The Best Pro League of Legends Coaches in the LCS

by in League of Legends | Jun, 3rd 2020

Making a list of the best LCS coaches is hard, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a tricky topic that requires our utmost attention, and it’s also a thankless endeavor. No matter our method or criteria, someone’s bound to be left out by accident. But even if we ignore that problem, there’s yet another complication that’s making this whole thing harder than it should be: the nature of coaching in esports.

There’s no unified, “one size fits all” definition of a head coach. Depending on whom you ask, you’ll hear that this is either an egregious problem or a blessing in disguise. On the one hand, having a team-specific approach can often yield the best result. No two players are the same, after all. On the other hand, by not having a set and pre-defined list of obligations and responsibilities, head coaches might not be able to deliver what is necessary. Because of this, we can’t fully judge and evaluate their worth.

Enter the LCS and its many intricate problems.

Most North American teams differ in the way they do things. That’s a negative thing, in case you were wondering. There’s very little rhyme or reason involved. Most teams lack a layered, capable coaching staff whereas only the best ones invest in sports psychologists, nutritionists, and the like. How do we, then, fully judge and assess their worth, ability to lead, inspire, and motivate? How do we quantify their value and surmise their game knowledge?

One thing has become painfully clear over the years: a head coach is only as strong as the staff around him. Without a comprehensive system in place, without absolute unyielding structure, teams and players are bound to struggle at some point. This also means that we often don’t have a good enough read when it comes to who does what and how well. It’s also unfair to judge anyone through results-based analysis as that’s a slippery slope in itself.

If a coach has top-notch players then he’s more of a mediator, someone who’s supposed to maintain the machinery already in place. Should he be getting an equal share of the credit?

You rarely find a coach who can mold up-and-coming talent into the superstars of tomorrow. The golden standard realized by just a single coach listed below. We can only be certain of a coach’s talents and ability to lead when they’ve guided entirely different line-ups (with vastly different amounts of potential) and yet still found some semblance of success.

The coaches listed below have proven their worth on more than one occasion. They’re not perfect, as evidenced by their monumental triumphs and staggering defeats, but at least they’re battle-hardened — with many scars and medals to show for their valiant efforts over the years. It’s hard to quantify their knowledge and overall worth but they’re the best coaches North America has to offer at the moment.

They’re all household names, but the amounts of success they’ve found over the years tend to vary wildly.

Jang “Cain” Nu-ri (Team Liquid)

Cain, a former support player for NaJin and CJ Entus, first rose to coaching prominence in North America after a fairly impressive (albeit short) stint with Cloud9. His first experience with Team Liquid, however, wasn’t a particularly enviable one: he was tasked with coaching the team back when they were facing relegation. That crisis was averted, and Cain moved to TL full-time once franchising kicked in.

The rest is, as they say, history. He’s the most decorated coach in the history of the region with four LCS titles to his name and a Mid-Season Invitational second place finish. Pair that with almost universal acclaim, respect, and admiration for his game knowledge and analytical mind, and you have one of the few LCS coaches with a proven track record.

Still, his stock took a bit of a hit after Liquid imploded this recent split. The fact that they failed to even reach the playoffs after winning four splits in a row resulted in him being moved to the strategic coach position.

Kang “Dodo” Jun-hyeok also deserves a big shoutout for his work. The former Team 8 support made a seamless transition into coaching and has been instrumental to the success of both Immortals (the OG 2017 line-up that made waves with their 17W-1L regular season record) and Team Liquid. He’s not that vocal overall which is to say that he’s more of a “roadie” — he prefers taking a backseat and rolling up his sleeves. You don’t hear from him that often on broadcast or anywhere else. That, however, in no way diminishes his impact and career longevity. He’s been with Cain from day one and deserves a good chunk of the credit as well.

Tony “Zikz” Gray (100 Thieves)

Zikz first joined the scene as an analyst back in May 2014. Six years have passed and it’s impossible to paint him as anything less than a veteran coach and a staple presence in the LCS. While he’s currently leading 100 Thieves, his most impressive stint came with Counter Logic Gaming. He even managed to lift the LCS trophy on two occasions back in 2015 Summer and 2016 Spring with the best and most successful CLG line-up in history

Zikz is incredibly smart about the game and is fully cognizant of what a team should be and how it needs to function to improve and compete at the highest of levels. His most recent split with 100T was quite a successful one, at least if we observe their regular season run (and eventual third-place finish). They did fall off track a bit in the playoffs, but the point still stands. As a team, they have all the right tools to find success; they just need a bit more time to synergize, get on the same page, and form a distinct identity.

Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu (Cloud9)

The man, the myth, the legend.

With four “Coach of the Split” awards, Reapered is as respected and revered a coach as they come. He’s been with Cloud9 for four years and has completely revolutionized the team in ways we never thought were possible. It’s hard to even fully describe the immense amount of success the boys in black and blue were able to find under his tutelage. While they often came up short when it mattered the most (in the finals, that is), they were always the most flexible and creative team in the region. Reapered’s methods are well-documented and he’s one of the few individuals on this list whose influence can easily be observed through Cloud9’s play and their staggering improvement over time.

