This interview was conducted by our amazing Community Writer Max. Go give him a follow on Twitter!
This is part two of an interview conducted by Max Meads on July 20th with the head coach for MAD Lions, currently for many the best team in Europe, James “Mac” MacCormack. You can check part one here.
Max Meads: Following up on the lack of being able to go home due to the Coronavirus, it seems that even though the team were performing very well on stage, they seemingly have found a different gear when playing online and they’ve really come into their own since moving to an online format. Do you feel that this has benefitted the team, considering they’re a group of younger players who are used to playing tournaments regularly online?
Mac: Yeah, I feel it was a benefit to us for sure. I think by the time we moved from the studio to office playing, we were all very used to it (stage play) anyway, and I feel our on-stage performances were still pretty close to our scrim performances at that point. It’s hard to say it hasn’t had an impact; obviously it has had an impact, but I think a big part of that is also when we’re playing from home we are able to control things a bit more; we can utilise the performance staff more and the infrastructure that we have on gamedays.
Things like how we warm up, the exercises we do, meditation and all that extra stuff. Jake (MAD’s performance manager) has his massage table here, so he can give the players proper treatments before games rather than just massaging their forearms. All of those things add up.
So, you and your staff are clearly relishing the chance to build EU’s next potential super team. What has it been like to help them to develop and watching them grow over the past year?
I think it’s very fulfilling to work with rookies. Usually because they’re very easy to work with; our players are very flexible and very fast learners, which has made things a lot easier. We do everything we can to help them and to play towards their strengths- you can’t expect a rookie to come in and be a complete player that can do everything, but as long as they’re getting enough feedback and input to be able to pick up new concepts, they’ll do well, and our team are very good at doing that.
So, from that point it’s been very rewarding; it’s completely different to working with veterans. I definitely prefer it; I prefer the feeling of building something and I think when you work with young players at the beginning of their career you do develop a very close relationship with them. I value that a lot.
Your very close relationship with all of them is very evident, but do you sometimes find it difficult to separate yours and the team’s downtime with ‘work time’? Is it sometimes difficult considering this close relationship to ensure you’re in ‘coach mode’ when you need to be, or is there a good split?
It’s very rare that I need to be the disciplinarian because of the way we do things here. I know that all of these players trust me because we have already learned so much together, and they know I have their best interests at heart. They know that if I ask them to do something it’s not for no reason, and I’m also willing to accept that I am wrong on some things. We have a lot of team discussion and a lot of input and feedback from the players on how we want to run things. It’s rare, almost never, that I need to force my opinion on the players. We have a constructive discussion as a team and come to a conclusion, and then that’s the thing we implement. Everyone is free to say ‘Hey, this doesn’t work for me’ or ‘This really works for me’ and that way I don’t really have to be a disciplinarian.
Obviously, there are some times where I have to, but the fact I have the type of relationship with them where I don’t normally have to do that means it’s more impactful when I do. There are only so many arguments you can have with someone you work with before you sour the relationship, and that’s not something I’m interested in doing. I don’t find it very difficult; I’m a very relaxed and laid-back person anyway, so when it comes to having fun together, I’m very comfortable doing that with our players.
However I’m also very comfortable in our free time when we’re just hanging out, turning around and being a bit more serious, saying ‘Well actually you should think about this because it would be very useful for you in the future, because such and such happened to someone and so on’. That’s totally fine to do as well.
It seems as though generally the scene has evolved so much from the early days of competitive League of Legends. I remember speaking to Hans Christian Duerr, Splyce’s European GM at the time, and he said at Splyce they had such a big focus on diet and exercising. He bought up one incident where TheOddOne lived off of Taco Bell and Mountain Dew for months at a time, and he developed a sort of modern-day scurvy! Is it difficult to motivate the team to take care of their health, or are they very proactive on that without needing input from you and the team?
It changes from person to person. Some people are good with their diet, but don’t like exercising that much, some are good with all of it, and some are fussy eaters but won’t complain if you make them go to the gym. Some don’t like meditation. Different people have to find different ways to add value. I think in general we do a pretty good job; we spend a lot of time talking about these things. I have to trust my players to take care of themselves, and I also have to give them the freedom to make mistakes, but then be there to say, ‘Well, maybe ordering that waffle last night wasn’t the best thing after all,’.
Again, I don’t like to be too much of a disciplinarian, I like to give them their own personal freedoms, because that’s how people relax and disconnect. I can’t be ever present in their lives; they have to learn these things for themselves. I can only be here and say, ‘You have a profession responsibility up until this point to maintain your health, and this is why you should do this, here’s the evidence. This is the cost, are you sure that this is the best thing for your career?’.
Ultimately if someone is completely unwilling to make any kind of change then you have to question how much they actually want to win. Assuming you’ve spoken to them reasonably about it and they understand why you’re asking them to do all these things. Different people have different particularities when it comes to these things, but generally we haven’t had too much resistance, and we won’t as long as we continue to take those particularities into account.
Final few questions; what do you feel the future, both short and long term, holds for MAD Lions? Do you feel we’re witnessing the start of a new European dynasty here?
