There’s no standing still for competitors in esports. If a lineup doesn’t work after a few weeks, teams move quickly and make tweaks where necessary in order to recover and contest for the championship. It’s rare that players and coaches stick together for more than two years.
One duo in the LEC defies the status quo and still stands strong after four years.
In 2019, Emil “Larssen” Larsson made his LEC debut in the Summer Split. He and a bunch of his teammates got promoted to Rogue’s main roster after his predecessors failed miserably in the split prior. It marked the start of the mid laner’s LEC career, but also of his work relationship with head coach Simon “fredy122” Payne. On Rogue, which rebranded to KOI last year, the duo found great success together. They consistently placed among the top LEC teams, played in three finals, won the LEC title, and went to three World Championships.
The working relationship has blossomed into a reliable friendship between Larssen and fredy122. At the end of the 2023 LEC Spring Split, the two reflected on the journey they’ve been on together.
Larssen & fredy’s first impressions of each other
You two have been working together for four years now. Larssen, you got promoted to the LEC for the 2019 Summer Split. You were already head coach then, fredy. What were your first impressions of Larssen as a player?
fredy122: I think he was always talented. He always was good in lane and he always worked super hard. Being a hard-working person is one of the most important traits. He was always looking to improve. That’s why he’s here today.
Larssen: Here today? Top six? Great!
fredy122: [Laughs] Ok, perhaps this is not a good time to say it like that. But it’s why he has been at the top for the last few years. He is constantly working. You walk into the room and he’s watching VODs, for example.
“I was told, ‘fredy has scouted you and said that you’re really good. He wants you on the team!’ But apparently, fredy didn’t watch a single VOD of me and only said, ‘Yeah, just take him.'”— Larssen
What about you, Larssen? Did you know of fredy and his legacy as a player before you started working with him?
Larssen: Of course. I’ve watched League since I was eleven years old. So, obviously, I saw fredy play top lane and completely 1v9 with his team. I knew who he was, but I didn’t know anything about him.
When I joined the team, I was told, “fredy has scouted you and said that you’re really good. He wants you on the team!” But apparently, fredy didn’t watch a single VOD of me and only said, “Yeah, just take him.”
[Laughs] Is that true?
fredy122: Yeah… [Laughs] But I did have good sources! I had Blumigan [then assistant coach], who has always been involved with Larssen. He told me a lot of good things about him. 2019 Spring was obviously a complete disaster for Rogue, so we definitely needed changes. I did know he was talented from the start, though.
The start of a long journey
After that great introduction to each other, you had to turn around Rogue’s results and lift the org up from that Spring Split disaster. Did you have a good feel of how you both wanted to work?
Larssen: I remember, from the tactics perspective, he was very early-game-focused and I was very late-game-focused. When I came in, I was a Kassadin/Corki player, as you saw with the Corki moment when I flew into the enemy fountain. [Laughs] We were very different at the start, but we met in the middle after one year of working together. I met him more on the early-game playstyle, I think.
I remember having a Sona/Taric talk with fredy for a few hours before game day. He said, “No prio, no prio! We pick Taric early, but no prio!” And I was like, “Who cares, for real?” We talked for a few hours, then we picked Sona/Taric, and Woolite and Vander 2v2 killed on level 1. This was against Vitality.
fredy122: I remember that one as well.
Larssen: This was at the peak of the iconic Sona/Taric comp. That happened because of me.
fredy122: I can say he was right about that. We had some disagreements about Yuumi earlier in the split as well. But we met in the middle at some point, for sure.
“When you have Larssen in the mid lane, you have someone who is super reliable and talented.”— fredy122
You finished fifth in that Summer Split, which was a lot better than what the lineup before you did in the Spring Split. Was it an obvious decision to continue working together for the year after?
fredy122: It was obvious that, when you have Larssen in the mid lane, you have someone who is super reliable and talented. There was no reason to ever think about moving away from that, you know? He has been at the core of every roster, with different styles. There has been no reason to ever think of a change.
Through thick and thin
When you work together for such a long time in a highly competitive environment, you’re going to run into ups and downs together. Let’s talk about the downswings first. What have been the difficult moments in working together? You’re both really calm people on the outside. Have you yelled at each other, for example?
Larssen: I mean, sometimes. With a relationship like this, you can be very honest, I think.
fredy122: I think, if we are toxic with each other, it’s very easy to get over it. I don’t think we get super toxic, but if we annoy each other or get into an argument, it’s very easy to move on. That’s my perspective. Both of us know that there is a reason why we think and feel a certain way. It’s easy to come to a conclusion. That’s not always easy to do with everyone in esports. That’s something good between us.
For the low moments… I think there were other factors that caused them. I don’t think there has ever been a conflict between me and Larssen in that way. The main conflicts were when other things happened. When we had Hans [sama] and Inspired, there were a lot of problems in the team, but it wasn’t ever between Larssen and me, I would say.
Larssen: It doesn’t go smoothly in the team for four years, right? It can never be like that in a team for so long. Not even for a year. It’s impossible. There will always be some bumps. You just need to make sure that you handle the small bumps well, so you’re ready to move on when you can. You can’t get stuck on it.
