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Elite eSport Coaching: 7 Qualities of a Championship Team

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If you’ve been keeping up, July at Mind Games has been all about eSport coaching.

Let’s wrap the month up discussing the qualities of an excellent team. It’s one thing to develop your coaching skills, but without a proper team environment, your coaching abilities only go so far. In this article, we’ll discuss how it isn’t necessarily about having a full team of the best possible superstars that distinguishes championship teams. In fact, teamwork can be built upon seven fundamental team qualities.

Before we look at each quality possessed by the best teams, we’ll first wrap our heads around what teams might look like that aren’t great yet.
(WARNING: This might hit close to home for some of us!)

Then, we’ll get an understanding for what great teams do that average teams don’t.

Finally, we’ll think about some strategies to move from average to great.

The 7 Cs of Championship Teams are:

  • Common Goal
  • Commitment
  • Complementary Roles
  • Clear Communication
  • Constructive Conflict
  • Cohesion
  • Credible Coaching

(Janssen, 2002)

1. Common Goal

AVERAGE: Let’s say a team recently won their promotion tournament matchup to make it from the North American Challenger Series to the North American League Championship Series. Morale is high. The team sets a goal of making the playoffs. Everyone is behind the goal, except their mid-laner is happy to just be in the LCS. As a result, he gets complacent and doesn’t put as many hours into getting better personally. His lack of personal drive impacts the team’s larger goal.

GREAT: Championship teams rally behind one united goal. An example would be having a particular tournament they want to win, or a rank they want to achieve in the regular season. All members of the team, including players, coaches, management, and support staff must embrace the goal. Also, all members of the team need to understand what personal goals they can set to help the team meet its overall goal. Great teams set goals for everyone that help move the team closer to its overall goal.

HOW TO GET THERE: It’s important to properly set goals for where you want your team to be. When considering your team’s big common goal, brainstorm what the benefits of achieving the goal will be, what obstacles stand in the way, and what plan can be put in place to overcome any obstacles. While doing team-wide goal-setting, it’s important for players to understand what individual goals they can set to help the team’s goal.

2. Commitment

AVERAGE: An example could be that an amateur CS:GO squad sets a goal of going pro. After losing one small tournament, however, the team begins to doubt their ability to compete with the top teams and puts in less and less effort to improving. The players might have the mindset that they’re always going to be amateur; that trying to go pro is pointless.

GREAT: Another quality that separates OK teams from great teams is the ability to stay committed for the long haul. It’s relatively easy for most teams to enter a season with the goal of winning it all. It’s a much harder feat to stick with a goal after losing or encountering setbacks. A committed team understands at every level how individual decisions impact the team’s success. Committed players see their individual practice as the work needed to make the team better.

Whereas having a Common Goal is a team quality, having Commitment involves every person individually championing the responsibility of making a goal a reality.

HOW TO GET THERE: It’s easy enough to set goals as a team about where you want to be in a month, year, season, etc. It takes more work to stick with goals through setbacks. Players should constantly check-in on what else they could be doing to help the team overall. We should also remember that when we first set a goal, we were probably excited about it! Don’t let the value of a goal be diminished by setbacks and obstacles.

3. Complementary Roles

AVERAGE: Most of us have probably been on teams that have one hotshot who seemingly gets all the fame and glory. What that player often misses is how many people contribute to his success. If left unchecked, a spotlight-hog can make the other players on the team feel unimportant. This often leads to the team disbanding or players/staff jumping ship to a better situation.

GREAT: On a great team, every member should have a role. The most important part of this quality is showing that all roles are necessary for the team’s success. For example, the player on your team who gets the most kills might receive the most spotlight and praise, but that doesn’t mean he has the most important role. Great teams realize that every role is critical for winning.

HOW TO GET THERE: One thing organizations can do to demonstrate the importance of every role is to praise the success of team members when they do something right by naming the strategy or behavior that led to the success. This method of praise allows people to continually succeed in their roles by knowing what they did.

4. Clear Communication

AVERAGE: I’m sure you’ve heard a glimpse into some team’s comms, as it’s more and more common for streams to show that now. I’ve had the opportunity to hear what some top teams (and not-so-top teams) sound like over the course of a match. The best teams have ways to stay communicating even when the game isn’t going their way. The average teams are usually silent once the game starts slipping out of their control.

I bet if you looked at how average teams talk out-of-game, you’d see similar silence/avoidance when someone is unhappy with a match result.

GREAT: Communication takes two forms on an eSports team. First, great teams must be able to communicate effectively in-game. The shot-caller needs to make the right calls. The other players need to appropriately communicate pertinent information. Effective strategy execution cannot happen without everyone on the team communicating well.

