Why coaching is the future of CS
After explaining why a coach likely will not benefit Titan much last week, this time we look at all the benefits recruiting one could bring for a team.
With last Friday's "A brief look at Titan and coaching" article giving a measly outlook on the team's decision to hire a coach, we look at the other side of the coin this week.
Make no mistake, coaching is valuable and will be a huge asset to the right teams using the advantages it gives in the right way. I simply do not believe Titan are the right team for it, or hired the right coach.
For those interested in the subject, we also talked about it in-depth in [POD]Cast episode #17 together with Duncan "Thorin" Shields and fnatic's Patrik "cArn" Sättermon.
Below are just some of the ways I believe introducing coaches to today's Counter-Strike teams could benefit everyone involved, and are the reason I think coaching is the future of CS.
Could teams other than Titan gain more from coaching?
Improved in-game calling
As outlined in the Titan coaching piece, I strongly believe having a coach on the voice communication software with the entire team and able to see everyone's monitors during a match will make teams better. It's so much easier to make the right calls when you see everything that happens - no team communicates nearly enough to make up for the difference.
You can pick up patterns in the other team's play a lot easier when you can see all the grenades being thrown. You can quickly notice if one of your players is overextending, or is not aggressive enough in trading a kill. It's also going to be a whole lot easier to adjust to the other team, when you have a better understanding of how they play in the first place.
From my experience as a coach at World Cyber Games events, while only allowed to speak during freezetime, it felt as if calling the right plays was almost as easy as when watching games with the whole map visible on GOTV. It's hard to overstate how much useful information goes uncommunicated in a given match, which proves how right Dave "moto" Geffon was when he said it's impossible to communicate too much.
Furthermore, you will get to focus entirely on calling. No more worrying about your movement, aiming or where to look when you're attacking a site. All you have to do, as a coach, is figure out what the best tactic for any given round is, or what the best overall strategy to beat a certain team is. That opens up so much brain power to pure thinking on a strategic level.
It also allows you to spend time thinking about the upcoming rounds mid-round. Normally you have to formulate your thoughts subconsciously, or during a few free seconds between the rounds. All of a sudden the coach would have up to a minute to go through different options in his head, consider all the information available and to make the best decision. Don't undervalue this part, it will improve calling.
On the other hand, it will also make whoever was the in-game leader before a better player. No longer will that person have to focus on his teammates, spend excess energy on reading the other team or make sure everyone is doing everything correctly mid-round. You get to look at your crosshair, be aware of what is going on and try to click some heads. It's a lot more fun.
Even a CS genius like ave could have improved with help
Allows for better players
Most modern teams, save for the mid 2013 version of fnatic and the 2014 LGB eSports, have a roster spot for a designated in-game leader. That's probably the thinnest spot on the roster in terms of available talent - there are very few good in-game leaders, and thus it's less likely the good ones are skilled individually - and therefore there's plenty of room for improvement.
In practice that would mean substituting an individually weak in-game leader, who is still good at his main job, into the coaching position. That would allow the team to recruit a more skilled player in his place, improving the overall skill level of the team, as well as leadership, as explained above. Good examples for teams who could benefit from this are Titan and dignitas, whose leaders struggle in fragging.
That's not to say players such as Richard "shox" Papillon, who are able to make good mid-round calls themselves, wouldn't help a team. They could bring in valuable thoughts, but they wouldn't have to relied on them. In other words, they could chime in when they wanted to, as opposed to being forced to do it every single round. Imagine a good mid-round caller, and allow him to only call when he wants to. That's going to improve the overall level of his calls.
Some will argue in-game leading will not affect a player's performance, and for some it may be right - it all depends on the individual. But once teams start employing five players recruited based on their team work, chemistry, communication and individual skills - with no focus on leadership - those teams will inevitably become more like the 2012 fnatic squad, which included five legitimate fraggers, and therefore more pure firepower.
As mentioned in the paragraph above, there are much more good fraggers than good in-game leaders. If we don't need a player who happens to be good at both, we can get a better in-game leader as a coach - regardless of his skill level individually - and a better fragger - who can't read the other team, or make equally good calls - but will provide more firepower. That's a win-win situation, and one that any team should strive for.
fnatic 2012 basically had no real in-game leader
Mistakes can be fixed faster
Lost a few key rounds in a match and you're about to start your next series in fifteen minutes? No problem, the coach probably saw what went wrong and will be able to point it out before it starts. A traditional team won't stand a chance in comparison, unless you're Danilo "Zeus" Teslenko and willing to spend breaks watching demos. And even then there's very limited time.
What's better, you won't even have to wait until the next game. It's normal for teams, even the very best in the world, to have small arguments after lost rounds. Sometimes they extend to multiple rounds, and generally don't lead to cohesive decisions without the in-game leader making, sometimes unpopular, executive decisions and overruling others.
