Seven year olds playing 5-a-side football have a coach. Premier league footballers have coaches. Basketball players have coaches. Chess players have practice partners who double as coaches. Everywhere you look, anyone competing in at the highest levels has a coach. Except in esports. Sometimes teams have a coach. In the more established areas like League of Legends, coaches are present but in other areas (looking at you Rocket League) it’s much less common.
Why is that? Well, simply put, people haven’t been looking at gaming like sport. Many players, even after they start competing, never change their mindset from thinking about their game like a game rather than like a sport.
The approach people have to sport is totally different. Most football players spend more time training than actually playing a game of football. In gaming it’s just not the case. It’s easier to marathon match after match online because you have opponents available, there’s no scheduling issues and it doesn’t feel like you are working hard.
You hear people say things all the time that prove gaming competitively is more like sport than you realise. “I was playing so well man for an hour and a half, then I just went super cold and lost the same number of games that I won.” Any guesses as to what happened? Odds are it was fatigue. Mental fatigue, physical fatigue, slow fingers, slow reactions.
Coaches are, in some ways, a reminder that you are competing. The value of a coach is much more than that. An outside perspective solves many problems and a lot of the time when you plateau, you need someone to shake up the way you are thinking. You can then start the climb on the skill mountain again. Epiphanies are hard to come by on your own. A good coach will know how to explain a concept to you so that the pattern of thoughts you have around that thing changes slightly. A core assumption might be changed that has a knock on effect throughout the rest of your game-sense.
In team games, a coach has an even more important role. If you are in a team, it’s difficult to check your ego at the door. It’s hard to take feedback from someone who is also in the team. The coach is outside the team. They are looking at the overall performance. Even if your teammate Geoff says “Hey, you’re missing this constantly, sort it out” in the nicest, most constructive way possible, most people’s first reaction is “Yeah, but Geoff, you keep messing this up.” They might not say it out loud but it’s an instinctive defensive mechanism that comes from ego and pride.
The coach comes externally to the mesh of egos within the team and that removes that reaction entirely because the coach isn’t in the game. I’ve seen many teams try to have their coach on their roster and the simple fact is that it’s next to impossible. It causes even more tension than trying to improve as a unit without a nominated coach does.
As esports continues to increase in terms of revenue as an industry, it will become easier and easier to support a full structure where we have coaches and analysts for all games. As time goes on that will filter lower and lower. One-on-one coaching is already a thing that is available through a variety of sites and it’s not just pros that are paying for it. Some people see it like singing lessons. You’ll probably never get paid for singing but if you enjoy it, you might pay some money to get better and enjoy it more.
A whole variety of reasons above as to why we need more coaches and all are as valid as each other. The reality is, coaches often don’t understand or play the game they coach at a deeper level than the player. If they did, most would just be players. Coaches bring external views, they shake your foundations, and—in a lot of cases—they teach you to think.
Photo Credit: Riot Games/Flickr