Secondly, while out-of-game, players need to be able to discuss team goals, strategies, game analysis, and whatever else effects their team’s success. This is especially true in eSports, as most teams share a house together.

HOW TO GET THERE: One strategy that can help structure in-game communication is helping each player learn his style of communication. There is actually a survey to help learn your style. Out-of-game communication can be fostered through teambuilding exercises. The coaching staff should help develop the team’s communication by promoting at atmosphere where sharing gripes and successes is allowed.

5. Constructive Conflict

AVERAGE: Average teams often either avoid conflict entirely, or don’t handle it properly. In some ways, avoiding it might actually be worse. You can’t make emotions disappear, so they will instead bottle up. Usually this results in an explosion of negative emotions. How many of us have been on teams where two players have major gripes with each other, everyone knows it, but nothing is said? Think back to how toxic that environment feels.

GREAT: Building on communication, great teams understand that conflict is eventually going to happen. Whereas ineffective teams avoid conflict, or see it as a weakness, great teams use conflict to build the team even better. As long as teams can see the resolution of conflict as another step toward reaching their overall goal, they can create an environment in which conflict is allowed, but not toxic.

HOW TO GET THERE: Teams need to have a deliberate forum for expressing conflict. Having a scheduled “gripe-fest” isn’t necessarily the answer, but a team that is proactive with handling negative situations will be better for it in the long run. Consider scheduling a short window of time after each match to address what went wrong and what to do to change it. If an issue arises between two players, have them express it. In these situations, it’s best to have the players use “I” statements (that is, how they themselves are feeling) instead of “you” statements, which are often accusatory.

6. Cohesion

AVERAGE: Some teams show up for practices, scrimmages, and game day, but go do their own thing 100% of the off-time. While players absolutely need personal time, average teams fail to capitalize on building cohesion outside of the game.

GREAT: While most successful eSports teams spend hours upon hours practicing their game together, the best teams also find opportunities to spend time outside of the game. This doesn’t mean that every team member needs to hang out with every other team member all of the time. Building cohesion outside of game, though, allows relationships to develop without the stress of in-game performance.

HOW TO GET THERE: As a team, figure out activities to connect with outside of the game. If there are key in-game relationships that can benefit from better communication, find ways to work on those in other atmospheres. For example, if your mid-laner on a League of Legends team is a strong carry, it might benefit your team by having him and your jungler have a better relationship.

As a coach, you can encourage things like team dinner or team workouts.

CLG’s League of Legends team, for example, uses basketball as a method for building cohesion and practicing communication. Many other teams work out in the gym together.

In an interview, Aphromoo (CLG’s support player) said,

We wake up, we do stretches for like 20 minutes or so, and then we go out and do a passing drill with the basketball or do communications exercises in a circle and pass it around. Sometimes we do 3v3 scrimmages with basketball as well.

7. Credible Coaching

AVERAGE: It’s getting better, but many eSports teams seemingly think, “Everyone has a coach. We should get one.” Then, they find the nearest person who has played their eSport before and ask them to coach. Coaching is a skill. We cannot expect someone to be able to help create a high-performing team just because they’ve played the same game before.

GREAT: Finally, championship-caliber teams have a quality coaching staff and leadership. A great coach is able to create an environment in which all of the 7 Cs can be developed. Great coaches foster trust and respect with their eSport athletes.

HOW TO GET THERE: Players spend countless hours honing their mechanics, strategies, and in-game execution. Coaching, too, is a skill. Coaches should put in time to develop professionally. While eSports is a relatively young field, efforts are being made to create an eSport Coaching Network to provide quality professional development.

It’s easier said than done

Creating a championship isn’t as easy as assembling a group of the best mechanically-skilled players. Think about a team like the short-lived Alliance in League of Legends, or any of the number of other “super teams” that have been constructed in any eSport. They usually can brute-force some games due to their combined skill, but teams that are better organized or more strategic usually come out ahead in the long run.

When an organization can foster the development of all 7 Cs, top performances become more likely. Through this process, teams (players, staff, management) can all be more motivated to achieve a Common Goal.

If you are looking to up your game as a coach, or just want to know how to help your team run better, check out the rest of the coaching articles on MindGames from the month of July.

Follow me on Twitter and shoot me any coaching questions you have. You can also send me an email!

Reference: Janssen, J. (2002) Championship Team Building: What Ever Coach Needs to Know to Build a Motivated, Committed & Cohesive Team. Janssen Peak Performance Inc. Cary, NC.