Artress and the Art of Team Management

June 15 2018

As the 2018 Summer Split kicks off in just a few days, League of Legends manager Michael Artress hopes to make his fourth split with the team as domestically successful as the third. With eyes locked onto the international competition, the manager of North America’s champions shows no signs of decline in confidence following last split’s triumph.

“Our sights are set on Worlds. If we do what we need to do throughout the split to get to Worlds, we will defend the title. Our goal is to show up, and perform our best on the international stage. If we win the NA title along the way, great, but our goal is higher than that…

You can relish a win or be sad about a loss, but it should always be immediately onto the next thing. I think the players that we have have that kind of mentality, where it’s like, ‘I won Spring Split in Miami, great.’ But 10 minutes later, they think, ‘What’s next?’”

Artress and the newest iteration of Team Liquid took the franchise to a place only three other teams had gone before: atop North America. With a new banner hanging from the LCS studios, the Team Liquid logo boldly on display, the squad made its way to Europe to represent their region at MSI. When mentioning key points in their regional success, Artress states, “The coaching staff and I sat down and had, over two days, a 9 to 10 hour meeting: 6 hours on one day, 4 on the next. We touched base on how we can get to Worlds. For this split, we sat down, and made a roadmap for what we’re going to be doing, holding everybody accountable, ourselves and the players.”

Despite the one-sided results in the North American playoffs, the team was off to an unexpectedly shaky start at the Mid-Season Invitational. The difference in gameplay from day one to day two was night and day, as the players caught a second wind, narrowly failing to close out a dramatic Cinderella run en route to the playoffs. Artress credits not pressing the intensity of the matter further, but encouraging the group to see the game in a new light, and to do their best to walk away from the matches better than they loaded into them.

“When the guys were 0-4, and thinking things like, ‘Oh shit. We could potentially go 0-10,’ at least in the back of our heads, never out loud, everyone is thinking, ‘What if we lose all of our games?’ Dodo, Cain, and I, we talked with the team. We said, “Look, just go into the next games, and learn something. Have fun with it,” and I think they needed that. Before, there was a lot of pressure on them to perform, and it’s really important when there’s that much stress, to have someone there to alleviate that and take that pressure off.”

Artress has become what a group of talented young men need; a source of guidance in everything not League of Legends. With coaches Jun-hyeok "Dodo" Kang and Nu-ri "Cain" Jang being two of the longest tenured strategists in the scene, Artress opts to find how he can impact the players beyond a draft screen or laning phase. He's seen everything from Breaking Point to the hoisting of the NALCS trophy in Miami first hand, and few can say they’ve endured a more broad assortment of emotions than Artress. These experiences, although tumultuous at times, have lent themselves well to approaching culturally and emotionally diverse team members in a thoughtful, tailored manner, creating an environment that encourages openness.

“If you yourself are just open to be criticized, you’re open for growth. If you’re open to growth, others see that, and you help them grow as well. It’s one of those things that if someone else sees it, they may take on that trait. More recently, I’ve been more inclined to just ask people, ‘What can I do to improve?’ I’ve received feedback from players, staff, everyone. [The players] see, ‘Oh, he’s willing to do this? I think I’m more comfortable to try that as well.’

Knowing we had a strong second half of Spring Split helps, but there’s so much more room to grow, and we realize that. That’s what I want out of everyone, at least. Be open with everyone and be more lighthearted. My job to them is to say, ‘Hey, I’m that guy that you can come to and trust to lighten the mood a little bit.’ In the past, I haven’t been that. I’ve been kind of stoic, and very robotic with how I do things. I mean, I get my work done, but it doesn’t necessarily resonate with the players. The goal this split is to be a bit more of a friendly presence. I’ll be around a lot more to throw a quick joke out, tease Impact, or whoever. Say things like, I don’t know… ‘Bro, what are you wearing today?’ [laughs]. Stuff like that, you know?”

“There’s people that I’m closer to, there’s some that it’s the opposite, and that’s just because some people just don’t want to be buddy-buddy all the time,” Artress says. “I approach everyone individually in very specific ways. As a unit, I treat everyone the same, no one gets special treatment, but when it comes to handling the players one-on-one, I treat everyone a little bit differently.” With a team composed of players from all walks of life, knowledge of the players and their individuality is key to creating and upholding a culture of success and development.

This season’s roster is one laden with titles and reputations: Former world champion, best American mid-laner, best AD Carry in NA. When accolades precede a team full of star talent and individual skill, it can be easy for egos to clash and personalities to collide. As team manager, Artress speaks of the change he’s seen from the players who have become his extended family. “I think he’s grown to be more mindful, and aware that he’s not playing his best at all times,” he says of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, a player known historically for his unfiltered, almost brash personality. “He’s held to such a regard in North America as ‘the best ADC’, and that can inflate your ego, but he is very good at staying humble.”

Olleh, the fan favorite Korean support, has shown that he can let his emotions get the better of him in times of adversity. “He still has his struggles from time to time, everyone has that. But he has kept his mentality as strong as possible, which is tough to do in such a ferocious environment. When I say ferocious, I mean that he is in a lion’s den. All of these players are hungry. He is as well, but these guys are just very outspoken, and Olleh is a lot more quiet,” says Artress. Initially, the difference in personalities may have been perceived as a weakness of the team, especially in the bot lane-centric meta of last season. Artress, however, had nothing but good things to say of the young star’s ability to shift his efforts into something greater. “He wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s still very expressive, but he does so in a way that’s beneficial to him. Overall, he’s grown and is growing emotionally, which is great.”

Winning North America was a huge step for the coaching staff, the players, and the organization as a whole. The shift in landscape that Artress has witnessed and has been a part of is incredible, and all parties involved head into the 2018 Summer Split with heads full of steam. When talking about the standard they’re setting for the coming months, Artress remarks, “It helps us as staff to think, ‘Okay, these guys hold themselves to a high standard, we can’t slack on our end, we should hold ourselves to that same standard.’ It just permeates the whole environment, everyone is trying to not only meet, but exceed their goals.”

As the landscape of the North American LCS looks more competitive than ever, and the newest teams proving that they’ve never been more hungry, the team is aware that they have targets on their backs. The implications of the coming months could be the difference between punching a ticket to Worlds or having to sit on the sidelines. “When you’re playing at an international tournament like MSI, a lot of us, I know I felt it, had pride for our region. We have that feeling of, ‘I’m going to be doing that again for Worlds, so what can we do now to prepare for that representation?’ We don’t want to fall flat again,” Artress reveals of the group’s mentality moving forward.

With the wind at their backs and all eyes focused on the Summoner’s Cup, the team looks more prepared than ever to reach new heights internationally. To Team Liquid fans both old and new, rest assured that Artress and his squad will do everything in their power to keep this momentum in the future.

“It’s crazy that people will be so masochistic to follow us for that long, because there have been some really rough times, especially when we were facing relegations. It speaks to the nature of fans of sport when, through thick and thin, they’ll be there for you. There are a lot of people who voice their hate when we’re doing shitty, but those same people that voice their hate only do so because they care so much. I appreciate any kind of feedback from the fans, the love, even the hate. The fans that have stuck around for so long truly are the ones that make this worth the job for all of us.”

Writer // Ezequiel Pinedo
Photography // Kevin Haube and 1UP Studios

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