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Rebuilding China: the case of OMG, ZTR eSports, and WCA

by theScore Staff Dec 17 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of LPL / PLU

It’s been ingrained into us by interviews with Korean players that the coach’s word is law. Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles has attributed a great deal of Korean team success to their strong top-down infrastructure.

There’s a trend in the west to think of Chinese eSports clubs as approximations of Korean organizations. Much evidence suggests, however, that Chinese teams may at this point be further away from the “Korean top-down hierarchy” than North American or European teams.

Weekly Hurdle: the Case of OMG and the Korean coaches

Several cultural hypotheses exist as to the differences between the Korean and Chinese eSports environment. The purpose of this investigation is not to consider these hypotheses, but to acknowledge that differences in cultures and infrastructure have impacted the expectations players have of coaches in South Korea and China.

Korean coaches have expressed that working with a Chinese team and Korean team differs in more than just language barrier and location. Chinese teams respond to different coaching methods, and management doesn’t always enforce coaching decisions when players are treated like equals rather than employees.

Naturally, not all Korean teams are the same, and not all Chinese teams are the same, but when I interview a Korean player at an international event, I’m much more likely to get the answer “I don’t know; our coach made the decision,” than I am when I interview a Chinese player. After joining LGD Gaming as Head Coach, Lee “Heart” Gwanhyung expressed that he realizes it may be more difficult to control the players than on a Korean team. Part of this may be that they won’t operate on good faith alone when listening to what a coach has to say.

The most easily accessible case of the problem between Korean coaches and Chinese players is the recent implosion of OMG. After a year that started with a blockbuster move in signing Jian “Uzi” Zihao and high expectations from fans, OMG placed seventh in the LPL Summer Season, and three-fifths of their star-studded starting roster retired.

OMG’s management told theScore eSports, “We will not consider any foreign imports. We are willing to learn the Koreans' superior training, management, and structure, but we want every step to be walked by ourselves.” As a result, though they wanted to retain their all-Chinese lineup, OMG hired a Korean coaching staff at the start of the year to try to adopt the training methods of the dominant Korean teams.

An interview feature by Ryan Luwei (translated to English by Rachel Younggu) with OMG’s players at the end of the year gave the Chinese player perspective on working with the Korean coaching staff and several conflicts that stemmed from it. The first mention of the Korean coach came from now-retired jungler, Yin “Loveling” Le. His comment highlighted the communication barrier.

“...we had problems communicating with our coach,” Loveling said. “During scrims, we might have a few arguments, and we wouldn't resolve them in a timely manner. Our problems grew bigger and bigger, and I felt like we resorted to an ‘every man for himself’ mentality.”

As I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier installments, I believe one of the most important and least talked about problems with having a mixed language team comes outside the game. It’s much more difficult and frustrating to have a long conversation about problems within a team when one must rely on a translator. Even though OMG had an all-Chinese roster, being able to speak the same language became moot with a Korean coaching staff.

Some players on OMG have taken part in Chinese eSports since before League of Legends. While Chinese teams adopted coaches and analysts before most western teams—as early as 2011—OMG in particular has been described as more of a clique-like group of players by their former Chinese coach, Huang "TT" Yingxiang, and players had considerable say in team decisions as a group.

Yu "Cool" Jiajun explained that his natural inclination when there are problems with the team is to discuss it with the entire group. "Sometimes, when I lose," Cool said, "or when there's a part of my gameplay I'm not happy with, I'll bring it up... If someone else brings up a good point, then I'll think about their viewpoint too."

Given OMG's identity as a close team that spends a lot of time together outside just playing or preparing for League of Legends matches, it makes sense that many of the players would be open and express problems. Unfortunately, even before 2015, when OMG performed poorly, they have tended to fight quite a bit. This year, the team agreed that their personalities clashed more than before.

"...it came to the point where we'd say things like, 'If you play, I won't play. If you don't play, I'll play,'" Cool said. "It was hard for me to accept."

Though their bickering this year may have been more extreme because they had higher expectations, and the LPL environment was more competitive, Loveling expressed that the fighting was not atypical of how the team handled problems in the past. "When our team encounters a problem, we'll hold a meeting and argue a bit."

Perhaps unused to the environment of OMG or unable to understand their players' expectations, the Korean coaches reacted by keeping the players apart when problems arose. "They think we'll get into fights," Loveling said, "and they'll try to control us. If we continue discussing it, they'll try to talk to us individually. And we won't have a group discussion to clarify things. Everyone was estranged from one another."

Gao “Gogoing” Diping echoed Loveling’s sentiment. “...the coach will tell us not to argue,” Gogoing said. “He was trying to empathize with the other person involved. I didn't know about this difference between Korea and China. But I feel like if we can argue about it for a bit, we can figure out the issue and resolve it.”

Whether the difference in their coach's methods and their expectations stemmed from cultural reasons or not, the results of the player separation became apparent with time. Several misunderstandings arose within OMG, and the players took to social media to air disagreements when they couldn’t discuss them among themselves.

