daps: "I want to create a good team environment where everyone in the team can trust each other again"
Following the announcement of Damian "daps" Steele as Liquid's new head coach, Jeffrey "Mnmzzz" Moore had the chance to sit down with the legendary IGL. In the insightful interview, daps discussed his time on the embattled Evil Geniuses roster, what his goals for Liquid will be, how much authority he will have, and rebuilding Liquid from scratch, among a plethora of other topics.
To start, how does it feel to rejoin Liquid after so many years?
It feels great. Liquid is one of, if not the best, organizations in esports, and it feels nice to reunite with EliGE, nitr0, and NAF just because I've played with them, some longer than others. But, I have some comfort knowing them personally and also in-game. It's a nice opportunity and I hope to prove myself and do the best I can in and put all my effort and time into making it work.
This is your third return to coaching for you, after briefly flirting with the role on NRG...
It's the second attempt. I would not say the NRG one was real.
A very brief flirtation with coaching?
That was more so me considering quitting the game and I was sort of in a coach slot, yeah.
Good thing you didn't do that huh? Well, let's say this is your second serious coaching job after your stint with Evil Geniuses. In between coaching Evil Geniuses and now joining Liquid, you returned to playing with Orgless. Can you explain why you decided to return to the coaching role?
I would say ever since the Gen.G project fell apart I definitely made an emotional decision to switch to VALORANT more so than a logical decision. COVID kind of ruined everything with Gen.G and then I rushed into the decision to go VALORANT and sort of regretted it. Coming back to coaching Evil Geniuses, I also kind of rushed into that decision and didn't do my research into what the situation was there.
I kind of wasted my time there as well and it's been a long journey. The break after coaching EG, where I played for a bit and then took a vacation after the Orgless project sort of helped me clear my mind and come to a decision about what I wanted to do.
Even though the situation in EG was very complicated and very unfortunate I did enjoy the actual job of being a coach. It's just the situation was impossible over there.
Speaking of Evil Geniuses, much has been said of the end of your tenure with that team, which we discussed on Mauisnake's show and was also a topic of speculation/discussion from pundits. My understanding was it came down to a choice between your vision or the project built around Stewie2K. Can you discuss the factors that led to you leaving?
I'm not really going to speculate on why they decided to go with the Stewie project over mine. I could speculate but it's not really worth it. I'm sure there's many reasons as to why they preferred that lineup: whether it was more of a marketing play, or they felt the roster would revitalize into what it used to be. There's a lot of reasons as to why they went that route instead. I proposed to EG a four to six month vision of where I can get the team in that timeline if they get me the players I requested. I was trying to essentially rebuild a team that was dead for over a year. I think even when zews was coaching EG it was rough, even before I got there. Difference of opinion on rosters.
Lucid was the analyst I hired on EG to help for the Major. That was the only goal I was given as a coach; to get the team to the Major and we would do roster changes after it. The org decided that what the lineup Lucid and I proposed just wasn't what they wanted to go with. That's their decision and I was like 'I don't really want to be here anymore' so we mutually parted ways. I'm not going to say anything more.
I feel like some people may say you dodged a bullet by leaving EG in the wake of maLeK's struggles on that team. A big debate to come out of that is what role and expectations a coach should have on an NA team. Whether they are the leader and have the authority to make changes or are there to support the IGL and flush out their tactics. Can you weigh in on that debate and explain where you fit in on this spectrum?
I would say that either option can work but it's the responsibility of the organization and the people paying the coach to be clear what the path is. That was something that was my biggest point of contention on EG. I'm not going to go into detail about things that happened in EG, but I'll definitely say I was strung along a little bit in terms of what I could or couldn't do.
It's not one person's fault there, it's just that EG has a different management structure than what I'm used to in an esports org at least. A lot of the orgs I had more success in, like NRG or even Gen.G to an extent, I could go straight to the owner and I have direct access to that person. I can say 'Hey this is my vision and I want this and this done, can you do it or not?' The owner would be yes, no, no, yes, right? EG operates differently, and maybe with valens coming back if they give valens full control and just have one vision instead of multiple visions and one path that it'll work a lot better. But, that's without going into details my opinion on it.
I think maLeK or a coach having control is really good because in traditional sports coaches can bench players, find players, and have players to slot into roles. In esports it's a lot harder for a coach to have that power unless the organization has full faith. It's kind of a tricky question, both ways can work it just really depends.
How are you positioned on Liquid, do you have decision-making power and authority on the team?
When I was going through the interview process to potentially get the job with Liquid I asked some of those questions. At least from my perspective they encourage the coach to be involved in the roster decisions and things like that. I think Liquid is an org that actually wants that, and that's something I've liked to do in my career. Every team that I've gotten to a good point the owner of the org has given me a good amount of freedom.
I think the structure of Liquid is I would work with management and I definitely have more of a seat at the table here.
