MAD Lions' Mac and Pad talk athlete-centric coaching, firefighting & cultivating harmony
The Fountain of Cybele in Madrid depicts the ever-eager Hippomenes on a chariot pulled by two lions, who reflect the righteous and forever equal attributes of the goddess Atalanta.
As a symbol of even distribution pulling along the ambition and drive of their leader, it makes sense that this sculpture is the basis of MAD Lions' entire brand, with the lion on their logo being one of those pulling the chariot and MAD being a shortened version of its home city; Madrid.
The entire organisation from top to bottom was built on this ethos and the connotations which are given off by the sigil.
It shows that throughout the org, every person is valued just as much as the next, for as long as they are all striving towards the same goal.
For the League of Legends team, the goal is unanimous; to continue growing and improving every day, and with that will come success. At least, this is the motto for their Head Coach James "Mac" MacCormack and Strategic Analyst Patrick "Pad" Suckow-Breum.
To celebrate signing contract extensions to continue their omnipresence for MAD Lions' LEC coaching staff, Mac and Pad sat down with GGRecon to talk philosophy, inspiration, goals, and achievements.
Every Lion has a different mane
Throughout Mac's tenure with Splyce and MAD Lions, there's been an influx of celebratory milestones for the team, notably including his favourite as the reverse sweep victory over Rogue in the LEC Spring Split Playoffs 2021, but also personal achievements for players too.
Right up there alongside the first MAD Lions silverware in Mac's greatest achievements was watching Marek "Humanoid" Brázda go toe-to-toe against Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok for Splyce at Worlds 2019, pointing out his growth in the mid-lane in a break-out year ending with a respectable bout against a walking demi-god.
And this is Mac's philosophy. It's all about the players. Every lion has a different mane.
"There's a book which Pad and I were discussing today, which we both really like, called Every Moment Matters by John O'Sullivan, and the phrase that he uses is "athlete-centric", meaning that it's kind of, in our sense, player focused in that it's tailored to meet the needs of the specific individual," Mac said.
"You know, I believe that fair treatment is not necessarily always the same treatment when it comes to interacting with people.
"I think people have different needs and that our job as coaches is to try to make sure that all of those needs are met and that the individuals on the team, who are unique and individual people, understand what those needs are from each other and help facilitate them to get the best out of each other."
Pad agrees too, highlighting the pride's unison. "With my background as a teacher, I really like having roles where I can foster people's growth, and I think this job is perfect for that," he said, now that his position in the organisation has transitioned into a Strategic Analyst, rather than Assistant Coach.
"Mac and I are super like-minded in that area. I was raised on the saying, from my mum, that "treating people differently, is treating people the same", because we are all different. We all have different needs and I've definitely always used that in my coaching."
A larger pack works quicker than a lone lion
It appears to be a system that is hammered into OverActive Media's philosophy too, that not only is every player valued at their individual status but also that the team behind the team should be just as strong and rigid as those we see on the screens.
It rings true for the MAD Lions and their two sister teams in Toronto Defiant (Overwatch League) and Toronto Ultra (Call of Duty League), the latter of whom's extensive backroom staff pool has often been praised and reflected in their growth.
For the League of Legends pride, the coaching staff have become a cornerstone of their success, and despite not having the results that they wanted in 2022, the structures and foundations have been laid on thicker for 2023 and they've begun to gel together synonymously, as seen on the field.
"It's really easy for us as long as we have a good structure and that Pad and I are doing our jobs correctly, which is to make sure that we are managing and delegating and coaching the coaches and giving them feedback," said Mac.
"As long as we are doing that correctly, we are so much more time efficient than we have been in previous years and we can cover such a broader scope of topics and we can be way ahead of time."
Not everything is always as hunky-dory as it seems though. MAD Lions are by no means an undefeated and completely polished article, and, just like with any team, there are problems to be fixed if they want to keep getting better. But, a larger pack puts out fires quicker than a lone lion.
"A lot of the time in esports you end up doing one week of firefighting. You fix all of the desperate and urgent issues where the house is on fire. Yeah. And then you go into the next week and there's a new fire to put out.
"Because we have such a big staff, we can split that where, if there are fires that need to be put out, Pad and I can do that and we can also rely on Achuu and Zeph to be supporting us in terms of making sure that we are as prepared as possible for scouting, or patch reads, or and new content we want to introduce."
