The role of a coach in League of Legends is extremely hard to gauge. There isn’t a reliable way of evaluating the impact of any member of a team outside of what the players are doing in the game. Consequently, what we are left with is a dire need to focus on results, trophies and successes as the main factor in analysing a coach’s career.
Through this lens, it is undeniable that the best coach ever in League of Legends is Kim "kkOma" Jeong-gyun, the legendary leader behind SKT T1, the most prestigious team in history. Yet, I’d like to present the story through another lens—one which shows that kkOma, despite being a great coach, needs this new position as Head Coach for DAMWON to truly cement his legacy as the best of all time.
kkOma’s trophy case is impossible to argue against. You would need an entire wall to correctly display every tournament SKT / T1 won under him, but it is also impossible to ignore the asterisk that has followed him around throughout his whole career: Faker, the best player in League of Legends history. As I’ve said before, the only things we know for certain when it comes to this esport is what we see with our own eyes happening inside the game, and you’d have to be blind to miss what Faker did for most of his career. His impact and legacy is undeniable; he was the permanent piece of an ever-changing SKT roster that kept on winning everything. So, how can we evaluate kkOma’s impact behind a player that single-handedly defined an era?
The first argument in Kkoma’s favour is how poorly teams have used the best talents in the game and how little impact those talents have when the meta essentially prevents them from carrying their teams. Was the best player in the World part of the FPX roster when they won worlds last year? What about Damwon this year? Samsung 2017? Rookie is the exception with his 2018 World Championship in IG, but that roster is such a glitch in the Matrix that it shouldn’t even count.
kkOma did have the undisputed best player in the game for almost all of his time with SKT, but he constantly surrounded him with the right pieces. As Thorin described in a 5 year old video, he is credited as “the architect” behind the World Championship-winning rosters. Despite this, how can we know Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok's influence in his teams beyond his own play? It has frequently been mentioned that the god of mid lane helped his junglers immensely, making players like Kang "Blank" Sun-gu and Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong look much better than they were. So, what else might he have done for his rosters? How much of a captain was he and what was his dynamic with kkOma?
The interesting detail we encounter when analysing this franchise player-head coach duo, is that they only had success together. T1 stopped winning everything back in 2016. kkOma remained their head-coach until the end of 2019, so he was still a part of the team when their losses began, but T1’s results have actually worsened since his departure, although this year’s roster was arguably one of the most talented the organisation has ever had. Under the leadership of coach Kim, the team didn’t even manage to qualify for this year's Worlds, even though they only faced an Afreeca team that also didn't qualify and a Gen.g squad that lost 3-0 to G2 in the Quarter-Finals. This wasn’t T1 being a good team lost in the middle of better teams, this was T1 not being good enough.
This year would be a great sign of kkOma’s impact, if he hadn’t had a disappointing season with Vici Gaming. He did manage to take a team that had finished 16th and 15th place in 2019 to 9th and 11th place this year, but that isn’t exactly a good placing. In two interviews with Inven Global, one regarding his departure from T1 and the other focused on his plans with VG, kkOma described himself as a person focused on long term goals. He mentions his plans with Vici has a project focused on building talents, finding good players and teaching them a sort of philosophy towards the game and their practices around it. When asked about the joy in making a lower-tier team better, he answered, “Yes. I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment through teaching new things and producing results. I want to elevate the team’s overall standards, and teach them new things.”
Related: T1: The tainting of a prestigious name
It seems that his ambitions have taken a 180º turn as he has just been announced as DAMWON’s new head coach. The World Champions lost their top laner Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon, but they’re still one of the most talented rosters in the entire world. This isn’t kkOma starting from scratch with a bottom of the table squad and turning rookies into stars, this is a return to a very known territory. kkOma is back to coaching World Champions, and he even has a familiar face in Khan as the team’s new top laner. The expectations are, and rightly so, extremely high.
T1 has, as is customary, made convincing off-season moves heading into 2021. Raising the bar in the already interesting T1-DWG rivalry, they even hired DAMWON’s former coaching staff in Yang "Daeny" Dae-in and Lee "Zefa" Jae-min. Both teams will enter next season as the default favourites for the region, especially after DRX’s implosion, so this is kkOma’s golden opportunity to prove his worth regardless of Faker’s presence.
Dwg are an extremely talented team and Heo "Showmaker" Su is an incredible mid laner, yet not one has the experience to influence the game in the abstract and intangible sense that someone like Faker does. The team showed a lot of promise in 2019, but they only managed to truly show positive results under the leadership of Daeny and Zefa. Again, we don’t know exactly how much impact they had, but the results during their stay were as good as it gets, and the ones from last year weren’t. Experience might’ve played a role, but how much of it can you actually get in less than a year?
With how young most of his players are, this is the perfect roster for kkOma to create the long term project he seems to envision. Talent, ambition and a proven ability to win. If he manages to lead this team into another LCK win, especially over T1, and maybe even another World Championship, his legacy will not only be undeniable, but also asterisk-free.
This is kkOma’s chance to plan as long term as possible and cement his name as the undisputed best Head Coach in the history of League of Legends.
If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @Kaaaosh.
Images courtesy of Lolesports' Flickr.
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