Interview with DIG LoL Division Coach Jimmy Harrison
Sun 31st Jan 2021 - 10:50am
Within the world of professional League of Legends, there exist a huge number of hard-working individuals outside of just the players that have contributed to making Esports what it is today. Among those hard workers is Jimmy Harrison, Dignitas’ Division Coach for the 2021 season! Jimmy is a man who has dedicated his life to working behind the scenes with players and staff to take everyone around him to the next level, so we decided to sit down and have a chat with him about his past, his plans for the team and everything in between to understand exactly what goes on before the teams we know and love compete on Summoner’s Rift!
Jimmy it’s great to talk to you, welcome to Dignitas! How have you enjoyed your time with the team so far?
Jimmy: It’s been a really good experience so far. Joining Dignitas has been a fresh opportunity for me to come in and work with a whole lot of new talent, as well as established veterans. I had taken a year off after working with Golden Guardians and was ready to jump back into a role that had similar responsibilities.
For the fans of Dignitas that are just getting to know you, how would you describe your experience with League of Legends Esports?
Jimmy: I’ve been following League of Legends since the very beginning; I’m 30, so when I think back it seems really crazy! I had been playing since Season 1 started, I was playing a lot, and at the end of college deciding whether or not I’d chase my Doctorate of Physical Therapy I actually hurt my back. I needed to go through surgery, and during that time I really thought about what made me happy… I realised that getting into Esports through coaching or management was something that really excited me, and while I knew I didn’t have the hands to be a player I still wanted to compete.
I ended up starting out in the NA Challenger scene the year before franchising began and I was a part of a Brazilian-owned org that was in North America. We ended up losing in the semifinals, but I made some connections with coaches and staff and had the opportunity to go to Brazil for a year as a coach for a team called CNB. From there, I got the offer to be a coach with Golden Guardians and that was my first chance to compete with an LCS team!
How would you define your role as Division Coach at Dignitas? How does this differ to a Strategic Coach?
Jimmy: When I first had my initial talks with Dignitas we talked about structure, team culture, and where I thought teams were lacking in the Esports scene, based on what I had experienced. I would say that my day-to-day mirrors nearly exactly what I was doing as a Head Coach at Golden Guardians, however I’m a bit more involved with some of the decisions that are made involving infrastructure, the analytics we want to use, the partners we’re working with and trying to balance how the players are spending their time. I was put in a position where I could oversee both the LCS team and our other two teams, the Academy team and our Amateur program, so I could have a holistic understanding of all the moving pieces in our organisation.
Will you be joined in the near future by other coaching staff? What does your ideal coaching staff composition look like?
Jimmy: We’re in the process now of bringing in someone in an assistant role, and in the future we’re going to build up the coaching staff to include more role coaches and assistants in general. Esports culture is not specifically defined yet in regard to the structure of coaching staff, and that’s made evident by looking at different teams in the LCS having a varying number of coaches with different titles. Ideally, we’d eventually have enough assisting staff to work more closely with players individually; after each game, it’s optimal to spend at least 20-25 minutes breaking everything down, so having assistance in where I allocate my time would be invaluable. My goal with Dignitas is to flesh out what our coaching staff looks like, but I’m waiting to find the pieces that fit best and build from that.
Many esports fans may not know the amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into their favourite team, how important is a powerful coaching team in your opinion?
Jimmy: I definitely think it’s important! The thing is, with players and all the teams I’ve worked on, you talk to the people involved and realise how much talent and how many ideas everyone brings, so getting those all on the same page is key. It’s vital to find out everyone’s strengths so that you can work well as a unit, and just as important is having the right staff to manage these players and create a structure within the team so that things don’t become convoluted or messy.
Viewers of the LCS and esports in general will have all had the thought “I could easily be a pro player” without ever knowing the commitment required to succeed. What do the training and match day schedules look like for one of your players?
Jimmy: Before even getting into what the daily schedules look like, when you realise how much time the players have invested into getting to the level they’re at, just in solo queue alone, it’s absolutely insane. Taking this hard work and then trying to transition it into a team-oriented framework that involves starting at 11am, having an initial discussion/planning before going into a warm up game, then going into a 5-game block, then straight into dinner after that block and then into solo or duo queue and doing VOD review in the evening… it’s kinda crazy, haha. The amount of time you spend playing the game, thinking about the game and talking about the game is a huge commitment in and of itself.
The role of nutrition in maintaining a healthy lifestyle cannot be overstated, and esports players/staff are no exception. How have the attitudes towards player conditioning in Esports changed over time and how is the nutrition of a player addressed by coaching staff?
Jimmy: My university degree is actually in Kinesiology, so I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on sports and the health of athletes - when looking at esports, you can see a lot of the classic cliches of grinding the game, eating junk food and poor sleeping habits. When you start looking at players and player consistency, you realise that your players need to be able to take care of themselves outside the game.
From my experience at Golden Guardians, one of the things I’m most thankful for is being able to be around the staff from the Golden State Warriors, so I could poke around and ask questions on how things work in the NBA. I was put in contact with plenty of people in the NBA scene, so I’ve been able to get an idea through working with these people on what a healthy lifestyle looks like; whether that’s incorporating nutritionists that can come and do blood tests and identify where players are lacking individually in their diets, to having chefs that can cater to each player and even just encouraging general exercise. It’s something that takes time, and this attitude has definitely changed over time as we’ve begun taking esports more seriously, but I’m super passionate about this and definitely plan to address this in my role.