Was that what you were alluding to in your Tweet about not being a "yes man" at EG, that you didn't have a seat at the table?
The issue at EG wasn't that I didn't have a seat at the table, it's that I was essentially told X thing would happen or could happen and then it didn't happen. If I went to EG at the very start they said 'Hey, this is how it's going to be blah blah blah' and then I signed my contract after that, then that's on me at that point. But, if I'm joining as the coach and I'm told 'Oh you could this, you could do that when the time comes' I'm essentially waiting for that time to come, and when that time comes it doesn't happen, that's not my fault at that point.
Again, like I said I don't think it's one person's fault at EG, I do think internally they need to have some conversations to fix a couple things. I think they are doing that, letting valens have control, hopefully he does have full control, then he'll actually be able to do his job to full effectiveness and hopefully bring EG back into a good spot where they start winning again.
On Liquid you will be linking up with Lucid once again. He seems like someone you're very comfortable with and have actively tried to work with, can you explain the working relationship and why it seems to work so well?
The relationship actually formed after I messaged NarT. I was trying to get NarT as my analyst on EG because EG's main goal was to make the Major, that was our only goal. I thought 'hey may as well get an analyst to at least try to get into the Major' and get all the help we can to get this ship across some sort of finish line. I messaged NarT and he said he can't do it for his own reasons and he suggested Lucid to me.
I did my little interview where I asked him the questions I wanted answered and depending on how they answer I'd move on. I also just tested his preparation skills and just saw if his notes matched mine. I talked to him about the game and we agreed on a lot of things and I think he has a good eye for the game. That's how the relationship came to be.
This new-look Liquid is still in incredibly early days, however as someone who's coming in to improve a team that hasn't met expectations, does anything stick out to as changes that need to be made right away?
I think one of the main things that I have brought to them is that I want to create a good team environment where everyone in the team can trust each other again. Not saying people in the team don't trust each other fully right now, but at least from what I want to bring to the team is to recreate a good environment. Making sure people can criticize each other and constructive criticism can happen just so we can progress and move on to the next thing.
I really want to go through all foundational things again, making sure there's a solid base and foundation to the team so that we always have something to go to. From talking to the guys, they were relying a lot on prep and I know they haven't had enough time to practice really. There are other reasons as to why they may... the whole shox thing, there's reasons they haven't been performing that are out of their hands. There are a lot of things we're going to work on and I'm going to go into details about in-game stuff.
Along with prepping and building out a new team, we also have learned YEKINDAR will be standing in with Liquid for IEM Cologne. What's the plan to bring him on board in such a short timeframe?
Since I also just joined I can't speak too much on it, but YEKINDAR will be standing in for Cologne and we're going to make the most of it with the short bootcamp we have. We have about a week, but in terms of details I don't want to go into any game stuff.
On a personal note are you excited to work with YEKINDAR as one of the most exciting prospects in the transfer market right now?
Oh yeah, 100%. I mean he's an insane player and I think he'll bring a good boost to the team where everyone is going to have a boost of confidence playing alongside him. Hopefully, his energy alone will help everyone out in this event despite a lack of practice. Hopefully we can ride some form of momentum to playoffs and hopefully further.
Last question, when you put out your TwitLonger in the wake of Orgless disbanding, you discussed the lack of opportunities for NA players. Do you think EG's Blueprint project is a step in the right direction to start rebuilding NA?
The 15-player lineup is interesting and valens is a very smart person so I'm sure he has a lot of things planned to make it work. If it does work, it's going to be revolutionary. But, there are a lot of hurdles and I personally think what may end up happening is they do whatever they need to do to make all three teams as good as possible and then make the best team they can out of the 15 players and cut everyone else. It's probably the path I'd see it going.
You want the main team to be the best and once you strip all of the good pieces from the other teams, if there are good pieces for the main team, what is the point of having two farm teams anymore? It seems like they're creating their own farm system rather than three independent teams that will constantly compete to be better than each other. Again, I'm just speculating.
Based on your expectation of what will happen, is this still a net positive for NA talent?
It's better than nothing, that's what I'll say. I think it's new and I can't say whether it will work or not, but I think it's better than just constantly playing back-to-back ECL seasons to potentially get to play Pro League and go 0-5 and come home to play ECL again. It's a way for these players to get paid and maybe some of them can commit more time. I'm sure most of them have side jobs or school so hopefully that extra money coming in from EG can let them go full-time for a little bit and commit all their effort and become even better.
Some of them will make it, some of them won't, that's just how it is. I hope it does work because it's really good for North America and for CS as a whole. A lot of people love hating on NA teams or EG, especially right now, but the truth is it's better for everyone in the whole scene if EG succeeds with this project. I hope it works.
daps are Liquid have departed to Europe for a brief bootcamp as they look to prepare the team for IEM Cologne, with the team starting their campaign on July 7th.