Cloud9 will sign former Korean professional player Bishop as the Head Coach of their Overwatch team, over.gg has discovered, after a successful two-week trial period in APEX. Despite his new title, Bishop will be the only member of the Overwatch coaching staff on Cloud9 but has big plans for the Western roster.
Cloud9 narrowly missed out on a spot in APEX Season 2 playoffs after losses to Afreeca Freecs Blue and then Kongdoo Uncia in Group C. Bishop joined the team as a trial coach around four days before their game against AF.Blue, though broadly spent that early time getting a feel for the team and gathering information rather than directly coaching.
“Gaining the respect of professional players takes time, and you can't force your hand on NA players unless you have said respect,” explained Bishop, “so arguably, most of the work was done before AF.Blue. Coming from a player background definitely helped in that perspective: being able to meet eye to eye with the players and show them that you know and play the game just as well as they can is certainly a factor.”
After the rough loss to AF.Blue, in which C9 looked to be performing poorly, Bishop worked for two weeks with the team to improve and prepare them for the game against Kongdoo Uncia. It was a must-win match for the Western team against Bishop’s former organisation, but despite looking vastly improved, Cloud9 fell 2-3 and were eliminated.
Despite the community reaction that C9 had made huge strides forward, talking to Bishop days after the game, he believes they could have done better. “The main reason [we lost] was due to the lack of time C9 had towards adjusting to this new play style I was persuading them to embrace.” He continued; “a team must go through several trial and errors in order to become comfortable with a certain play style, C9 was still budding at the time they went against Uncia. Faster decision making and shot calls, removal of doubt, and trust in your teammates with barriers and flanks - all these things open up a whole new variety of plays.”
He described this as a matter of drilling this new outlook into each person on Cloud9, which was especially important since in his opinion Cloud9 “are inclined to let the DPS carry and win fights through outplaying, rather than constructing strategy”.
At the start of this season of APEX, Gods joined C9 to replace KyKy, forming a flexible DPS and offtank trio for the team. Cloud9 ran triple DPS around 12% of the time after switching in Gods, though mainly in the game against AF.Blue to little effect. The flexibility of Mendokusaii and Gods onto offtanks has seen them run triple tank just over 60% of the time, but with a large stress on individual talent carrying them through.
Their new coach, Bishop, is a unique character for the Overwatch scene and perhaps wider esports. He has split his 27-year life almost exactly in half between Korea and the United States, giving him experience of both cultures - inside and outside of esports - along with fluent English and Korean.
Bishop was born in Korea but moved to the US for eight years when his father went to study for a PhD. He lived in Korea for the following seven years, spending his teens there, and returned to the West for his final year of highschool and three years of study at the University of Minnesota. After being called back to Korea to complete his mandatory military service, Bishop transferred to a Korean university and found himself embroiled in the Overwatch scene.
Bishop was the first player to be signed by Kongdoo, the Korean organisation that now houses two world-class teams currently in APEX playoffs. He was chosen as the original member for his age and maturity, to act as a focal point and captain for the teams. Korean teams naturally build around a central elder figure, usually after their military service, so that the rest of the roster respects the captain and a hierarchy is established immediately.
As with other captains, Bishop held team tryouts with the coaching staff for Kongdoo and chose players, as well as having a large say in strategy and team style. His experience calling and strategising from a player perspective has helped him develop the analytical abilities needed to coach a top team.
The most important asset for transitioning to coaching, however, was his experience dealing with interpersonal issues. In his role as captain for Kongdoo, he was expected to have a large role in helping the team deal with esports life outside of the game. “I remember having Rascal, Panker, Birdring, Evermore, come over to my place to sleep,” he recounted, “before Kongdoo's Overwatch team had a place for us.”
“Being the mediator to relieve the team of unnecessary friction, taking the hate at times so that the team doesn't faction into 2 separate groups that hate each other,” he went on, “I felt like this was more important than strategy and practice to be honest."
“A team can only play as a team once all 6 individuals have come to meet each other in the middle, accepting the bad. Now once this is done? That's when you really focus on the game, because at that point, individuals can take criticism and feedback. Individuals keep check of each other’s egos - heck, at this point people WANT to be criticized so that they can improve. DPS, support, tank, your role doesn't matter at this point, no single person carries the game. All 6 fuse into 1. It is my belief, and my coaching philosophy, that this is the first and most important step in creating a strong team.”
Koreans appear, even this early in Overwatch, to be forming the majority of the best teams in the world. Their success as a culture spans many esports and has often been attributed to a mix of their discipline, work ethic, support staff, and infrastructure.