“When I looked at the lineup, I was happy that fredy was still there from the start. He’s a very good coach.”— Larssen
What have been the highs of working together? When did you really ‘find’ each other?
Larssen: I would say last year. When Inspired left, it was only me and fredy who were still there from the 2019 lineup. There are still people like Nico [Head of Analytics] and Blumigan, but I’m talking about the main people on stage. When I looked at the lineup, I was happy that fredy was still there from the start. He’s a very good coach.
fredy122: I think it’s last year for me as well. We had very similar views on drafts and stuff. Even at Worlds, it was easy to know what Larssen was thinking for the most part, without even talking much. Last year, we really understood what we both wanted.
How to stay sharp
Rogue, and now KOI, went through many different rosters with Larssen in the mid lane. You’ve had Profit, Finn, and Odoamne top, Inspired and Malrang jungle, Woolite, Hans sama and Comp bot, and Vander and Trymbi as support. Have you learned from each other what you want from new players that join the lineup?
Larssen: I just want good players. [Laughs] You should be versatile, I think. I don’t have a specific thing I look for.
fredy122: I think the laning phase is a big thing for both of us. If you’re strong in the lane, you can always grow. That’s what I believe as well. If you can’t lane, then what are you really gonna achieve? In terms of style, it depends. We take the best players and the style comes after, I think
Malrang was the biggest change, where we wanted someone who was a bit more supportive with his play. That’s the biggest change we’ve had in terms of style. So yeah, you take the best players and then you see what they play and what you can do with it. That’s the order in which things happen.
Larssen: Yup. Talent is the most important thing. It’s like with Comp: he’s a really good player, but he was a bit stupid on the map. There was definitely a lot of talent.
fredy122: Room for growth with macro and stuff, you know?
“That’s something I like to do: make Larssen aware of what we need to work on, or how he can help his teammates improve.”— fredy122
That’s a very political answer. [Laughs] A bit different from what Larssen said.
Larssen: Now he’s smart!
Some people say that, after an X number of years, there’s not much you can learn from each other anymore. They argue that you’ve worked together for so long that it’s just better for both to switch things up. After four years, what can you still learn from each other?
Larssen: Gameplay-wise, he has taught me a lot. But for a team, he’s just a very good coach to have. There are a lot of small things on a day-to-day basis that you need to improve on. Macro-wise, we’re on the same page now. I wouldn’t say there is too much to learn about that. But in the game, there are so many changes all the time, that there are always things you have to improve on.
fredy122: It’s hard, sometimes. You’ve talked about the same stuff for years. The game doesn’t change that much. It’s more about changing the focus of what you need to address. That’s something I like to do: make Larssen aware of what we need to work on, or how he can help his teammates improve. There is definitely less to talk about.
Watching each other grow & learn
Larssen, when you compare fredy now to the coach he was when you started working together, how has he changed?
Larssen: He’s now 30+, so he’s a boomer now. There are a lot of things that changed, probably, but since I’m there all the time, it’s not that easy to notice. He’s definitely more vocal now than he was in the beginning. He says what he thinks and he can be a bit more assertive. With the rosters and the new players, he’s now a bit more of a human being.
He was always very smart about the game. The fundamentals that he always tries to teach the team are very good. He had those from the start. He’s now a bit more of a leader.
“He was always very smart about the game. (…) He’s now a bit more of a leader.”
For you, fredy, how has Larssen changed?
fredy122: He’s also a bit more human, yeah. [Laughs] I think, the more you go on, the more you improve and learn how to communicate better, how to work in a team. Even for myself, who has been in esports for a long time.
Larssen knows how to improve and how to fix his own issues independently. I never have to worry about him. He was always quite good at that, but he has just continued to do it. He’s more vocal in the team environment and he’s very direct. He says what he wants. He has also learned to understand what he needs.
A pillar to lean on
You’ve spent so much time together in the last four years—the bond you have must be strong and go beyond just the regular coach/player dynamic. When you take a step back and look outside of the game, what has fredy meant for you, Larssen? And fredy, what does Larssen mean to you?
fredy122: Well, I can now say that he’s thinking about coming to my wedding. [Laughs] Might be a year or two, but that’s something.
Larssen: Obviously, fredy is a big character in my life. He means a lot to me. He is an important person.
fredy122: Does your dad like me now?
Larssen: I don’t think so, no.
Wait, your dad doesn’t like fredy? Why?
Larssen: Because he likes it when you show emotions. He loves it when the coach gets fucking fired up.
“We went through major things in our lives together. I think we’ve really grown close to each other.”— Larssen
I’m sorry but he has met you, right? [Laughs] You also rarely show emotions.
fredy122: That’s kind of true.
Larssen: Yeah but I’m not the coach. When you’re a coach, he says you need to scream, “Let’s fucking go!”
fredy122: Well, I would invite him to my wedding too, you know? If he wants to come… But yeah, Larssen and I see each other for eight months in a year, or even more. That is something special.
Larssen: We’ve been through a lot of hard times and good times. We went through major things in our lives together. I think we’ve really grown close to each other.
fredy122: I agree. Larssen and I have a lot of talks after scrims. Sometimes it’s good to just vent to each other. Sometimes about the game, but also about other things in life. Larssen is probably the person I do that the most with. It’s all natural.