Cool in particular became the target of much of the blame for players being benched, but according to what OMG have told theScore eSports, the Korean coaches ultimately made the decisions about starting roster. The team itself had acknowledged that something needed to change, so the Korean coaches went about changing it.

The Korean coaches may have expected the Chinese players to listen to instruction without detailed explanation, echoing the sentiment of many Korean players, most famously, SK Telecom T1's Lee "Faker" Sanghyeok and Lee "Easyhoon" Jihoon, who often claimed they did not understand why their coaches decided who would play which game. OMG's Chinese players, however, expected their coaches to earn their respect and explain themselves.

When asked if he believed in his coach, Gogoing responded, "It's not that I didn't believe in him. It's because he needs to let the players see how he can be useful... You can't enforce things if the players think differently...you can't let your players turn into robots and just listen to all your plans as a coach. If I think I should do something in game, and I'm wrong, then I should take the blame."

Gogoing’s words may sound familiar to European and North American players. Many team environments with older players in NA and EU are much more collaborative between players and coaches than top-down. Origen’s recent run at the World Championship sticks out as a strong example, where Tadayoshi “Hermit” Littleton described his role as more of a facilitator than an authoritative coach.

A team like OMG that has long been more player-run reacted negatively to an abrupt change in approach. The Korean coaching staff and OMG had drastically differing expectations that they could not properly communicate. OMG’s management, to their credit, stood by the coaches they had hired, but problems only worsened.

Ultimately, it wasn’t that OMG’s players were unwilling to work with a coach. “...the coach is a necessary and useful part of a team,” Cool said. “At the least, the coach came all the way from Korea, so he deserves respect.”

Cool expressed empathy for the Korean coaches'’ situation.

“It's not easy to be a coach. He'll try to think of ways to help us, but sometimes, our players were a little too proud. It's really hard to help someone like that," he said

As players and coaches began to compromise, the work environment became collaborative. The players and coaches began to discuss champion select more as a team. After that, Gogoing said, “Our relationship with our coach was good. We'll make the picks, and the coach wouldn't oppose it too much. We would agree on—let's take Uzi for example—we'll tell him to play a different champion—and we'll tell our coach as a 5 man unanimous decision. It was a team effort.”

Near the end of the season, OMG managed to reach an understanding. Unfortunately, however, the damage had been done, and the players and staff couldn’t make up for the time they had lost in order to attempt a strong run at the World Championship in Playoffs. Since then, OMG released their Korean coaching staff, many of their players retired, and Luo “BSYY” Sheng, previously of LGD Gaming, has become OMG’s new Head Coach.

The tension between Korean coaches and Chinese players wasn’t the only factor in OMG performing poorly this year. Gogoing admitted that perhaps he had kept playing when he didn’t have the motivation to do so. The addition of Uzi’s personality created more clashes. OMG could place well in LPL in the past, but increased competition with Koreans joining the league made it so they had to work harder.

OMG’s case doesn’t represent every Chinese team, but it carries an important lesson. Chinese players may have drastically different expectations of a coach than Korean players due to cultural or infrastructural discrepancies. As a result, a Korean coach new to LPL may not achieve desired results unless he’s willing to adapt. It might make sense to hire a Chinese coach in addition to Korean coach to help with the process.

Not one size fits all. An example a western fan may find more familiar is the gaming house phenomenon. Personal space and privacy allegedly has less value in Korean culture than in North America or Europe, resulting in more conflicts caused by sharing a confined space.

As a result, some teams like Team Liquid have begun renting out office space so that teams can compartmentalize their time working with the team and also go home and have time to themselves. This is an example of adapting a lesson from Korean infrastructure to suit specific needs of a team.

The OMG example hammers home the importance of understanding why something works when attempting to imitate it. Having gone through the process, OMG now have the opportunity to start fresh with management that supports a coaching staff and new players to mold. Coach BSYY doesn’t have a strong reputation, and OMG haven’t revealed any new signings that provide optimism for 2016, but it’s a starting point that could stand them in good stead for years to come.

Roster Rumblings

Confirmations

Quite a few roster debuts in Tencent Games Arena confirmed multitudes of transfers. One transfer that might sound familiar includes Chen “Spicy” Long from Team Roar to MonKey Army. MonKey Army didn’t qualify for LSPL, but Spicy was part of the Roar roster that attempted to qualify for the North American LCS. In addition, Li “Right” Junjie, previously of Snake Honor Esports (SHE), joined Legend Dragon Academy and will play in the LSPL again in 2016.

The larger changes came to LGD Gaming and Royal Never Give Up. LGD officially added Xie “Eimy” Dan and Jang “MaRin” Gyeonghwan to their roster. For a detailed breakdown of my thoughts on all of LGD’s changes, you can read my feature on the team.

Royal Never Give Up added Koreans to their lineup. Jang "looper" Hyeongseok and Coach Kim "Fly" Sangchul joined Cho “Mata” Sehyeong at the roster unveil during Galaxy Esports Carnival. I’m about as excited for Mata’s and looper’s reunion as I am Elements’ impending announcement of their new roster, but I’ll discuss Royal in more detail when it’s decided whether or not Uzi will join the team.

I have no expectations regarding Fly, as I don’t have a very precise understanding of his role on Team Impulse this year.

