In a recent piece with ImbaTV, current EHOME coach and manager 71 looks back on defining moments and memories in his esports journey thus far.
71: Previously I’d always been a coach, there wasn’t any role where I needed to manage the club. Now that I’m a manager of the club as well I’ve taken on this role. I’ve just begun with this work, so right now I can’t speak much about any experience, and additionally I don’t really feel that we’re doing any particular thing very well yet, it’s just that I’ve got some things that I can share with everyone
Recently I just held a meeting with our team leads for our various squads, noting that we need to establish a team captain within each team, whose purpose is to be a connection between team leads, coaches, and the team itself and thus make it easier and smoother for management to do their work. Because I’ve been coach and team lead before, I feel that I was really lucky to have in the past DC and 820. These were two amazing captains – within the hundreds of players I’ve had, there are nearly none that come close to those two. 820 went from player to captain, it was kind of like he was DC’s successor at the time. So our management format is to establish a captain, and to have him play a role in connecting team leads and coaches within the management ladder.
Right now comparing international and Chinese clubs, there is still a massive gap. In terms of management, on one side it’s managing, and on the other side it’s organizing. So in our big team meetings I always say, if you need to organize something then you really need to organize it clearly. Including things like the situation for individual players, like what shirt size they wear, their height, weight, birthday, health, personal problems, any issues at home, etc, you’ve got to be clear on everything. Even their goals for playing professionally, their personal goals, so I always say you have to be really clear on the details and have depth to it all.
From our beginnings, with just one or two squads, we’ve now got eight or nine. We can no longer manage based on individual situations, we have to have a system. First you establish a team captain, and then the captain and team lead work together in accordance with the system to manage things. Once the system’s in place what you need is to establish the instinct behind it – down to details like penalties if the lights and computers are left on after a day’s training. The point is to raise their awareness, to establish the feeling that this is their home and they should care about it.
A few days ago the team lead for our Dota main squad went to get the players up from bed. We had scrims at 2pm, so by 12pm people should really be getting out of bed already. Our team lead and the players aren’t in the same house, so the team lead came over from the other house to wake them up. Old Eleven wouldn’t get out of bed, and our team lead couldn’t get him out so he just left and came back ten minutes later to try again. Eleven, in bed, then said “What do I need to get out of bed for”, the team lead stayed for another few minutes to try and get him out and then gave up. I was in the neighboring room during this and heard it all, originally I thought I might just go over there and drag him out of bed myself, but then I thought that this wouldn’t really have any long term effect. So I went downstairs and sent LaNm an email, telling him to gently but officially speak to this issue in the training room later. Because otherwise, stuff like this makes the team lead’s job too hard to do. In the afternooon I went down to watch them scrim. After they finished the scrim, I asked Eleven to go out for a smoke with me, and he immediately said “I know what the problem is,” and the other players were just sat there laughing at him. In actuality I was only asking him so I’d have a smoke buddy.
Speaking of captains, on the one hand they need to have the prestige and respect to focus the team around him, this is required. But only this is not nearly enough. On the other hand they need to have the ability to develop, and play things to their players’ strengths. For LaNm, in this latter aspect he cannot be considered to be excellent, though he does hold absolute respect.
Over all these years in China, from my point of view, from what I’ve understood there are only two people that meet these requirements in terms of captaining: xiao8 and rOtK. No matter how much people flame them, their results can be seen. Compared to the international scene though, perhaps it’s because Chinese players tend to be more reserved so there are fewer great captains. Internationally there are the likes of Misery, Fly, Puppey, Kuroky, etc. A good team basically will always have a decent captain. As for LaNm, when it comes major tournament time, he’s thinking a bit more about how to allow himself to play to 100% of his ability in order to have 120% of an effect on the team’s play. He can’t really do things like help the team and teammates adjust from a 50% status to a 70-80% status, so compared to some other more established captains he’s still lacking in various ways, though I’ve seriously seen him thinking and improving on these things.
I recall talking with LaNm prior to TI once. I said to him, “LaNm, we’ve been working together for a while up to now, and honestly there’ve been a lot of things that were kind of rough,” I listed them all out one by one. Previously during Manila I’d also spoken with him before, compared to working with you it was a lot easier for me to work with rOtK. ROtK communicates a lot, he uses a lot of affirmative language, and he has a clear sense of direction. This is actually a really important thing, because a lot of details really need you to go and figure them out. No matter how good the things in a person’s mind are, it’s all useless to a team because they’re only in his mind. But even if someone has bullshit on their mind but they manage to convey it to five people and get them to act uniformly on it, that is invaluable. ROtK does really well in this regard.
