The Lol organization desgined to excel
- This is the first of a multiple part article where I analyze Lol organizational structure and propose an org structure designed to excel at hiring, developing and retaining talent.
Lol at the highest competitive levels is not about who has the better Lol Players. All rosters are already good enough. It’s about who manages their talent better.
You need to create an environment where the team and individuals can grow. And you need to have the correct staff to guide them through the path.
The problem is that Lol teams are flawed by design – they have structural issues.
Structural issues are something ingrained in esports culture, organizations or even game design. The only way of solving them is by having the whole org buying into “a vision”.
For example, having a 5 man roster is a consequence of structural issues. It’s really common that during the season players start slacking or have conflicts with each other and staff members. It’s also pretty common that scrims become a clown fiesta.
Having a 10 man rosters solves both problems. Players are competing on daily basis for their spot so the scrim quality raises. They’re also aware that if they severely misbehave they can be benched.
But properly managing a 10 man roster requires an organization that buys into the vision and qualified staff. Just having 10 players won’t make conflicts magically disappear.
Why structural issues must be solved
A clown fiesta scrim set from an LCS team happens because the players aren’t good enough? It’s because they don’t care enough? Or it’s because a player is mad with another and is not willing to follow his calls?
Structural issues create scenarios where growing as a team becomes a quest. As a coach, analyst or player, you can put huge amounts of time and effort on solving in-game problems but it won’t matter. The root of the problem is outside of the game.
It doesn’t matter how talented a roster is, if the org doesn’t know how to solve this issue, the team has a slim chance of succeeding.
The 3 main structural issues
You could argue that there are more but I think they all come from these three:
- Lack of money
- Immature Industry
- Lol technical limitations
Lack of money
When I joined Fnatic in January 2015 I asked for the team: several analysts, a sport psychologist, a physiotherapist and a chef. I got one analyst. Simply put, there was not enough money.
At the time, orgs spent until the last penny on players and everything else was secondary. This way of allocating their budget was also a consequence of the industry’s immaturity – we’ll talk about it later.
Today, the lack of money is about to stop being an issue. The constant influx of venture capital and NBA teams getting into esports has created a really interesting situation. We are entering an age in esports where money is not the limiting factor anymore, now the limiting factor is knowledge.
Most orgs pre 2013 started being just a team of 5 players. That team got really good, developed a big fanbase and the founder retired as a player to focus on the business side. Some founders successfully transitioned while others didn’t, but all orgs from that era where player centric.
Most players who transitioned to owners of orgs started playing young. They spent their life playing games, don’t have degrees or years of working experience. Esports just happened to explode while they were good players, outgrew them and they didn’t have time to properly transition to business people.
When these owners thought about their orgs, they did it from the point of view of a player. They didn’t try creating systems to ensure growth, they didn’t create a structure so that winning was the consequence of the process. It’s not they didn’t care, it was just completely outside of their area of expertise.
Historically, lack of money was a big problem. Highly qualified professional’s salaries were 5x to 10x higher than in esports. Using myself as an example, in my last year as a poker pro I made 7x more money than in my first year in Fnatic. I didn’t care because I wanted to be a successful LCS coach but it’s not a move I’d recommend anyone.
In the current esports landscape, salaries aren’t an issue anymore. Teams can hire top talent from other fields and can compete with the sports or tech industry.
Another consequence of esports being such a young industry is that there are few specialists. There are no doctors specialized in esports, nor esports psychologists. There’s no degree on esports coaching, no academic path and no coaches in the west with 10+ years of coaching experience in esports.
With all the professionals coming from other fields and esports being acknowledged by governments this is changing too. Professionals can transition into esports and academic esports degrees are being developed.
Even though esports as an industry is growing at an incredible speed, I think the lack of knowledge will be the main issue for big orgs in the upcoming years. Right now there’s very few people that have enough esports knowledge and have also been at an elite level in other fields.
