The heart and soul of any division of OpTic Gaming is the players who represent the Greenwall. In League of Legend's case, the roster formed in the spring had no cohesion and lacked synergy - a problem in desperate need of a solution. Coach Thomas ‘Zaboutine’ Si-Hassen discusses what his vision for each player is, and how he turned a group of players into a squad with a strong team identity and ability to win against the best teams in the league.
E: Let’s talk about the players. I want to just go down the list, starting with Dhokla. With him being the rookie on the team with big veteran names,how do you go about teaching him to have confidence when playing with established pros and not be intimidated? How did you incorporate him?
Z: It’s funny, the introduction of Dhokla was weird. We took him from Dallas and he had nowhere to sleep. At the time we only had two-person flats and because he had nowhere else to sleep, he started sleeping in my living room. We were the only flat with a toilet not in the bedroom so he could walk to the toilet freely. So this is how he ended up being my flatmate. When he arrived, I told him that he had great stats for an academy player, and I think you would do great in the game with a guy like POE, because in my eyes you are equivalent.
When I look at my team I don’t see the names, I just see the player. I don’t really care what you’ve done in the past, I don’t care if you have a strong ego. It’s my job at the end of the day to make the team win. I gave him a lot of feedback and I’d get together with him and talk about the game and I realized this guy has a huge ceiling. It’s not always easy to hit that ceiling, he has his ups and downs.
I was really happy when the spring season ended that we kept Dhokla. It was hard because what if a guy like Huni wanted to play with OpTic, he would take up an import slot and I don’t want to get rid of POE or Arrow. My point is if you look at the market and you have an experienced player who is good, why would I pay for a guy who is worse than Dhokla, for example Darshan. Dhokla has never lost to Darshan, and we saw that yesterday, so it’s obvious. I have to invest in this guy and you see that he has full confidence and he popped off this week.
E: OpTic has shown they want to invest in a player and continue their development. Although he is not a rookie, Akaadian is someone who is still somewhat fresh-faced.
He had a bit of a negative rap joining OpTic due to what happened on his previous team. When you gamble on bringing in a player like that, how do balance telling people about the highs you see and not the low points?
Z: To be honest, I care about the raw material. There are two paths to a player: you have the ultra player and you have the human. I think Akaadian is a super good human, and as a player, he has a high ceiling that he showed in Spring 2017. I think he never had a chance to play with really good players shotcalling for him.
I think that Matt (Akaadian) needs extra care from the coaching staff. He is the kind of player that, if you let him go on auto-pilot, he will go back into some of those bad habits. If you invest a lot in him however, you can see he is consistent on stage. He plays a lot of champions and is mechanically gifted. He is American, so he doesn’t take an import slot, he is charismatic, and I trust that we can use the good side of him.
E: To lump the next 2 players together: let’s talk about POE and Arrow as the import players, but also players with very established history. Starting with PowerOfEvil: what is his dynamic on the team and why him over other import mid laners?
Z: It was a hard choice between many strong mid laners. I was really happy because he was #1 on my tier list and really the one I wanted. POE is a role model, he is the guy you want to have on a team. He is always positive, very smart about the game, easy to get along with, and never blames anyone on the team. He is always encouraging everyone. He accepts (which is always hard) when he makes mistakes, and is always trying to improve and encourage. He is the cornerstone of this team.
I also think every team slept on him. Even Faker said he was an insane player, but there are names that shadow him like Bjergsen and Jensen in NA, but who cares? They never had the chance to get out of groups and play against Faker. My point is that this guy has built himself, from his pocket picks to his lane control being on point, to be a great player, and on top of that he is a great human to work with. I could not be happier to have him on the team.
For Arrow, Arrow is the most American of the Koreans in NA. He likes American culture and everything.
E: He seems to be having fun.
Z: Yes he is having fun. I think I would say Arrow is a very polite player. He has great strengths and what is really rare is that he is a very creative player. He can make a play that only Kingzone would do, and he has super advanced micro play. He has, like, in one night, an idea about how to get total vision control on the map and the team is like, “how did you even think of that?” For instance, we played against Echo Fox, and we hadn’t even gotten a kill, but he said go to Baron. The team was like “what?” But he said, “trust me.” He had kept track of all the cooldowns, and vision.
