Team SoloMid jungler Mike "MikeYeung" Yeung knew the answer before he even asked the question.
"Are you nervous?"
A chorus of yeses and affirmative responses, all at different volumes and levels of conviction, sounded through his headset. The new TSM player, acting as a coach for Team Infernal Drake at the North American League of Legends Championship Series Scouting Grounds, cracked a slight smile.
"That's completely normal, by the way. Nerves make you play better."
His voice remained even and calm throughout the draft. He asked his players for input, having briefed them on their game plan prior to setting foot on the LCS Battle Arena stage. This was the first LAN event for some of his charges; none of them have played League of Legends professionally. For MikeYeung, it was his first onstage coaching experience, one he took on with an oddly serene air that belied his age and lack of experience.
"Remember to plan, execute and reset," he told them. Each member of Team Infernal Drake repeated this during the game. After every game, their coach again said it back to them, a call and response.
MikeYeung has only played professionally in the NA LCS for less than a year but became a household name while on Phoenix1 thanks to his mature demeanor and surprisingly strong performance at the 2017 Rift Rivals event. Suddenly, he was everywhere. This past week, he coached Team Infernal Drake to the Scouting Grounds Finals against Team Ocean Drake.
"The only thing in Mike's brain, the entire time I've known him, is League of Legends," TSM general manager and former coach Parth "Parth" Naidu said, laughing. "If you want to have a conversation with Mike about anything other than League of Legends, you are going to be s*** out of luck, which is why I was so surprised to see him last year. Within one week he was doing interviews, being a shotcaller for the team, casting a game, and my brain was like, 'Who is this kid?'"
Parth admitted MikeYeung initially wasn't supposed to be a part of TSM's Scouting Grounds coaching staff. Instead, AD carry Rasmus "MrRalleZ" Skinneholm and other players had planned to rotate each day with Parth leading the team.
On the first evening of the event, Parth launched into his coaching system after introductions, with MikeYeung interjecting here and there. Parth wasted no time setting up an outline for how the wide-eyed members of Team Infernal would communicate in-game, who would take certain roles in those comms and his own role in coaching the team. The next day, after one post-match review, Parth handed over coaching duties to MikeYeung.
"I found that Mike had very insightful things to say, so I had him do most of the next review," Parth said. "He told me after his first review that he's a lot more introspective about how he thinks about the game because he's watching five players play the game and analyzing their mistakes, not only from his role but from multiple roles.
"It's hilarious that Coach Mike was a meme, and now it's actually not a meme."
At the end of every Team Infernal scrim, MikeYeung's PC monitor and space was filled with post-it notes. Some of them he gave to individual members. Others, he took in with him during post-match review as reminders of what he wanted to talk about with the team. He was always firm and direct, quick to target individual and team mistakes, but every member of Team Infernal responded positively to the criticism. By the end of the week, the players were the first to identify their own mistakes after scrims.
"In the amateur scene, people are a bit afraid to hurt each others' feelings and people are afraid to take blame," MikeYeung said. "That's the most important thing that they've probably learned is that taking blame and improving."
He approached everything with a dutiful attitude that extended outside of the practice room in the Riot Games PC Bang. At dinner, MikeYeung gave advice to 16-year-old jungler Ming "Spica" Lu on whether to go pro or finish high school. MikeYeung told Spica, when in the exact same situation, he chose to stick with school, thinking that if he wasn't good enough to be a professional after graduating, then it would mean that he just wasn't good enough to begin with. It was blunt but introspective, and Spica took in every word. Later, when Echo Fox drafted Spica second overall out of Scouting Grounds, he said he'll heed Mike's words, and finish school while continuing to improve so that he'll be ready for the academy team or LCS.
"Mike spent a lot of time with us and on his own going over drafts that would favor us," Team Infernal Drake mid laner Julien "Julien" Gelinas said. "In one case, his draft outright won us Game 1 vs. Team Mountain Drake. That game's actually pretty hilarious because technically we just stole the strat from Team Ocean. Mike was the one who thought to actually pull it out."
It's a jungle Ezreal red-side strategy that even Parth thought was too risky. MikeYeung insisted on the draft setup despite those reservations, deviating from the split-push style that Team Infernal had been relying on with a 4-1 or 1-3-1 setup around top laner Kostyantyn "PieCakeLord" Dudarchuk's Fiora and Camille. The jungle Ezreal setup required the team to fight as five and coordinate better than the players had in prior games.
MikeYeung took the risk and trusted his players. They repaid him with a win, and later, a Scouting Grounds finals berth.
After the victory, MikeYeung gathered them in an huddle. They counted down and yelled, "T-S-M!" to an empty LCS Battle Theater that suddenly buzzed with excitement.
"I've learned that they respect pro players and coaches a lot more than everybody thinks that amateur and solo queue players do," MikeYeung said. "They understand that they're lacking in knowledge."
Team Infernal Drake was swept by Team Ocean Drake in the finals, but MikeYeung's players remained upbeat. They talked about in-game improvements for the future -- and Noah "Noahmost" Mostacero's Xayah pentakill -- as they gathered their equipment and prepared for the upcoming draft. They each left a little better at League than they were just days ago thanks to their TSM mentor.
"I actually am really interested in pursuing some sort of coaching or analytical job in the future after being a player," MikeYeung said afterward. "I have an analytical mindset, and it feels good to teach other people."