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Coaching Esports: The Role of the Esports Coach

For any coach, the holistic development of participants involves more than mastering technical and tactical skills. In this second part of a four-part series, Dr Laura Swettenham, Callum Abbott and Matthew Watson from *IFoEC explore the complex and evolving role of the esport coach

I think coaching goes far past just the game. There are plenty of people with in-game understanding, but coaching is about getting people to play on the same page. It is about setting the culture and the philosophy of how you want to play the game." 

–  Peter Dun, League of Legends Coach

Similarities in coaching sport and esports

Many skills required for conventional sport coaches are also vital for the esports coach. 

Esports coaching methods are likely to vary based on the game being played, though the relative youth of the esports coaching profession and limited access to training and development make it difficult to precisely define the specific role and responsibilities of the coach in esports. Despite this, we recognise some general skills from conventional sport coaching that are important for successful coaching in esports. 

These skills include:

  • Ability to make effective tactical decisions and to develop strategic understanding in players.
  • Keeping track of key statistics, patterns in gameplay, and game updates. 
  • Teaching specific skills and concepts (e.g. exploiting situations in which an opponent is outnumbered, using deception).
  • Analysing past games and providing effective feedback to the team. 
  • Expertise in administrative and organisational skills, such as arranging training sessions or recruiting and negotiating earnings.
  • Ability to build relationships with players and stakeholders. For example, navigating interpersonal issues, and facilitating holistic development of individual players.

Reflect

What transferable skills do sports coaches have?

What knowledge or skills might be missing?

How could sports coaches develop those skills or knowledge?

 

Differences and challenges in coaching esport

Esports coaching is by nature inescapably digital. Coaches must observe and review players’ in-game performances, by analysing on-screen gameplay and making sense of complex real-time statistics, aided by recordings of their players’ in-game verbal communication. 

An advantage of the digital nature of esport is that the recruitment of players is global, as the same game will usually be played in an identical format worldwide. However, for the many teams that train and perform solely online, coaching in this digital environment presents several challenges:

  • As team members may never meet in person coaching approaches to team building and player engagement may require adapting for ‘online’ use. 
  • Coaches need to be prepared for and adept at dealing with potential technical issues such as internet connection failure.
  • Building positive relationships, connecting with your players, and developing team cohesion in an online environment, where players and coaches are based indifferent countries, may seem like an impossible task. Similarly, to the role of the sports coach, for coaches working with esports teams online, it is vital that they connect individually with each player, understand what makes them tick in and out of the game, develop trust, and enable players to thrive through challenging in a safe environment 
  • Esports teams have a high turnover of players and coaches, often not staying together for longer than six or seven months. This challenge can be compounded by extremely short pre-seasons (sometimes less than one week) for new team members to get acquainted before competing together. Building positive relationships and the ability to connect quickly is vital in this situation, meaning teams with sufficient resources will ‘boot camp’ together offline as a more effective means to develop relationships and team cohesion. 

The career journey in esports is at present very different in comparison to conventional sport. In esports it’s rarely coaches, teachers, or parents that are responsible for young players’ early motivation to practice and compete. Players usually begin playing of their own accord, are encouraged by friends, develop skills autonomously as they explore their game of choice, and tend to encounter coaches at a later stage in their personal and professional development. 

As esports continues to evolve, there will be greater involvement of coaches at the earlier stages of participation, and their coaching practice will increasingly reflect the age and stage of the player. It will then be important for esport coaches to consider the players’ understanding of the coach’s role and the coach-player relationship, and to recognise that some players may need support in adjusting to working with a coach.

Given the evolving demands on an esports coach, the potential impact on esports players and the performance environment, there is a need to support esports coaches in their development. 

 

A tendency for self-organisation and less regulation is characteristic of the esports industry. It is then essential that coaches in this context are supported by the esports industry to meet and understand recommended code of practicesafeguarding, and professional practice and standards. Coach education in esports at this early stage represents an exciting challenge, requiring the careful integration of coaching concepts with context-specific research as it arises. 

Supporting the esports industry

The International Federation of Esports Coaches provides support and training to coaches and support staff in esports through a variety of means, including a global membership platform that supports a community of background-checked coaches at various competitive levels. This community enables esports coaches to network, take part in research, and access essential safeguarding information in esports. 

The relative youth of the esports coaching profession means there are relatively few role models and mentors to support aspiring and early-stage coaches. To support the esports coaching profession, member coaches are encouraged to train and act as mentors which the IFoEC believe is key to ensuring the continued professional growth of the esports industry. 

* IFoEC is the education partner of the International Federation of Esports Coaches.

The International Federation of Esports Coaches is a global esports coaching federation dedicated to promoting professionalism and safe practice within esports and providing developmental pathways for aspiring and existing players, coaches and organisations in esports.

More on esports

This is the second part of a four-part series exploring Coaching & Esports. The third part of this series looks at the importance of interdisciplinary teams in esports.

Read the full series

Related Resources

  • The Importance of Developing a Coaching Philosophy

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  • Coaching People Online

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  • The Fundamentals for Being Successful in Online Coaching

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