Kold Puts the Pieces Together

November 13 2020

View at 8:00

When Team Liquid’s new strategic coach Jonas “Kold” Anderson first came to NA, it was as a player named Trashy. After a surprise 3-0 loss on H2K during the EU LCS promotion tournament, Kold would sign with NME, to help them qualify for the NA LCS. Before then, he’d have to actually make it from the gaming house to the airport.

He stood at the airport waiting for his ride to arrive, totally alone in a foreign country. After calling the management several times and not getting an answer, he arranged a ride on his own. Fortunately, he was 20 years old by that time and not incapable of taking care of himself, but it was a sign of how things would go in NA and one of several harsh introductions to the problems in modern esports.

“I’ve seen the best and the worst in the scene, don’t worry,” Kold says with a dollop of good humor.

The best would come a bit later, when he returned to EU and played for two of the most successful teams and franchises that aren’t named Fnatic or G2. In fact, he’ll be on 2 of the 5 (non-Fnatic/G2) EU teams to make Finals: Splyce and then Origen. On Origen, his team would be one of the few to personally pierce through Fnatic’s plot armour and throw them from bracket before they could face G2. In 2017, Kold would get the 3rd most player of the game awards and make the 2nd all-pro team as well.

When Kold could play his game, he was analytical, sharp, and very often in the exact spot that his team needed him to be in. He was a very team-oriented jungler on squads with radically different focal points, operating in radically different metas. The depth of that knowledge led Kold to his first job with Team Liquid as a positional coach for Broxah at Worlds.

“I got in contact with Jatt around 3 weeks before Worlds started. They were looking for someone to help out Broxah during Worlds. [...] It felt pretty natural to spend some time, not only helping Broxah and TL, but also for me to get a view on how the game is played at the highest level at Worlds. It was kind of like a win-win situation.”

With Kold’s help — through Broxah’s own effort, and through the team’s support — Team Liquid’s jungling took big strides at Worlds. Each position’s success relies on the other positions, with the solo-carry increasingly becoming a myth as the level of competition gets higher. Towards the late end of Worlds, Broxah could play strong meta junglers like Lillia that he and the team previously struggled to make work.

A part of Team Liquid’s overall improvement came from level ones, which were vital in the Worlds 2020 meta and vital specifically to Team Liquid. A clever level one had propelled the team to a great start and ultimately a victory against the eventual Worlds finalists, Suning. That was something Kold worked with Broxah on specifically.

Said Kold: “We also saw that the meta was shifting towards getting jungle camp leads and getting jungle lead and one way to push that was through some level one strategies. So we worked together on finding some level one strategies that we could implement.”

Immediately as I note how cool it is to see how Team Liquid’s level one playbook developed, Kold spreads the credit: “I believe that in a lot of ways some of the ides me and him shared was pushed to the team. I have no clue whether or not the team directly, in the moment, were also discussing level one strategies. [...] I’m not gonna take any credit on that!”

Kold went on to add, “Coaching is about making sure that the players get the credit they deserve. I think that’s very important to know from the get-go.”

This humility runs through a lot of the great esports coaches that TL has seen. Our former CS:GO coach adreN was very quick to shift credit onto others when the team was at its peak. He positioned his job as the confidence builder who helped control pace and restore tempo, rather than a strategic mastermind that was behind every call in the server.

Similarly, Jatt’s approach to this year and split was very much one of learning and observation. While he took a clear leadership role and facilitated a lot of communication, he also recognized that Cain and Dodo had a wealth of wins, intelligence, and experience which he needed to draw on. Cain also noted that many of his initial flaws as a coach for CJ Entus simply came from arrogance, which he had since reigned in.

In a strategic sense, it adds up that players ought to get the credit. League is a mental game and external factors like heavy criticism and lack of appreciation can build on a player. The stress of both success and failure can make the game more emotional and dangerous than we see from the outside. Having spent six years as a pro, Kold sees it from the inside out.

“In the past I have been very success-oriented, especially as a player. It was very much about, you know, did you win a game? Then let’s celebrate. Did you lose a game? Then let’s go cry in a corner. That’s a bit over-dramatic but that’s kind of the sense I had at the time.”

As a player, Kold felt first-hand some of the hardest effects of stress, many of which he laid bare on the League talkshow Crackdown.

View at 1:22:06

“I was so out of it in my head, so I had a lot of issues in my neck, my shoulders, and I had small anxiety attacks.”

“I had a ton of those,” IWillDominate chimes in almost casually.

“I could push through that, that was not a problem,” Kold also notes nonchalantly. The real trouble, he says, began when Origen was preparing for their gauntlet run after a disappointing summer split in 2019.