Talking on the point of good coaches, it depends on what your thoughts and requirements are. Some people just do their job, while others go above and beyond, there’s a difference between the two. Of course, there are also coaches that are just along for the ride. I’ve got my origins as a coach, I’ve led quite a few different teams in my day. I’ve got my own style and understandings, but I also change and adjust based on what I have available to me. For example, when I was coaching DK, no matter the results, I would always ask them to play and strategize extremely aggressively. Yet when I tried to apply this same school of thought to the team with Mushi and Inflame, the results were really poor. When that happened I needed to rethink things. The reason the original style no longer worked might not be because of the patch version, it was because my personnel and what their strengths and weaknesses were had changed, for example in terms of their on-the-fly decision making. And they were yet to fully understand the big picture: when you’re speaking with them about one set of things, and they think they’ve already fully understood and achieved it, yet from my observer’s point of view they’ve obviously done very poorly… so I can’t just complain, I have to find change starting from myself. I think about what changes I can make based on the personnel available, or from some other angle.
The things that a coach can learn are plentiful. Any competitive sport is one that I am interested in. Every good coach is one that I can learn something from, like Phil Jackson with the Bulls, and then achieving the same things with the Lakers later on. How he would manage those superstars. He’d be pretty lackadaisical during the regular season, but once it was postseason he’d have all kinds of defensive schemes, fully utilizing and displaying the effect of every single timeout. On key plays he’d have the team approaching things nearly perfectly. This is what a top tier coach can achieve, he can grasp the team’s current level of performance, he knows when it’s time to save effort and when it’s time to explode, he can control the timing of when the team gets hot. Another example is Mourinho in football, those who love him really love him, and those who hate him despise him to their core. Yet both sides see him as arrogant and loud, but what not everyone sees is that he attracts all the attention after matches because he is redirecting the pressure and criticism away from his players. There’s also Lippi who previously managed Guangzhou Evergrande, his autobiography I’ve read parts of as wll. And then there was the Beijing team in CBA (Chinese Basketball Association), who won the title a few years back. During the finals, no matter whether a game was won or lost, their star player Stephon Marbury’s interviews I watched all of them — he was really honest, the things he said were of value, showed his goals, showed that he took responsibility. They were things that every captain and coach can learn from.
In all my years as coach my deepest memories come from the time I was leading a Counterstrike team. Back in those days the conditions were exceedingly tough. To go to offline events we had to pay our own way, and forget about going overseas to compete. For players in that era, to go overseas to compete was an incomparable honor, it’s not like nowadays with so many international tournaments. My team back then had no sponsor, the team name was one I’d come up with: teAmart. In 2005 we were based in an abandoned elementary school on the outskirts on Nanjing. Within a radius of 500 acres there were just the six of us people. Every day we’d walk 30 minutes in the hills before getting a 40 minute ride on an illegal taxi (read: random guy with a car). Then at the internet cafe we’d play for some ten hours and head back in the same manner. There’d often be no running water, so we would go in pairs to the nearby well to get water so we could bathe. It would be in the open air in the village, bathing in front of other villagers and their cows. That cold, and the scenes, but there was friendship and there was fun. If you had me do that again today, I would still do it. But today’s players wouldn’t. Nowadays if there isn’t fruit in the training room they already want to murder the team lead, forget about having them wash next to a well… just think about how much time could have gone to streaming instead!
For Dota, my most memorable times come with EHOME in 2010, but those memories aren’t of the 10 championship titles. That year we were playing in the WCG Beijing regionals, Zhou and DGC with their team came to compete for a spot too, saying “We’re here to fuck that strongest team (implying us)”. So anyway, their team and ours got dragged into a rivalry, and we even put our money on the line by wagering 5000 RMB, with my players putting in half and me putting in the other half. In the winners bracket when we met, I remember that we got stomped. In those days tournaments were played with the two teams facing each other in a row, their team’s mid player would be flaming us while playing. A youngster, didn’t really understand things nor decorum, and he trash talked me a bunch too. I wasn’t really too fussed about it, but my players were really burning with shame, they looked really out of it while eating later. I said to them, just let me pay the money owed in the wager. KingJ and them wouldn’t accept that, saying that they needed to get their honor back. Things were spoken in that way, but honestly in our hearts we weren’t sure about it. The story afterwards is a comeback story. We ended up winning the regional there, and honestly this title was really important — it established trust and friendship, and it also established a neverending belief of not giving up, it was great. The team thus gained an underlying culture and purpose, so improvement was quick, and communication was easy. I would just say the things I see, and what I want to say in terms of strategy, and the players would go based on that to try and achieve those things. If someone performed poorly individually, I wouldn’t even need to say anything before 820 was already on their case. Players nowadays, you have to baby them, you have to leave them room to save face, it’s tiring.
And then there’s EHOME in 2015, a time when we had peaks and valleys alike. The peak would have been the end of the year. At that time the other teams were all not strong, while simultaneously LaNm had found some understandings of the patch. I remember we won, consecutively, Radiant and Dire Cup, SDO, and MDL. In terms of both form and mentality we were pretty much in the right place. But in reality I knew, these results were temporary, because previously I’d already mentioned that CTY’s style is one that likes to farm, the tempo in that version really suited him. Kaka’s Earth Spirit, Eleven’s Void and Lone Druid, these were all signature heroes for us. You couldn’t really ban us out so it was expected to be able to achieve some results on that. In the ensuing Chinese New Year break, with a new patch version in place it would be expected for our results to get worse.