Let’s talk about the team. What are your thoughts of the rookies on the team (FakeGod, Soligo & Neo)? What are your early predictions for what’s in store for them?
Jimmy: I’m super excited to talk about our new guys. When I look at players like Soligo and FakeGod, and the context when they were first put into the league, a lot of people overlook what it actually means to be thrown into the LCS at a young age, on top of being thrown into a team that was essentially on fire, haha. I think both these guys were rushed into their position, and if you could look at the comms in-game from last season you’d be able to see just how much they’ve grown and how competitive they are.
Talking about Neo, coming from Dignitas Academy, he’s a player that’s definitely overlooked. He’s flown under the radar for a while, and a lot of that was thought to have had to do with the English barrier that he’s had to overcome making it harder for him to put himself out there as a personality. During his time on Dignitas, however, it’s become really clear how much potential he has and how many of these conceptions about his English were wrong. While I don’t expect to win every game early on, it’s always my goal to win every time we play; it’s exciting that these are my guys from day one and that we can work together to win more as time goes on.
Dardoch and Aphromoo are two players that have been deeply ingrained in the North American League of Legends scene over the years, what are your early thoughts on their roles within the team and what is your approach to coaching more experienced players?
Jimmy: I would say that the approach doesn’t honestly differ that much from working with newer players, it’s more to do with the conversations that we have. When working with players like Aphro and Dardoch, they have far more perspective from playing across multiple teams and multiple metas, so when you talk about the game there’s a different level of understanding that other players are yet to develop. My experience working with them has been really fun so far, it’s clear how much they’ve both learned over the years, and watching them share that with the young players is great. The idea that these are our two veteran leaders is absolutely true, and a lot of our direction in how we play the game will come from these two players. Over time, of course, we can expect the younger players to grow and find their voice, but at least initially these guys are our leaders.
Speaking of Dardoch, Dignitas’ CEO Michael “Prindi” Prindiville said that “...we took a chance on Dardoch at the right point, in the right time of his life when no-one else was…”, and that now he would take a leadership position within the team. Why do you think Dardoch is the right fit for the team?
Jimmy: When you talk to Dardoch, you instantly realise two things: how smart he is, and how much talent he has individually. Knowing this, you can then understand why he’s gotten as many chances as he has with so many different teams. The question then becomes one of what the culture was like on these teams and what role he played in them; with Dignitas this year, we have the opportunity to work with a whole lot of fresh faces and that’s a pretty stark contrast to what Dardoch has worked with on his most recent previous team, TSM. Within our team there’s a really unique opportunity to set Josh up to be the leader he wants to be and help the other players to see the game the way he sees it.
Building synergy is an important part of any new team, what are your thoughts on the LCS Lock-in Tournament as pre-split tool for growth? Would you rather spend the time doing individual practice and team development or competing in this way?
Jimmy: I think the Lock-in Tournament is fantastic, to be honest! Especially when you’re building a roster with players that haven’t been on the LCS stage, either recently or at all, giving them experience in this environment is a great opportunity. Obviously during COVID we’re all playing online, and that’s never going to feel exactly the same as it does when you’re among a crowd, but it’s really nice to show these players what it’s like to play in the LCS before you’re thrown straight in the deep end. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’d far rather do this than spend an extra month on vacation or scrimming- I want to compete!
What are your aspirations and goals as a coach for Dignitas in 2021?
Jimmy: A lot of it for me comes down to proof of concept; this is an opportunity for me to show people how I think teams can be run, and how teams can be built. We have a lot of unique strengths and tools that I believe can surprise people on stage, and for me being able to build Dignitas up to a position where they’re respected as much as some of the more successful LCS organisations is always going to be my focus. From my perspective, the way we get to that point without throwing like $40 million dollars at the team is to build up step by step, brick by brick. I want to win games, I’m keen to grow from the ground up, and I believe I can achieve that here at Dignitas.
To end on a fun question, which esport do you think would be the most challenging to coach?
Jimmy: Hmm… I haven’t really thought about that before, and I’m certain that whatever answer I give would piss off at least one esports community, haha. MOBAs in general are always going to be challenging as the game changes so much from patch to patch, especially when you consider all the items and champions that exist in the game, especially when compared to other games that are more linear in their design. For that reason, I’d probably say Dota or League of Legends.
Thank you for your time! Is there anyone you’d like to give a shoutout to?
Jimmy: Yeah, absolutely- I want to thank my mom and my sister for all of their support. It’s been a long journey for me so far, I mean I’ve literally flown across the globe to chase my dreams and without them I have no idea where I’d be. In addition to them, I’d also like to thank Dignitas for giving me this opportunity and my players for putting their trust in me!
We’d like to thank Jimmy for giving up his time to answer our questions and provide some insights into the world of a coach for a team in the LCS! You can catch all of his latest news and updates on his Twitter, @jimmyharrison, and you can catch the team in action in the Lock-in Tournament before the first split of the 2021 season begins.