The LCK has always believed in the saying “hard work pays off”. Historically, South Korean teams have been noted for rigorous scrim schedules and unparalleled work ethic. The message has been consistent – That the hours the players put into practice was proportional to the success of the team.
Yoo “Sally” Eui-joon, the head coach of SANDBOX Gaming, however, believes otherwise. Donning the player uniform rather than a tailored suit, Sally sat down with Ashley Kang to discuss how SANDBOX Gaming deviates from the traditional work ethic of the LCK teams. Sally discussed SANDBOX’s flat structure, “sticking to work hours” and breaking down the hierarchical barrier between the players and the coach — And how these differences have helped the team’s performance, as SANDBOX Gaming sits 2nd place in the 2019 LCK summer split standings.
This interview was conducted during Week 3 of the LCK.
SANDBOX Gaming is known for having multiple coaches (Sally, Laden, Dragon, Comet). It looks like the coaching staff has a very flat structure between them, and this sets SANDBOX apart from other LCK teams. Can you tell us more about the team structure, how it came about?
Sally: I don’t come from StarCraft or a professional player background, like most coaches. Instead, I started as one of the managing staff at Worlds from OGN…
You were originally filling up the coaching position, right?
Sally: Yeah, I was supposed to be subbing for a month and a half, then … Before that, I had been working in the LCK for four years. During this time, I observed team coaches can sometimes be stern and aloof. And I had always felt … That it wasn’t a good look. I’m always cautious making these statements because I feel like I’m undermining them, but there you go.
We’re all young, twenty-something, thirty-something. I didn’t like the way teams divided different roles up and created hierarchy, in the way [the players and coaches] behave or live. So I had always told myself “If I ever do become a coach, I won’t act like them” Then I became a coach, and this has been my mantra as I live with the players.
Oh! Do you also live at the team house with the players?
Sally: Yes. The coaches do.
The other LCK teams assign specific titles for their coaches. Head coach, sub coach, drafting coach, and so on. However, SANDBOX seems to be more flexible around this area. I’d like to ask you about the roles of different coaches.
Sally: No, we don’t have fixed roles within our coaching staff. All coaches are equal. However, Coach Comet usually gives detailed in-game feedback, Coach Laden paints the overall picture for the team and guides the players towards it and Coach Dragon tends to fill in the rest while also taking responsibility for data collection.
We spend extensive time discussing drafts. We spend about two to three days ahead of a match just preparing drafts. We collect data from both LCK and international matches, create statistics, and feed them back into our drafts.
SANDBOX brings some innovative picks to the table. Does having many coaches on the team help with your robust drafting?
Sally: Since we have a lot of coaching staff, individual coaches can focus on and analyze individual leagues. Dragon and I usually examine international matches. We will pick up drafts or match-ups that look decent. Then Laden and Comet will propagate them to the players to test. When the test results look promising, we will utilize them [in matches].
I’d love to hear more about the relationship between coaches and players within SANDBOX Gaming. Joker [the support player of SANDBOX Gaming] recently mentioned that he dropped honorifics when talking to a coach.
Sally: Yes. It was Comet who first started it. For Laden and Dragon, they are younger so we all use honorifics with one another. However, Comet and Joker started dropping honorifics between one another in private settings. I’m not sure how exactly that came about. They are the same age, and I don’t think it will become an issue if they themselves do not have issues with it, so I try not to concern myself with it.
If it came from a place where [Comet and Joker] did not respect one another, I would have stepped in. However, Joker is very receptive to feedback from the coaching staff and willingly gives his own back. Comet, also, might act as a friend [to the players] but when it comes to feedback he won’t hold back. They are good at keeping that respectable balance.
I believe that doing too much practice can be harmful, just as much as practicing too little.
Every coach has a different vision of what type of team they would like to build. It could be a direction for the team or an ideal team atmosphere. If you were to describe what type of team you want SANDBOX Gaming to be, what would it be?
Sally: I hope we can be seen as a fun team. I aspire for SANDBOX to be a team where the players, coach, and the audience can all enjoy the games that we play.
Perhaps this also helps the players enjoy the game more.
Sally: I believe that doing too much practice can be harmful, just as much as practicing too little. The players play the game for twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours in a row without a day off; it’s impossible to not get burnt out from the games. If you force the players to play even at that point, it just becomes a waste of their mental and physical health. So after midnight, we let them watch streams, talk to their friends on messanger, and play solo queue games in a relaxed manner.
I’m not sure if the players believe me when I tell them, but I am very generous about vacations. We had a very extended break before the split. I told the players – Rest well as we will work even harder during the split. The players seem to be onboard [with this mindset] too.
Afreeca Freecs has changed since, but there was a period when the team was rumored to be holding up to three scrim blocks per day. Some saw Afreeca’s approach as the ideal work ethic. The LCK teams often aspire to the Korean mindset of ‘hard work pays off’. You, Sally, seem to promote a different work ethic for SANDBOX Gaming, yet your team has been yielding good results [in the LCK standings]. Why do you believe this has happened?
Sally: I used to be an office man myself, so I have a salaryman’s mindset. The time players spend doing scrims are their working hours. They are paid salary for working for the company from a certain hour. As long as they focus on their work during the working hours, there is no reason for them to work past their hours. Of course, if the players aren’t able to catch up to the meta or get their performance up to a level we will work overtime. However, if the players scrimmed to the best of their abilities within work hours and we notice progress from them, I wouldn’t enforce such overtime. I guess they call this a “salaryman’s mindset”.
Thank you for the interview. I truly believe that you have a close relationship with the players and care a lot about them. Could you describe what kind of coach you’d like to be to the players, in one or two sentences?
Sally: I want to be like the players’ second mother. I’ve spent a year and half of my life eating with them, going to places with them, spending spare time with them. My role is to back them up so that they can have fun and perform their best. I ultimately hope to become a second or third mother, to these friends.