Vici Gaming will debut new support, Duan "Duan" Deliang, in World Cyber Arena this weekend. He played for their youth team during IeSF's 7th World Championship and has a lot of work to do to take Mata's place.

He “Soist” Zhihong, previously known as DreamS — AKA the jungler who broke Masters3’s air conditioner while ill — transferred from M3 to Energy Pacemaker All. Soist accompanied EPA during the opening ceremony for World Cyber Arena.

It’s possible DreamS may become a substitute player for EPA, as current jungler Huang “crisis” Zhen is one of the more promising members of the team. I know from experience, however, that the Chinese roster change you don’t want to happen probably will.

To round out things that happened today (read: three items in a row), Ke "957" Changyu joined WE as a top laner. Though Peng "Aluka" Zhenming is still on WE's official roster as Team Captain, 957 is listed above him. 957 served as team captain for WE Future, meaning he may be able to assume of all of Aluka's roles.

957 has shown a lot of promise in LSPL, and as WE seem to have had success injecting new blood into the roster with their jungler, 957's transfer seems like a good move overall. He may also be the best top lane Morgana I've ever seen, for whatever that's worth.

Likely

The well has more or less dried up during All Stars, but two probable events came through. South Money reported that the recently-relegated Team King sold to China Investment Corporation, a massive sovereign wealth fund responsible for managing part of the People’s Republic of China’s foreign exchange reserves.

I can’t confirm the buyer, but it’s all-but-finalized that Team King will rebrand to ZTR eSports Club in LSPL this coming year with an all new roster. The speculation on forums is that the original owner of King, Qing Fen, has regained interest in eSports, and he is related to the owner of CIC.

In keeping with WE Future players transferring to Masters3 and Team WE proper, WE Future's support, Jin "Savoki" Hao, recently changed his tag on the Korean server to "WE," suggesting that he may follow 957 to the flagship team before the transfer season is out.

Rumor Roundup

If Savoki leaves WE Future for WE, only mid laner Ma "Naranja" Chao wold remain of the promising new talents on WEF. As Masters3 has a mid lane vacancy, and the already transferred Xu "PentaQ" Mingshu reportedly has a close relationship with Naranja, that could be the next move the organization makes.

Otherwise, we’re back to Uzi rumors. He continues to be the topic, but hopefuls that he’ll join Royal Never Give Up have dwindled. Some speculators don’t believe RNG’s owner will agree to the price of Uzi. Others suggest that OMG would be more willing to transfer Uzi for a lower price to another club.

With the alleged selling of King, Royal should have an injection of cash on hand, so RNG buying Uzi is still a possibility. Other choices include Invictus Gaming, Vici Gaming, EDward Gaming, and WE. Most are wishful thinking on the part of fans or the dregs of old rumors that weren’t even plausible while they were in vogue.

Upcoming Events: Intel Extreme Masters Cologne, World Cyber Arena

As theScore eSports will provide separate coverage of Intel Extreme Masters Cologne and Qiao Gu Reapers, this section will deal primarily with World Cyber Arena.

The World Cyber Arena is an international event featuring Hearthstone, Warcraft 3, Heroes of the Storm, Defense of the Ancients 2, World of Tanks, and Cross Fire. The tournament also features games with domestic participants only, including League of Legends, Sanguosha, Blade Souls, Freedom War, and Glorious Mission. WCA is organized by the Yinchuan Municipal Government and Yinchuan International Game Holy Land Investment Co., Ltd.

Participating League of Legends teams include Invictus Gaming, SNAKE, Royal Never Give Up, Vici Gaming, Energy Pacemaker All, Hyper Youth Gaming, 2144 Danmu Gaming, and Legend Dragon. Participants were determined by invite only.


Matches begin at 4:00 a.m. December 17th EST on the official stream. The tournament lasts through December 20th. All quarterfinals will be Best of 3 except the final, and semifinals onward will be Best of 5.

Round ID Match Day Time
QF1 Snake vs LD 12/17 4:00 a.m.
QF2 RNG vs VG 12/17 7:00 a.m.
QF3 EPA vs HYG 12/18 2:00 a.m.
QF4 2144D vs iG 12/18 4:30 a.m.
SF1 W QF1 vs W QF2 12/18 11:00 p.m.
SF2 W QF3 vs W QF4 12/19 2:40 a.m.
3rd L SF1 vs L SF2 12/19 9:00 p.m.
Final W SF1 vs W SF2 12/20 1:00 a.m.

It’s starting to get down to the wire with transfer season, meaning that teams will begin to play with their new rosters. Invictus Gaming and Vici Gaming may show the current states of their bottom lanes, it’s a good time to scout Hyper Youth Gaming and Energy Pacemaker All for their possible new junglers, and who can tell when it comes to Snake?

Snake may actually win a LAN. Or just make it to the final and choke again.

Most eyes will be on Royal Never Give Up, as this could be a more serious debut of a team sporting Mata and looper. If Uzi does join RNG, I doubt he’ll have signed in time for WCA, so expect to see Wang “wuxx” Cheng on AD carry.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.

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