Creating a culture in an international Jungle
This year, MAD Lions has continued in their hunt for international harmony. The roster has continued to rally around their king of the jungle Javier "Elyoya" Prades by pairing the Spaniard with three new arrivals in the Czech native Matyáš "Carzzy" Orság, Bulgarian-born Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov, and migrating South-Korean LCK youngster Kim "Chasy" Dong-Hyeon. The roster has five nationalities in its starting lineup (with the Belgian Yasin "Nisqy" Dinçer being the fifth) and a wealth of more European nationalities on the staff.
So, harbouring and creating a succinct culture in the organisation is quite a tough feat. But together, the backroom staff are like the chariot rider, in the way that they set the example and create a culture in an international jungle.
"The staff pool is so big that it's way more effective, in the sense that I can have a lot more control over our culture through them because with the staff it's easy for us to have kind of instant buy-in and present a united front.
"And it's so much easier because there are so many interpersonal relationships between the staff and the players and you have more good examples in the team of the type of behaviour that I would like. We're quite hard on the staff members in terms of what we expect from them when it comes to their behaviour, the way they communicate, the way that they learn, and the way that they lead by example. I think that makes things easier for us from a player perspective as well," said Mac.
The most challenging twist for both Mac and Pad was bringing in Chasy, who has undeniable talent but wasn't from a culture they were familiar with, or in Mac's terms, part of the pan-European gaming hybrid culture that MAD usually adopts.
With so many more export players appearing in different leagues nowadays, the importance of making them feel right at home is unparalleled, and for the staff at MAD Lions, they instantly hit the books when they realised that Chasy was the player they felt would be the best for the team
Pad especially went above and beyond to embed Chasy into the family though, and in particular, he has been working alongside the 21-year-old Korean to make sure his in-game culture also matches that of his European teammates.
"Probably our biggest "difficulty" with Chasy was that, in Korea culturally, you don't talk about anything in league, in-game, that isn't out of the ordinary. If it isn't out of the ordinary, you don't talk about it. And we actually had a lot of communication issues initially because that's very different from Europe.
"In Europe, you communicate pretty much anything and you update each other all of the time and give out as much information as you can to your Jungler so that he can make the correct calls. So, initially, we were a bit concerned that Chasy wasn't talking. But, we talked to him and he explained to us this was just normal in Korea. This is just how it was.
"And we talked, and we talked to him some more. We said, "can you try to communicate more things? If you know that you need your Jungler up here at a certain point in the game, can you communicate this within the game?". He's a smart boy, so as soon as he did that, he started doing it and a lot of our cultural issues within the game actually disappeared from one day to the other," said Pad.
One paw at a time
Now, MAD Lions have begun to look like a team who are finally roaring off the same hymn sheet. A second-place finish at LEC Winter 2023 showcased that they have the makings of a great team, and could push Europe - alongside G2 Esports - to a better standard, globally, than seen in previous years.
But accolades, championships, medals, and trophies aren't the goals that the Fountain of Cybele are riding for.
Instead, they just want to improve. Results will come, but personal improvements are the reigns that they are using to whip the team into shape. For Mac, it's the little things that he wants to see get better. One paw at a time will make the lions gallop towards Worlds where they can flex their manes and bite into the competition.
"I tend to view the whole results focus a bit differently. I don't really focus on expectations or "we're gonna be a top three team" or whatever. I tend to prefer focusing much more heavily on the process. And my goal is just that we improve every single day.
"I try to break that down into as many of the actionable steps that I have control over as possible. "Do we have a good preparation for the weekend? Do we have a good team culture? Are we approaching scrims with all of our basic preparation done? Do we have a goal every day for the team? Are we introducing new concepts to the team? Do we have a growth mindset coming into the block today? How are we optimizing the way that we're having discussions? How are we optimizing our reviews?
"We're trying to optimize every single tiny little thing that we can possibly optimize and get that 1% better every single day.
"Over the course of the year, if you can do that every day, which is hard, then you're gonna end up being a really good team."
For Spring, Mac identified adaptability and consistency as the main two micro-steps that need ironing out for MAD Lions, and with that, they can push on and become a real threat in Europe, and on the global stage.
Mac and Pad have now extended their contracts with MAD Lions until the end of 2024, as they continue to refine the playbook and harmonise the roster.