Guild Esports’ Gregan: “When we were playing well, we were scary”

August 10, 2020 - 20:55
Rocketeers / Interviews / RLCS /

During the first weekend of the RLCS X European regional tournament, Guild Esports barely snuck into the second stage following an up-or-down weekend. Just one week later, during the Top 16 Swiss bracket on Saturday, Guild Esports might have been the strongest team in the whole tournament, sweeping both Dignitas and FC Barcelona en route to claiming a spot in the Top 8 and playing for it all on Sunday.

Granted, Sunday was a different story, with the team going out in that first match—but there were two important takeaways from the weekend. First, there’s clearly room for improvement as this team learns how to become a cohesive, consistent unit. And second, Guild has the potential to be an offensive juggernaut during this newly-extended season featuring the new RLCS format.

Kyle “Scrub Killa” Robertson and coach Mike “Gregan” Ellis have been here before, winning the Season 7 Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) title with Renault Vitality. Both departed that org near the start of this year and now find themselves back together under Guild Esports, a brand new organization owned in part by soccer legend David Beckham—and they’ve brought in the former Team Singularity tandem of Joseph “Noly” Kidd and Thomas “Th0” Binkhorst to complete the team.

It’s early still, but Saturday’s flashes of brilliance suggest that there are immense potential rewards in front of this team if they put in the work. There may be no better person to pull that potential out of them than Gregan, given not only his resume as a coach but also his holistic approach to health, wellness, and performance. In fact, they’re heading right from the regional into a bootcamp this week to jumpstart that process.

Earlier today, we caught up with Gregan to discuss the weekend, the new RLCS X format, how this team came together, and what he sees ahead for Guild Esports.

Rocketeers: How would you evaluate your team’s performance in the first European regional?

Mike “Gregan” Ellis: I would say if you go into the event and someone tells you you’re gonna make Top 8, you’re always happy—but every time you get past a stage and perform as well as we did in Stage 2 and Top 16, you always start getting aspirations for higher. I think if you’d asked me at the beginning, I would’ve been very happy with Top 8, but once we started performing as well as we did, you start to think: Actually, we could win this whole thing.

I’m very comfortable with this team knowing that it will be a minor/major/World Championship-winning team once we put the work in. I think we’ve just got a lot of stuff to work on, whether it’s practice, whether it’s mindset, whether it’s consistency, whatever it is: we’re going to work on it, and we’ve got an amazing bootcamp about to start, which we’re going to really try to do everything we need to do to be the best team possible.

What particular areas of improvement do you think you’ll be focusing on the most?

I think bootcamp is a really good place to work hard, because you’ve got that motivation of your teammates around you and you’re willing to go that extra mile—not just in-game, but out-of-game stuff. You’re willing to look after your health better, willing to have a better schedule, and willing to start up a match with your teammates because of the fact that you’re all sat next to each other. It’s a lot easier.

I also think with the bootcamp coming up, it’s going to be a real chance for us to work on our mindset. Any competitive environment, when you’re relying heavily on just voices, can be quite taxing when things go wrong, especially with the longer format now in RLCS. You get very tired over a long day. Having that smiling face next to you, that fist bump—whatever it is, it’s just gonna give you that easier reset going forward.

In future events, when we’re not together in person, you’ll be able to visualize and remember that feeling of what it was like when you were in person together, and I think that’s something this team is missing as Noly and Th0 haven’t experienced competing on LAN together. Scrub has, but not with these guys, and the team just hasn’t had that in-person experience together, which is so vital for a team to improve.

Now that you’ve been through this first regional event, what is your take on the new RLCS X structure?

I really like it. I think it’s so much more content for people to watch and so many more games for us to play and prove ourselves. One thing that we’ve had to learn and adapt from is just how much longer the days are and how much more endurance you need to perform at your best the whole day.

When you compare a preparation day for RLCS in the past, it was personal warmup for 30+ minutes, a scrim for about 45 minutes at least, and sort of mentally preparing yourself throughout the day—and then you play and you’re done in 30 minutes. Whereas now, the preparation is happening all the way through the tournament, and by the end of it, you’ve been preparing/performing/preparing/performing for about 8 hours sometimes.

It’s just such a different level of intensity and also, there are no free games. You don’t go into it and expect a free game, which you might have done in the past with the longer tournaments with open qualifiers, like big DreamHack events. In the early rounds, you always thought of it like: This is our warmup now. Whereas now, first game on, you’re having to perform at your absolute best. It’s very taxing and there’s a lot of new teams to evaluate and prepare against, and just no free games to be able to ease off the gas.

How did this team come together at Guild Esports with you involved?

Back in early March, I got connected with the early workings of Guild before it was fully fleshed out, and they were really looking to start off in Rocket League on announcement. They were looking to do it based in London, so I was connected through my friends at eUnited, where I was doing some freelance work.

So I started scouting for them. They said, “Hey, at the end of this, if the scouting goes well and you want to join us, we’ll be looking for someone to manage and coach the team, so we’d love to have you onboard.” It’s a very similar structure to how it worked when I scouted for Vitality about two and a half years ago, and they said the same thing.

I thought: You know, this is going to be a really good opportunity to form that team, but I want to work on it all the way through and take them to the top. At first, I must admit, I was just thinking scouting only, team—we’ll decide later whether it makes sense for me. But hearing David Beckham was going to be onboard, knowing that it was going to be Scrub, Noly, and Th0, it was a no-brainer for me: I had to go with this team.

