With playoffs looming in just a few weeks, Greenwall.gg got the chance to sit down with Coach Thomas ‘Zaboutine’ Si-Hassen to discuss the team’s development over the year. OpTic Gaming’s League of Legends division transformed from a bottom-ranked disaster with no team identity to a legitimate force and contender for the summer title - and this is how Coach Zab made it happen.
E: What would you say is your overall philosophy on building the team, since there is a mix of both veteran and younger talent on the team?
Z: Because we had to build something out of nothing, and you have to consider that neither me or Romain had experience in the game, we had to watch all the LCS players and learn their playstyles, building a team, we had to get some fresh blood. It was really hard during the spring split because we’re new, so we made our roster with Zig, Akaadian, POE, Arrow, and Lemonnation, and we tried as much as we could to do our best, but I think we could have done slightly better with 7 or 8 wins, and maybe even get close to playoffs.
We didn’t make it, so we decided that if it doesn’t work with the veterans, it’s better to go for the rookies, because you will never have someone like Lemonnation in the next year. He’s 29 already and it’s really hard to improve a lot. I’d rather go for someone with less of a track record, because in the long run they will improve more.
E : So you want to potentially roll the dice on someone unproven with a higher skill ceiling rather than be stuck with someone with a known ceiling?
Z: Exactly. The thing is, established players have an ego, which makes it hard to make them change their ways. I would know: I’m a 29 year old grown ass boy, and you won’t change me right? It’s harder to change me than a 20 year old boy. It’s easier for me to experiment with new players.
E : Bouncing off of that, when thinking about the spring split first, you get someone like Dhokla, with their first time in the LCS during the spring split, but also veterans like POE and Arrow. Where do you start as a coach in integrating them? Especially going from spring to improving in the summer?
Z: I spoke a lot with Romain and I was really unhappy. The spring split wasn’t looking like what I wanted as a team. I think it was a big failure as a new org, but at the same time it’s normal being new and fail. Everything was so random at the time - we were scrimming in the Riot studio, so I had to improvise on the fly. I wasn’t a coach before, so I had to learn how to be one in a terrible facility with established players, compared to the giant orgs with their players just rolling over us. We had to cope with the losses and the bad momentum. We had to make a plan.
In Week 6 or 7, I sat in a room with Romain and his dad who is a performance specialist. We sat down for 4 hours and talked about what to do for the summer split. We talked about the coaching, what kind of facility we want, if we want the academy on board, and we came up with a whole plan for OpTic. So we sent those plans off during the break so we could come back prepared.
E: I think most people can look past the spring split and throw it out the window, considering there were less than 10 returning starters. It’s interesting that you talked about some of the other new orgs rising up recently, while the other established orgs like TSM, CLG, and C9 are going down. I know you can’t elaborate on other teams but why do you think the new orgs are rising?
Z: There are upsides and downsides for being new. One of the upsides is you can create your own culture that fits the market of modern esports. As an org, we knew we’d be looking for rookies. At first I didn’t like them, I told them if you had a bad attitude or were lazy and didn’t work I would replace you, and that was for everyone including me. If I don’t do well, I’d ask for myself to be replaced because, I want the team to perform. I truly think that’s easy if you’re OpTic coming in as a new org with new ideas, than if you are Cloud 9. If you are Cloud 9, if you are Jensen, you are one of the most praised midlaners, the big star, the big ace. How do you come back from the split and go “you’re benched?” It’s hard. That team is a family, and OpTic isn’t like a family. I don’t want OpTic to be family first, no one wants it to be family first. This is a team that’s here to perform first, and then you can become a family. But we don’t speak about family at any point.
You don’t have to be friends, you have to be good colleagues, but you have to work well together. This is what happens in traditional sports, and this is how I think we are different from the older orgs. If we want to change the company culture, we can do it with the snap of a finger and no one is going to look at you. When you are C9, TSM or even CLG, and try to go, “no guys this isn’t going to work,” and you have your player that has been there for over 4 years and goes, “What the fuck man, I’ve been playing since before you got here, why are you trying to tell me what to do?” It’s especially hard for TSM, what do you say to Bjergsen? Do you tell him he is playing like garbage and to sit on the bench? No you can’t do that.
E: He just points to his trophy case behind him?
Z: Yes he just says guys trust me, even if he isn’t doing well.
E: Going back to company culture, you said you want the team to be a team before they are friends or family. How do you go about installing that mentality to the players? Do they understand the idea that this is a job first over the family/friendship dynamic?
Z: I think at the end of the day, that’s what we are doing. You don’t dislike your mates and I like all the players, even Ziggy and Lemon who left, but that’s life. You work with them everyday, and live with them, but everyone goes back home at the end of the season. You would never ever see a team who calls themselves a family to go “Hey guys the season is over, let’s not go see our friends and families back home and let’s keep playing for 4 weeks more in the gaming house.” No one wants to do that, they all go back home. That’s the point, that’s why I’m not saying it’s bad to be friends, I want players to be friends even among each other, but priority is to be a team that performs during the LCS.
That is the company culture I want to create with Romain and the other coaching staff.