We take a quick look at coaching and its possibilities in Counter-Strike following Titan's decision to hire one on a trial basis for ESL One Cologne.
I have felt since 2009 that if Counter-Strike ever becomes large enough, coaches will become natural sixth members of each team due to the possibilities they open for improvement. In 2009 to 2010 I attended multiple World Cyber Games events while representing American EG, and was thus not allowed to actually play, but simply coach the team.
I was allowed to function as the in-game leader during freezetime, basically telling one of the players what I wanted them to do, mostly in terms of set strats, but also sometimes in terms of general ideas if I wanted them to improvise. I quickly noticed calling is a lot easier when you can see the monitors of all five players at once, and if done correctly, allowing a coach to speak during the round as well could make all teams a lot better.
You would no longer lose a round because a player with weak communication skills forgot to say something, and you'd be able to time every single execution down to a tee. Coaching has a lot of perks - and if Counter-Strike ever starts involving enough money to pay for full-time coaches, they will be around, because they will make teams better.
Coaching is the future, but I'm not sure Titan, whom we're focusing on here due to their decision to add a coach as the first top team worldwide, is the right team to implement it in. Let's take a quick look why that may be.
Will a coach be able to fix what's broken in Titan?
Titan should not need coaching
I thought we'd all been in agreement that Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans is one of if not the best in-game leader out there. If that's the case, surely they would be exactly the kind of team who would not benefit much from coaching? I understand a successful team should look for competitive advantages everywhere, but out of all of the world's top teams, I would say Titan would need it the least, followed by Na`Vi in second place.
Although ESL is allowing coaches to speak during the rounds - at least in playoffs, according to Alexander "crtmN" Nehr - most of what they can do, especially at first, is point out mistakes after rounds to help the team adjust faster, and anything related to preparation before the event actually kicks off. Titan live together; they have all the time in the world to prepare, and seemingly have already done it. Why else would they have allowed Richard "shox" Papillon to leave, instead of letting him stay at home more?
Titan already are capable of playing a very strategic style, which means some extra help in that regard could actually even hurt the team, as the opinions of Droolans and the team's new coach Arthur "le Poireau Malefique" Guillermet could differ and create tension within the squad. It's also a style they've been trying to move away from for almost a year. They could use help with mid round calling, which Papillon provided, but an outsider coach's ability to jump right in and make those calls has to be called to question.
The gaming house is another factor to consider here. If Titan were a team unable to bootcamp before events and generally lacking practice, à la compLexity or iBUYPOWER, this could be huge for them - but they aren't. They are the exact opposite. Again, I understand you go for anything that may give you the slightest edge, but I don't see Titan getting much out of this.
They won before without coaching, why can't they do it again?
They hired the wrong coach
To my understanding Droolans' strengths are preparing the team well. By that I mean coming up with new strategies, dry-running them, making sure everyone knows what they're doing and preparing for other teams by watching demos and analyzing their playing styles. All of the things listed above require hard work and dedication; two key qualities for a coach.
Concidentally the ideal coach is someone who would enjoy doing all of those things, and be very good at them. Not only is Droolans painfully aware of every single Titan player's strengths and weaknesses, he's clearly hard working and interested in the strategic aspect in the game. Finally, Droolans isn't a good fragger - his KPR is identical to NiP's Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson's, and you'll be hard pressed to find a game where he was a key fragger for his team.
What Titan should have done, if it is an option, is make Droolans their coach, abandon the silly gaming house concept, and bring back Papillon, who is capable of making the mid-round calls that Droolans may not be allowed to. Titan can use help with mid round calls and quick decision making, but a coach can't help with that. A coach could allow Droolans focus more on fragging, but how could they let a complete outsider take over the reigns of the team?
Had it been Droolans, I could have seen it happening - he's already proven his approach to Counter-Strike can yield results, and I have little doubt the team would trust him completely in his new role. Will Droolans let a coach with little experience, compared to him and his teammates, overrule him when the score is tied at fourteen in the deciding map? I doubt it.
Ex6TenZ could be the perfect coach for Titan
A sign of desperation?
Once again, a smart team will attempt to gain any small advantage they can, and that includes coaching. If Titan have a coach who can give them even a five percent boost in terms of performance, it might be enough to get them over the hump in their next tournaments. They've been very close since the year begun - but still fallen short in the end.
This could be interpreted as a sign of desperation. Many voiced concern over Droolans, according to Auguste "Semmler" Massonnat's translation of the Titan in-game leader's interview, decision to start playing with a more loose style, similar to that of NiP's. Titan already did that just under a year ago - and it yielded results. However, is moving further into that direction the correct move, and how on earth would coaching help them get there?
Titan's current roster isn't necessarily a great fit for that kind of playing style. Their communication seems erratic, and they hardly possess the calmness and strong team work that NiP clearly has, based on watching them play live. The free-wheeling style of play NiP is famous for requires great communication, strong team work, and lots of individual skill. Currently Titan may be lacking in all three of those categories, none of which coaching will help.
To me Titan needs more skill if they wish to move forward with this approach. It's possible they're setting things up for Droolans to retire later this year - as he did suggest last year's ESWC would be his last - but even if so, it seems like a huge gamble to take, and one that from an outsider's perspective doesn't make a lot of sense. Nevertheless, it will be very interesting to see how it plays out.
Something has to change in Titan
ESL One Cologne may be the last chance for Titan before a major overhaul. 2014 has been a disappointment, and the last personnel changes to go for include a change in leadership.
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