Interview with Andreas Samuelsson, CSGO Team director and head coach
Andreas gives us insight into coaching, performance and roster management for one of the world’s most famous rosters.
How did you get involved with coaching?
AS: I started in the scene as a little kid, actually. I have always loved competition and the strategic part of it, but also the human aspect to build a good team. I have been playing Counter-Strike for over 20 years now and on the sports side I’ve been into regular sports such as football, floorball and also driving gokart my entire life. I have always been striving to work with my true passion which is esports and Counter-Strike, and Fnatic was my favourite team.
After my Master of Science degree, I chose to start the first CS academy team in the world with Fnatic instead of an engineering offer from Volvo. I was a coach in the academy team and then I moved to a Team Director role for the main team and then back to the coaching role in the main CS:GO roster.
Who are the coaches you look up to and have learned from?
AS: There are no specific coaches I look up to in the esports industry but rather traditional sports coaches such as Sir Alex Ferguson from Manchester United, and regular football coaches like Jurgen Klopp. Although some parts are very different, you can take a lot of things from regular sports as they have been developed for hundreds of years so it's very interesting to take what can be applicable to esports.
What do you focus on most in your day-to-day work with the players?
AS: This depends where we are at in the season. For instance if we are in a practice period or at a bootcamp playing tournaments. In general my focus is to prepare the players as well as we possibly can together with my management team. Some periods we need to focus more on the in-game parts and some periods the mental part is more important.
One part is the human part and having one-on-one meetings with the players about their well being, how can I make them feel good, perform in-game etc. The well-being of the players is key to have consistent good performance. We work a lot with our mental coach Jens and our physical coach Brad to help players feel good with individual programs.
For the in-game part, I work a lot with our in-game leader Golden and our analysis Kevve to keep developing ourselves. CS is a team-based game, but it comes down to each player to see how we can help them be better both inside the game but just as important outside the game.
As a Head Coach and Director I also make sure everything is taken care of for the team in the organisational aspects. I want the players to only focus on 2 things: Their in-game play and feeling good in themselves.
What is the split of personal vs. game focused aspects in your coaching?
AS: It is different for each player. Each individual has their strengths and weaknesses, and that's why we work both in the team but also on an individual level. Some don’t need the in-game part as much, but other individuals really need it. For example, new players that come up in the roster really need the in-game parts to get up to speed because they don’t have the same level of experience and we do a lot of work on this aspect.
For example with Jackhino I do more one-on-ones about the in-game parts to make him catch up and develop. Whereas a more experienced player such as JW and Krimz would need more of the mental development to always push themselves to the next level. These days we have to really double down on the mental part with the team since we are struggling with results right now. Sometimes we do really well in practice but we can’t get it out in official games.
When we were ranked as world number one and were playing well consistently, we actually played at the same level or even above in practice as we do now. The difference is that we played three times better in official games because all players had the confidence, but now we don't even reach our practice performance, and that's a big mental block we are working on.
How do you see the evolution of coaching in the next 5 years?
AS: What we are aiming for is to increase the number of coaching staff around the players. I want to compare it with the NFL: In Counter-Strike you have one T side and one CT side and they are totally different, like the defence and offense in the NFL. You could have one T-side coach, one CT-side coach for example. Maybe having a communications coach as well, since communication is key in CS, where the goal is to have the players interact really well as a team. You can do a lot if you are creative.
Our goal is to have as professional of an environment as possible, and we are pioneers in some aspects right now in the CS scene. You always have to try to be one step ahead of your opponents to find the edge. Some teams, us included, are taking the first steps towards this vision but I think in 5 years most of the teams in top 30 will have this type of setup. Even if we are just getting started, we are aiming to be one of the front runners in innovation.
How do you make sure the roster is getting along together and to integrate new players?
AS: This is a key part of the team management, but also of the roster building process because If you don’t have the right personalities in the team it's extremely hard to be consistent. You will always be a team when you win, but you also need to be a strong team when you are struggling which all teams do at some point. It does not need to be a perfect best-friends atmosphere but it still needs to be at that level when the players talk and spend time together and develop a relationship. There are just 5 players in a CS team, not 50 players as in the NFL. I think that it is one of my big responsibilities as a coach to build that relationship and help the more shy players to have a louder voice and vice versa.
We also look at the personality element when we scout new players. Firstly they need to buy in our new structure with all the different types of training because if the coaching team and players don’t believe in the same performance strategy it will never work.
Then the drive and traits of the player are both very important. I would choose a player with less talent but a limitless determination and his only mindset is to become the best team in the world over a player with more potential but who has difficult traits such as being lazy, raging etc. Personally I favour players with mindsets that are competition orientated and willing to do everything to become the best and fight every single day for winning. Brollan is a good example for this I would say. At the time maybe there were more talented players in the world, but his mindset for improvement is what makes him a better player, and which led to his insane development to being a top player in the global scene.
Pledge for Performance - What is the view on the current situation and where do you feel the team is heading towards this year? In the long term, what is the trajectory and how is it being worked on?
On current state
AS: Tough question - We are not in the best shape right now and it goes so fast if you look at it. One year ago we were ranked as the best team in the world and now we are in a struggle and underperforming. It is always hard to find exactly where the issue comes from but the main part is the mental part as I said above. Especially trying to release the pressure because these days we play as if there is someone holding a gun above our heads so we need to get rid of that and just play with our identity and our strengths. The mental part is by far the most important to come back to where we belong.
On Future state
AS: We want to build performance for the future, and esports is at such an early stage compared to regular sports. Esports is also especially new when it comes to being in a pro and competitive environment. We really want to develop that and make it the most professional possible and put Fnatic as one of the absolute top organizations when it comes to performance both inside and outside the game.
This is where we are heading for the next year in Fnatic with the ingame analysts, the mental coach and physical coach and myself as a head coach and even more coaches in the future. I’m working a lot to be innovative and come up with new effective training techniques for the team.
Half of the performance is inside the game, when it comes down to tactics and strategies and how we develop the in-game part to be top of our opponents all the time. It relies heavily on analysing our competitors without overthinking or losing ourselves and stay focused on what we really want to do but also looking at how we can practise as effectively as possible each day. This in-game part is in constant evolution and with player feedback and development in order not to get stuck in any old techniques.
The other half of performance is outside the game. For this part we have physical and mental coaches, who are working on individual training to improve the players’ wellbeing and mood. The goal is to help them have better focus and resistance to stress and pressure overall. Several examples can be mastering their moods, overcoming tilt, or pushing through nerves in certain situations.
Outside the game it's also to have a good relationship with the player to know what they need. The mental state is very important both for the players to perform in-game which they prepare for every single day, but also feel good. Players will never perform if they are burnt out or over stressed. It's my job to find the balance and to get the players the tools needed to solve these kinds of problems.
We also have individual workout programs for the players. This is to avoid injuries, have a longer career and protect their overall well-being. We constantly develop our thinking to have the players stronger mentally or try new techniques to stay focused and help your teammates and yourself during the games.
Thanks, Andreas for taking the time to speak with us.