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Taking a breath: Inside Excel Esports’ hectic off-season

The British LEC team’s new Head of Operations gives us insight into what happens before the start of every split.

Taking a breath: a phrase synonymous for Excel this offseason. Coming into last year with a short amount of time to build the brand, facilities, roster, coaches meant the company never got a chance to really sit back, review and appreciate where it had got to.

For everything Excel did right last year, our on stage performance will always stick out as the difficulty had. Joel and Kieran Holmes-Darby [owners of Excel] had a mere two and a half weeks to build an entire 11 man team, coaching roster and setup facilities. Whilst they pulled off that impossible task successfully, placing ninth and tenth in the standinds certainly wasn’t on the agenda. 

Moving into off-season, the company has had for the first time, a chance to truly define its performance systems and build sustainably from the ground up. With that goal in mind, some new hires were made and the plan was created.

Now the task is simply defined: install a two year plan to qualify for Worlds. A daunting task, but nonetheless very possible with the right design.

"The task is simply defined: install a two year plan to qualify for Worlds"

Coaches down

I worked for Splyce (now MAD Lions) on part of their team creation back in 2017,  where coach structure and a two year plan to Worlds were also identified as their targets – goals they successfully managed in 2019 at their culmination. I had the joy of bringing in Peter Dun, James "Mac" MacCormack and Hadrien “Duke” Forestier and working with them over the two years, recognising the structures they brought in along with their growth in the roles and clear talent.

My learnings from those years strengthened my belief in how important coach structures are now in League of Legends. We have surpassed the days of five guys playing with their “mate: providing some ideas. Instead we’re much closer to a basketball philosophy now where a strong leader with clear game understanding is required as a figurehead to drive the entire performance department.

In looking for this head coach figure to spearhead the department, we wanted that to be partnered with leading in out-of-game performance, something Excel staff understand as well as anyone being a part of Twickenham stadium and associated with the rugby team here. A few candidates were available to lead that but Fabian "FaBro" Broich stood out as one of those rarities who has the out-of-game performance ability, but also a proven track record within esports, having taken both his previous teams to Top 3. Assisting him with top resources is also key. We are working with an epigenetics team, doctors and physios associated with England cricket and rugby, and top tier gym facilities. He will set these professionals up in every way to be successful.

So with the lead setup in out-of-game performance, the in-game figurehead needed to show. This only works if both in and out-of-game are as good respectively as each other. Once we’d had the chance to chat to Joey “Youngbuck” Steltenpool, the decision was a no-brainer. He fully buys into the two year project we are creating, and his track record showed he was the superior candidate and ideal for our team.

Joey and Fabian were our first signings of the season. It was critical to have their influence on the team, to instill our new philosophy. With them at the helm, I can comfortably say that I think we have the best coaching setup in LEC.

Building a team

Excel want to create something long term in performance design. Whilst a tqo year plan is in place, it needs to extend into a life past that. We can’t rely on the same five players and coaches for the whole period. What if they leave? Instead we need to create philosophies that reign during the entire time Excel exists and build upon them as they (hopefully) become successful.

When it comes to league, building a team brings together numerous aspects. I have always worked with coaches on a basketball-style philosophy, where certain personality types fit in. There are four key areas to hit:

•    Communication system (Shotcallers vs the non-talkers)

•    Personality system (One or two superstars, two supportive figures - in personality, not game ability)

•    Rookies vs veterans (I personally prefer a 3:2 or 2:3 system)

•    In-game balance (Who can play sacrifice position vs carry position)

Hitting all four areas successfully takes a lot of scouting and team design. Within this you also need to incorporate the coach’s layout and design of team they’re also trying to form in terms of performance style in-game. It’s rare to hit all areas successfully, so you’re often just trying to tick as many boxes as possible with the talent available. Those who have now seen our players can hopefully see that we tick most of these, although I’ll let the fans figure out who falls into which.

Scouting systems

Having an actual off-season this time around has allowed our analyst team to start building upon what we’re naming the EPI – Excel Performance Index.

In order to hit the goals of team building above, this cannot be done on pure interviews/references. It must be data driven, as is the way with almost all traditional sports nowadays. Work went into creating a scouting system that was able to identify talent from not just within LEC, but all ERLs and be able to create a well balanced and fair comparison of players in all roles. This allows us to see who is appropriate to us from a skill and mechanics level for our main team and academy. Whilst I can’t give too much away of course, an indication for you is that over 25 metrics are used, specialised to each role – and this is only the first iteration.

From this system, we can now identify the next wave of talent. Couple that with the performance philosophies above, and it should lead to Excel standing out on a performance level for many years ahead. The next two years will certainly act as the ‘alpha phase’ of this design.

Moving forward

Everyday acts as testing for our performance creation. As fans have seen, some player changes have been built into that from our scouting and coaching systems, and so now we can only look towards providing further resources where we can to ensure their performance, and rely on the new hires to show their pedigree.

I wanted to use this article to show how much thought and processing goes into creating a roster today at Excel, and in the LEC as a whole. Taking the design and creation to a higher level ensures success in the long term, and having an extremely clear performance philosophy allows all of us to fall into a positive and proven system. We are becoming data driven.

We will certainly need to spend the years ahead tinkering with our systems but one thing is clear: now that Excel have had a chance to breathe, we are ready to start winning.