Pro Breakdown: The role of coaches in competitive Dota 2

Some of the most recognizable and accomplished coaches in Dota 2: Evil Geniuses coach Kanishka
Some of the most recognizable and accomplished coaches in Dota 2: Evil Geniuses coach Kanishka "BuLba" Sosale, former Elephant coach Bai "rOtK" Fan, PSG.LGD coach Zhang "xiao8" Ning, and Team Secret coach Lee "Heen" Seung Gon. (Photos: Dota 2 TI Flickr/Valve Software)

This is Pro Breakdown, a series by Yahoo Esports Southeast Asia where we talk with pro players, coaches, experts, and other personalities about anything and everything in the region's esports scene.

Today, we're talking about coaching, with Singaporean Dota 2 veteran and Nigma Galaxy SEA coach Nicholas "xFreedom" Kelvin Ileto Lim (@xfreedom on Twitter). He shares his history as a Dota 2 coach and the importance of the role in the game's competitive scene.

You can also check out the first installment of Pro Breakdown, which tackled Talon Esports' recent entry into the Dota 2 scene as well as the Dota Pro Circuit in SEA, here.

Singaporean Dota 2 veteran xFreedom (Photo: xFreedom)
Singaporean Dota 2 veteran xFreedom (Photo: xFreedom)

How did you get started as a Dota 2 coach? What were the biggest differences you've seen and adjustments you've made in your transition from coach to player?

xFreedom: It was after I completed my military service, I didn’t get any offers to play for any team but instead received an offer to be a coach. So, I put some thought into and decided to give it a shot.

One of the biggest differences when you're the coach is that it felt like time in-game kind of slowed down for me because I get to see things clearer from a bird’s eye view. It's very different when you're a player, it’s difficult to keep track of what’s happening when you're focused on playing.

However, the biggest adjustment for me once was learning to accept that you can be wrong even though logically you can be right.

Everyone sees the game differently, so because of that you have to meet somewhere in the middle when it comes to the relationship between player and coach.xFreedom

Does a team need a coach to be successful nowadays? Coaches weren't really a thing back in the early days of Dota 2, so what made having a coach a requirement now?

xFreedom: Right now, at this state of the game and at this level of competition, having a coach is necessary. I think what coaches bring to the table is the ability to see what's happening in the game and process it directly to the players.

As a player, generally speaking, you only have enough time to work on yourself and work with the team. You only have a minimal amount of time to take a look at what the enemy is doing in terms of ward spots, how they move as a team, how they take teamfights, and what they excel at.

There are times where you'll have the time to take a good look at what the enemy is doing, but when you're in a high-stakes tournament you don't have that same opportunity game-to-game during, for example, a best-of-three or a best-of-five.

That's where the coach comes in, studies the enemy, then relays all the necessary information to the team.

In Dota 2, the impact of a coach is most often seen and felt during the drafting phase. But what about after the draft? How involved are coaches when it comes to the game itself?

xFreedom: Some players don't like to be micromanaged while some are okay with that idea, so it really depends. Personally, I know players really don't like to be micromanaged. The coach can tell you what to do but in the end you're the one pressing the buttons.

A lot of things in Dota are split-second reactions and decision-making, after all. But that's just how the game is, you're free to make your own choices and you live with the consequences that come with it.

Most people are familiar with the idea of a coach in physical sports as the person standing in the sidelines with a clipboard in hand and drawing up plays for the team. As a Dota coach yourself, does that same concept apply? How would you define the role of a coach in Dota?

xFreedom: I think there are a lot of types of coaches in Dota, there are those that do the drafting for the team and even tell players how they should do certain things in the game.

One of the more famous kinds of coaches is the type that dictates everything, there's Bai "rOtK" Fan, Kanishka "BuLba" Sosale, and Zhang "xiao8" Ning, for example. For these coaches, everything their teams do revolves around their ideas.

There's also the other type of coach where he's more about supporting the team captain's ideas. Team Secret is a good example, over there it's Clement "Puppey" Ivanov that chooses the coaches he wants because they're all playing around his ideas. So, Lee "Heen" Seung Gon is there to be the right hand man.

Coaches in physical sports are also known to have a significant role when it comes to building and maintaining team chemistry. Is that also a thing that Dota coaches are normally responsible for?

xFreedom: Team chemistry really depends on the team, honestly. It's more about how much time you spend together, whether you have built up that trust in one another, and then that trust will be what takes you to the next level. The coach is part of that but it's something that the team has to work on both as individuals and as a whole.

Aside from helping the team draft and strategise, what else do you think Dota 2 coaches bring to the table for their team?

xFreedom: It really depends on what the team feels like they are lacking, you know, whether they are lacking in the in-game stuff or things outside of the game. E

very player is different, one coach can't give you everything, but what's important is making sure that the pieces of the puzzle fit together and working on how players communicate with each other.

Do you have any advice for those looking to start a coaching career in Dota? What do you think is something they need to know before getting into coaching?

xFreedom: That everyone works differently, not everyone functions the same way. It may work for some individuals, for some it does more harm then good for them.

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