Ha-ha, I hope so! As I said earlier, I’m the type of person who likes to build things, so I feel the journey is the fun part. That’s why I signed a 3-year deal with MAD Lions; I wanted to build something. So that’s certainly the plan! I’ve said before to people that our aim when building this roster was to get people that can rival G2 in every position. Not necessarily now or in 6 months, but in a year or two years. Can these people be the best in the world? Yes, for sure. For all of our players that is possible. They’re all talented enough and they all want it enough, of that I’m 100% sure and I feel they all have what it takes. For the long term, I guess we’ll see, you know? It’s my job to make sure that the team stays intact and that we don’t ever drop the ball and lose all our players at once. But aside from those basics, I can’t reveal too much.
With the extra Worlds spot that EU has gained this year and the performances that MAD Lions are showing week in week out, you have to feel fairly confident that, provided it goes ahead, of course, MAD will be stamping a ticket to Worlds. Do you feel there’s that belief around the team, that a Worlds run is definitely on the cards?
We definitely encourage people to focus on the present and the day-to-day of things. You don’t get to Worlds by thinking about going to Worlds; you get there by getting off your backside and doing a lot of work in the here and now, and making sure you’re always asking yourself what you can do to be better, so that’s all I really care about. I want to ensure that every day we come to work and ask ourselves what we can do to be better than yesterday. No matter how well last weekend went, no matter how good things are right now; where are we weak? Where can we fortify our game? How can we make our strengths shine even brighter? Even down to things like ‘How can I be less tired? How can I be more awake? How can I communicate better? How can I look after myself better? How can I last longer without burning out?’.
These are the things I care about; there are a lot of teams that over time just stagnate or get worse over time because they don’t address these factors. If we address them and we improve every week, then we’ll make Worlds. If we manage to do that and continue to improve every week until we’re at Worlds, chances are we’ll do pretty well.
Obviously, I’d love to play against the LPL teams. I think the Chinese teams and the way they view the game is fascinating to me; it’s really different to the way we view it in terms of drafting meta and all this stuff, all the way down to practice culture and the environment they play in. The entire esports industry is completely different in China than compared to the West. It’s a really fascinating cultural experience as well as the fact you get to play against the best teams in the world, which is pretty great too!
The best thing about that is getting my players, who are largely rookies, to experience that as well. I think that was a real key in Marek’s growth last year and his motivation as well; he’s been to Worlds once now and he sure as hell isn’t going to want to miss out on it this year. That motivation of being at the pinnacle of the sport is a big factor in developing a long-term winning mindset. Once you’ve been to Worlds and played on a stage in front of tens of thousands of fans, you come back to the studio or the office in Europe and it’s not the same anymore. You just want to go back there. That’s the plan.
It must be a very addicting feeling. What about for you? You said you’ve signed a 3-year deal with MAD Lions, so for the medium term at least you’ll be head coach of the team. But can you see yourself being at MAD for the long haul; developing talent and being in the setup?
Yeah, I think so. As long as the people around me stay the same. That’s the main thing for me. I as a person understand myself well enough to know that I don’t want to go to the team that will throw the most money at the team or have the best roster; I can build those things myself within reason. What I want around me is the people I have around me to support me; that’s what I care about the most and that’s what I need to succeed.
I know I have limitations as a person, and I’ve struggled a lot with handling stress and anxiety and lots of things like this in the past, and I don’t want to experience that again! There’s no point being the type of coach I want to be if I can’t practice what I preach. Looking after yourself is important, not burning out is important. Your health should come first, and that is at the core of my beliefs. If I can’t do that for myself in a team environment, I’m not going to be in that team. MAD is by far the best place I’ve found for that support.
It’s all because of the people I have around me; it’s because I have Peter, because I have Till, because I have Jake, because I have our sports psychologist Martina, because I have a brilliant assistant coach in Kaas who takes all the stress off me he possibly can. We’re an organisation that invests a lot in staff and in people, and that’s so important to me. As long as that doesn’t change, I’m happy to spend my entire career at MAD Lions, but a lot can change in 3 years, right? We’ll have to see.
It’s definitely important to have the right people around you, if you don’t, even the best team can only be good up to a limit.
Absolutely; it’s how you build long-lasting success, right? If you want to succeed yourself, you should surround yourself with people who inspire you and challenge you to be the best, and we definitely have that here; it’s a huge part of why we’ve been having so much success in game right now.
Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the fans who have been supporting you in the studio and from home?
Thank you for all of the wonderful messages and support that you’ve been sending our way, I hope you’ll keep supporting our players in the way you are right now, and I hope you love them as much as I do; they’re a wonderful, wonderful bunch. Also please remember that all esports athletes in the scene are people too, so be kind to them. We might be doing well now but that won’t last forever, and there are other teams that have been doing well in the past that aren’t doing so hot right now, and are getting some pretty vicious flame at the moment.
Banter is fun, right? But I would like to ask the fans to also be kind and be gentle because they’re all people at the end of the day, no matter what your opinion is of them as League of Legends players. That aside, this split has been so wonderful for us, so thank you again to all the fans.