Jensen “Jstorm” Goh is a homegrown Singaporean who has coached professional League of Legends teams across 7 countries in the last three years. Working with Splyce in 2019, the team finished top 8 at the World Championship, climbing out of the play-ins and the group stage to make the quarterfinals.
Carrying a diverse portfolio, he shares what it’s like coaching in different languages, working and playing with teams in the East and West, and what’s to come in 2020.
What makes you unique as a League of Legends coach?
There are four domains of coaching. The knowledge domain is what most analysts do. Then there’s the performance side that involves sports psychology and preventing injuries. Thirdly, the relationship domain is about managing relationships with people and how to handle conflict.
The fourth domain, which I call the systems domain, is my unique selling point. Performance is what you do outside the game, knowledge is what you do inside the game, while relationships is what do you do with the players. Systems deal with how you do these things.
I write operating procedures that work for teams. This is something I’ve developed overtime, especially because I was required to keep a reflection journal while working in Taiwan. When I moved on to EVOS, I had to setup the team structure and define duties for everyone.
When applied to game knowledge, I’m able to boil down decision making processes into a very clear flow chart for players to follow. It involves the 8-second shotcalling procedure (because it takes a player 8 seconds to finish recalling). The gold standard is for players to be able to make the next call or play within that 8 seconds. If you take one minute to call a play, by then two waves would elapse and your opponent would have already taken an objective.
What are the top 3 challenges you faced coaching teams across Taiwan, China, Vietnam and Europe?
Number one, navigating cultures. Oftentimes coaches and organisations make mistakes when they skip over these steps and assume the motivations of players. They might adopt a naive idea that motivating players for monetary gains or performance should be a top priority.
My experience in China was a very good example where I mismanaged this. I went over to the League of Legends Development League (LDL, academy league in China) for a short period of time after my stint in Taiwan and made the mistake of assuming that players will be similar. Taiwanese players had educational qualifications. They responded to authority well and team structures were run in an authoritarian way.
In the LDL, I drew up huge plans on what I wanted to do. I had a whole system where we had lectures, tutorials and lab work. But it was the offseason and all the players wanted to do was play PUBG. One of the players said to me, “I quit school to pursue gaming because I hate school, and now you’ve made me feel like I’ve gone back.” I failed to take culture into account.
Another big challenge is the lack of skillsets in esports. Getting visas done, administrative work, processing logistics… as a decade old industry, mistakes like these should not be happening often. We had no electricity and water in the EVOS gaming house because someone forgot to pay the bills. The funny thing about Vietnam is that there can be no electricity and no water, but I will always have 4G internet to complain about it. (laughs)
Thirdly, communication. If you have to communicate through a translator, coaching becomes very entrenched in the knowledge domain. When I was coaching in Chinese, everything became very literal. It’s hard to explain to players why they need to sit in a certain way, eat in a certain way or sleep by these timings without charisma and influence. It’s already difficult to do it in your main language, and doubly so when you’re limited by vocabulary.
When players laugh among themselves, I get lost in translation. In Vietnam, apparently there’s some folk song about a rock being very lonely and players always laugh because Malphite draws on that meme when played in the top lane.
There was once where two players in EVOS arguing during a scrim review. I turn to my translator and ask, “What’s going on?” He looks at them, he looks at me, he looks at them, looks back at me again – then he just shrugs. I’m at a loss for words. To expect a translator to be able to process that much information is very difficult.
What were your responsibilities at Splyce?
My actual title in Splyce was Secret Ninja because I was hired to be the academy head coach. But because of the merger with MAD Lions, I was displaced and didn’t take on an official title after and continued to contribute to both sides.
As an assistant coach or performance consultant, I was still involved with the MAD Lions in the day-to-day things as they set up the 10-man roster for the summer split. For the main team, I was given 5 minutes for each game of scrims to coach, or I would observe games remotely and screenshot mistakes after. I also did presentations for the team to explain lane swap strategies in Vietnam, or Rift Herald setups by other teams.
What’s the best thing you took away from that experience?
It’s not so much about the achievements but the friends I’ve made along the way. Previously, I could not really connect with my players or not understand them due to language barriers. In Splyce, I could coach in English and build relationships which was so validating. To take that coach-player relationship further meant so much to me. I was so happy and satisfied
In your opinion, what’s the number one contribution you made to Splyce?
I shaped the system and held discussions around bot lane according to 3 classes: Poke and choke, stack and dive, farm and sustain. These laning patterns use different types of resource consumption which affects how you involve the mid laner and jungler.
In addition, I mediated tensions between coaching staff after we lost to Rogue. They were feeling down because the loss came as a huge shock. Overall, I provided a point of validation as an additional voice on the team.
Are there fun, memorable activities you’ve done with the teams you worked with during downtime?
I played ping pong with the Splyce academy players, mostly Anders “Sharp” Lillengen, Prodromos “Pretty” Kevezitidis and Olivier “Prime” Payet. When I was in the Mad Lions house in Madrid, Spain, there was this sport called Padel. It’s like a mini tennis and squash hybrid. Martin “Rekkles” Larsson mentioned it in one of his interviews with Travis Gafford before.
Any interesting food you’ve eaten while were working overseas?
In China, I learned how to peel and eat crab. They’re those small river crabs served with fruit vinegar? So good. Vietnam was another place where I ate a lot of crab because that was their celebratory dish.
Splyce had a very strong emphasis on performance. Jake Ainsworth – we call him Jake the Viking because he has a glorious beard – he’s really well versed. He’s an MMA fighter and an expert when it comes to nutrition and dieting. He shared about how to maintain energy levels throughout the day and aided them with weight loss. Under his guidance, Sebastián “Tierwulf” Mateluna and Tamás “Vizicsacsi” Kiss achieved those goals.
Known for their snacks, Splyce had custom-made balls made of blended dates and nuts with cocoa, coated with coconut and salt. It was a snack substitute so that players don’t go for sugary things and experience a ‘sugar crash’ later on. Jake developed these snacks for the players to keep up their energy levels, especially since we’re Splyce, we dragged everything to the late game. (laughs) In the series against Origen, we went to game five and you could say that we beat them with superior nutrition.
For the new Spring 2020 season, you’ll be going overseas to a new region as head coach (TBA). What do you hope to achieve?
2019 was a mixed season for me. I left EVOS in good sport, went over to Splyce and took over team that was in 8th place in the middle of the split. I turned them around and we won the Spanish European Regional League (SLO) in Spain. I then made top 8 with Splyce during the World Championship.
Hopefully I’ll be able to make MSI with this non-major region team. The plan is to make MSI, get my name out there, and finish strong in hopes of working in a major region in the long run.
What exactly do you think the Singapore League of Legends scene needs to change in order to improve?
I look at it from an engineering perspective. I’m not a person who believes that policy changes society. Technology changes society. If it’s not meant to be, just let it die. That’s the reality of it. We’re not in the right place because the gaming IP is not a premium one in the English speaking world, especially Singapore. Gaming as entertainment has to compete with all the other forms of IPs.
If you look at Spanish or Latin speaking countries, the gaming IPs are going to be extremely strong there. But in Singapore, we’re spoiled for choice. The free to play model of League of Legends in Singapore is not a big selling point compared to Vietnam. We have to look at the bigger picture – geographically, regionally and within the context of a transformative digital media space.
Jensen Goh recently wrote a book “From Amateur to Pro – The Esports Pursuit of Mastery” detailing lessons as a player and becoming a world-class coach.