Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi may have started his competitive journey in League of Legends as a player, but he has since carved out a coaching career in the EU LCS, spanning five splits in the league. He recently signed with Team Vitality after three splits with Splyce, the second of which saw the team qualify for Worlds.
But years before he became known for coaching and his immaculate suit game, he just wanted to “smash some kids.”
His entry to LoL, he said, “kind of just happened.”
YamatoCannon has always relished the opportunity to compete in games against human players and often felt dissatisfied versus AI opponents. There wasn’t the same kind of thrill from beating a set of directions left by the game’s developers. So he started off playing Warcraft III’s 2v2 ladder, and it developed from there. His first tournament victory came in a Guitar Hero competition.
“I was just a kid, I don’t know how old I was, like eight or something, and we were smashing people on the [WC3] ladder. And I was like, holy shit, there’s a guy behind the screen and I love beating other people, pretty much.”
YamatoCannon also took an interest in soccer, which he described as his passion, but injuries to his knees eventually sidelined him, and he found himself with plenty of spare time.
"What I did, I had so much time to just sit at home and play games … so I committed completely into that. And a couple of friends of mine, they just showed me League of Legends, and I was like, 'What is this DotA clone? It looks like crap, it looks like some kindergarten game.' I was going to give it a try and play it because [my friends] played it, that was a sacrifice I was willing to make, even though I didn't seem to like it. "
He would come back to the game in Season 1, when he saw the growth that the game was experiencing. His skill eventually outstripped that of his friends, and he climbed the ladder.
"I just closed myself off from reality and kept playing League and League, climbing the ladder, eventually meeting these people that I saw on the ladder. These pro players, I was like, 'Holy shit,' I'm print-screening when I play against Shushei and xPeke and sOAZ at the time. I was like, 'Holy moly, I'm playing against these people,'" he said.
Ladder performance led to invites to teams, and Yamato said that back then the process of forming a team was a lot easier. You’d just ask them, and since so many people were available, you could put together a roster.
In terms of champion selection, Yamato was playing whatever worked, describing himself as a “meta slave.” But he developed a love for Jax, using a surprising tactic to get the drop on opponents.
“I did this thing where I cheesed with one XP [quintessence], and if you found some insane cheese at that time, you know, you would be a legend,” he explained. “So there was like this XP quint cheese, you got level 2 on first wave, and everyone was surprised and just died.”
Once Season 1 began to roll into Season 2, it became evident to YamatoCannon that he could turn his success into a career. He had been watching streams from Team SoloMid and Counter Logic Gaming and knew that there were LoL professionals, but the new influx of tournaments gave him hope that it could provide a stable career.
At the same time, Yamato was still in high school, so he had to balance his school work against his participation in LoL esports.
“So there was a point where I pretty much gave up on everything else and just played League. I was a minimalist in school, I was the kind of guy who did as little as possible to gain as much as possible. I was finding ways to tweak my way through the system, and eventually all my time went into League, because I really believed in this idea that I can be one of those guys eventually.”
While Yamato describes his player career as “mediocre at best,” he remembers his first game in the LCS fondly. Even though his DragonBorns squad would lose to Gambit Gaming in Week 6 of the 2013 EU LCS Spring Split, he recalls the energy of the French crowd at the Zénith de Lille Grand Palais.
“I just remember the feeling because I got first blood on Diamondprox and then I solo killed Alex Ich. Even though we got stomped in the game, you know, because my heart was like coming out of my mouth, it was a big moment for me. I just felt how the energy overtook me in the arena, it was like this wooden-built arena, and everything was just shaking whenever the crowd was applauding or going crazy,” he said. “And the French fans also are pretty crazy when it comes to cheering on teams. The energy was, for sure, very exciting, and that’s the moment I remember as if it was yesterday.”
After his time with DragonBorns came to an end in May 2013, Yamato put together a team that included Mithy, Freeze, extinkt and Maluno. But they all eventually received LCS offers, and he didn’t.
He would go on to play with against All authority, but teams kept falling apart because players would head to the LCS. Meanwhile, his strategy of doing the minimum at school became more difficult.
“There’s a limit of how much you can miss, and my favorite teacher just covered for me all the time. Eventually the other teachers started catching up, something’s up, he’s not here all the time and we’re still giving him grades, something’s wrong,” he said. “So I had to focus on school for a little bit, and I thought it was good timing because all my teams kept falling apart.”
While the timing may have worked out, it meant time away from the competitive scene. That, in turn, meant losing connections with pro players and, ultimately, being forced to prove himself again upon his return.
So when he was offered the opportunity to head to the analyst’s desk for the Swedish broadcast instead, he took it. It kept him connected to the game’s esports scene, even if it wasn’t at the level of a pro player.
That connection would pay off when Riot announced that coaches would be a mandatory part of the LCS, and YamatoCannon saw his chance to get back into the LCS.
"And at the time, the friends I had in EU LCS, the people that I still kept in touch with, was MrRalleZ, Nukeduck, Mithy … they basically said that when I was in a team with them, I was kind of the guy that brought people together and made sure that there was no bullshit going on. So they thought, 'Oh, you might be perfect for the coaching position.'"
He wasn't sure if coaching would be for him, but it got him back to the EU LCS, he'd be in a team house and in front of a PC. His first team as coach would be Meet Your Makers, but despite that team's inglorious departure from the EU LCS, he decided he did like the job.
“I think the head coach position is rewarding in the way that you can affect players’ lives in a positive way, and maybe help them shape their career and be there in the background to push them. And that is such a rewarding thing on a personal level and also spiritual level, and on top of that I get to be a part of the esports scene,” he said. “The first split, even though it was shit for me, I realized this is my calling, I want to be a head coach for as long as possible.”
Now, at the age of 21, YamatoCannon is one of the European league’s rising coaching stars. Though he parted ways with Splyce, his impact on that roster is undeniable, and he already has ideas about how to bring the Vitality roster together.
He credits his time as a pro player with some of the success he's seen. But he also explains that successful coaching is a two-way street, and that the title doesn't instantly grant you the respect of the players: that still has to be nurtured.
Part of respecting the players is ensuring that their unique skills are developed and taken into consideration, he said.
"I think the coach is there to make sure that the path is set for the players for success, for efficient practice, and to make sure that players are on that track," he said. "Because the players are like this endless wealth of information that you can piece together to make your own puzzle, in a way."
YamatoCannon isn’t that far removed from his own time as an aspiring pro, but he’s also worked closely with many of them during his time as a coach. For those seeking to walk the Fields of Justice at the highest levels, he offered the following.
"It isn't easy, that's for one. A lot of people tend to think, 'Oh I'm special, I'm going to get there.' But in reality, it's all about making sure you use your time as efficiently as possible. I think that applies to anything in life."
That means that “being special” or grinding endlessly aren’t the keys to breaking into the EU LCS’ elite, 50 starting players. It’s about making sure that your own practice actually helps you to improve as a player.
“You have to remove yourself from emotion, you have to make sure that you have a goal in everything that you do. Because in the end, every minute matters, it all adds up.”
Josh “Gauntlet” Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.
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