MPL-ID: EVOS Legends coach Zeys shares lessons from their failed title defence
Beyond mechanical skill and strategy, a key ingredient for success is a team's spirit and hunger.
EVOS Legends made Mobile Legends: Bang Bang history in 2019.
They won their first MPL-ID title at the fourth time trying, defeating fierce rivals RRQ 3-1. They then went on to win the inaugural MLBB World Championship (M1) by triumphing over RRQ in a seven-game grand final thriller. It ended years of languishing at the highest echelons of competitive MLBB but with no significant title for which to show.
However, after the 2019 competitive season ended, the White Tigers experienced squad changes which would heavily impact the team. Oura would leave the team in January 2020, and Donkey would take a backseat in Season 5 – playing only 8 games during the Regular Season and none at all during the Playoffs.
With just three of the title-winning squad remaining, EVOS Legends had a rough start to their title defence. They lost their opening match against RRQ unceremoniously 2-0, and although their performance picked up, it was by no means smooth sailing. The team was inconsistent – sometimes dominant over other strong teams, but sometimes falling meekly to lesser opponents.
Bjorn “Zeys” Ong, EVOS Legends’ coach, shared that one of the biggest lessons the team learnt through the difficult campaign was to never back down. “The only thoughts that should be running in our heads in every game should be thoughts of winning, nothing else. Even if we’re behind, the spirit we’ve cultivated is one of never giving up.”
This indomitable spirit took the team to Game 5 in the MPL Indonesia grand final match against RRQ despite having the odds stacked against them. Zeys remarked that RRQ’s greatest threat would be their experience and team chemistry. Tellingly, he added that “their roster is pretty much the same as last season. Even LJ was on the team last season, although he was playing as a substitute.”
The online-only Playoffs also affected the team. “We personally prefer playing in front of a crowd. That’s mainly due to us having a significant fanbase. I’d say it gives us an edge. They are the sixth player and the psychological and morale boost they provide is positive.”
In his regular calm and composed tone, Zeys shared that he was satisfied with the team’s performance and proud of what the current squad achieved. “Our season went better than expected. Most of our players had issues and there were internal matters that were obstacles to our continual improvement. Some players had to do national exams and were gone for three to four weeks. We took a long break after M1, so we had only about two months to prepare for Season 5.”
He reflected that it was difficult to ensure esports players consistently performed at a high level. Acknowledging the gap between EVOS and RRQ versus the other MPL-ID teams, Zeys identifies the cause as a lack of experienced and trained coaches.
“Take RRQ for example. Their first-team are five seasoned players. For them to remain at the same standard as last season says a lot about the team and Jamesss’ impact. For a player to reach 80% of his full potential is easy but pushing from 80 to 82 – now that’s tough. That’s also where coaches come in.”
However, he acknowledged that building a team and maintaining a high-performing intensity is no mean feat, neither is it all on the coach. Humbly admitting that his shortcomings, he shared that his biggest personal takeaway from a gruelling season is that esports players are fundamentally still people and are therefore complex.
“I’ve learnt that people's goals and ambitions change and that must be factored in when selecting rosters. Our players weren't as hungry about winning as before. The fire that burned when we won our first titles has mellowed. People’s priorities change, and some are more focused on other aspects of life. It’s something I must consider as we look to bounce back from this.”
It seems that the Singaporean coach has kept his fire alive. There is a steely resolve in his voice to keep pressing on. “Our journey isn’t over. We’ll take a break, and then get ready for MSC. It’s time to show people that we deserve to win.”
But Zeys knows that it’s not just about him or the players. EVOS lives and breathes through overwhelming support of their fans. Sending out a plea to continue standing with the White Tigers, he promises that “we’ll come back stronger and we’ll be champions again.”
EVOS Legends and RRQ Hoshi will represent Indonesia at the upcoming MLBB Southeast Asia Cup (MSC) 2020 in Manila from 10-14 June.