By Johannes Gorzel
This interview is a transcript.
SPORT1: If you could give your former self from January 2015 a piece of advice, what would it be?
Jacob "Maelk" Toft-Andersen: To get involved less personally and more professionally. I think I was too committed to the team on a friendly basis. I have spent a lot of time talking to the players, being their friend rather than just giving them the sense of this being a job.
Many internal struggles could have been solved through authority rather than positivity. As stupid as it sounds, I think it is important for players of relatively young age to realize that they do not always get exactly what they want.
That was one of the things we were lacking. It was too easy for one of these star players to just sit down and say "I don’t want to do this, so I am not going to do this."
Would you say that it was wrong for you to combine the roles of an owner and a team manager?
In a sense. With the management we had a year ago there was just too much involvement from all parties rather than having one party with a professional distance to the team. That should have probably been me as the owner. There should be one nice guy and one voice of reason, who is sometimes even the slave driver.
Did Elements always have a manager?
Initially the plan was for Martin "PusH" Mogensen to be the coach and for me to be the manager, but we changed that in about one month.
After you moved PusH from the coaching position to being a manager, you used Nyph as coach. How did this process come along?
In the beginning it was hard for Patrick to get his voice heard, especially in a time with a lot of big personalities like Froggen and Rekkles.
PusH and I have been considering this move and Patrick has been thinking about it since 2014, when we were still Alliance. Ultimately he decided that this was a better way to pursue things, since we were doing miserably in the LCS and Patrick himself was getting increasingly frustrated with how little he got to decide.
We thought that giving him the role of a coach would solve a lot of things. At large it actually did! To this day I think Patrick is a great coach.
The problem with being a coach – something I experienced as well, back when I quit being an active DotA player – is that it is very hard for you to coach a team, which you previously played on.
It was incredibly hard for Nyph to get his opinion through when it mattered even though he did his best. I think some players unknowingly sabotaged that process.
It has been some time since the last split. What would you name as the main issues that your team had in 2015?
It is hard to pinpoint, but the overshadowing fact was that we had internal issues with a lot of players, who refused to play together.
Was that something that came up as a new problem in 2015?
In 2014 it actually started out that way too, but back then the players went on a winning streak. Success makes things a lot easier.
People tend to underestimate how much it matters to win. Most of the teams are great while winning and almost no teams endure hardships such as going through the major losing streaks.
If we would have won some of these very close games, it would have created an entirely different atmosphere – it would have been a different scenario. One could say that the recruitment of Rekkles was a bit naïve, thinking that it would be an upgrade.
He came in with a lot of expectations and hopes. He had a different mindset. Some of the players had been touched by former success - winning creates an ego. As great as ego is, because you really do need a great ego to succeed at this level, I think it sort of got to their heads and instead of being team players they were playing for their own brand.
That became a problem to the point, where the players no longer respected each other. This left Martin and me unable to resolve these issues.
A lot of time was invested into it and a lot of arguments were had, a lot of different ways of approaching the issue, numerous talks, sit-downs and agreements.
None of it actually worked. As soon as the team would go on stage and lose another game, everything would just come back to where it started.
From an outsider’s perspective your final answer to all these issues was just adding new players to the roster. Would you agree?
Players refused to work with each other. They refused to respect each other. And this was straight up said by the players themselves. There was no way they were going to play with each other in the Summer Split. So we let Rekkles go and I worked a lot with him trying to make him happy. The final answer was him going back to Fnatic. We also let Shook go, because he had no interest in playing with some of the other team members anymore. Basically they gave us an ultimatum in which Wickd and Shook would be one way to go and the other option was to stay with just Froggen and Krepo. We decided on Froggen and Krepo.
Some people think that Elements was basically Froggen’s team. There is this rumor that you gave him a lot of say in the management decisions.
It is slightly ironic. In 2014 you could owe all the success to Froggen – most definitely. He carried the team on his back, he was the leader and the coach.
