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Photos of YamatoCannon provided by Fnatic for our interview with him.
NEWS

YamatoCannon: Creating Family on Fnatic

Jan 212021

Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi might be one of the most decorated coaches to come from Europe. He was the first western coach to work in the LCK and he’s very well-known for taking modest, underappreciated lineups and bringing them up to the limelight. He was a big part of the early careers of players like Jankos, Jiizuke, Kobbe, and Wunder.

 

However, he’s never quite had the job he has now. As the new head coach for Fnatic, he’s going to lead one of Europe’s most stacked lineups and work with one of the most decorated teams in the history of esports. It’s a brave new world, but YamatoCannon is used to those.

 

YamatoCannon describes himself as open-minded and always ready to live inside the wide flux of the modern world. His coaching style is one centered around change. Specifically, how you build a tribe that’s strong enough to withstand the winds of change when they really rage. Sitting down late in the evening after a long block of scrims, YamatoCannon told us about what makes him tick and the kind of team he and Fnatic are trying to build.

 

"With time, I think this team is going to be really, really fucking good."

What motivated you to leave Sandbox and return to EU?

I made a promise that I broke to myself that I wanted to win the LEC before I leave the LEC. It was a promise that I made a long time ago so no one really held me accountable - but I’m holding myself accountable! What happened off-season back in 2019 leading into 2020 none of the opportunities I had at the time were interesting enough for me to pursue them so I just dipped my toe into freelancing and I knew something will come up on the horizon. [...]

In a different world, I would love to come back to the LCK but I think with this idea in mind of winning LEC, Fnatic is just the natural progression. I know that I would join a group of like-minded people both in what the colors represent and also in terms of the core players that are going to be in the roster. So I want to win the LEC and that’s why I’m here. This is my region in the end and I’m gonna take all the knowledge from Korea - who won Worlds last year - and bring it back to my own soil.

There you go. You have a little folder labeled “Damwon Secrets” on your desktop…

Yes [laughs].

How much role did you have in building this Fnatic roster?

The core was pretty much set in stone. Coming into the team, I put a lot of effort into hearing the players out. This year more than ever I felt the most disconnected to local talent due to me working in the LCK - being in a different timezone, being in a different rhythm. [...]

I of course gave my input but what I pushed for was to heavily work with the opinions of the core players, meaning Hylli, Selfmade, Bwipo. They were very clear on what they wanted from players and, even with me leaning towards their opinions, I had a very similar stance to them.

I think already in the first two weeks that we’ve practiced, our environment is really something I’m satisfied with and it will be my responsibility to nurture and keep that at all costs. The players just mesh so well. We are able to laugh, we are able to discuss, we are able to share our thoughts and feelings with each other and this is, you know, the ideal situation. You need that openness and that honesty.

How does the roster feel now on the strategic end? Does it feel more unified in style and strategy?

I think Fnatic last year, they ended on a good note with how they played in Group Stage and taking Top Esports to 5 games. I even tease them sometimes about it because there were certain things they could have done slightly differently and they could have taken that series. You know, just to jab at them a little bit, reopen some old wounds. [laughs]

We aren’t that far yet. I wouldn’t say that we are better than they were at their peak. That experience that they went through, seeing what flaws that they had coming into those final moments and what was truly missing to make the difference, that is what is going to really matter in the long run. [...]

For now, in this moment after only scrimming two weeks, we have solved a lot of issues, we’ve localized a lot of issues. We have broken new ground very, very quickly, which I’m very, very happy about but it would be naive of me to say we are doing everything perfectly. It will take some time, it will take some effort but I know that we are putting that effort and time in the right place.

But it does feel, then, that at least in terms of the style and strategy the team has more of a unified idea of what they’d like to do?

I think the goal is the same. We are unified in our goal, in how we want to progress. We want to not have any band-aid solutions. We want to be able to play any type of meta, under any type of conditions, we want to be a resilient team.

With time, these are abilities and aspects that everyone is going to grow into. I think our path is in the right direction. The process feels right and it’s something we’re adjusting every day because we are very critical towards ourselves, in a very healthy manner. [...]

