100 Thieves have ended their season, failing to make Worlds as they would lose against Evil Geniuses 0-3. The game gave way to large criticism against the team, as their bot lane crumbled and their rookie mid laner didn't have the best showing. With all of that, there was an aftermath of industry folks discussing the poor play from 100 Thieves, and Kelsey Moser, Head Academy Coach, coming out to defend the rookie players and condemn the harsh and nonconstructive criticism.
Kelsey Moser spoke with Esports Heaven to talk about criticism against rookies, her tweets surrounding 100 Thieves' loss, MarkZ's tweet, and the general state of Academy.
Let’s start off with context surrounding your tweet, which was basically uncovering a possible bigger problem for rookies, which at the heart of it seemed to be about constructive criticism, versus what I would like to call destructive cynicism. Do you think this is a larger problem for NA rookies?
I think there’s a lot to unpack here...like a lot! I think the starting point is the top-down structure of North America, which is that if fans don’t like a player, the orgs are incentivized to remove them from the team. Now, this may seem really bad, this may just be bad scouting or we’re not trying to win, but the reality of the situation is that orgs are beholden towards sponsors, beholden to the fanbase, beholden to getting people to watch their team. So if a team is coming in with a developmental plan with rookies rather than an org with established veterans who already have a brand and fans will watch them even if they suck, and that’s part of the motivation for rookies being removed really early on in their career after only seeing a small amount of game time; they may have a bad initial debut, and then fans decide there’s not enough time to ramp up. The counter argument is that if you're winning, you’re going to get fan adoration anyways, but most of these rookies take some time to develop.
So, for me, the main thing is fans voting with their keyboards in terms of if they actually want to see rookie’s in the league or not, and understanding the wider context behind rookie development, and the organization incentives are what a lot of people don’t think about. A lot of people will remove blame from themselves and say, “well if your org listens to us, then they aren’t competent anyway”, but the reality of the situation is that it’s a lot less black and white than that. This was more of what I was talking about in my tweets. It has nothing to do with constructive criticism; obviously if the analyst desk wants to say something about a player, then I think that’s fine, it’s great, no press is bad press, as long as your comment is taking into account the wider scope of the situation where you fully understand what’s going on, then you’re not doing a bad job as a fan or commentator.
What do you think about putting a player in too early? In essence, Poome for instance is a great example in that many could say that he was put in too early in the context of 100 Thieves, placed into the limelight and put into the LCS starting position too early.
My thoughts on that, as someone who has had multiple players “put in too early” is a combination of things. First is that, no matter what, there’s going to be growing pangs, it even took Johnsun a year to get as good as he is. DIG had some initial wins, but for a while, that team looked really bad in Spring Split all-around. Rookies in general, no matter how much time or how much ramp up they have, they aren’t going to look insane when they debut. I think part of that is on me, it’s on the Academy structure in general in terms of the Academy coaches doing a better job at preparing their players. You can have an Academy player in there for 3 years, but chances are, it’s going to look like it's too soon when they hop into LCS. I think this has to do with the rehauling the Academy system and trying to make it more productive and doing more within the space.
Let me get your thoughts on MarkZ’s tweet about Poome’s scoreline, which was obviously a pretty bad scoreline, but what’s your general sentiment about his tweet?
To preface this, I hadn’t seen MarkZ’s tweets when I initially made mine. I was responding to a general sentiment on Twitter on the comment that you made (in this interview) about Poome not being ready and he should go back to Academy and stuff like that which kind of annoyed me. Rookies will be way more nervous in a series like this, so judging them on their performance in a series like this is pretty hard to do. In terms of MarkZ’s tweet, I took it as a joke, I don’t think it had much substance to it, so that’s kind of annoying. I heard him talk about it on Hotline League
(a talkshow hosted by Travis Gafford), and he says maybe it was in poor taste.
Part of this is because the first time you get flamed, it’s going to affect you more, because as someone who's been on the receiving end of that, I realize that the opinion of fans and the opinion of the public changes over time. It’s not the end of the world, but the first time you experience it, you’ll probably be hit a little bit harder. So, making a joke like that about a rookie, maybe he should have thought about it more, but in the end, I understood that his sentiment wasn’t to send Poome back to Academy, that he shouldn’t be in LCS, it was just a joke, and take it for what you will.
Related: Kelsey Moser's Journey: From studying China to coaching NA
I see a lot of comments surrounding your initial comment about LoL esports being an entertainment industry. This was in response to someone saying that you shouldn’t be influenced on roster decisions based on comments from Twitter, Reddit, etc. I think many took this, and thought you in fact WERE making roster decisions, and even game play decisions based on entertainment. Could you clarify what you meant?
My roster pound for pound is the least experienced roster in the league. Most of my players have fewer Twitter followers than I do. I’m saying in general that organizations will be affected by public perception and I think orgs are incentivized to be affected by public perception. It’s really strange that people don’t make the connection in that regard, that organizations are incentivized by the way the public responds. “Do you know we get fans by winning”? Yeah, great, so if we get NA rookies, we’re not necessarily going to win right away, so what’s your solution there? The system right now doesn’t help them, it’s very anti-rookie in general by how it’s set up. That’s what I’m commenting on. The best way to help the situation, as fans, is to use your keyboards, is to say you’ll watch more games, which will contribute to more sponsors and watch them come up from nothing.
I mean, hell, even I know that these interviews are an entertainment product, along with being informative, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to sacrifice the informative part in place of entertainment. It’s as though people think these things are mutually exclusive. The entertainment part should be an enhancement, not a sacrifice to what I’m trying to do. I like to at least make that comparison for fans that think that you are making a sacrifice for entertainment in place of your roster capability or the ability to actually win games.
