With the World Championship concluded, and a brand new League of Legends European Championship season on the horizon, it’s time for some moves to be made. After a tough season with Fnatic that ended with a breathtaking Worlds campaign, Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool is headed over to pastures new – and he’s making the move to Excel Esports as their Head Coach.
The Dutch coach has had successful spells at both G2 Esports and Fnatic in the past, and now he’s looking to help Excel find their footing after a tough inaugural season. The six time European champion no doubt has a solid eye for talent, and he’s looking to bring his flavour of League of Legends to the British-based squad. After the official announcement, we got time to speak with YoungBuck about his move, what he thinks he can bring to the team, and the goals he has in mind already for XL.
What made you want to move over to XL?
YoungBuck: I get a lot of fulfilment from my job by developing players, which caused me to have a really good year in 2018 with Fnatic. I really felt like everyone was improving and getting a lot better, but in 2019 I didn't get a similar fulfillment. So I had to make a decision between, you know, being in an organisation that was essentially always going to make Worlds, or to try to build something up, and I realised I will be much happier finding fulfilment in my job and actually feel like I'm doing something very useful on a daily basis, and working with players that really want to improve and are very hungry and are still early on in their careers.
I think I can get similar results in Excel if the pieces all fall together. And that would just give me way more fulfilment than let's say, getting quarterfinals with Fnatic. I will get much more fulfilment getting Excel from tenth to fifth, for example. Or let's say even Worlds. That's just what I'm looking for, really.
After two shots at the Worlds trophy with Fnatic, what are your goals for XL in your first season in charge?
The first season I want to make playoffs in both splits, which I think are relatively reasonable. And then the plan is to make Worlds in two years.
I think there's a really good roster. I know good things about the organisation from former employees, and current employees as well. So playoffs is definitely the goal. I think we can do it. Of course, all the pieces have to land in terms of roster building, but it's looking pretty, pretty positive right now.
“I like to beat the expectations of the community; if they're going to tell us that we should finish eighth or sixth, then you know I want to push that to two places upwards – so that's my challenge.”
Those are some concrete goals to have
I think it's really important to set a set goal; also one that is ambitious, but also realistic. You know, saying we're gonna win the split next season, I think is unrealistic right now – we have Fnatic and G2 as powerhouses. But if you look after that, it's a war for third place, and I think Excel might make a really good fight for that spot.
XL had a tough inaugural season into the LEC, but showed glimpses of promise – are you looking to make those glimpses into a more regular showing?
Excel is currently made up of very good individuals that don't really know how to play well together or play the map. And that's my favourite aspect of the team because that's where I can help, where I can come in and really mould the team into my liking. That's the kind of team I want to work with because that's where I feel I can get a lot of fulfillment from my job because I can add a lot. And I think with Excel, I see some really strong roster pieces in [Ki "Expect" Dae-han] and [Marc Robert "Caedrel" Lamont]. They are very solid players – they should not be finishing tenth; that makes no sense.
Does taking an underdog team to new heights come as a challenge you’re keen to take on?
It’s definitely a challenge I look forward to. It's about getting a lot of fulfilment from the job and seeing players progress and seeing the team progress, and trying to make it further than anyone thinks we can. So, I like to beat the expectations of the community; if they're going to tell us that we should finish eighth or sixth, then you know I want to push that to two places upwards – so that's my challenge. That's where I get a lot of fulfilment from. And an underdog team really, that’s pure opportunity, because there's very little expectations on the team, and then it's a really fun challenge to go up and meet those expectations – and even go beyond.
Moving from a team used to winning splits and competing in playoffs to a new franchise means your job will presumably be quite different in some ways. At a day to day level, what will be different? Will coaching be more about mechanics, or motivation? Neither?
I think a potential challenge that could arise is one where we have to deal with losing streaks. That's not something I've dealt with as a coach, as G2 and Fnatic did not have long losing streaks. So that could be a challenge in and of itself. Now, I've been a player on a team that also placed tenth, so hopefully I can use my experience there and keep the guys motivated, and know what makes them tick, and what's really important to stay and work on right after you lose a match, or when things aren't going too well.
Tell us about Excel’s training facilities in Twickenham – were they any factor in you taking on the role? Will they help do you think?
I want to make sure that the facilities that we practice in are top notch. And I know that everyone speaks very highly of Excel, and staff speak very highly of Twickenham. Now we don't tend to spend a lot of time there, only for boot camps and out of season practice, so I put a lot more weight on the gaming house within Berlin, because that's where we will spend most of our time.
When it comes to bringing players to Excel, what exactly are you looking for?
I’m mostly looking at players that haven't peaked yet. Ones who are very hungry and young in their careers, but also very mechanically gifted. Players who also want to improve. That's it, I'm not really looking for veteran star players right now.
You’ve touched on making playoffs; is that based on Excel’s last season, or is that based on what you can bring to the table?
I think XL did not deserve to finish tenth, as based on the games that they had, a lot of games where they were far ahead, they just couldn't close out and made mistakes. And I was on the good end of that, where Excel had a 10k gold lead against Fnatic and we still won. Watching Excel, I think, they would have won maybe three or four more games right there, and then you're actually talking about Excel in playoffs or competing for a playoffs spot.
Based on what we’ve seen from last season, and from Worlds, who are you not looking forward to facing?
If my life depended on it, it’ll be G2, but I think the playing field is open. A lot of teams are looking at roster shuffles, and of course it'll always be exciting to play against Fnatic, based on the history that we now have, a very recent history. But I would predict that the top two teams will be G2 and Fnatic. They have to be.