AS cliché as it sounds, there is more to coaching than just the tactics, the strategies, or as the coaches would say, the Xs and Os. This becomes all too clear when you end up personally experiencing the struggles of being a team mentor.
In a recent podcast, Caisam “Wolf” Nopueto, Dan “Leo” Cubangay, and Paul Denver “Yeb” Miranda — who've all had coaching experience under their belt — exchanged their thoughts about this very difficult job in their recent podcast.
Debunking what others actually see
Both MPL shoutcasters, Caisam “Wolf” Nopueto and Dan “Leo” Cubangay, had brief coaching stints, with the former serving as an analyst for Onic PH in Seasons 6 and 7 and the latter with Work Auster Force in Season 7.
But prior to their coaching careers, they were once outsiders who knew little about what was happening behind the scenes, until they personally experienced it themselves.
“Madaming mga common misconceptions. Ang daming mga bashers na alam mo yung sinasabi nila na ‘Dapat ganito yung ginawa o ganyan.’ Hindi siya madaling i-execute as a team. Iba yung understanding ng viewers sa coaches mismo,” said Wolf.
Leo stressed the importance of team dynamics — a fact that fans may sometimes overlook.
“The few times I’ve actually helped coach, parating hindi ako nag-iisa. Meron din team ng coaches, kasama dun yung manager at analyst,” reminisced Leo. “Kung yung player pa lang, ang init na ng tao sa desisyon niya, paano pa yung behind the scenes? Kase yung desisyon ng tao behind the scenes, hindi ganoon kadali."
He added: “There’s more than just one person doing this, kaya kung ano man mangyari na napapanood nila, hindi lang isang tao ang gumagalaw.”
The importance of player relationships
With that, all three of them agree that establishing strong bonds is important for the team’s success.
If the coaches hosting the podcast were to pie-chart the time the time they devoted to coaching, you'd be surprised at the ratio of in-game mechanics to real-world relationship management.
“It’s 30% in-game, 70% outside of the game. Actually noong nag-coach ako sa Dota, mas 10% lang yung masasabi ko in-game, pero 90% of the time inaalagaan ko mentality nila kase yan yun mas mahirap for me at madaling ma-crumble talaga eh,” Nopueto said, reflecting on his Dota 2 coaching days with Laus Auto Group Playbook Esports.
Leo had a similar experience with Work Auster Force.
“Ang weird kase yung 20% yung excel sheet, nood tayo VOD, pero yung 80% yun yung makikipag-usap ka, alamin mo kung what makes this player tick, alamin mo kung sino sa kanila yung magbu-butt heads, sinong kailangang ayusin yung chemistry or dynamics,” recounted Cubangay.
Onic PH head coach Yeb, in Singapore now as his team prepares for the upcoming M3 World Championships, feels like he's struck a balance between the two aspects of the job.
“Siguro 50-50. I mean importante rin kase yung in-game, pero ang taas pa rin ng 50% na yun eh. Kaya bini-build yung chemistry, para yung communication nila solid,” said Onic's Mobile Legends mentor.
In an earlier part of the podcast, he compared teaching in-game mechanics to being a schoolteacher. “Para sa akin kase, madali yung in-game. Kumbaga, para ka lang teacher na nagtuturo ng mathematics. Pero paano mo siya matuturo na maintindihan ng tinuturan?"
When it comes to maintaining team dynamics, Leo said that connecting with players will always be a challenge.
“Parang hinanap mo na kung anong hiyang sa kanila pero hindi mo ma-a-absorb. And again. walang may kasalanan doon kase it’s already innate sa coaching or teaching. Walang totoong solusyon dun, it’s always going to be there,” he said.
How does a coach gain trust and respect?
Coming from a 0-13 record with his previous team, Cignal Ultra, Coach Yeb knows personally how hard it is to prove yourself to your players.
“Feeling ko kase kapag coach ka, hindi naman kailangan alpha ka... pero actually kailangan alpha ka. Alam mo yun? Kailangan kapag nagsalita ako, may dating sa inyo na hindi mo pinupwersa,” he said. “Kase day 1, may respeto ba sila? Wala."
It's not all about the game knowledge. Players will scrutinize the way a coach reprimands or gives advice. And Leo and Wolf pointed out that it's important to remember that esports athletes are mostly very young.
“Kahit pa sabihin natin 18 years old ka na at akala mo mature ka na, iba talaga. Some players can be immature but hindi mo sila pwedeng i-blame. Parang, you work on that,” said Wolf.
“And hindi mo pwedeng gawin yun na parang ginagawa mo as an adult na kapag may ginagawa ka na hindi ko gusto, kakausapin kita about it. Pero kapag bata, kailangan mong daanan sa iba eh. Daanan mo sa laro, sa biro, sa kamustahan,” added Leo, who is also a mentor at the esports development initiative The Madrigal Project.
Dealing with the player’s personal lives
Even the nitty-gritty, non-game aspects can sometimes fall under a coach's domain, as Wolf found out in Laus.
“I have a player na kailangan namin i-register syempre kase The Nationals yun eh. Kailangan may papers and everything basta identification. This player technically non-existent siya kase wala siyang birth certificate,” he mused.
This paperwork oversight ended up throwing a spanner into their practice sessions.
“Sobrang sakit nun sa ulo. [...] [A]s a coach, technically hindi ko ito problema eh, problema ito ng player, problema ito ng management’ pero syempre kailangan mo siyang i-solve at it kinda gets in the way of training.”
And if a player is going through a personal problem, coaches must be keen enough to spot that in bootcamp — something Yeb has already trained himself to do in Onic.
“Ako kase sobrang observant ko. Alam ko kapag yung player ko may problema ngayong araw. Kunwari nag-scrim kayo si Player 1, hindi maganda laro pero kahapon or sa ibang araw ang ganda ng laro niya,” he said.
He went on, "Actually yung pinaka-challenge talaga sa pag-coaching. Imagine five players, lahat yan iba yung kinalakihan, iba yung ugali. Yung iba diyan hindi nagsasalita, yung iba sobrang ingay, yung iba siraulo. Paano mo sila iintindihin? Maraming misunderstanding muna yung pagdadaanan mo. Sometimes mag-aaway kayo eh until maintindihan nila kung paano maging isang team."
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