YNk on MIBR exit: "I thought we were moving along"
Janko "YNk" Paunović discusses his brief coaching stint with MIBR, the difficulties that came with the job and what the future lies for him ahead of the first Major of 2019.
New year, new chapter. YNk entered 2019 free to explore his options after being replaced by Wilton "zews" Prado in MIBR as the team wished to return to a full Brazilian set-up after a nine-month experiment with North American talent that did not bring any significant honors.
Hired in August to fill a slot that had been vacant since July 2016, YNk left MIBR with only one title in his CV, at the rather uneventful ZOTAC Cup Masters. And while he agrees to a certain extent that results could have been better, he prefers to look at the big picture, pointing out that the team twice came close to taking titles off Astralis, by far the year’s most dominant side, and that he left the squad sitting fourth in the ranking, up three places from when he had joined.
"I think it was definitely disappointing in terms of results," he told HLTV.org while at BLAST Pro Series Lisbon. "Coming into the team, I set higher expectations for myself, first and foremost. I thought we had all the ingredients necessary to really make the team one of the best.
"But if you look at it objectively, the team played better than they had in the first half of the year. Some of the results and their positions in the ranking kind of reflect that. We had our opportunities to win some of those tournaments. For example, we had a close loss to Astralis in the grand final in BLAST Pro Series Istanbul and we had another close loss to them at the ECS Finals. With those wins, for example, the track record wouldn’t have looked as bad.
"For sure I am disappointed, but I do not think it was necessarily a massive failure."
Fans and pundits alike have expressed hope that reassembling a team fully made in Brazil, with a line-up that won five titles in 2017, three of which at Big Events, will give the squad back some of the flair that it seemingly lost somewhere along the way.
YNk, however, believes that the team’s problems run far deeper, dismissing the language barrier as the main hindrance to success.
"Communication issues were definitely there, but I do not think they were the reason why we lost some of those games or why we were not performing better," he said.
"I can understand the Brazilians, especially fer and coldzera, saying that they could be doing so much more in terms of communication if it was in Portuguese, or that they would be a lot more comfortable if they did not have to use so much of their focus to process information and communication. I think it is also an easy reason to pick.
"I think for them it was probably more just being a bit nostalgic about how things were when they did have a full Brazilian lineup and thinking that just going back to that would give them a better chance to come back to where they want to be, which is at the top. I personally don’t agree with that 100%.
"I can understand their decision, but, for me, it will be reminiscent of the fnatic and G2 lineups of 2017. It is not as easy as just bringing the band back together. The game evolves, other people get better individually, teams are playing much better. So it does not matter which players you get into the team, you need to make some changes to the way you approach the game, like practice and some aspects of professionalism.
"If the roster change results in them changing their approach to those aspects as well, then for sure they are going to be a very strong team. But if it is just, 'we are going to speak Portuguese now and we have these two new players', then I do not think it will be quite as they expect it to be."
Upon his announcement as MIBR coach, YNk had revealed that he wanted the team to have "a certain culture". Questioned if that ever happened, the Serbian noted that he and the players were not always on the same page, which often led to frustration as he was not able to impose his personality and style on the squad.
"That’s probably what I fault myself the most, that I was not able to really push that through and create that culture, not just in terms of in-game stuff, but also the general approach, raising professionalism a little bit,” he said.
"It did not quite go as I expected it to or as I wanted it to. I think things would have been a lot better if I had managed to push that through a bit better.
"It is a specific team, and I knew that when coming in. I could not come in and just be the commander and try to say, ‘you have to do things this way.’ It would have created chaos in the team because the coach does not have that much authority.
"For some things they are pretty reluctant because they are used to doing things a certain way and they believe that’s the best way to go about it. I can do my best to try and explain my position and why I think this would be good and give examples. But, at the end of the day, the players could say, 'we disagree, we think that is not the reason this is happening', and that’s that. I would just move on. That’s one of the big issues that all coaches have, except maybe zonic.
"You don’t have any real power behind you. You don’t have any punishments you can impose on players where they would know that, if they don’t listen to you or they don’t do what you tell them to, there are going to be some consequences. Right now, there are no consequences."
In recent times, many have pointed to Astralis’ innovative approach, which includes the help of a team psychologist as part of a five-person performance crew, as one of the main reason for their successful year, with Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko recently admitting that Natus Vincere could not keep up with the Danes in 2018 as "we did not do all we could to employ a professional approach to its maximum."
YNk seems to agree with that notion as he states that organisations are partly to blame for the lack of power in the hands of coaches, adding that too often are players given free rein to dictate the terms in which they work.
"I think it starts with the organisation, because from the moment you sign a team, whatever team it is, they are working for you," he said. "You are the one setting the rules and establishing the guidelines. The problem in CS occurs especially when you are trying to sign a team. You are trying to sign a squad and you don’t have a CS team, then you can get a really good team. Why should they choose you over some other organization?
"You give them some leeway, you let them get away with a couple of things, and then it is very hard to bring that back. It starts with that.
"Then some responsibility lies with the players because they don’t really want to give up that control, which is understandable. You get to dictate how things are done and what’s most comfortable for you.
"Sometimes, in order to improve and get through a slump, you have to do things that you don’t like. You have to get out of your comfort zone. All in all, I think it is shared, but it needs to be initiated by the organizations, like we see in Astralis."
Putting the brakes on a project that had involved two buyouts in the space of four months and that seemed to be yielding results caught many by surprise, YNk included. "I thought we were moving along," the Serbian coach admitted. He claims that he was told of the changes after the team lost to Liquid at the ESL Pro League Season 8 Finals, but, according to Victor "Nazgul" Goossens, founder and co-CEO of the North American organisation, Epitacio "TACO" de Melo and zews asked to be traded to MIBR before the event.
"The whole time I really did give my all and tried my best to help the team in any way I could," YNk said. "And coming out of nowhere, in terms of no-one even giving you a heads-up, it is not something that... Where I come from, you handle things a bit differently.
"I think the situation could have been handled a little bit better, simply because of how much work we had put into it and how closely I had worked with certain players, individually as well.
"I expected more from them in that regard. But I have no hard feelings. At the end of the day, it is business."
Despite all these issues, YNk insists that he "definitely enjoyed certain aspects" of coaching MIBR. "Of course competing is great, working closely with guys like FalleN, picking his brain and seeing how some of the guys operate was great," he said. With the IEM Katowice Major in sight, the Serbian wants to give coaching another go, but he may return to the analyst desk after the Polish event if he comes across the same problems that he faced during his first stint.
"Most likely I will end up coaching a team for the next Major cycle just to see if things can be different if I make it clear before joining how things need to be," he said. "I still have the desire to push through some of the concepts that I have about the game.
"If I see that things can be good in terms of the atmosphere and the work environment, then I can continue. If it is not there yet, if it is more of the same, my plan is to go back into broadcasting with this new experience and then, in the future, if things change and coaches have a bigger role within the team and more tools to work with, I will definitely consider jumping back into it!"