Kold explains: “I got back to practice, I was practicing for two hours and I started getting the craziest headache I ever had. [...] I remember those days I would go play scrims for a couple of hours and head back straight to my apartment and sleep for like fifteen hours because that was just the only thing I could possibly do to make my situation better.”

The headaches only became worse and more constraining until Kold had no choice but to call practice off. He would not play with the team in the gauntlet and would eventually break from competitive play.

It may appear he chose health over competing but in reality that is a false choice. Still, it’s one a lot of pros make until the lie behind the choice fully articulates and, like Uzi, the player simply has no option but to stop.

That insanely consuming side of professional League of Legends is what motivates Kold to coach. Kold isn’t seeking to repeat his past, going back into the fire for the sake of the burn. Rather, he wants to help players reach higher heights and avoid hitting those lowest lows.

“As a player you are in a position where if you want yourself to succeed and your team to succeed, you need to overwork. [...] Oftentimes the player takes on coaching responsibilities in a team for it to improve at a pace that is at the rate they’re expecting.”

Kold was regularly that player, taking on a lot of responsibility because it was natural to him. “I would have loved in my time as a player to have a better staff around me. So I think that in a sense is a driving force in me to proceed [with] coaching. Just to be there for the guys, because I know how tough it is as a job.”

“In any workspace where your life is your job, you are in a vulnerable position. Being a professional player in League of Legends, more often than not, it becomes your life. [...] If I can give advice on some of the stuff I’ve dealt with and help one guy remove the risk of quitting because of overload, then I’m happy.”

Kold is pretty well suited for that task too. After the problems he faced in Origen, he wisely sought out stress coaching. He’s also picked up more books and reading material on coaching, trying in earnest to get better at the position so he can be the player-coach that he believes the scene could use more of.

“I still felt like this was an area where we need more players to go into the positions and help grow that part of the industry - the coaching part of it,” Kold says.

Jatt very much agrees.

“In traditional sports,” he says, “ex-players make up many of the best coaches, but due to the young nature of esports that hasn't been possible for a lot of teams.”

However, it’s not just enough to be a former player looking for an outlet to channel massive store of League knowledge. It does take a certain person and also a certain willingness, something Kold notes as well. He simply feels that he could be that person, given he has the room to grow and learn. This is where Kold sees an ideal partner and mentor in Jatt.

“Jatt I think has a lot of communication skills that I can learn from and also has a lot of - I guess - like a figure, in a way that demands respect. I think as a head coach, these are all qualities that are great to have. That is something that definitely drew me towards seeing him as a guy I could learn from.”

On the flip side, Kold brings a deep understanding of what it means to play modern League of Legends. “I have a really good feeling for how players are and how they think in the game and out of the game and how a team is supposed to function in a game.

Functionally, Kold brings both an emotional and analytical intelligence. He can spot meta shifts and see desynchronizations in a game and also see when a player’s emotional status or team bond is weak or strong. None of this may seem impressive in the abstract, but when you see it in action…

View at 1:08:00

Above is a clip from Summoning Insight’s episode right before Worlds 2020 quarterfinals. Kold guest stars. In a fascinating moment, he highlights Rekkles.

“I feel like at this Worlds specifically, Rekkles has like a different vibe to him. He seems more joyful in a sense. He’s smiling a lot. Usually he’s very very serious. [...] It’s always something that I’m looking at when I’m looking at players. [...] It seems like at least from the outside that he’s mentally at a right place and usually that puts him up for success.”

This moment is fascinating because it’s prescient. After this episode airs, Rekkles will have one of the best performances of any ADC in the entire tournament during quarterfinals, showing up JackeyLove in two straight games. Not only is this prescient, but it’s built entirely off of emotional intelligence and a read on a person that Kold isn’t even physically nearby or interacting with.

What’s better, shortly later Kold showcases his analytical ability by not getting lost in the emotional read. He clearly gets tempted to call a win for Fnatic, even noting the buff they seem to get as underdogs. Ultimately, he correctly predicts a TOP Esports victory because even with Rekkles playing loose and unchained, even with the Fnatic underdog buff, TOP has too much firepower in all positions. (He was off on the score, but c’mon).

“You need to kinda learn about the person first to be able to do that,” Kold says when I pry into the read he had on Rekkles. “I think it’s just from playing against Rekkles so many times, talking with him on and off the game. I could kinda sense his mindset during Worlds and I think it showed in his performance.”

Kold targets emotion pretty heavily when he talks about performance management. “In League of Legends, I value calmness a lot and I think it’s very easy to sense when someone is calm,” he says both of Rekkles’s in game performance and of players in general. “Because I think a lot of people take better decisions generally when they’re calm. I’ve had the same during my time as a player.”