It is very much a cultural phenomenon and one which does not appear easy to apply to Western teams. If there was ever a chance at blending the two styles together though, it would be with a multi-cultural coach who understands the strengths of both methods, the pressures of professional play, and has the analytical skill as well.
Bishop recognises the challenge of melding the two cultures but has high hopes. “Being the first bilingual esports coach, I’m being ambitious here and trying to really pave the way for western teams to up their game.”
When asked if Bishop planned to bring specific parts of the Korean coaching structure to Cloud9, he replied: “Discipline would be among the first and foremost. I’m not saying that Korean players are more disciplined - they appear that way due to the contracts and circumstances they are in.”
“NA players simply don’t have that limiting factor for the most part,” he explained, “so if you simply look at the results, Koreans will eventually out-perform any other team out there due to the insanely high threshold each player has.”
Bishop’s plan is to generate that “threshold” - a tolerance to losing, to tension, to bad patches - without needing to compromise his players’ freedoms. The discipline needed to practise, to develop, to work through difficulties, will then benefit the team within the game.
When speaking on the OverSight podcast, Bishop explained to hosts Thorin and MonteCristo that one of his in-game aims for the team is to make them more tank-focused, rather than relying on their DPS players to engage, outplay, and carry the games.
Rather than form a new style for the team, why not work on their strengths? Cloud9 seems naturally inclined to go towards a DPS-heavy style, so why not attempt to be the best at triple DPS? “The trio of DPS players certainly allowed for explosive dive comps such as the Pharah, Genji, Tracer which was well shown during Numbani,” Bishop told me, explaining, “the problem is that this composition transitions poorly into later stages of maps, and sometimes is just downright bad on some maps.”
“I'm not saying that one trick teams are bad, Lunatic-Hai with their dive comp and Meta's Zarya based team both work. The reason why they work, is because they can adapt to a great amount of compositions and maps. Triple DPS in this current meta is bad due to the game placing a lot of emphasis on tanks, and has trouble being countered easily.”
“The game itself has evolved to the point where individuals outplaying other people doesn't happen, and I think APEX Season 2 was a great example of this. It's becoming more or less a team game that requires players that can execute their rule clean and efficiently. So with all that being said, it was necessary to push C9 into playing as a team, rather than a bunch of individual players.”
Cloud9 is an example of a team that has already blended several nationalities successfully under the same roof - quite literally for a while, in the C9 house together. They have two Swedes, two Canadians, and two Americans, and now a Korean coach.
He described Cloud9 as a very welcoming team, helping him assume a role of controlled authority by easing into the group. On a personal level, Bishop said he has “gelled and more” with the players, describing it as reminiscent of his college years in the US. “Removing the Korean cultural ‘wall’ of respecting your elders just allows for people to enjoy each other’s company more. While I would like to think that everyone in Panthera enjoyed having me, being 5+ years older than most of them would have certainly put them in awkward situations - ‘I can't give Bishop certain feedback since he's so much older than me and team captain’, for example.”
“Maybe it has to do with me being raised since I was 1 year old in the states,” he pondered, “but I just find myself more at ease and open with Western culture...Being raised in the states kind of makes me have this liberal mindset I suppose. I ‘feel’ native to both cultures, yes, but I’m sure others will point out that I’m more native to American culture.”
Bishop pointed out that this would not be the case at all for other potential Korean coaches in Western Overwatch teams. “It would work horribly for other Koreans trying to coach Western teams. Basically the only way I see it working, is if the Korean coach is given 100% unquestionable authority which is similar to what he or she is given here in Korea.” He doesn’t believe most North American players would be open to such an arrangement. “I like to think that Korean teams are close to a totalitarian government, whereas Western teams are more democratic”, he said.
His perspective is that Korean teams focus on “eliminating individual interest and make the team strive for the greater good”, pointing out that the army and the highly competitive job market aid this mentality as well. “Do I think this is how all teams should be though is the important question. My answer is going to be no, of course. Sure, you’ll get results, but people get so miserable.”
“I’d like to find a balance in between the two extremes, and C9 will be my first project in doing so.”
Cloud9's roster and coaching staff is now:
- Lane ”Surefour” Roberts (Flex)
- Daniel ”GODS” Graeser (Flex)
- Lucas ”Mendokusaii” Håkansson (Flex)
- Ruben "ryb" Ljungdal (Tank)
- Randal "Roolf" Stark (Support)
- Adam "Adam" Eckel (Support)
- Lee "Bishop" Beom Joon (Head Coach)