Each time the roster underwent immense change, Reapered was able to weather the storm and turn yet another fledgling line-up into a bona fide challenger. He’s also one of the few (if not the only) coaches in the region who has successfully molded rookies and up-and-coming talent into superstars. If you look at Reapered and his work in a vacuum, it almost looks easy! In actuality, however, scouting the right talent, guiding them, and creating an atmosphere that can facilitate natural growth is an art form — mastered by just a handful of coaches. Cloud9, under his baton, is still the only North American team that has managed to leave a mark on the World Championship stage.

Reapered is an absolute treasure, so the fact that he’s signed with Cloud9 throughout 2022 should come as no surprise. His methodology and approach to the game is a perfect match for Cloud9’s creative, more relaxed leadership and company culture.

This year was the moment in which all of the hard work and pristine coaching finally paid off: Reapered was able to win everything that was up for grabs with arguably the most dominant North American roster in history. 2020 is shaping up to be the year Cloud9 puts North America on the map.

If you’re looking for the best LCS coach ever, it’s hard to argue against Reapered and his incredible resume.

Neil “pr0lly” Hammad (formerly H2K, 100 Thieves; Currently LCS Analyst)

This one might be a bit polarizing, but in a region where many individuals consider them professionals, pr0lly is one of the few exceptions who have proven their worth over the years. He’s not perfect. We’re all aware of that, and his mistakes were highlighted and underlined on many occasions throughout history.

Still, making mistakes and fumbling is a natural part of any process. Trial and error. What matters most, is the fact that he led multiple entirely different teams to the World Championship (in two vastly different regions), and was able to produce actual title contenders.

He might be a flawed coach (much like everyone else), but he certainly knows his stuff.

Honorable Mentions

The coaches listed below definitely deserve a shoutout. They’re well-known and have proven their worth over the years, but for one reason or another, there’s still something missing. In most cases, it’s the fact that we don’t have enough information at our disposal to fully judge their impact. Conversely, we might know a lot but most of it is conflicting.

In most of these cases, we simply need a bigger sample size.

Heo “Irean” Yeong-cheol

It’s hard to fully judge Irean as a coach, even though he already has a stellar record three splits into his LCS career. He first joined Counter Logic Gaming as a strategic coach and was supposedly a huge catalyst for their immense growth that year. They went from seventh to third in a couple of months, and his impact and influence were praised by everyone who worked with him.

Irean is, quite obviously, a very good coach, and there’s a reason why Evil Geniuses picked him up after re-entering the LCS. His impact was once again evident as EG went from being a bottom tier dweller to Top 3 in just a couple of weeks.

Still, two successful splits in North America isn’t a particularly big sample size, so we’ll reserve judgement, at least for a little while. That said, his success speaks for itself. If he keeps doing so well we’ll have to conjure up an addendum and make Irean a permanent member of the “best LCS coaches” list!

Weldon Green (Counter Logic Gaming)

Weldon has been around for quite a while now. Most fans probably first saw him with Team SoloMid back in 2016, and since then he’s helped both G2 Esports and Counter Logic Gaming. He’s a household name, a coach you’re probably familiar with in one way or another. He doesn’t have a background in esports, but what he lacked in game-specific knowledge, he more than made up with his vast experience in the field of sports psychology.

That, in a way, was his road to prominence. His job was to facilitate growth, to create a positive environment in which players could share opinions, talk about the game, and even argue should the need arise. He gave many interviews over the years and it became pretty obvious that he’s a consummate professional, someone who can offer an immense amount of knowledge to esports as a whole. Weldon, perhaps more than anything, is a reminder that all teams need to broaden their coaching staff.

But how good is he as a coach? That’s kind of impossible to answer. He was in the running for Coach of the Split last year, but ever since Irean moved from CLG to Evil Geniuses, they fell to tenth place. Weldon is neither a player nor a strategic coach, so his knowledge of the game is — in comparison to his peers — severely limited. It’s no coincidence that his talents shined brightest when he was in an assistive capacity.

If he manages to bring CLG back on track for the 2020 Summer Split, then we’ll know for certain whether he belongs on this list or not.

Nick “Inero” Smith (Golden Guardians)

Inero took over the Golden Guardians after their historic back-to-back tenth place finishes. Hardly a prestigious point in anyone’s career. Under his tutelage, however, GGS were able to go from tenth place to the playoffs in the very next split. It was a solid run overall and it took everyone by surprise. They were a heavily flawed team but they fought back to the best of their ability, often upsetting seemingly stronger and more talented rosters through sheer willpower, intelligent drafting, and Henrik “Froggen” Hansen’s insane play in the mid lane.

2020 proved to be yet another challenge for Inero as a good chunk of his roster underwent a ton of change. Frankly speaking, GGS looked like the absolute worst team in the region — both on paper and in reality. And yet once again, with meager means and players who were either past their prime or fairly underwhelming, Inero managed to clinch sixth place in a fairly competitive split. This meant they beat out Dignitas, Immortals, Team Liquid, and Counter Logic Gaming in a very memorable late-split surge.

Say what you want about their lineups, but they’re a resilient bunch, and that’s commendable. Inero might not be a high-profile name, but he deserves a shout-out nonetheless.


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