Arrow has lots of strengths but a lot of weaknesses. He is a very polarizing player. When he wins, he looks really really strong. But when he loses, he looks really, really weak. He can be a liability to the team sometimes when he falls behind, but he is the kind of player where, if he is being focused, he will never tilt. That said, he is the nicest guy. I see him after the break and gives me a hug...the nicest boy.
E: Thinking about the LCK players who were around during Season 3 and 4 when Korea was at its most dominant, he is one of the few players who is still playing well and even looks better. What do you think keeps him going compared to other players who have dropped off or faded away?
Z: People just drop, but Arrow has a passion for the game. Arrow has a love for the game. He loves it, he loves playing it, and he puts his all into the game. He always thinks about the game and talks about the game. He misses it when he’s not playing and misses the competition, and he just loves it and loves being in America. For him, it’s the perfect way to marry his passion for video games and his love for America; his thirst for competition and to make money to help his family.
E: Moving on to Big, a player who had bounced around to a lot of teams. It seems as though he hit his stride in OpTic. What do you think?
Z: The first thing is I have a connection with Big because we talk a lot. The thing I don’t understand is that Big is insane as a player - but that’s the thing. I’m like him, if you don’t trust me, I will be bad. If you do trust me, I will lead you to the biggest heights. I need trust from the people I am working with, trust from my family, and trust from my friends, it’s really important.
I have blind trust in Big. I brief him before every game, I talk with him, and we tell lots of jokes about the game. I would say he is a very introverted person, but he makes a lot of jokes at the same time. I think he knows for sure that even if he has a terrible day, I still trust him. I think when he was in the other orgs in the past, those kind of orgs are what I call the Kleenex orgs, they pick a player, they do one or two tryouts, and say, “this player is not good.” But you have to invest in the human, you know?
We tried out many supports, including both Big and Gate (who is on Academy), and eventually Big was on the same level as other players and popped up as one of the best supports, or maybe the best support, in NA in terms of game understanding and so on. That is because the team trusts him and he feels at home. He is like the hidden figure, the shadow man behind the scenes, but he is extremely important. If I got the chance to get any other support in the league, I’d still pick Terry (Big), I wouldn’t give him up, no fucking way.
E: I want to talk about OpTic going from nearly the bottom of the League at the beginning of the split to having gone 4-0 the last two weeks. Tell me about the growth the team had this split to get to that point?
Z: I think explaining the victories is easier than explaining the defeats. I think the first props is always the players: they are really hard working, and I think they all recognized the importance of commitment, education, and work ethic. I think this was the first step to improving. Consider, though, that we were extremely strong at the beginning of the split but we made a wrong ban against Cloud 9 and that kind of broke the momentum - we really expected to go 2-0. Going into the next week, we had a very unlucky game in which we just lost all of our momentum. We are just now getting the momentum back like what we had at the beginning of the season.
I really think it was us screwing up, but I have to give props to the players first, then the coaching staff. Not to give props to myself, but I think the coaching staff is extremely important, and you see it with players like Big and Dhokla, who could have just been Academy players, but they are facing experienced players now. Look at Dhokla: he was facing Haunzter and did well, he faced Darshan and did well, he faced Licorice and did well, and we are talking about the rookie of the split, the one of the best top laners after Huni. It’s Huni, Ssumday and him, and Dhokla managed to face them. So as a coaching staff, we focused on the humans and there is a lot of trust and honesty as well.
I don’t hesitate to be extremely tough on my players. I flame them, I tell them, “that was bad, you can’t do this.” I try to have much more of a boss attitude towards them when it’s about work. I try to be both a leader and a boss, so they can feel very comfortable in what they do. It’s not a party game you know? I want them to show up and work and show commitment and results. And then thanks goes to the org, and the two biggest brains in this iteration of OpTic: Romain and me. We discussed so much in the past, starting Week 6 and even before in the spring split when he recruited me. Props to Romain.