As a star player he was the reason, why we did so well as Alliance and ended up winning the Summer Split. In 2015, however, he had little to no say and ironically he was already up for a debate as we started the Spring Split.
In early January it was considered to replace him and actually it was close to happening. We felt there was a lack of mentality and commitment from his side that we felt was detrimental for the team. But we had a good long talk with him, afterwards he had conversations with some of the players and we reconsidered.
We felt confident going forward with Froggen and he became his own self eventually. But by then he had lost the respect from some of his teammates.
Did Froggen’s lack of commitment change over the course of the year?
Yes, definitely. I am not sure if there was a lack of commitment in the first place. If you think there is a problem, you start seeing it and that will fester in your brain. Other players felt that Froggen was busy doing other stuff rather than playing League of Legends.
That was not really the case and if you look at Froggen’s progress over the year, he actually played more and more. I think since May he has been back to his old level. One needs to understand that players also have different ways of practicing and different ways to get into their best shape.
Players like Rekkles, for example, will sit down for 16 hours and spam games making sure they are top 10 in the ladder. Others know that they would burn out if they practiced more than two hours a day.
There are different approaches and you need to acknowledge and accept that. Of course some players might have it all wrong and then you need to step in. In Froggen’s case I think it was misjudged by the team entirely. It all should have resolved itself in the talks we had with him and the team.
Plenty of work hours went into those conversations. What did they look like?
Early on there were one on one talks with different players to get to know what they felt and what problems they had. We would also make the players, who had internal issues with each other, to sit down together, clear the air and sort it out. We wanted everything out in the open rather than it being an unsaid animosity. We also had open team talks with discussions on what to change. We had a ton of ways to approach the problem – none of which worked apparently.
After all Elements managed to stay in the LCS. There were rumors of you trying to sell the spot. What can you say about it?
I think most team owners took offers or listened to how much their spot was worth behind the scenes. I talked to a lot of team owners who also received offers and considered them.
That is perfectly normal business sense. I did not pursue any of the offers, because none of them were worthwhile and none of them were serious enough for them to move forward with.
So while I listened to these various hundreds of thousands of dollars offers being thrown around, I did not get interested for any of them. I don’t think that is much different to any other team in the European LCS. I was just the one who got the rumours.
During the off-season you had to set a goal for the next season. Looking at the transfers post factum, Elements does not seem to have been involved a lot.
I don’t think there is any sense in hiding things. The team now known as Vitality in early November looked a lot like what should have been the Elements roster, but with Froggen instead of Nukeduck.
We were working on a roster featuring Cabochard, Froggen, Hjarnan, kaSing and Shaunz. We were not completely settled on the jungle role yet though – probably Shook. We talked to this lineup for about two weeks and were about to move into the final stage of negotiations.
Shaunz then decided to go with the French team, him and Cabochard being French and seeing a lot of potential in the national scene. I think the entire basis of this team revolved about Cabochard, partly because getting a good top laner is incredibly difficult in EU.
Hjarnan and kaSing would then obviously have followed them. I would not say that Elements was late to the off-season.
We had a team which then crumbled at the very last stages of negotiations. That happens and that sucks. I should have had a plan B in mind.
Since then I spent the rest of the time left trying to establish a new roster. By then I knew that unless I build a star-studded roster, Froggen will not play in EU anymore.
Did you consider recruiting Koreans during the off-season?
Yes. The whole problem with that is obviously the communication. You would have to hire more staff to deal with them.
A lot of Western players are also not necessarily geared to play with Koreans to begin with. I think they also have to come in two. There are very few Korean players who have a deep sense of the English language to a degree where they can communicate with the rest of the team.
For instance, it is a very common phenomenon now that you match the jungler and the top laner. We have seen Fnatic do it twice, we have seen other teams in NA do it.
This was also something we were looking at ever since Spring Split. Through Riot and through some of our Korean contacts we started talking to the players like Spirit and Flame.
