From Player to Coach: An Interview with Sunshine

sunshine2

Interview by: EsportsJohn


Table of Contents


Now that the Heroes Global Championship (HGC) is settled for next year, the community is looking forward to more stable teams and rosters. However, stable rosters alone may not be the key to raising the overall level of play in regions like NA and EU; for that, we need coaches. Of course, there is a lot of pushback when it comes to the subject of coaches, especially in NA. Players and managers cite lack of experience for many up and coming coaches and often look down on them for their limited knowledge and ability.

Following a series of heated debates in the community about coaching, I reached out to Steven “Sunshine” Morgan. Sunshine was a former player on 2ARC before leaving to coach Gale Force eSports during the summer of 2016. Under his direction, the team had their strongest tournament showing ever at ESL Burbank, where they beat out some of the biggest NA powerhouses like Cloud9, Brain Power, and Naventic to finish with an impressive 9-1 overall score. While they performed rather poorly at the global championship at DreamHack Summer due to unexpected flight delays, many remember summer as Gale Force’s strongest period of dominance last year.

On Career

Tell me about your time on 2ARC. You described them as the “gate keepers of the competitive scene”.

Hahaha yeah. So basically when I was on 2ARC, Blaze was also in the amateur scene, and the two of us completely dominated everyone else. No one even came close to beating us, but Blaze always had the upper hand whenever we played against each other. So it was hard at times for sure, but I learned a lot playing on that team and from all the people who played with me.

What happened to 2ARC?

They are basically just no longer with 2ARC. They go by Nice! Gaming powered by Dark Arts. Same roster.

After 2ARC, you went on to coach GFE. What was it like making the switch from player to coach/analyst?

I’ve always wanted to eventually go into coaching. Was definitely a lot faster than I planned, but I really enjoy coaching. I’m good at identifying people’s strengths and weaknesses, which is critical for coaching, in my opinion.

On Coaching

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what a coach actually does in the HotS community. How would you define a coach in HotS?

Literally everyone has a different definition of what a coach should be. In my opinion, a coach is an unbiased perspective on a game. [As a player], your point of view becomes tainted by playing a certain role, and a coach can remain untainted by not having to focus on mechanics. At the very highest levels of competition, the players don’t need to be babied and told where they made mistakes mechanically or what they need work on, so that shouldn’t be your role; providing a deep knowledge of the game to remind players of the little things during tournaments was an essential role I played in my opinion. The coach is not weighed down by stress like the players, and having a level headed high tier player as a coach presents a lot of value.

So you would say that all coaches have to be very skilled and/or knowledgeable of the game?

Knowledgeable is the most important [aspect]. However, with my past experience, if a coach isn’t super skilled, they miss mechanical things. It can become a problem. I’ve played a lot of games to become knowledgeable about Heroes.

But what about the other side of coaching, which is setting practice schedules and keeping players on task? Do HotS coaches do much of that, or is it primarily just an analyst role?

Setting a schedule was mainly left to the team. GFE had a very good work ethic, so I never had to worry about us not scrimming enough. Had it become a problem, I would have tried to step in. Keeping players on task did happen a lot in scrims and tournaments. Making the team practice certain comps or take scrims seriously, or pointing out something the team missed…all of that is very important for preparation and execution.

Do you see a future where HotS has multiple coaches that have separate roles?

If the scene becomes comparable in size to DotA 2 or LoL, yes. But there isn’t even enough infrastructure for one coach right now. Coaches help, and if there is money, teams will get every advantage they can.

A while back, there was a Tempo Storm article trying to convince more NA teams to invest in a coach, but it was met with a lot of backlash. A lot of people where saying that there are “no good coaches in NA” to start with. Do you agree with that?

No. People say the same thing about no good amateur players, which is just wrong. You have players like Jun, Casanova, and Legend who are all extremely great players. Each one has a different level of success in the scene right now, but if they never get a chance to play on a top tier team, how will you ever know if they are good?

If a coach never gets a chance, how can you know if any are good? I would argue that my results as coach where fantastic, and I haven’t gotten any other chances other than GFE. The first LAN, I wasn’t in comms and the team went 4-4. The second LAN, I was in comms and we went 9-1. Third LAN, I wasn’t in comms and we went 3-5. Obviously, there are other factors that go into these things, but if someone can’t get a second chance with that, I don’t know what someone is realistically supposed to do.

But how do teams know they’re signing on a good coach or a bad one? Especially if they disagree with them or don’t like their coaching style? What’s to prevent the signing of a coach from doing more harm than good?

You have to give coaches a shot. At Dreamhack Austin, GFE and I came to the agreement that I would do all the analytical work and help in between games, but during game and in between games in a set, I wouldn’t say much. Neither side wanted me to throw off the groove that the team had already. We learned a lot, and by the time ESL rolled around, we had a really good mix of player-coach interaction. It falls on the org to keep the balance.

It sounds like you did a lot of GFE.

Yeah I put more time in than the players. I sat in on every scrim, compiled drafts for who we played against, played HL to keep my own skill up, and subbed in when someone was missing.

Not bragging, just saying that it took a lot of time and dedication.

