The sculpting coaches: LS, Zikz, KkOma, and cvMax

What are sculpting coaches, and how can they make or break League of Legends legacies? We tackle this question by looking at the likes of LS, Zikz, KkOma, and cvMax.

(Image Credit: Riot Games)

In League of Legends, coaching is largely shrouded in mystery. While players have to be in the spotlight where every move they make is scrutinized by viewers and casters alike, coaches spend most of their time in the shadows. And unless you know the inner workings of esports teams, it’s hard to tell what professional coaches bring to the table. 

But every rule has exceptions. 

There is a handful of sculpting coaches, whose influence is so palpable, it’s as if they bend their teams to their will. One of these coaches is Nick “LS” De Cesare. 

When BBQ Olivers stepped onto the 2018 KeSPA Cup stage, no one knew what to expect of them. A team of five rookies, they were moldable to any form imaginable. However, the moment BBQ Olivers played their first game against ES Sharks, it was instantly clear they were operating under the system created by LS. 

Despite the widespread notion that the game revolves around tempo and lane dominance, BBQ drafted scaling picks, froze minion waves, and gave up Cloud and Ocean Drakes—all philosophies that LS advocated in his VOD reviews and public coaching sessions. They defeated ES Sharks with a 2-0 score, and while they fell in the following series against SK Telecom T1, there was a moment when it seemed like LS’s system would let them take a game off the Korean powerhouse. 

LS isn’t the only sculpting coach, nor is he the most notable. 

In North America, Tony “Zikz” Gray adopts a different approach to the same trade. Instead of enforcing a singular gameplay model, he uses lighter touches to direct his players towards his preferred playstyle. With that, his teams frequently come with creative drafts, crafty level ones, and practiced early game rotations. They also tend to focus on teamwork and synergy as opposed to individual skill and mechanical outplays. 

Zikz explains the mindset behind his coaching.

Another North American coach—Neil "Pr0lly" Hammad—has a similar mentality. Various iterations of H2K and 100 Thieves might look like very different lineups, but they all share Pr0lly’s taste for playing a methodical macro game and outmaneuvering their opponents around the map. And much like Gray’s teams, they strive to work together as a single unit. 

It’s not a coincidence that Zikz and Pr0lly put such a strong emphasis on team building. After all, the biggest obstacle in the way of sculpting coaches is the material they work with. If you want to sculpt your lineup into your idea of a perfect League of Legends team, you need to get your players on board. You need to impose authority and demand respect. Perhaps the best sculpting coach to successfully deal with this problem is Kim "KkOma" Jeong-gyun. As a coach of the legendary SK Telecom T1, KkOma is renowned for his ability to take almost any player available and turn them into a cog in a well-oiled League of Legends machine. 

Breaking egos isn’t his only forte either.

KkOma is single-handedly responsible for creating the image of the unbeatable Korean playstyle in the minds of Western audiences. Under his guidance, SKT transcended the limitations of competitive League of Legends to become an unwavering powerhouse that grinds you down through a combination of calculated macro and explosive teamfighting. It’s his constant strive for perfection that made SK Telecom T1 nigh invincible for so many years in a row. 

But even KkOma isn’t without fault. His efforts to tailor new players to SK Telecom T1’s needs worked wonders when he was dealing with rookies, but they weren’t nearly as effective when he had to work with veterans. In his hands, Huni and Peanut went from high-profile playmakers to average role players that barely stood out in the SKT T1 ecosystem. However, his biggest flaw was lack of adaptation. At some point in 2018, League of Legends stopped favoring his calm, cool, and collected playstyle, so SKT found themselves struggling to keep up with the competition.

Yet, KkOma’s throne won’t be vacant for long. 

Griffin’s Kim "cvMax" Dae-ho is already looking like the most recent—and strongest—addition to the long line of sculpting coaches. His unique coaching methods like making his players teamfight with no shot calls or enforcing a gladiator-like do-or-die mentality have already led five complete rookies to the 2018 LCK Summer Split finals. And considering how dominant Griffin look now, they can go even further in 2019.

In the end, a sculpting coach is only as good his system. He can run his team into the ground simply because his players won’t be able to challenge his authority, but he can also turn nobodies into world-class contenders if he gets a good read on the meta. And it’s this ability to make or break a League of Legends team that makes sculpting coaches stand out from the rest.

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Daniil Volkov

I craft League of Legends narratives and cover LCK, NA & EU LCS.