Proceed With Caution: Korean Coaches Are Not A Guarantee For Success

The stream of South Korean imports entering the North American League Championship Series has expanded steadily, from a trickle into a flood. Tempted by the Korean’s dominance internationally, NA’s thirst for Korean talent has extended from players to coaches.

Almost every organization in the NA LCS has a former Korean player or coach as part of the team setup; only Team SoloMid and FlyQuest eSports pitch lineups void of a KR import.

For Korean coaches, generally their debuts into the NA LCS resulted in almost immediate success. One of those coaches is Immortals new Head Coach Kim “Ssong” Sang-soo, who has led Immortals to a current first place position in his rookie split. While IMT’s success cannot be contributed solely to Ssong’s arrival, the difference in Immortals play has been dramatic.

Source: Riot Games Flickr

When asked about the impact of Korean coaches in a recent interview with Inven Global, Ssong was quick to point out that he believes a greater presence of Korean coaches in NA could lead to improved regional success:

“I think the addition of Korean coaches can lay the foundation for the growth of NA and EU leagues.

“I’m not saying having more Korean coaches will automatically improve the level of plays, but I think they can ignite the competitive spirit.

“Say, 70% of coaches in LCS are replaced with Korean ones, the teams will see about a 70% increase in performance.”

Kim “Ssong” Sang-soo, Immortals Head Coach

By stating that a 70% increase in Korean coaches would make the LCS 70% better, Ssong is making an explicit claim that there is a correlation between possessing Korean’s and implicit success.

This may be true for some teams in the NA LCS where a new Korean coach has triggered newfound success, this is not always the case.

At the beginning of the 2017 season, Team Dignitas underwent a significant roster overhaul that included signing two well-known Korean players in Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun.

Source: Riot Games Flickr

To match their investment in Korean talent, Team Dignitas replaced their coaching staff with new Korean staff of Jung Su Kim and Jae Seok Park, hoping this would increase the comfort of their new additions and would lead to future success.

After struggling in their first few weeks of the Spring Split however, Team Dignitas quickly realised their new coaching staff setup was not working out. They brought back one of the coaches they had replaced, David “Cop” Roberson, and the change in performance from the Team was almost immediate.

Following Cop’s arrival, Team Dignitas became one of the hottest teams in the NA LCS, and shot from the bottom of the standings all the way to a playoff birth. At the end of the split, Team Dignitas doubled down their belief in their former coaching staff, bringing back Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco as well.

Source: Riot Games Flickr

Team Dignitas had floundered to a 2-6 record under their Korean coaching staff, but upon Cop’s return, they have currently amassed a 12-6 record during the regular season.

Team Dignitas should serve as a warning to organizations competing within the NA LCS, Korean coaches staffs do not always guarantee success, even when you have a team that is laden with heavyweight Korean talent.

While there may be multiple examples of Korean coaches being successful in the NA LCS – Cloud9’s Bok “Reapered” Han-Gyu was recently crowned as the Coach of the Split for Spring 2017 – a history as a Korean pro or a background coaching in Korea does not provide an inherent advantage.

There are definite advantages to having a coach with Korean experience, but the more important distinction is the individual themselves, their level of expertise and experience and what they can bring to the table, not necessarily their ancestry.