The Art of HotS Coaching
Written by: Youngbaek
Greetings, I’m Nicolai Patrick Creutzburg, publicly known as Youngbaek. I started playing competitively in 2014 with EA’s Dawngate and have been playing MOBAs since Aeon of Strife in Brood War.
After Dawngate was shut down, I moved on to Heroes of the Storm and got my first professional contract at the age of 17 as a coach/analyst under the original Team Dignitas roster. Afterwards, I’ve worked with several organisations in Heroes of the Storm in both Europe and North America. I’ve coached most of the players currently in HGC in both regions, and I’m currently managing Playing Ducks e.V.
The purpose of this guide is to give individuals who might be interested in Heroes of the Storm coaching some tools to help them begin.
What to expect from coaching in HotS
First of all, you need to understand that coaching in Heroes of the Storm is a rough position; you’ll neither gain fame nor become rich, at least not with the current state of HotS esports. If you still wish to chase your goal of becoming a coach or analyst, continue reading.
The first question everybody asks whether they’re interested in becoming a pro player, coach, or analyst is “where to start?” The truth is, start anywhere you can. It’s better to start gaining experience in a Open Division team rather than waiting to work with a HGC team.
Most HGC teams don’t have coaches, but coaches are in high demand. I guarantee that if you search in both the Premier League and Open Division, you’ll be able to find a team within a few weeks.
Now on to the most important subject: understanding your position as a coach in Heroes of the Storm. Unlike larger esports scenes like League of Legends where there is a large infrastructure for analysts and strategical and mental coaches, you’ll likely start coaching with no support staff and will have to cover most areas yourself. This means you must have knowledge of both strategical coaching and mental coaching to guide your team.
What is mental coaching?
“Mental coaching is a broad term used to describe consultants who use a psycho-educational model to develop the mental/psychological aspects of performance achievement.”
Mental coaching is the most difficult aspect of coaching in Heroes of the Storm, and in general, it’s something that’s not commonly discussed by casuals unless you have previously examined the subject. Like me, you’ll probably have to do a lot of studying. There’s several ways to go about learning the art of mental coaching, but I recommend the following:
- Read books. There are several famous sports or life coaches who have published books on mental guidance. Learn and analyze the contents and create your own opinion. It’s important that you establish your own opinion rather than just accepting the methods and theories. If you just accept the book’s learning methods, it won’t help you develop as a coach.
- Watch coaching videos. I personally prefer watching a video with a famous coach such as Anthony Robbins or esports coach MindGamesWeldon. Watching videos with the coach being shown can help you analyze his expressions, body language, and overall method of communication when presenting a speech or setting guidelines. Once again, don’t just start copying their method of expression—use it as a tool to develop your own style.
- Take your own experience in life and analyze how you went through it. Have you previously played in sports or esports? What was it like to play under pressure? This is a very effective way to understand the mindset of competitive players. When I started coaching, I realized I was an awful team player before. Coaching isn’t only about helping others, it’s about becoming better yourself. Continue to chase knowledge and “perfect” yourself in all areas, and you’ll be able to help others better.
The more experience you gain as a mental coach, the easier it will be to guide your team. Understand that nobody’s perfect and continue to study the subject. I do “homework” everyday by reading books and watching videos on coaching. I read a book chapter and watch at least one video each day outside of my main duties. I personally do this to help myself improve because I believe my team deserves the best coach possible.
What is strategical coaching?
Now on to the most sought after coaching style in Heroes of the Storm: strategical coaching. Strategical coaching is what guarantees the success of a team. While mental coaching helps your team atmosphere, communication and other aspects, strategical coaches carry the responsibility of formulating the best strategies against your opponent by analyzing opponents, theorycrafting, and trying out theories in scrims.
Strategical coaching is my expertise. As a 19 year old, I don’t have much life experience to draw from, and while I’ve come so far as a mental coach through studying, I’m still far from perfect. Therefore, it’s easier for me to focus on the strategic aspects of the game instead. I’ve played MOBAs before they were even called MOBAs, so I feel the most comfortable when I’m in draft.
Now here’s the thing...if you start sharing your opinions about strategy, you’ll become an easier read for other coaches. There’s never been a lot of guides on overall drafting strategy outside of Hero League guides, and most of them are by retired players who no longer benefit from keeping their knowledge a secret. I’ve been in the scene for two years as a coach, and I’ve yet to release any public opinions about team compositions or anything that could become a weakness for my team.
Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is FOREKNOWLEDGE. -Sun Tzu
I believe 75% of winning a game is done in the drafting phase. The other 10% is preparation, and the rest is executing the strategy. This is obviously something everyone shares different opinions on, but it’s generally said that a draft determines the winner of a match.
If you want to find a good coaching position in Heroes of the Storm, you’ll need to be able to draft well. There are several strategical coaches in Heroes of the Storm that have previously competed and drafted for their teams. While you can find a position as a mental leader and organizer of a team, being able to help with strategizing and analyzing gameplay will make you a much more attractive choice.
