World championship events are about more than just finding out which competitor or team is better than their contemporaries. World championships are a celebration of their discipline. They’re an opportunity for regions to show in which ways they stand out, and which talent is the pride of the homeland. For many years, Leo “Babip” Romer has been the pride of the Oceanic region.
Babip has put together an impressive resume. The 2022 League of Legends World Championship marks his fourth consecutive world championship representing OCE. This time, however, he isn’t attending as a player: he’s the head coach of Chiefs Esports Club, who are competing in the Play-In Stage.
On Day 2 of Worlds 2022, Babip spoke to Em Dash about his transition from player to head coach, what it’s like to coach players you’ve competed with, and the lessons he’s learning every day to become a better coach.
Transitioning from player to head coach
I don’t think many people realize that this is your fourth consecutive Worlds appearance, Babip. Although you’re now here as a coach instead of a player. I imagine that it’s quite different to experience it as a coach now.
Hm, I wouldn’t say it’s too different. Obviously, not playing is different. [Laughs] But I’m still as involved in the team activities as before. The Worlds experience is still very similar to when you’re a player. I’m focussing on different things than actually playing, but it’s quite similar still.
“At the start, just watching the game was quite boring. (…) Towards the end of Split 2 I started enjoying it. I felt accomplished that we were winning every game and that we were improving.”
You’re working with players that you’ve also played alongside. What’s your role as a coach on the team?
I think my role in the team is to look at what’s happening from a sixth perspective. A lot of the time as a player you can get emotionally affected quite easily. You can’t really see things clearly. I knew what I wanted from my coach as a player, so that’s what I’m doing. Even though we’ve played on the same teams, all the players respect me and my opinions, and the direction that I want for the team. They know that I am knowledgeable and they trust what I’m saying.
You say you knew what you wanted from your coaches. What was that and how do you seek to provide that now?
I think it depends a lot on the environment you have as a team. I think every team is very different. Every coach is different in the way that they want to do things. As a player, I always wanted a coach that directed the team and managed relationships. Make sure everything is ok in the environment. I’m looking after relationships within the team. It’s not like I’m not doing anything gameplay-related. I still do the reviews and all of that, but I’m not trying to change players into what I want. I want to focus on their strengths and build around them.
It must be weird in the beginning to take that step back and look from the outside.
It was! I kind of eased into it. In Split 1 I was the assistant coach, mostly watching. Towards the end of the split, I started having more input. We learned a lot after losing in the Split 1 finals. I knew the formula for winning and how to get to Worlds. I think that’s the biggest impact I have on a regular split team.
What was the most difficult thing, transitioning from a player to a coach?
At the start, just watching the game was quite boring. [Laughs] I just wanted to play again. My plan was to take a small break, one split, and then come back in Split 2. But after a few weeks, I wanted to be involved in a team again. I went to Chiefs because I had friends there.
So, watching was the hardest part, but towards the end of Split 2 I started enjoying it. I felt accomplished that we were winning every game and that we were improving. I feel like I had a lot of influence on that. Obviously, I had the best roster, so there is a lot of credit to the players. But it felt rewarding to see that what I was teaching was actually working. I started enjoying it after that.
“Putting a lot of time into relationships is really important for the game right now. It completely revolves around team play.”
Applying his experience at Worlds 2022
Now you’re at Worlds with the team. There is some international experience on your roster already, but you have a lot of it. What are you doing specifically for this event?
I think it’s mostly about doing things properly. Not wasting time. Finding out what we need to draft as soon as possible, finding out the meta as soon as possible. Because you play against the best teams, it’s not like in OCE where we’re just winning every scrim and stuff like that. We actually need to have a good environment to learn and improve. That’s usually the biggest struggle at Worlds. I try to focus on that as much as possible.
We can’t omit the fact that Chiefs has been struggling so far at Worlds. You’ve been in a position before where OCE was struggling at Worlds—it sounds like I’m dunking on you, but I’m not, I promise. [Laughs] I just wonder how you’re using those past experiences to help the team pull through.
[Laughs] I feel like OCE has done quite good at the past three or four Worlds that I’ve been a part of. We’ve always exceeded expectations. This start was not very good. I wouldn’t say we’re still learning. We know what to do. I think we’re just making crucial errors. In a best-of-one, that can really do a lot. The game is just gonna snowball if you make a crucial error against the teams that we played. They’ll just end. The difference between winning and losing these games is not as big as people would think. Yes, we are getting outclassed, but the difference is not that big.
It might just be one mistake that gets out of control.
Yeah, it’s just one or two moments, and then that’s it.
You still have some games to go. What do you hope to get out of this event for your team, but also for yourself as a coach?
I don’t think anyone is feeling defeated. We know the difference between these games is not that big. It’s one or two crucial moments that get us. I think everyone is going to fire up. The “enough is enough” kind of thing. We know we’re way better than this. We’ll just take some time to reflect, come back tomorrow, and fight again.
I think I’m constantly learning at Worlds. I’ve never thought “Oh yeah, I know what to do” in every situation. It’s always a new experience. From a coaching perspective, what I learn is very new. I’ve said it a lot, but putting a lot of time into relationships is really important for the game right now. It completely revolves around team play. Individual skill still exists, but individually outplaying your opponent is not that much of a thing anymore. It’s all about team play. That’s what’s important to me right now.