Ahn [seated] reviews VoDs with the USC League of Legends Team – Photo: LATimes
My name is Michael Ahn, I’m a student at University of Southern California, as well as the USC League of Legends analyst. I started working with the League of Legends team this semester, and I plan on working with the team for at least the entirety of the Spring Split.
What does your day to day entail as a USC League of Legends Analyst? Are you helping coaches on a practice day, or are you mostly on your own reviewing footage?
Since the meta has been pretty consistent throughout the past few months, there has not been a lot of meta changes or analyses leading up to pre-season. That’s one of the things that analysts do on a daily basis, so for the most part it’s been all about scrimming and giving the team feedback from those scrims.
A lot of the feedback is coming from the coach, but it’s also coming from the background discussion with the analysts and other staff as well. That’s when my opinions come in, and the coach will convey my feedback to the team.
The secondary aspect of my job is when a player is confused about something they are told by a coach. The player will have the coach explain it again, but I will also be there as a second resource to clarify the coach’s comments, as well as help convey them to the player and help them improve.
As far as your experience in League of Legends, what is your background as an analyst before USC?
My background has been pretty off-game, actually. I didn’t play League of Legends competitively at all; in fact, I’m a Gold player. One of the reasons I got into League was because of my Starcraft background, and that’s slightly better. I used to do a lot of training work in South Korea.
To give a bit of background, a lot of the “academy” teams in the South Korean Starcraft scene weren’t really contracted. In fact, they were players that the team just got for practice partners so the players don’t have to have to schedule scrims with other organizations and go through all of those shenanigans. I was one of the second-tier trainees for MVP, and what I learned from the whole experience is that I grew bored with competitive gaming.
I started going into analyst work, and that passion transitioned into League of Legends, which I’ve been doing for the past four years. I’ve been primarily using my strengths for casting, but USC League of Legends Analyst position was open, so I signed up.
So you have experience as a semi-pro player in Starcraft. When you’re talking to players at the collegiate level, are there things from your own personal experiences that help you impart wisdom to players?
Yeah, definitely. There hasn’t been a lot of enforced practice by our staff as of now because we’ve been preparing for the exhibition match. But the grind will eventually come, and that’s when I’ll be able to help out a lot from my own experiences. The trainee schedule for South Korea is rough — you have to invest 6-8 hours each day practicing against your team. It’s your entire job description, and if you do not complete it, your entire purpose is nonexistent.
Additionally, it’s a very low paying job. Even the best trainees are usually paid around $500-$600/month, and they’re not under contract, so they can be fired in an instant. While our players’ spots are far more secure, there will be a time where they are worn out from stress and tired of grinding.
That’s when I will be able to show them some personal tips, such as: having air fresheners, trying to play other games in-between, going outside and/or working out, which is very popular amongst professional players in North America right now. It’s something that South Korea has known for quite some time, and I think my experience in the region and perspective will help me assist the players in these areas.
Based on your experience, what would you say your greatest strength as a USC League of Legends analyst?
As a Gold player, I cannot do a lot of performance-based analysis. But as someone who has played at a high level in a macro intensive game, a lot of the things I do have been beneficial for the team as a whole. I’m specifically in charge of giving the team feedback in early to mid game. That’s what I will be focusing on for right now, though the specifics of my role could change depending on how the players develop and what they need.
The mechanical performance role will most likely be covered by our Coach, who is very experienced in both performance and strategic analysis.
From your perspective, what’s the main difference between professional League of Legends and collegiate League of Legends? Are there big differences to the viewers?
I think there is a lot more freedom at the collegiate level. The meta is not as constricting as it is at the top level. For example, you would be punished for picking Akali into Lissandra in the competitive scene under the assumption that both of the players are starter quality players. But in collegiate LoL, if the Akali player is superior to the Lissandra player, the Akali is going to dominate the game regardless of the matchup.
There’s a lot of strategy involved with individual skill anomalies at the collegiate level, and that’s a very important variable for both analysts and even team morale when playing in a series. I think collegiate League is way more exciting because there is a chance for the players to prove me wrong and outperform the expected outcome.
That’s always something that’s a learning process for me, because the South Korean scene is very black and white when it comes to the right way to play. Ever since Brood War, the Starcraft scene has been that way. The players break me out of that mold and teach me something new, which is pretty fun.
There are also a lot of new champions that you rarely see in competitive scenes, and that’s nice for the viewers, too. If someone is bored with seeing the same champions picked over and over again at the professional level, I suggest they start watching some college league.
Do the individual anomalies you mentioned make it hard to actually analyze from a macro perspective?
Macro is a very strange topic. You have to analyze the game in a vacuum, but the game is never going to be in a vacuum. There are always going to be player errors and varying degrees of what must be done, what should be done, and what should never be done. So the emphasis of the game for the analysts is what must be done, so even if there is a major error or an individual mistake, the loss will be minimal.
People may think that an analyst’s job is to go from 1, all the way through 10, and make sure everything is correct. I disagree with that. I think that the most important job an analyst has is to be able to identify the vital steps in a much larger process and make sure all of the key points are delivered. That way, if there’s some type of failure or setback from an individual anomaly, the loss will be far less than it would have been if the fundamentals weren’t right.
Thank you so much for doing this interview, I really appreciated your insight. Past being a USC League of Legends analyst, is there any future in esports you are working towards?
I’m actually striving to be a Psychology Major. That’s what I’m trying to study in, and one of the areas I’ve been interested in is sports psychology. If I ever had to expand towards esports, I would most likely be following in the footsteps of Weldon Green. He started as a sports psychologist, but has taken a bigger responsibility in each of his new role.
I think strategy and player performance are so deeply ingrained within the psyche of a player and their morale. A lot of the psychological attention players have been given has been a huge addition for the longevity of their career, as well as the scene’s long-term growth as a whole. I think it’s a very honorable and promising role, and if I ever had to participate in esports, that’s where I would be going.
Nick Geracie is an esports journalist located in Los Angeles, CA. You can follow him on twitter here.