said here but I wanted to bring up that while both players seem to be affluent at shotcalling they’ve also shown the ability to be flexible in champion pool and playstyle like with what we saw with Faker and Clid last year, and Cuzz who stated at the beginning of the year (source inv_nglobal): “Faker is really good, and he leads me with detail, so it’s convenient for me. I don’t know how he’ll think of me, but I’ll do my best so that Faker feels comfortable playing with me”. So I’d just like to reiterate how disappointing the apparent lack of initiative taken towards building proper cohesion between these two players was. Although I must recognize that this was also an issue that the former coaching staff struggled with in regards to integration of Mata’s shotcalling into the team despite him not performing particularly poorly.
Drafting, the choice of coaching Staff (Comet & Moment), and the utilization of Tolki
The image with Coach Kim saying that “You can easily find people who can draft well" has been circulating a decent amount, and while it is funny, in context I do agree with the sentiment to an extent. Coach Kim set out to hire assistant coaches that would get along well with the players, and to a degree, it worked, Comet in particular seemed to get along very well with the players, kind of like a fun uncle. Moment’s role was a lot more management focused and tending to the needs of the players, and he seemed to be doing a fine job of it.
Generally, it is my impression that Head Coaches are not particularly involved in the onstage drafting, and just like people will neglect to talk about Zefa’s transition to head coach and DWG’s other onstage coach Daeny, people will neglect to mention T1’s other onstage coach Comet and his role in the draft. I understand that that when it is the head coaches that walk to the centre of the podium, shake hands, and walk out, it gives the impression that the head coaches are responsible, so it’s understandable that all the attention gets shifted onto them.
Of course it can vary from team to team, and even the same team can change it up between years, but it’s worth noting that Ccarter never really played a large role in the draft during his time as head coach, and Kkoma also stepped back from the drafting role during his transition into head coach during 2019, as mentioned by Clid in an inv_nglobal interview last year: Clid picked his coach, KkOma for being the biggest reason why the slump was so short. “After I returned to Korea, KkOma was the first coach I’ve met face to face. I have much faith in him. I think that ever since he joined us in talking about our draft, we were able to overcome our slump so quickly”, although, Kkoma wasn’t even on stage for the most part, so it might be a special case.
However, despite my talk about coaches having more of a drafting role than head coaches, it is important to note that head coaches do have a higher authoritative figure and Coach Kim in particular has often been described as a strong personality or presence, and he does definitely seem to have a final say in drafts to some degree. This segment from an inv_nglobal interview certainly alludes to this being the case: You stated in our previous conversation that Syndra is a pick that can only be played properly by ShowMaker, yet Syndra was picked for Clozer in game. Can you tell us how that came to be? “He had a lot of champions target banned against him. Usually, if someone gets banned out to that extent, you usually don’t want to first pick your champion. However, Clozer told me, “It doesn’t matter if you first pick me Syndra”. I asked him, “Are you sure? They do have Jarvan IV”, and he’s like “It’s okay. I’m confident that I won’t die on Syndra. I just have to play well”. He said all that in full confidence, so I let him play”.
On this note I do want to address Coach Kim’s statement about the Syndra in regards to his philosophy about practicing champions. It seems very odd to me that Coach Kim would take the route of declaring the players unable to play a certain champion instead of taking the route of, as I mentioned earlier, prompting them to practicing it in their soloqueue games. This especially doesn’t seem particularly hard when one of your players is renowned on said champion and has a dedicated skin for her. There is also the point that publicly dismissing a certain champion pick in this manner can affect the draft phases. And of course there is the fact that Coach Kim publicly discredited his players’ ability to perform on a particular champ, however this has already been garnering discussion around the subreddit and I want to keep my discussion and criticism targetted towards the coaching staffs’ approach to leadership within the team so I will avoid going into detail on this point.
Also, it is worth noting that this aligns with the realistic and blunt approach that Coach Kim has, and as I saw mentioned in the subreddit, this almost “prove me wrong” approach Coach Kim takes towards the players, which as I previously mentioned, I do not believe fit for T1. But that’s enough about onstage drafting, because regardless of the amount of small snippets that we receive, we can’t really say for sure how it plays out, but I think in this regard Coach Kim might catch too much flak in being regarded as the sole drafting coach when it might fall onto Comet’s shoulders to a larger degree.
However, what I really want to discuss and criticize, is the work towards drafting in between the games/during the offtime. I, personally, was very excited this year when T1 signed a european analyst (Tolki), as most people should be, this was a massive move for the LCK. However, just like I criticised the proactiveness in encouraging certain soloqueue picks for the players above, the stage draft preparations left a lot to be desired in my eyes. Tolki was a very exciting pickup to me as I hoped it would bring more international influence into T1, on top of this his interest in watching other leagues outside of his typical data work had me very excited.
However, the fact that I could tell with 100% certainty going into the regionals that there is no chance T1 would consider Shen or a return of Faker’s Zilean in lieu of Bjergsen’s Zil shenanigans tells you about how well Tolki was utilized. As an analyst, Tolki can only really provide the coaching staff with data on champions, items and other aspects of the game, and it is then up to the coaching staff on what they want to do with the data and how they want to implement any aspects of it.
Unfortunately, it felt like they just chose not to, it felt like the coaching staff paid really little attention to proceedings in other regions let alone what was being provided to them by Tolki. For all the supposed experimentation in draft and playstyle that T1 was working on in the regular, it really felt like it was the same T1 stepping on to the stage week after week with limited international influence. The only team I really felt happy with T1 experimentation was during the mid season cup, and even then it felt like compared to other LCK teams, our only takeaway was “huh, maybe that yas adc pick wasn’t the best” and then only regressed in other regards.
That about sums up my personal gripes with the coaching staff this season, this mainly pertained to Coach Kim, but that’s a given when Moment isn’t necessarily serving more than a role as a player manager, and what with Coach Kim having chosen his supporting staff and serving as the highest authoritative figure in the team.
I should probably round this off with some sort of a closing remark or conclusion to the criticisms I’ve voiced above but instead I’d like to finish this off by stating that I don’t believe Coach Kim to be a bad coach necessarily, his past achievements, although somewhat inconclusive, would for the most part say otherwise. However, as /u/enxrima described well in this comment, it never felt like Coach Kim was really feeling it and never really properly integrated himself into the team, and consequently, as I’ve described above, never really brought himself to properly understand the strengths and ideologies of the players, and as a result failed to suitably lead the team.
I hope that this wasn’t too sensationalistic and brought some valid criticism to the table, also do keep my disclaimers at the beginning in mind. Although this was a passion project, it still took hella time and effort, so if you read this far, thank you for listening to my armchair coaching.
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