Kold’s empathy is a driving force, but not an overcentralizing one. It’d be a mistake to assume he shirks tough questions and honest answers simply because he can read other players so well.

“You have to start with honesty both towards whoever you’re trying to change something with or with yourself.” In this case, Broxah is the example. “I was just very honest about how I perceived he [Broxah] was playing and then told him, you know, I think if we keep playing like we’re doing right now it will not work out at Worlds. That was the starting point, that was how I reframed it, and then we worked from there.”

Kold’s empathy helps his honesty come from a place of respect, not threat. “I could very much put myself in his shoes because the way I played when I was jungler, I very much played with the same intent. Where it was very selfless in a sense, where the laners would dictate a lot of your decisions.”

Kold respected Broxah’s style as close to his own, but also respected the challenge of changing style on the fly. “Suddenly the game - or the jungle - changed in a way where you have to take selfish decisions and you have to be okay with it. And this is not something you can just change over the course of three weeks because a lot of habits are so grown into you…”

He adds: “A lot of it was about habits and the awareness. A guy like Broxah has a lot of experience within the game so it’s not like I’m gonna bring a lot of knowledge to him that he didn’t know about. It’s more about reframing it and finding ways to implement it back into the game.”

While Kold’s position coaching helped Broxah and Team Liquid and serves as an interesting primer for his career, Kold is careful of drawing too much from it. “I think going too much into it is not necessarily that great because it’s like an impossible situation. Ideally it takes the whole team to way a guy plays because every piece on the map needs to approach the game in a different way for that to work out. I was not in a position to help that.”

This is most likely where Cain and Jatt built off of Kold and Broxah’s work to create a more cohesive, aggressive, and jungle-centric gameplan as a whole. Even if Kold wasn’t a direct part in the next steps, his initial moves reveal a lot about his core philosophy - which is one of the main reasons Jatt wanted to work with Kold specifically: the two share many of the same philosophies on the game.

If you read our piece covering Cain’s career, you’ll know having a core philosophy is simply an extension of mastery. Mastery over competitive League (be it playing, coaching, analyzing, or understanding) requires a core philosophy.

“I like to use the term pieces,” Kold says, self aware as ever, “I know I used it a couple times in this interview already. I like to view a team as five pieces and with every decision that has been taken from every player, each piece needs to get aligned on that and move accordingly. I want everyone on the team to take as much responsibility within every decision that has been made and kind of work along those lines.”

He continues: “The game is very much centered around having 5 players that can carry a game. [...] That is what you can strive for. And for that to happen you need a team that first of all understands that this is the direction you wanna go in but obviously also what - from a strategic point and from an in-game status - what does it take for every piece to have that capability.

“That means that everyone on the team needs to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the team. That is very hard to get into teams, especially teams with a lot of ego. But naturally, if you look at it from an objective point that is the way that the game is going. Especially if you have ambitions of going far at Worlds.”

To that point, pretty much every major MSI or Worlds winner functioned along these lines. 2018 RNG may have been the only true exception to the rule, but even their 2018 golden age arguably sprung as much from the team learning how to play around Xiaohu as Uzi.

In 2020, we saw one of the most dominant competitors in Worlds take over the competition through incredible flexibility. Damwon had incredible talent at all positions, meaning that unlike in 2019, camping Nuguri into oblivion would not be nearly enough to topple the new Korean juggernaut.

All of this is much easier said than done. It’s one thing to see the puzzle solved in your head, it’s another to put the pieces together. Kold wants to help Team Liquid do just that and he sees learning and risk-taking as the way the pieces will fall into place.

“A lot of it comes from having the willingness to take risks and that everyone of the team is accepting of this. There will be mistakes within it and that’s okay as long as we learn from them and draw some knowledge from it that we can bring with us.

“Overall, we want a team that is aggressive. That means that we will probably be losing some games that we shouldn’t lose but the purpose of it will be to learn the right way - our way - to approach the game.”

Kold notes that it’s still early on and a lot is getting hashed out, but also that things have to begin early as to avoid arriving in Worlds inflexible and behind the meta. “How to broaden your play has to come from the start of when you meet up during the season. Be willing to experiment with stuff, be willing to learn different styles. [...] If your goal is to do well at Worlds, you need to have the ability to play different styles.”

Kold is quick to acknowledge just how much searching for that ability could hurt the team. “That might cost you a season, you know?”

But that’s a big part of why Kold joined the team. He wants to deliver. Not only on the end of empathy, helping the team avoid the strain he held during much of his career. Not only on the end of analytics, helping players adapt to the honest truths of the meta. But on the end of core philosophy, the idea of the game itself. Kold wants to put the pieces together.

Writer // Austin R. Ryan

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