We considered these options, but it is a whole different playing field. A very costly playing field that we did not feel would be cost-efficient. Sure, on paper we would have had a chance for a top three placement, but that is on paper and you need to build your team around it.
I think the most notable player from Korea we would have liked to work with is Piccaboo. A great support player rumored to have good English skills. A lot of people also suggested that we recruit in the Korean challenger scene.
But you have no knowledge of the players. You have no idea about how good their English is. It was too risky. We had some coaches we talked to, who preferred the Korean approach and wanted to work with us.
We talked about players like Tank – an upcoming talent from Korea. We considered it, but at the end of the day I think the right choice is to go with an all-Western team at the moment.
Elements tweeted “Fire is an Element”. Was there anything serious about this?
Not at all. That was a joke as the Elements twitter has been used to react a lot to the reddit community. This was just another one of those interactions, because it was rumored that Flame was a free agent.
You had Shook and Froggen in mind for the new lineup, even though they previously set an ultimatum. What had changed?
Well, that was also a concern of mine. It was a bit ironic seeing two players, who essentially did not want to play together a year earlier, suddenly willing to do so again.
But the time in esports is a completely different measure than time anywhere else. What happens in six months in esports can happen in five years real time. Shook learned a lot from his departure from Elements, I think.
His short time with Copenhagen Wolves might have given him a new perspective on how to behave professionally. I think he realized that the grass is not always greener on the other side. We have known since summer that he had a change in attitude.
We ourselves also realized how to work with him. You know, at no point in time there was a single individual at fault. During the downfall of Elements it was just a lot of bad attitudes and wrong approaches that came together and created a chaotic atmosphere.
With the new lineup you brought back promisQ. Why did you decide for him?
We spent a lot of time talking to people whose opinion we trust. As I was saying we thought of players like Piccaboo and Tank. When we looked at Europeans, many praised promisQ, or sprattel, how he is called now.
We always liked working with him when he was on Elements. He is a great asset to the team and has a good mentality. He is a great guy to be around. We felt like he did not have the chance to show his actual potential.
He sadly fell short in a lot of these games last year. He had good six months to practice since then and now knows what to expect from the LCS experience.
Do you think that Nyph is feeling like he still could do a better job if he stepped in himself?
Yes and no. I think Nyph has the feeling that if he was completely dedicated and motivated, he could be a top notch support player. At the same time I think he is in a stage of his life, where he is contemplating what the best future move is. With how he wants to approach the game and his life it is probably a better decision for him to be a coach or a manager.
How much was Nyph involved in the processes during off-season?
We have been in talks since October. Initially, when I had different coaches in mind depending on the roster, we talked about Nyph taking a management position. As LCS is in Berlin, it is important to have somebody you can trust, who is able to speak German.
So I told Nyph that he could be either a coach or a manager. I think he has always been the type of person that we as a company would want to work with. We just were not sure in which role.
You talked about the differences between the old and the new Elements lineup. You sounded quite optimistic. What are your goals for this season?
First of all, I think the community is way too quick in judging teams. Some competitors with lesser-known names are heavily underestimated. If there is anything that last season proved, then it is that the teams like Fnatic, who everybody deemed as relegation contender by early January 2015, suddenly went 18:0 in the Summer Split.
At the same time Elements proved that a previous number one team, which on paper did an upgrade, would suddenly end up seventh in the season.
Just because you have all the names, it does not mean that they will deliver either personally or be able to work well together.
Obviously I do not have the same old expectation of finishing first, but at the same time I have little to no fear that we will fall to the tenth place either. With a bit of luck on our side we can actually upset some of the favorites.
Where did the last split leave you emotionally? How close were you to quitting?
I definitely considered the offers that I had for the team. Ultimately I love working in esports, though. I love working with Riot and I think the LCS has a great format. This is where esports needs to move.
I needed to adjust how I worked with the team and how I am involved. I had to change my approach, because I definitely had it wrong last year. Both for the sake of the team and myself on a personal level.
I am very optimistic moving forward and I like the bunch of guys we assembled.