Remember that just like a player has a certain skillset, so do coaches. The wider your skillset is, the easier it will be to brand yourself in the scene.
If you aren’t a previous competitive player, you might not have the game knowledge required to lead a team strategically. So how do you learn the art of drafting and improve your knowledge?
First of all, I want to talk about what drafting is from the beginning to the end. This will help you understand every single step behind the actions in a draft, and hopefully you can learn and analyze these steps to perfect the process for yourself.
Where does a draft start?
Tournament preparation is the first step to a draft and starts before the tournament even begins. Tournament preparation relies on two factors: scrims and tournaments. You can analyze and create statistics based on these and use them to guide your drafting strategies. Remember that every bit of information you can gain about the opponent will make it easier for you to get ahead of the curve.
I’ve always had a Google spreadsheet for each region where I insert the drafts from the tournament matches and analyze them. It’s crucial to analyze every region—even the minor regions—to broaden your game knowledge. Even if it’s a “bad draft”, analyze it and try and understand the drafter’s decisions.
If you look at a draft and only look at the compositions, you're missing out on a lot of information about your opponent. While this information can help you determine different metagame compositions and gather your thoughts on potential configurations, player strengths, and team preferences, you're still missing some things.
Don’t read the lines, read between them
Every single drafter has their own preferences and style of drafting. It’s crucial for you to analyze the drafter and understand his patterns and behavior. Drafts display the human side of the individual or individuals who do the drafting, and if you can understand the drafter’s thoughts, you’ll always be one step ahead. Remember the smart will outwit the careless.
This is also why I am against releasing any content on specific compositions or statements on my social media. It could later on be used against me, so why would I trade publicity for victories? The more opinions you share, the easier it is for others to make conclusions about you.
You can share fake information publicly, though. Lying isn’t illegal, and every trick should be used in competition. Mind games are another tool to beat your opponent. “Everything is fair in love and war”—treat esports as a battlefield, and you’ll be more prepared for what’s coming.
Understand the strengths and weakness of heroes
It’s crucial for a drafter to understand the heroes inside and out. This is as true for meta heroes as it is for non-meta heroes. Why? Because every single option should be evaluated and calculated. Why pick a meta hero if a non-meta hero is better for that specific draft?
Raynor -> Self-sustain, single target DPS, AoE DPS Heroic, % DPS autos
This is based on the standard AA build. Based on the build, attributes will change some.
That being said, there needs to be a balance. Most teams have a specific hero pool, which limits your choices. Picking the better hero for the draft isn’t always the wisest choice if your team can’t play it. Theory doesn’t count for anything if you can’t use it. While you might be able to win the war with 10,000 soldiers, your optimal strategy is worthless if you only have 5,000. Make the most of what’s at your disposal. This is what makes a good general and what will carry you a long way, not only in HotS but also in life.
A team’s hero pool is like the amount of chess pieces you have to move on the board—the wider a pool, the more pieces and moves you’ll have to consider. Preparation is key here. If you’ve worked with your team to broaden their hero pool for the tournament, you will have more options to work with.
Treat all heroes as viable. Just because they aren’t seen often doesn’t mean you should count them out and ignore them. Use scrims as a workplace to test out new compositions and theories; losing scrims won’t matter if you win the tournament.
Treat each hero like a group of attributes when entering the draft phase. Draft around their strengths, what benefits they bring to the team, and their weaknesses. Once you understand all of their attributes, drafting will become easier because you can spot the kind of composition your opponent is drafting.
Understand and theorycraft compositions
If heroes are the soldiers on the battlefield, the composition is your strategy. Composition determines how your team should play the game, your win conditions, and teamfight strategies. You should try to understand the meta compositions but also experiment with them. If you look up statistics, you’ll find a specific composition is most popular, but will copying the meta lead you to victories?
Understanding the meta doesn’t mean you should follow the meta. Every single composition has a weakness—that’s how MOBAs are designed. All heroes have different attributes, and when gathering them all together, you get a composition. Therefore, you need to be able to determine the style of the composition.
Which part of the game are you focused on?
- Early game
You can also look at them this way:
Most early game compositions are aggressive. They need to snowball from a very early point, by teamfighting, ganking, or pushing for early xp. I’d say early game compositions are focused on level 1-9. Mid game compositions usually have both options of aggression in the early game as well as strong teamfights later in the game. Mid game compositions usually rely on their Heroics and usually spike between level 10 and 16. Late game compositions focus on power spikes after level 16. Depending on the map, power spikes can be as late as post-20.
What attributes does MVP Black's draft have? What part of the game are they focused on? (Dragon Shire)
How do you go around determining whether a composition is early, mid or late game?
If you analyze and understand hero attributes, you’ll find power spikes in their builds. Putting the power spikes together from every hero on a team will create winning conditions, and winning conditions determine the style of composition.
