After spending three EU LCS splits with Splyce, Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi will start Summer 2017 as Team Vitality’s coach.
For Vitality, it’s an opportunity for the organization to right the ship. On paper, their roster was expected to reach greater heights than a 3-10 record and a fourth-place Group B finish — missing playoffs, but avoiding a trip to the relegation tournament.
Now with support Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan added to the roster and YamatoCannon as head coach, the team heads into the summer split with plenty to prove.
YamatoCannon, who helped earn Splyce a spot at Worlds in 2016, sat down with theScore esports to reflect on his coaching career, why he opted for an all-European roster, and why he respects the Unicorns of Love.
What has been your favorite moment during your coaching career so far?
I have this vision, whenever I’m in a team … you have this vision of how things should be, if things go perfectly. When all the things you have in your mind just fall into place, and you have this idea of perfection with these five pieces … when that happens, it’s like, “Wow, I’m so happy, and this is what I envisioned.”
I truly felt this feeling the moment we played the fifth game against Unicorns of Love in the gauntlet, with Splyce of course, it was the game that would take us to Worlds.
When you go into a Game 5, there’s a lot of emotion going on, there’s a lot of stress. But it felt like everything we’d been working on in the past year, in that moment, just fell into place. Everyone was communicating, everything was flowing. All these rivers were just connecting into one, and everything was flowing.
Seeing that, and hearing that, was just … wow. This is the moment that it was the most necessary, and it was happening. I couldn’t help myself but to shed a few tears, because it wasn’t only about qualifying for Worlds for the first time in my career, it was about the team really coming together and giving their absolute best in this key moment of everyone’s career.
What made you choose Vitality as your new home?
VItality has always been a very interesting project. I was very curious about Vitality even at the time when Vitality bought the Gambit slot. I wanted to be a part of that team, this was right after I left ROCCAT and I was supposed to move on.
Vitality, as a project… I look at the budget they have when it comes to players, and the kind of roster they had last split, and it just feels like they came up short. I feel like with the right system and with the right attitudes, they can become so much more than they were last split. And I truly believe in every single player on this roster, and I think they deserve to be a lot more than they were last split. And I think they have it in them, and I want to be a part of that, I want to of course be there when it happens. Because I think, looking at this roster, they should do good.
I think if you look at the Team Vitality roster on paper, it feels like everybody was expecting more than what we got in the spring split. What is an immediate area for improvement that you see for this team, based on spring split?
It seems like Vitality fell to this Korean import fever, right? They brought Hachani over, and sure he had his own issues with insomnia or whatever it was… is it insomnia when you have trouble sleeping? That’s the word, right?
They ran into some communication problems, they didn’t know how to balance it out, they were switching between roles, and it just felt like they weren’t on one path at all times. I feel like now, when I have a roster of five players, I can give them the full trust and encouragement they need, when previously last split it was kind of chaotic.
Because it was a stressful environment for them, they didn’t know if another player would come in, or something would be switched out, or something would be changed. I think that’s a very hard environment to work in, and the trust needs to be there again between the players and from the coaching staff as well.
The announcement from Vitality that you joined as a coach seemed to imply that this is your preferred direction, to have an all-European roster.
I’m the type of person that would say, with regards to whether someone is from Zimbabwe or Korea, I don’t really care about that. I rate players based on their skills. Some European players also don’t know how to communicate, some Korean players don’t know how to communicate, or can communicate. They have skills, or they don’t have skills.
I just measure them against each other, I don’t really look at where they are from. And in this case, there are of course European players who are on teams and are just quiet, and they don’t listen, this happens too. I just wanted to put that out there, just because he’s European doesn’t mean that he can communicate instantly, right? Because, of course, in Europe we also have players from different countries, with different accents. There are also some barriers to overcome.
But in this case, looking at the supports that we could choose from, [Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan] was the clear winner. VandeR is a fantastic player, I loved working with him over at ROCCAT, and at the same time I know he can communicate and I know he can fit into an all-European roster. Sure, it makes it a lot easier that everyone can speak the same language, of course.
But VandeR just measured higher than any player that was available from any region. Already now, from the time I worked with him in ROCCAT, I see the same old VandeR in him, but you can also see a progress in his own personal goals and maturity, and that’s very fun to see when you get to reconnect with players that you’ve worked with in the past.
So it would be fair to say that your decision to field an all-European roster is really pragmatic: these were the best players, and it’s not about being an import or not, it’s about fielding the best roster?
Yeah. Of course, when it comes to fielding Koreans, I think that there are so many hurdles you need to overcome. You need to make sure that they feel comfortable, you need to make sure that they have someone to talk to, you need to make sure of so many things, of course these things matter too, to make sure that they feel at home. These are also problems that you run into.
I think, in the end, it’s all about just measuring pros and cons, and that’s what was done. I really don’t think that thinking “we need to get two Koreans to be successful” or “We need an all-European roster to be successful,” I don’t think this is the way to think about it. I think that’s very narrow-minded, and we need to just measure players against each other with pros and cons.
We recently saw two teams owned by other organizations, Misfits Academy and Fnatic Academy, qualify for promotion to the EU LCS. And in Fnatic’s case, that team was acquired by Ninjas in Pyjamas, but none of those players will be playing on NiP’s roster. You tweeted about this before it happened, saying that you need to prove that you are one of the league’s Top 50 players if you want to earn a spot, that promotion isn’t enough. Can you explain that a little bit?