I’m pretty sure that the roster decisions are made from my org with the intention of winning and, generally speaking, I’ve seen it happen multiple times where people are making a gut-reaction comment about a rookie on Reddit, that will probably impact what the upper management of an organization is thinking. I’ve seen this happen multiple times in NA, EU, LPL, everywhere. It’s just part of the system.
One might say that even the cynicism that a rookie, or any player for that matter, can disregard, by simply ignoring social media, not checking Reddit, Twitter, etc. What are your thoughts on this particular method?
A couple things on this. One is that obviously comments will affect a rookie in that they’ll look at it and think, “omg everyone thinks I’m bad, I must be bad”, and that can cause them to lose confidence. Sure, that happens. I think the bigger thing is the uncertainty of their career; if so many people are flaming them, then “when am I gonna get fired”? “When am I going to get benched. I’m trying really hard, but what have I done”? For me, that’s the bigger issue, that’s a concern. You probably know that, even if you don’t see the comments, you know that they are there, and that uncertainty will still be there, but that’s not against the comments but it’s just the way it is.
I don’t know, I find this question particularly weird because it’s like, “yeah, avoid social media”! I think that’s a very surface level way of looking at it. Again, i’m not saying that you shouldn’t flame players or that you shouldn’t be a fan, and obviously the people that say they want NA rookies aren’t the ones that are immediately flaming, but in general, make sure your voice is heard, and put your voice out there if you have a different take against the general agenda.
I don’t know if that answers your question, but the whole, “don’t check Reddit mentality” seems so weird to me because it’s almost irrelevant because it’s not the main issue.
Would you say it’s trying to ignore the issue rather than solve the issue?
It’s not even the issue, right? Players checking Reddit and seeing flame isn’t even the issue, it’s the organization’s reaction to the flame, that’s the issue.
What’s your take on the community having an influence...maybe that’s too strong of a word...over the perception over a player being viewed as good or bad once free agency comes up?
Do you think that they don’t? Do you not think they have an impact?
I think that they certainly do.
Do you think they shouldn’t?
Well, I think that’s the big question.
I mean, do you think they shouldn’t? That’s the question that I’m asking.Should they or shouldn’t they, because I think it’s not clear.
Obviously, for someone that advocates for NA rookies, I would like to turn it off and say that public perception doesn’t matter, but I also know that the people that are making the roster decisions are beholden to sponsors, and I’m not saying my team does this, because my team has obviously benched players for low performance in favor of rookies, but if you’re a bottom tear team like CLG and you have to rebuild, and you’re beholden to sponsors who want something, what game plan is going to be more attractive to sponsors? Something that says, “we’re going to start a dev project where we get four rookies and Pobelter, and we start eventually winning games in 2022”, or we make a game plan along the lines of, “we’re going to hire a guy that has 300K Twitter followers and hasn’t been in the scene for a while because he retired two years ago, and we build the team around him and use that to sell merch”. What’s going to look more attractive to sponsors?
What about branding and a player having a large control over a roster or playstyle? A great example would be Meteos. Did he have much say in how things operated in both his interactions within the LCS or Academy team he was on?
I mean, I think you have to tailor your teams playstyle towards your players regardless. I think there’s a lot of different ways to talk about coaching philosophically. I don’t think there was ever a situation on Academy, I can’t speak to LCS, where there was never a situation in which Meteos came in and said, “we’re going to play this way, fuck you”, he never did that. He was always willing to meet us halfway, actually, I actually thought working with Metoes was very pleasant in general. I haven’t heard of specifics where a player comes in and says, “we’re going to play this way because I’m the most important person on this roster” (laughs).
Well, that’s what I would fucking do if I was a player (laughs)
(laughs) I mean, sometimes I want them to kind of do that, just because I think self accountability and ownership, and being able to shape a team around the way you see it is an important quality if a team doesn’t have anyone doing that. A team might struggle to find their identity for a while if no one wants to take the responsibility to be the leader in-game. It depends on the situation I guess.
Do you think fans have too quick of expectations for teams?
I don’t want to necessarily blame fans, which I think is something people assumed my tweet was about, which was blaming fans for a situation, but I just want fans to understand said situation, there’s a difference. I think there’s a bigger problem of the overhang in coaching that exists for the next generation. Sometimes it takes a player a while to get to LCS and get to the level you expect them to be. This doesn’t mean they can’t get to that level. Look at Abbedagge, completely removing the NA context; how long was he on Schalke 04? People flamed him and thought he was bad, but now everyone’s calling him Abbefaker, Fakerdagge, whatever they call them. I don’t think one year is usually enough tape to decide how good a player is going to be. I feel like he’s a little bit different every time we see him on stage.
I feel like it’s hard to determine when a player is done. I don’t know when a player is done, I feel like a lot of coaches don’t know when a player is done developing. So, it’s weird that fans can decide when a player is done developing.
Lastly, do you have a final message that you would like to iterate in terms of toxicity or criticism from the community itself?
My message will never be that you shouldn’t be critical because I think being critical is good. I think a lot of the time, my content in the past has been very critical and I felt like sometimes there wasn’t enough of that. My main issue is that making an effort to understand your role in the space is important. I feel like if you’re invested in something or you care enough about it, you should realize that your take on that actually matters in some way, even if you’re a fan, even if you’re a coach or GM, your viewpoint matters in some way, and it’s just understanding the power and weight of it can go a lot further than you think.
Izento has been a writer for the LoL scene since Season 7, and has been playing the game since Season 1. Follow him on Twitter at @ggIzento for more League content.
Photo courtesy of Paul de Leon/Riot Games
For more LoL content, check out our LoL section