If you have a coach, who possesses more authority than all the five players on the server, the whole game changes. All of a sudden instead of having five players looking at each other to find out whose fault something was, you have a coach who can simply tell a player to try something differently next round. It can reduce tension, while improving the team's play.
This applies to practice, too. Sometimes for a leader it can be hard to tell in practice whether a new tactic is flawed completely, a minor tweak could fix it, or if the loss was simply caused by a big mistake by one of the players, or a huge performance by an opponent. Player egos play to this part too, as refusing to acknowledge a mistake may lead the entire team wrong.
Having a coach overlooking the entire process changes everything. No more will you have to rely on players' own opinions, you can make the decision yourself, as a coach. These are only a few examples - in reality there are almost no limits to this. Coaching will change the game entirely when it comes to adjusting, just like it surely did in today's mainstream sports back in the day.
Although in an ideal world players would spend hours upon hours watching demos of their opposing teams playing before events, in reality that's hardly the case - most people prefer actually playing themselves, and focusing on their own game as opposed to their opponents'. However, a coach could easily put in multiple hours watching other teams, as he wouldn't have to worry about his own individual play, simply decisions he'd make.
If a coach had all this time to focus on preparation, he could also easily hire a few trusted friends to go over some demos and analyze them for him in a way that would be easy to do but still give him valuable information. Go over NiP's all pistol round tactics on de_dust2 and de_inferno from the past month? Done. Write down everything Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg does on de_nuke so we can try to stop him? Easily done.
Already in the past have some people, including myself, used this. During tournaments when you might have a twenty minute window between matches, you could text your friend and ask him to watch fnatic's two most recent de_mirage demos to find out their pistol rounds before a lower bracket match at e-Stars 2011, because you couldn't do it yourself at the event. Don't think it doesn't help.
This isn't new either. As far back as in 2005, one of the most successful North American teams of all time, Team 3D, hired a coach. That was Chris "bootman" Boutte, best known for his playbooks on GotFrag. According to him, he also served as the in-game leader for 3D at ESWC 2005, but for the most part he worked as an assistant, going through demos for the team and helping them prepare for matches, for the six months he stayed on.
A team could also go one step further, and hire an assistant coach. They exist in real sports for a reason, and if Counter-Strike were to become big enough, they would appear here too, though potentially under a different title. If The International had a $10,000,000 prize purse in 2015, there's no way some top teams wouldn't hire more assistants to help with analyzing demos, opponents' playing styles, and more.
You may argue you can already do all of this without a coach, but here's the difference - as a player, and an in-game leader, your time is already limited. Why put even more burden on you than necessary? As a coach, you don't have to play, which saves an immense amount of time for you. All of a sudden you can, and should spend extra energy on all these seemingly minor details, and when you add them all up, I guarantee they will make a difference.
Thorin would be my best coaching candidate without a player background
Less arguing among the players
This seems counter intuitive, because surely the coach needs to be on the same page with his players, but if the players are able to put some of the blame on the coach as well, it may reduce tension among the team. Arguments will still come up, but their role, depending on how the authority among the team is split, will be vastly different. Can we see teams swapping coaches in the future? You bet we can.
Will changing your coach be more of a hassle than changing a player? That depends how your team is built. An experienced coach who fits the team he partners up with can easily be taught their existing playing style, which he can then modify as he sees fit. That would allow for the team stay together for longer, which most likely would improve a team's results.
Still, ideally it wouldn't even come down to changing a coach, or a player. In an ideal world the coach would be able to cool down the arguing players before the issues ever became that large. Having an authority figure above you will make people respond differently, but it's then up to the coach to understand how to deal with your specific players and to get them on the same page without arguments.
This especially helps teams with young players. Next paragraph, dealing with pressure, will show how young many top teams are. Those players will likely cause more arguments, and a coach overlooking them should be able to reinforce good habits, while slowly chucking away at the bad ones. A good coach will also help with player development, which is a key factor to consider.
Sometimes very talented players don't blossom because they're put in wrong situations. Consider Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund in SK Gaming and NiP, or Timi "aslak" Verkkoperä in teams prior to WinFakt. A good coach can do what players don't necessarily have the motivation for; gel with new players, and help them adapt to their new situation as a professional player.
Don't rule out a future with various different coach types either, equivalents to, for example, shooting coaches in the NBA. Many teams, including my EG rosters, needed people to act as the glue in the team. In the future that glue might not have to be a starter, it could be a coach. There is little doubt Ediz "goodfornothing" Basol - who would have been a great coach as well - could have worked his magic from the sidelines as well.