A cool thing that is a part of this is that, if the 10 LCS teams in EU don’t want you on their roster, then you don’t belong. Because that’s just ultimately how it is. Like have you ever seen a team … for example, if a team promotes in Premier League or any other league in the world, and all of a sudden they have so much more to work with, and they have a budget to spend, of course they will upgrade their players.
They don’t have any kind of responsibility to make sure that they play. This is business. This is not, “oh good job, you qualified, here you go, you get to be in the LCS man, good job.” This is not how it works, right?
It’s a player’s responsibility to make sure that you negotiate your terms. If it says in the contract that if you qualify, then you get to play in the LCS: sure, there you go, you got something good. If you qualify to the LCS, you get a cut of the sale? Sure, that’s also the case, right?
But you have NiP, they’re investing a lot of money, they are the ones that make decisions for their own investment. They are not thinking, “oh guys, you are nice people, you qualified, welcome to the team.” No, that’s not how it works. They have to make a business decision, acquire players based on their expertise, even though I think they could have done better in their acquisition.
I think, in the end, they have to protect their own investment. And you can’t really mix emotions into this. I don’t think qualifying to the LCS means that you’re going to play in the LCS, unless it says so in your contract.
But doesn’t it seem like there’s this feeling around Challenger Series, that being promoted to the LCS is sort of this “path to pro” that exists? Even if you and I can both say that isn’t really how it works now, it feels like this is a narrative that still exists for some reason, like “I made it to the LCS, so I should be able to play there.”
The thing is, if you’re going to be a part of Fnatic Academy, Misfits Academy, then you know that if you qualify, your spot is going to be sold. And all these players, their contracts ended. Their contracts ended and that’s how it is, they are free agents, and there is nothing that connects them to the LCS spots after that.
Sure, you can feel bad for them all you want. But in the end, that’s how business functions, right? You need to be able to … in a free world, in capitalism, that’s how it works.
You protect your investment, you make your own choices.
Were you surprised at all that there were these very strong public reactions from some of the players that were members of Fnatic Academy, for example; that they were surprised, seemingly, that this had happened?
Of course I can empathize with them. They worked very hard — blood, sweat and tears — it’s very tedious to get into the EU LCS. There’s a lot of stress, they put a lot of hours into it, you know? You can sympathize with this, I think anyone can. I can feel bad for this.
In the end, if it’s not written in ink and signed by the right people, then that’s how it is, you know? You need to prepare yourself for the worst, and that’s just how the world works.
Of course, I feel bad for them. But this is how it is, and no one can change that right now, at least.
For the 2017 Spring Split, who was the player in the EU LCS who surprised you the most?
The team that I’m looking at right away is Unicorns of Love. Because everyone had such low expectations of them, and actually everyone always does, in every split.
Like “Oh Unicorns of Love, they lost three players and they have replaced them with… well who are these people? This Hecarim one-trick, and this guy called Samux that played top lane back in season 3, you know? What the Hell is going on? This is relegation material.” That’s what people said, you know.
And then eventually they come in swinging, they start smashing people, and I think if I look at that roster, I had very low expectations of Samux. I saw him in solo queue, he looked better than I expected when I scouted him out, but I did not have as high expectations as second-place. And the same for Xerxe. In my mind, when I hear Xerxe at the time, it was like, “Oh, Hecarim one-trick.” And then he came in and did these great things.
And I think Unicorns of Love as a whole was the most impressive thing that happened in this Spring Split.
If you had to explain why it happened, do you have any ideas? Even when I think about their split, it seems still almost unbelievable that they did that.
There’s something about Unicorns of Love that just ticks me off. This pinkness, and this unicorn, and all this stuff that is going on, these memes about how friendship is magic… holy moly. Something about this, it just makes my stomach turn. I hate this idea.
But no one in their right mind would not respect Unicorns of Love. It seems like their business model is very successful, in the sense that it’s built like a proper business, is just what I heard. It seems like the system that Sheepy has built up works, because they keep bringing in new players that no one has any expectations of, and they do magical things with these players. So I just have so much respect for them, and Sheepy has found the formula to his own team, regardless of whether people want to say it’s chaos-style or whatever.
I think in this split, I thought their play style would die out, because they have this tendency to play and prey on people’s mistakes. And the further you go into a split, the less mistakes usually happen. Usually at the start, everyone is kind of all over the place, and Unicorns of Love were very good at punishing that. But they adapted very well to the meta, and I thought they would fall off but they didn’t.
Vizicsacsi, he came in playing Rumble, and all these new things came into play, and they kept adapting and improving. They were certainly impressive throughout. I actually think Sheepy was robbed of Coach of the Split, to be honest. No offense to Pr0lly, I love you Pr0lly.
I wanted to ask you if there was anything else you wanted to add, anything you wanted to say to your fans, to Team Vitality’s fans?
Hopefully we can make you proud. We’ve been practicing now for a couple of weeks, and we are coming in swinging. We are working very, very hard, and we are trying to become as good as we possibly can. And hopefully we can make all of you proud.
I am very grateful to be on Vitality, and I’m grateful to, of course, be a part of EU LCS and a part of League of Legends in general. I am forever grateful for that. I would like to thank anyone that is a part of the scene that makes it so big, and so great. I send my thanks to all of you.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Josh “Gauntlet” Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.
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