I can’t say enough about how much OpTic does and helps us with facilities. I don’t know if you saw the tour of the facility on Blitz, but it’s amazing. We have the best facility and I think every player would like to work at OpTic. We have great facilities, amazing food, and beautiful flats. As long as you produce results and work well, there is no way you can complain. Sure there are always things to improve, but in the daily life here I really think the players are lacking in nothing; it’s perfect. How can you keep players accountable if you are not perfect yourself? So we try to be as rigorous as we can. If I say to my player, “wake up; you are being lazy,” they just say, “I’m sorry.” They can’t say it’s because the food isn’t here, the food is always here, so you have nothing to say. I think that’s very important as an org.
E: You have some tough matches ahead. Do you see OpTic making playoffs?
Z: I think it’s completely doable, and it all depends on us. There is no mystery, it’s just hard work, hard work, and hard work. If you lower the work by even 5% then you lose confidence in yourself and you gamble. We are not gamblers, so we are going to continue to work hard with the coaching staff. I think, from that, it’s just preparing for every match as perfectly as you can.
Anything can happen in BO1, but I feel like we can grab 4 out of the 6 matches we have. I think it’s completely doable to make playoffs. I don’t think any team is unbeatable right now and some have really big struggles. It’s up to us, and we have been given the chance to do it with these 4 victories and raising our position. Now we have to look to the future and ask if we really want to go further and prove we are an org that can compete at the top level, even on an international level, or do we wanna stay here and just say it was a good run. That is the communication we have with the players.
E: Right now you see a lot of the orgs that ended low last split, like OpTic, now moving up in the standings, while established teams who have been around have been dropping and looking worse. Why do you think that is?”
Z: I think there is something to say about franchising that shows that it isn't just about the money, but it’s how to show that you have strong management. You can’t just take a list of random guys who have been around the LCS for a couple years and just come as an org and be in the LCS. To prove to Riot and investors you are a good org, you have to hire good people that can work. I’m saying that because Esports in NA hasn’t done the hard work. I’ve heard stories that sound really creepy.
I think, that said, every management is training hard and every player is training hard, and because there is the two-import rule, every strong team has three experienced players. One American player, two imports, and two young or less experienced players, and I think the teams that only have two experienced players are struggling. In the older teams, I think there are players who are too attached to the brands, and those brands can’t afford to bench them. You saw that with Cloud 9 when they beat Echo Fox, they were willing to bench some players to win. I think the landscape on every team is pretty much the same, because the structure of every team that has been accepted by Riot has the same strengths.
E: Does OpTic win the playoffs? Do they go to Worlds? Do they win Worlds?
Z: If it was Week 9 and I had already secured our spot in the playoffs, then I could begin to answer that question. Considering right now we are two wins away from the top and two losses away from being in last position, I think there will be tiebreakers at the end of the split and we will have to stand with maybe one BO1 from making it, so it will be a chance of fate. We are not worse than any other orgs in NA, so if it’s a lottery, then there is one chance out of 10 that OpTic wins the summer split.
Does OpTic win Worlds? You never know. If you remember last year, Misfits was struggling and had to beat Roccat to make it to the quarter finals of the EU LCS, then they had to beat Fnatic and made it to Worlds, because they had the most circuit points. Who expected that BO5 against SKT, who are the king of kings, to take them to game five? So you never know...it’s all about the work. One of the men behind that Misfits team was POE. Great stories are written by people that really commit to write them, and not hope to write them. If you just hope you will lay in your bed and think tomorrow will be a better day, but if the players want to do more and more and more, maybe we can improve to the point to play internationally.
Win Worlds? The sky's the limit but it’s kinda a pointless question. Saying “no” as a coach would be a pointless answer.
E: Any final words for the fans of OpTic?
Z: I think being a fan of OpTic League of Legends has been super hard, because we are an org that doesn't have the same appearance. We are known for our FPS teams, and you guys might not understand the game, but as long as you guys support the team, it’s worth millions and millions when you are losing, and worth even more when we are winning.
And trust me, we will remember when we had fans, when we had the world behind our back. But that’s the thing: the Greenwall is really good and there are always people cheering for you.