Generally, you’ll find that early game compositions have a good time against late game compositions. A late game composition won’t be able to contest an early game composition and will more likely succumb to early aggression snowballing than a mid game composition. A mid game composition will be able to deal with early aggression from an early game composition but is unlikely to end the game before a late game composition reaches its power spikes.
This is generally how the outcome of games are determined in MOBAs, but here is where HotS is interesting. The diversity of maps and objectives makes it so that certain maps prefer a style, and teams can use the map to create additional winning conditions.
You should always draft around the specific map and pick heroes with attributes that fit on the map. A good composition on Sky Temple isn’t necessarily good on Warhead Junction.
The Draft Phase
If esports is like a battlefield, the draft is the where the generals show their strengths. Draft is like chess, and you should try to think ahead of your opponent. Draft is where you combine all the previous knowledge and put it together. Understand the heroes, compositions, and your opponent, and you will come out on top.
We’ve theorycrafted a lot about drafts, but where do we go and test and practice it? Scrims is the answer! Consider every match a test of your theory. Analyze each test and evaluate the results of your theory. Did it fail? Why? If it failed, rework the theory or scrap it and come up with a new one.
There are a couple of aspects in drafting that are important to improve at: speed, big picture thinking, and post-match analysis.
Similar to playing speed chess, you only have X amount of seconds to consider your picks and strategy. This can be difficult under pressure and should be practiced so that you become more comfortable under duress.
The more pre-match preparation you’ve done, the easier you’ll find it to work on a time limit. If you're confident with your scrim results, there won’t be much to discuss unless your opponent chooses a non-meta composition. If they do, think wisely about the strategy and use your team’s input. It’s better to use all the drafting time given than make careless and non-calculated picks.
Big picture thinking
While in draft, it’s important to keep a larger picture of the situation in mind. You might focus on input from players or suddenly lock your mind on specific picks—this will lead to disaster. Keep calm and analyze all heroes in the game. The more experience you have drafting, the easier it’ll be.
I personally train by drafting against myself and trying to put myself in checkmate. If I end up in a situation where I can't choose the next hero without losing the draft, then something went wrong. I used to do this two to three hours a day, an hour on my own and then with a practice partner (someone from my own team or outside the region).
It helps having an outside view on the draft, and collaborating with a practice partner can increase your knowledge of other draft styles worth studying. There is no wrong answer in theory—you shouldn't be scared of experimenting with draft styles. In the end, you’ll find what’s suitable for you and your team.
Regardless of whether you win or lose, the most important thing afterwards is to evaluate the game and find out what led to the result. This counts as much for won games as it does for lost ones. You’ll always be able to find something in a tournament match worth studying, so don’t let a loss go by without using it to your advantage.
Losses show the true nature of your team and the individual mentality of your players. It’s especially during losses that your role as a coach is crucial. Not only do you have to motivate your players and get them to focus on the next goal, you’ll also have to find their weaknesses and work on fixing them later, either by individual player counseling or a motivational talk with the entire team. If you’ve already set up a good infrastructure for training, you can use the time set in your schedule to work with the mentality of your players.
In a strategical sense, losses display the results of your theorycrafting. It can also reveal that you were unable to teach the theory well enough to execute the strategy. If it’s the first, back to theorycrafting. If it’s the second, you’ve found a weakness in your coaching and you should study further to improve yourself.
In the end, It’s your responsibility and duty to achieve victories for your team. If a player is underperforming, it’s your mental guidance that is lacking. If it’s your strategies and drafts that are going wrong, obviously it’s on you as well.
“What to do with a mistake; Recognize It, Admit It, Learn From It, Forget It"
If you’ve read until this point, thanks—you must truly have been interested. I hope the article helped you shape an idea about coaching and the importance of the roles in HotS, and I hope you are inspired enough to find a team and start coaching!
Remember: Like I mentioned regarding watching other coaches, analyze this article, evaluate it, and shape your own opinion. You might wish to guide your team with other methods, and that’s perfectly fine!
I can always be contacted on Twitter. I’m open to providing advice for people looking to enter the scene or discuss HotS as a whole. While I might write a lot of Twitter posts about topics I wish Blizzard would change in HGC, that doesn't mean I dislike Blizzard or HGC—it’s just that I believe we could benefit from further improvement.
MindGamesWeldon is an incredible esports coach with many achievements including successfully leading teams like TSM and G2 to success. He’s created a mental program for players to use in their daily grind.
Tony Robbins is America’s #1 Life and Business Strategist. He’s incredibly talented and a very experienced coach. He’s published several speeches on his YouTube channel, and various fans have uploaded speeches as well.
DizzyMongoose's Base Stat Spreadsheet is incredibly useful for studying HotS at a deeper level. Knowing base stats is what allows us to theorycraft and counter certain strategies.