Golden Guardians' head of esports: 'While I think we underperformed even our moderate expectations and certainly had some undesirable things happen ... I don't think internally it feels like a disaster'

by Keith Capstick, Josh Bury, Daniel Rosen Apr 27

3:17 - Is it fair to call this split a disaster for Golden Guardians?
5:44 - Was Hai's leadership style unsuccessful?
10:50 - Why Mickey?
15:47 - Academy roster and franchising
32:20 - Was there any talk of Hai staying with the org as a coach?
35:10 - How do the other players feel about Hai leaving?
45:30 - Reaction from Golden State Warriors on the 4-14 split?

Hunter Leigh is the head of esports for one of the NA LCS' newest franchises — the Golden Guardians. The Guardians finished their inaugural split with a 4-14 record, and, most recently, replaced team captain Hai "Hai" Lam with mid laner Son "Mickey" Young-min.

Leigh joined theScore esports Podcast this week to talk about Hai's release and how the team is feeling after their poor first split, saying that while the team wasn't happy with their results that it shouldn't be heralded as a total disaster.

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"I guess I wouldn't call it a disaster, which doesn't mean that it was a success either. Right like, I think we had moderate expectations for what the split would look like," said Leigh. "While I think we underperformed even our moderate expectations and certainly had some undesirable things happen ... I don't think internally it feels like a disaster."

The Guardians fielded the NA LCS' youngest team this past split, and their roster was built around Hai's shotcalling in the hopes that he could unify the youthful roster.

But Leigh found that, with such a dominating presence in the mid lane, the team wasn't able to grow and hold each other accountable the way the organization had hoped. So going forward, he said they need to better set up their young players for success.

"Some of our biggest learnings were that if we're going to be a development oriented organization and really focus on young talent and making sure that it is set up for success, and that it can be the best it can be," said Leigh.

It's for that reason that the organization decided to part ways with Hai prior to the summer split.

"[We've] moved from a less of a sort of top down accountability system, where we have strong veteran leaders in place in a couple different roles, [to] looking far more at sort of mutual accountability and asking everybody to hold each other a little more accountable," said Leigh.

Leigh said that it wasn't that the team was unhappy with Hai's performance, but that they feel they need to go in a different direction in order to find success.

"Obviously we made a change for a reason and so you can get lured into sort of talking about why Hai was bad, which ultimately is, one, not really fair to him and two isn't really accurate," said Leigh. "I think you can make a change despite the fact that what you had in place was working somewhat as intended.

"I don't think Hai didn't do what we asked him to do. I think what it turned out is that we needed something different."

Hai was an exemplary role model but he wasn't the mentor that the team needed, according to Leigh.

"We need something that looks a little bit more like mentorship and a little bit less like the kind of leadership style that Hai had in place," said Leigh. "So we're kind of intentionally creating a leadership vacuum."

This slow building strategy to developing a franchise is relatively new to the LCS. With the fear of relegation gone, teams are now able to take more time to work toward the future. Leigh compared the process the Guardians are going through to the Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors of the NBA — working from within to build a championship roster.

"People can debate whether this is the benefit of franchising or the like negatives of franchising," said Leigh. "Obviously if our strategy works we'll look back on it ... if it works you're a genius and everything was great and you had the right idea. And if it doesn't you're an idiot and this whole thing was a problem and this exactly the dangers of franchising."

Keith Capstick is a writer for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.