Chinese veteran Zhang “LaNm” Zhicheng sat down with MAX+ last week to discuss his transition from professional play to coaching Keen Gaming, the challenges presented by the new role and how he sees his new job.
Translation from Chinese provided by Blair Zheng
How will you prepare for the upcoming tournaments?
There won’t be any tournaments for us in more than a month, because it will soon be the Spring Festival. After that, we’ll prepare and practice for the qualifiers of the next Major.
How do you feel being a coach?
I think I can fully explain myself to the players, and they listen. But at certain points, I feel it’s more important for themselves to fully understand what I’ve taught them. If they don’t really get it, whatever I teach them, the team won’t be making much progress. There’s a saying that the master teaches the trade, but apprentice’s skill is self-made. As a coach, it’s hard for you to cover everything.
Right now the Chinese Dota community may not be very friendly to the coach, and a lot of fans blame the coach for the strategies, how do you see this phenomenon?
Just let them blame. At least the coach needs to do something meaningful for the team, even taking the blame for the players sometimes.
Do you think the coach should be responsible for the drafting strategy?
It depends. If the coach is very assertive, for example, the coach decides 80% of the drafting, then he should be responsible. However, if the coach only decides 20% of the drafting strategy, then he should not be responsible for it. I am the assertive kind of coach, basically, the players’ opinions take up 30% of the strategy, while mine takes up 70%.
You turned into a coach after a long competitive career, do you find it hard to adapt?
Well, the hard part is that sometimes watching them play gets me worried and makes me want to play some DOTA, so I’ll go and play some pubs.
In a post-match interview at the International 2019, you said that you would continue playing if there was a suitable team for you, but then you chose to coach, what happened?
As I grow older, I can actually feel that my skills are not as good as some of the young players, and I should be honest with it. But the young players may not have a strong game-sense, such as their judgement of their own team and the enemy team. This is what I usually feel while watching matches, but of course, some mature teams are the exceptions.
Have you thought about playing from position 5?
Temporarily not. Being a coach is actually quite comfortable.
It seems like some of the mature teams, like PSG.LGD, don’t communicate well between the players during matches, what’s your take on that?
I think LGD are different. The players mainly focus on their own skills, and they have a tacit understanding between each other, so communications can be reduced. I think it only means they have a lot of synergy with each other, so sometimes words are not that necessary.
Have you talked to experienced coaches who also transitioned from players, like Mikasa, rOtK, etc.?
We actually chat at each LAN tournaments, but since we are all coaches, it’s impossible for us to exchange everything. We don’t usually talk about coaching styles, because each coach has his own. rOtK mainly focuses on the overall atmosphere, the morale of the team and how to empower the players’ potential.
I focus more on designing the overall strategy and the play style of the players. Mikasa was once my coach, and I know he mainly emphasizes on the discipline and team fights, and he coaches the mid more. Anyway, I think the Dota 2 coaches function mainly as a support, while players are the key.
Do you think one of the reasons for this is that coaches can’t stay in the booth for the duration of the game?
To an extent, yes, you can do more in the booth of course. But even if you are in the booth, it’s still difficult for you to actually coach the players during the game, unless a tool is specially provided for you to constantly move your camera and to “command” everything. However, that will stray too far from Dota. I think that’s not necessary.
So, you think the function of coaches is limited?
Yeah, unless there are substitute players for each Dota 2 team, so that the coaches can decide which players should be playing. In that case, we may have a say in it. Now coaches mainly function as teachers, teaching and encouraging the players. I think it’s quite normal to have subs, but there won’t be subs because Valve doesn’t allow it.
Do you think there are some limitations for Valve as well? For example, the new update didn’t really lead to a surge in player count?
Valve adopts the high-end racing pattern. However, a game without leagues may encounter trouble in its life span. Anyway, it is Valve’s game, and public opinions don’t really change anything.
As for the game itself, are you satisfied with the new update?
Yeah, it’s nice. At least every update makes you interested in playing the game again.
Will the randomness influence the professional players?
I think certain randomness is good, personally I like it. As long as the game doesn’t become too random, for example, to drop all items that can fill your slots at the beginning of the game, I think randomness will only have a little influence on professional tournaments.