Obviously, you had some issues with Mavnis on GFE. Without getting too personal, what can you say about having a manager that doesn’t support the coach? How do you think the situation could have been improved?

I think the only way a coach can be truly effective is if their “power” or “authority” comes from the organization and not the players. When something happens that the coach needs to overrule the team—which can happen due to things like stress or player conflicts—the coach needs the backing of the org so that the players listen.

This isn’t a problem in Korea because younger players respect older coaches purely based on age, but our culture in NA is much different. A lot of people get up in arms about overruling players, but sometimes it needs to happen. Being a player is extremely stressful and can lead to uncharacteristic mistakes; having a coach to reel someone or even the whole team back in can help avoid disaster. Obviously, if a coach abuses his power/authority, all the players have to do is go to the org and let them deal with it, either through penalty or termination. A good coach would never do anything to harm the team, though, so this should be a very small concern at most, I think.

This is why I brought up the whole Mavnis thing to begin with. When I needed the ability to reel the team back in, a lot of my power/authority was undermined by the manager. Obviously, I have issues with Mavnis, but the only reason I brought it up was because it was very relevant to coaching, in my opinion.

There have been a few successful coaches in EU. Do you think it has to do with orgs backing them up or is it just the general attitudes of the players that allow them to be successful?

I’m not sure. I think EU is quite different from NA, but if I had to guess, I think it would be due to attitudes. EU is much more serious about the game, so I don’t think the orgs need to back the coaches as much for them to be effective.

I could very well be wrong about that though.

On Meta and Game Design

The metagame is kind of confusing right now. How would you describe it?

Oh man, this is a tough one. In all honesty, I think this is more what Blizzard had in mind when they made the game. There are so many heroes who work off of each other that so many different playstyles are viable. You can have one hero with a global to make a gank squad incredibly lethal or a team full of globals to abuse rotations. You can run Tassadar carry-the-Valla comps or Tassadar carry-the-Tracer or Tasssadar carry-the-Illidan; it’s hard to deny anything like that without just banning Tassadar, who isn’t particularly strong by himself. Then you have straight up teamfight all-the-time comps. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that there are so many options that knowing your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses is more important than ever.

Is there anything you dislike about the meta at the moment?

I don’t like how strong Tassadar is based off of what heroes he is with. I love Tassadar as a hero, but if he gets ahead with certain comps, it’s so hard to come back from. I wish he was more independent as a hero. If that makes sense lol.

Healing and damage numbers have slowly risen over time. Do you think there’s anything to be concerned about here?

No, I don’t think so. If you watch DotA, their hero damage is insane. Players [in DotA] get deleted much faster than in Heroes, so I don’t think that will be a problem. Blizzard has been very good at designing heroes with strengths and weaknesses. Take Medic for instance: insane healing numbers, but very she is very weak to dive comps. I believe in Blizzard hero design.

If you could make any change to the core design of the game, what would you change?

This may sound weird, but masteries from LoL. They are a thing you select before game and are just passive minor buffs you get to tune your hero like you want. I actually really enjoyed that, but it’s not huge. Maybe bring back individual leveling, as it allows for more playmaking opportunities.

Dota is getting talents now. What do you think about that?

Heroes master race confirmed?

Crystal Maiden's talent tree in the newest Dota patch

Talents make the game so much easier to balance, and each hero feels more personalized. It’s a win-win, and I think other games are starting to realize that.

What do you think of the new “multi-class” classification with Varian?

Soooooo awesome! I love it. One of the things that drew me to Heroes was the adaptability you can have through ult choice, and Varian just takes that to the next level, in my opinion.

Who’s the next multi-class Hero you want to see?

Priest seems like the next logical choice, but I would love something more off, like a damage or off support like Medivh. Shadow priest seems really fun though!

Miscellaneous/Wrap-up

Statistics (team comps, picks, win rates, etc.) can sometimes be misleading. As an analyst, how much do you trust stats?

Zero.

Haha I actually hate statistics from tournaments. They are cool to look at but valid information [from them] is usually non-existent. If a lower skilled team gets a better comp but doesn’t know how to use it, that doesn’t make the statistics accurate when they lose. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to analyst work. Stats can lead you in a right direction, but you can never make a highly accurate prediction off of it.

On that note, what do you think of Hots Logs and the community’s heavy reliance on its figures to determine balance?

Hots Logs is infamous for saying Tassadar and Uther were two of the weakest heroes when in reality they were dominating the meta. No competitive player takes that seriously.

Do you think you’ll go back to playing or are you content with coaching?

The scene doesn’t seem ready for coaching. If I could coach a top tier team, I would in a heartbeat, but until then, I’ll probably just play.

So your plan for 2017 is grinding the Open Division?

Maybe, I’m not sure. Need to find a real job to sustain myself, so I may play hardcore or I might not.

Any last words or shoutouts?
I just want to say I wasn’t a perfect coach. I made mistakes and I was still learning how to coach in general. With that being said, I know I brought value to GFE and I enjoyed my time working with them a lot!

I love Heroes, I’ve invested a lot of time into it and made a lot of great friends along the way. My hope is one day Heroes will get the attention it truly deserves.


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

EsportsJohn tried to be a coach once; it didn’t work out. You can follow him on Twitter or help support him on Patreon.