The most difficult thing was probably TI6 this year. With Old Eleven’s grandfather in bad health, he went home to take care of things, and we moved FaN up to our main team to replace him. But the chemistry wasn’t good. Prior to the open qualifiers we scrimmed with fellow qualifiers teams, and there were at least six different teams where we couldn’t even hit a 60% win rate in training. So I calculated a bit, and at the time I thought our changes of making it through were less than 3%. This meant that we wouldn’t even make it to the main qualifiers, we would only get to watch TI at home, which would be a pretty big problem. The team atmosphere at the time was really bad, emotions were really low. Then in the end we made the decision to make another change, we asked Eleven to have someone else take care of his grandfather, we got him to come back and we had iceiceice go play carry. After this change honestly, it wasn’t really solving our problems either. We trained a few days in this way and then off we went to the qualifiers, and even during the qualifiers we were in a lot of danger. Really, our team has always been kind of interesting that way: oftentimes when the team is not very favored, it can find life in the most difficult of situations and bounce back from the bottom all the way up to a very good spot. But once they’re in that spot, they suddenly can’t do it anymore. TI was like that too, so many people were saying that EHOME were headed for the title, to the point that even I got a little bit embarrassed. Forget about our bans, just looking at our pick stats, our drafts didn’t look at all like a team that could win the title. Against EG we indeed should not have lost. People were saying how in game one we lost after having megacreeps, how that was an epic, legendary game. If you ask me, it was dogshit. At that time EG was noob, we were even more noob, I can’t see what part of that is epic or legendary at all. Mentally overall we couldn’t really get in a good spot either, the team stopped improving in-game, we just put our tactics out there for others to counter. It’s like you play cards with your hand open while the others are playing with their hands hidden, can you possibly not lose? Wings winning the whole thing was really commendable, their tactics and style have a lot of layers to it all. It was varied to the point that you couldn’t counter it at all, and they had such great mentally — playing TI like it was a giant pub, so they truly deserved the title.
This year’s post TI player transfers, I think domestically everyone has just done okay. In comparison I think the big Western teams, like EG, have done excellently in this regard. They’ll definitely be a strong team when the time comes. In China I somewhat favor VG, adding a new player on the original VG.R foundation. The other teams, well, it is what it is. In the very beginning we wanted to go get Maybe to play position one for us. We discussed it with Maybe, but at that time he kind of wanted to go to VGP. Sylar approached LaNm himself, and we felt it was pretty good so we just decided on him. In terms of four position we considered ChuaN. ChuaN plus LaNm we felt would be a pretty good combination, but it didn’t work out. And then Wings were rumored to be disbanding due to players wanting to continue their schooling, with iceice even dropping his team registration for a while, so we went to try and recruit him and have Fenrir and iceice be our support duo with LaNm transitioning to coach, but then Wings decided to not be making any changes anymore. Fenrir spoke to us himself about wanting to leave the team, we really really wanted to keep him, and we communicated many times afterwards to that effect. But in the end Fenrir felt that he couldn’t take back the words that he’d already spoken, so he went to VG.J. As for iceiceice, after TI he’d already told us that he wanted to go back to Singapore to play, and we respected his wish. I feel that the outside world is quite unfair to him, he is originally an offlaner, but in an emergency time of need he took up the responsibility of playing carry. This was a huge challenge for him, and it was a result of our team having no other options. Iceiceice practiced the most out of the team, he is actually really hard working, so no matter how poorly he might play I don’t think the blame can go to him! From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate iceiceice, I respect him.
Why would Wings’ TI6 win affect our methodology for team building? And if you say they are a brand new team I really can’t agree with that. I’ve been in the business of youth training and development for esports for so long, I’m fully aware of just how difficult it is for newcomers to get results. In the very beginning for Wings, they were SPG. That picture that you’ve all seen only of them being subs for DK, that was because I called them there. At the time DK had three people on break, yet there was still WPC that needed to be played. I felt that these three kids from SPG were pretty decent, so I grabbed them over to standin for us. I remember after winning, I specifically sent a note up to Zhou in the analyst room, asking him to choose the MVP for the match out of these three kids, and not from BurNIng or MMY. Afterwards, iceice went to this team and since then has played with them for over a year, so they can’t really be considered to be a new team. Prior to TI they’d won against top international teams, they’d won titles before, and they’d also been eliminated in the first round before. Teams have these kinds of fluctuations. They’ve experienced the things that they needed to experience along the way, their strategy and drafts are really unique yet calculated. Honestly, their style is really similar to that DK team, so perhaps you could say they are an improved and stronger version of DK.
In the end, I hope that EHOME can continue to improve, and continue to learn from the top clubs domestically and internationally in order to become a leading force in the next generation of this industry.