With time, I think this team is going to be really, really fucking good

We are moving in the right direction. We’re all moving along the same path, hand-in-hand pretty much. When we are going to be at the World Championship I know for a fact that we are going to be stronger than last year.

"families are bound by blood, we are bound by the common goal."

Does this kind of environment, where the players are very seasoned and the name is very big, change your coaching style at all?

I see my role as I need to make sure that my players are on the path of progression and that they are enabled as much as possible. That’s going to look very different depending on the dynamics and also depending on the individuals. Regardless of how many years of experience [you have], always when there’s a new group of people their needs are going to be different. So it’s a question of paying attention.

It’s a question of listening. It’s a question of always being able to adapt to the needs and the necessities of the players. Sometimes a player needs a harsh hand, sometimes a player needs love, sometimes a player needs discipline. The needs take shape very differently depending on the players.

My approach - the thing that always remains consistent - is the foundation that the team is built on: that trust, that initiative to really, really build a relationship with your teammates. That initiative to push players in the direction to be responsible for everything that is going on in the team. I want a group of problem solvers, I don’t want a group of individuals. I want that brotherly love as they ride into battle.

In your coaching career you’ve done a really good job of rallying a lot of teams. Where do you find that skill came from? How did you learn it?

I like to do my research before I do anything. I’m not gonna do anything blindly ever in my life - especially when the biggest library to ever exist is available to me [laughs].

I did so much research before I jumped into it in regards to what some of my favorite coaches in traditional sports do. That focus on culture is something that we have years and years of experience and information that you can take away from. Even though the game and the sport is different, in the end how a group functions is still very tribal. We’ve been living in groups since the beginning of time, so different ways of how tribes work and how tribes come together is something that applies in teams too.

It’s just me combing through as much information as possible. I find myself in this mindset where if I’m the same person I was maybe a month ago I’m maybe doing something wrong, you know? It’s a question of always wanting to learn more, always wanting to adapt, and being able to admit what works and what doesn’t

I believe in a world where everything I know today might be wrong tomorrow. So I just do my research and over time I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. It’s an ongoing process until the day I die.

Tolki is a name that a lot of people don’t know yet. You said in one of your videos that he has a skill-set that’s really rare in esports. Can you expand on that? What do you see as his biggest skills?

He worked in software development, he has worked in esports, he hosted esports events, he was in the military. His experience is very unique because you don’t come across all of the things that he has done in esports at all.

I think in terms of the tools that he can create for the team and the ideas that he can bring to the table from his experience are so unique and can definitely push esports in the right direction. I’m very practical in my approach and a lot of my ideas have come from experience. I think his approach is very theoretical and I think that makes us a very, very strong and powerful match.

So far Tolki has created powerful tools for us to optimize practice. On my end, we always challenge each other to be better and I think that’s fantastic. We’re very like-minded, very mature in our approach and we just want the same thing: That is, the team to grow and succeed. It’s a great blessing to have him along in this journey.

Beyond just winning, beyond just the LEC or Worlds, what do you want to see out of this Fnatic lineup?

Over time, I want to walk away with you know, titles but I also want to walk away with great memories. I want to walk away knowing I’ve created relationships that are going to last a lifetime. I’ve been in esports now for like 10 years, those are things that are important to me to this day. I stay in touch with players and there’s a lot of beauty in that…

That’s something that I hope all of us will have - that at the end of the journey we walk away with great memories and moments that we all can treasure and friends for a lifetime. If you managed to do that, I think you’ve succeeded.

What do you feel the team’s personality is like?

I think, you know it’s hard to label the team because everyone is so different. I think that’s such a normal occurrence when you have players from every corner of Europe, pretty much. [...] Everyone has very different experiences in terms of what teams they've been in and how they grew up.

We’re just a group of very like-minded individuals. I made it clear that what binds us as people… families are bound by blood, we are bound by the common goal. In terms of nurturing and building those relationships, we put the building blocks forward very early on. Meaning that everyone actually actively puts effort into bonding with each other and I’m very, very happy to see this. We play card games when we have off-time, we play chess, we can laugh, we just joke around. It feels good to spend time together.

As cliche as it might sound, I label all my teams as my family because that’s what it is in the end. You know, we spend so many hours together, this is my family. So I would just label it family.

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