Lol technical limitations
When I transitioned from poker to Lol I couldn’t believe there was no Lol Analysis software. As an online poker pro; data is everything. I assumed that Lol being such a popular game, there would be multiple analytical tools.
Later I discovered that the issue was the Lol API – it barely gives any information. To be honest, this blew my mind and I always tried to find a work around.
In 2015, for our worlds prep we used web scraping techniques to get data from all the world’s teams to analyze the metagame. With Tableau we did the visualization but to be honest, it wasn’t that useful. The combination of low quality data plus frequents patch changes was a nightmare for data analysis. The sample was too small to reach meaningful conclusions.
In 2016 we tried to go one step further and extract data from our scrims. We played 25-30 scrims a week but just a few stage games. We had no info about our scrims, not even the match history. Not being able to capture and analyze all this scrim data felt like a crime.
We extracted data from scrims using computer vision and analyzed it afterwards. But again, it was very unreliable. We couldn’t see the whole map from every angle every second and a lot of data got lost.
To summarize, the Lol API sucks. The amount of information that you can capture is tiny.
The other critical Lol technical flaw is the lack of training tool. Not long ago Riot released a training tool, but it’s borderline useless for teams, you can only train alone and versus dummies.
In Lol you can’t drill. If your team is weak snowballing mid game, you can’t just practice from 15 to 22 minutes with all tier 1 towers down. You have to play a whole game to practice just the mid game.
The lack of training tool also makes developing subs a challenge. Any amount of players between 5 and 10 is suboptimal because you can’t give them all the same quality of training.
In regular sports, all players train at the same time. In Lol, if you substitute a player, the other doesn’t scrim, missing precious practice time.
Esports Organizations goals
To properly understand the structure of an esports org we also need to understand what their goals are.
Having enough sponsor deals and creating a fanbase is critical for the long term success but for the sake of simplicity, we will only focus on sports goals:
- Hiring the best talent available
- Developing the hired talent
- Retaining the developed talent
By talent I mean both players and staff members.
Hiring and retaining talent
If we accept that money is not a problem, hiring the best talent available and retaining it is a matter of how interesting the project is. Things like chances of winning titles, being able to grow professionally and increasing personal brand value are critical factors.
Hiring is also influenced by scouting, but scouting doesn’t really exist. There are no junior or online leagues to scout. Riots API limitations make it difficult to scout SoloQ too.
Developing the hired talent is the area where I feel Lol orgs are going to struggle most. It totally depends on the structure of the org and their staff member’s knowledge. It’s critical for three reasons:
- Increasing the knowledge of your players increases the org chances of winning.
- When players feel they are learning and progressing they feel fulfilled and are happier.
- When a new hire enters a structured system they will integrate, grow and perform faster.
Developing a team is a big challenge. Players development highly depends on the staff members knowledge but who’s in charge of the staff development? In the same way that players need to improve, the whole stuff needs to too. Everyone that makes important decisions should be in a constant learning environment.
There’s no clear path to become a coach or analyst. Staff member functions and skills tend to overlap. Analysts are mini-coaches with less coaching skills and more focused in-game analysis. Coaches are in charge of too many areas (draft, communication, macro, micro, individual and team growth plans, solving conflict between players, etc.) They are the main source of knowledge but their teachings aren’t structured or part of a system.
What can’t be measured can’t be improved. What is not tracked can’t be measured. If the coach’s teachings aren’t documented and structured they are difficult to replicate or evaluate.
Teaching the players is the coach’s responsibility but creating the system is the org’s responsibility. The org needs to understand how important it is and give coaches the tools to create it.
The competitive Lol environment also complicates creating this system. In most teams coaches don’t last longer than two splits. The regular season is packed with games too, making it impossible to create a system without the org pushing for it.
An org designed to excel
Now that we know that an org must:
- Be able to solve structural issues or avoid their consequences
- Excel at hiring, developing and retaining talent
This is my org proposal:
In the second part of this article series I’ll talk about what are the responsibilities of every role and how they interact between each other.