Devastating losses have often caused tension within teams
For young teams handling the pressure of major events can be a grueling task, and if you take a look at our age chart for DreamHack Summer, you see that even many of the top teams in the world are still fairly young. An experienced coach who has been through all of it before as a player can certainly help with the mental aspects of the game, thus reducing the pressure players feel in-game.
fnatic said Sättermon didn't call strategies during their triumph at DreamHack Winter, but they stated Sättermon did help with the team staying calm and keeping their composure in their first major Counter-Strike event final. Especially when bringing on younger players and the in-game leader already has his hands full with other stuff, a coach can really help here.
When this part evolves, all of a sudden it may become more trendy to give younger players a shot, too. Maybe coaches will be able to help whom many now consider online players adjust to tournament play, which will then deepen the talent pool available for teams to recruit. If Sättermon helped fnatic win a major, don't think others couldn't benefit from similar type of coaching.
Even for teams not made of young players, some of them tend to get into arguments during close games - the 2008-2010 mousesports team is a good example - and part of it probably caused by the players' bad habits of dealing with the building pressure in those matches. Having a coach there can surely help, as explained in more detail above, and it may help teams develop killer instinct; that magical X factor some have, while others do not.
If cArn helped fnatic, coaches could help other teams, too
How to implement it in-game
Obviously a vast majority of hours all the professional players play Counter-Strike is not at tournaments, where coaching can be easily implemented. Most of it takes place at home, with players logging onto Steam and communicating over a voice communication software. Luckily a coaching mode already happens to exist in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Older competitive players may remember certain Counter-Strike 1.6 teams, for example mousesports, often having their manager in-game watching them practice. He would join the team without picking a skin, enabling him to spectate everyone on his team only. In CS:GO you can do the same by typing "coach t/ct" in console. It will allow you to spectate your team, see their money, health bars, and everything else as you'd expect.
Valve could go a few steps further and make it more interesting. They could allow for a coach demo, which would be the equivalent of a GOTV demo, but would only allow its viewer to spectate anyone on his team. The developers could also add a notepad for the coach to write down important notes while watching, and he could use a screenshot function to send snapshots to his players to better explain what he wants them to do, à la whiteboards in sports.
This is simply to say coaching online wouldn't be an issue, and with some extra effort put in, Valve could really make the the coach's role in-game cool with a bunch of new useful features. Organizers could also bring back the timeout rule, which would be a lot more useful now. This is only the beginning, and brainstorming for a few more minutes would likely bring out a lot more useful ideas. Once we get down this route, expect more big changes to come.
The drawing map could be a key feature for coaches in-game
This part should be fairly short, because all the good reasons as to why not hire a coach for a Counter-Strike team are related to finances. Basically all real sports use coaches, for a reason. They can bring a lot to the table, and improve the performance of the players. Counter-Strike without coaches could be compared to the early days of the NBA when players such as Bill Russell acted as player-coaches. Those days are nearly fifty years gone, and they are not coming back, because it makes sense.
Others will argue against it for historical reasons, but those are the ones who struggle with change and adapting. Unlike changes to the games themselves, this realistically is only a change for the very best teams, and the players in the team. An average fan may not even be able to tell the difference, and that's why it won't be met with too much arguing, even by the people who wish to hold onto status quo.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to coaching as I've explained it here are authority issues. There currently aren't enough retired in-game leaders for even all the top teams, and most of the ones out there (e.g. Alexander "ave" Holdt and Fatik "gob b" Dayik, and Björn "threat" Pers) have moved onto other things, and likely wouldn't want to come back to coaching for average money. It comes down to organizations having to work these coaches in slowly, and it's a long way to go.
Then again, as time passes by, players will slowly be forced to let go of their egos on this front and understand, like players in major sports have, that you do not have to be a professional player to understand a game better than one. Most coaches in professional sports did not play the game professionally, and even fewer were actually top players. The two qualities aren't exclusive, naturally, but you don't have to be a superstar to be a good coach. If the job opened up, there would be a lot more candidates, and some of them would turn out to be very good at it.
Flying one extra player around the world is not cheap, and hiring someone to effectively work full-time on a Counter-Strike team may cost even more. Still, if we are to believe our game will one day have millions in prizes, it's only a matter of time before someone would jump at the opportunity to get all these perks, hoping to get ahead of the curve. Let's imagine Valve's The International has CS:GO next year. Who wouldn't spend a few extra thousand dollars to try to win a few more million?
With ESL taking the first stance in allowing coaches to talk mid-round to their players in Katowice, it may only be a matter of time before a sixth man becomes standard in every team's corner.
Hopefully other tournament organizers will follow suit soon, and we can make coaching a reality in terms of it being allowed. Then it will only be up to the teams to implement it.
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