Add on top of that Guild’s holistic mindset towards training esports players very much aligns with mine, whereby we’ve got so many plans on how we’re going to look after not just the player in game, but outside of the game with their health and mindset, and their general wellbeing.

Can you talk a little bit more about that approach to wellbeing, in terms of both physical and mental health, and the sort of impact you think it has on players?

Esports is really looking now to develop that little edge that’s not just about the in-game approach, and you can see it already in big games like League of Legends, CS:GO, and Dota—and particularly some orgs focus on it more than others. The challenge we’ve got is that it’s applied science from sport into esports, so none of it is necessarily proven but it’s applicable. And so we’re trying to find out what the best approach is.

Some teams are going very all-in on getting very fit players. There’s no evidence to prove that being incredibly fit helps you perform, but there’s evidence out there to prove that being healthy with a healthy level of fitness helps you to concentrate and all those kinds of things. We’re trying to work out what the best approach is, and we’re very set on getting the best people possible involved in Guild to help us with the performance psychology, as well as the health and fitness.

Just in the time that I was away from coaching any team, I started a personal trainer course which unfortunately I couldn’t complete because of COVID, because I needed to do some in-gym stuff. Hopefully I’ll be finishing that one off. I also connected with some sports psychologists to learn and understand performance psychology, and I’m hoping to be the generalist that’s needed for the Rocket League team to bring in the experts on all the different angles, and apply them to the team.

Performance psychology is definitely applicable in esports; health and general mental health, social health, and physical health will all give those small edges required for improvement. In terms of specific-to-esports health and fitness, like postural hand coordination, avoiding injuries like carpal tunnel, stuff like that—I think that’s all being researched right now and is something that’s going to take time before we can really apply it correctly in esports.

You’ve worked with Scrub Killa since the start of his RLCS career. What sort of growth and maturation have you seen from him over the seasons?

Everyone’s seen Scrub grow up, and that’s something we all want to know: what happens in the background. His general mindset towards competing is he now knows he can win. Before, he believed he could win, whereas now he knows he can win. He’s willing to push himself that much harder now, as he knows what it took to be world champion.

Also, I think he now shows a lot more confidence in a team in terms of, he’s much more willing to speak openly like: Let’s do this, let’s win this. When he first came onboard, he was the new player, so he was letting the teammates around him sort of boost him up with confidence. I can tell you, from Noly and Th0’s point of view, they spoke to me after one of my matches and said: “Scrub was really great to play with because he was so positive and encouraging when we were competing.”

I think that’s something that he’s definitely learned and improved with: his ability to perform under pressure, but also to perform with a team under pressure and boost everyone and play the best they can.

Scrub Killa (right) won in RLCS Season 7 with Renault Vitality, coached by Gregan | Credit: Psyonix

What sort of potential do you see from this roster with these specific players together?

Well, we’re about to go into a very mechanical meta, I believe. We saw BDS do very well in multiple tournaments recently. We’ve seen it in North America with NRG dominating over there. So I believe that mechanics is going to be the most important part of Rocket League now. Mechanics are something you can work on and develop and improve, but ultimately it takes a long time to get to the level that these top players who are very mechanical are.

The fact that we’ve got Noly, Th0, and Scrub, who are all known at some point to have been very mechanical, I think that’s the exciting future. And to be honest, they are all very aware of their need to improve their rotations, which is where I come in to help them link together as a team. It’s very exciting that we’ve got three players who have already got that high level of mechanics and know what it takes to be good mechanically, and are willing to keep developing their mechanics—but to then have me on board to link them together as a teamwork-focus is going to really increase their potential.

I think we can all agree, watching RLCS X: when we were playing well, we were scary. It’s about finding that and playing well every game, and that’s going to be the real challenge. That’s what we’re working on.

One thing I thought was interesting about the team announcement was that you are going to help establish an academy team, which is something that we haven’t seen a lot of in Rocket League in the past given the previous esports structure. How do you see that working and what do you have planned in that space?

This is something not just for Rocket League, but for Guild as a whole. We’re going to be creating an academy structure that brings in young talent and helps them develop into pros, whether it’s within Guild or whether it’s pros to disperse into other teams. This is really exciting because we’ve got David Beckham onboard—he came up through an academy and he’s worked on multiple academy structures in the past, so he’s going to be really hands-on with that to help develop the academy structure.

It’s also quite new in esports to have a well-fleshed-out academy structure, and at the moment we are working on some incredible details on how we’re going to fit that across the country. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s very exciting, and it’s something that everyone should be looking out for. Academies are definitely the future of esports. It’s just finding the right way to do it, and I think we’ve got some great plans as well.

Ultimately, what do you think it’s going to take to make this Rocket League team a European powerhouse?

I think one word is “consistency.” That’s the key now in Rocket League sports, with so many games required to win and not just one-off events here and there, whether it’s one game a week or whether it’s one playoff weekend. It’s so much more taxing on the consistency of the team, so that’s the area we need to improve on. We know we have a winning formula when we play our best, and we know we have the ability to beat anyone—but it’s about finding that performance regularly and that’s what is gonna make us a European powerhouse.

Andrew is the Lead Editor of Rocketeers, and has been covering Rocket League esports since RLCS S1 for publications such as Red Bull Esports, Esports Insider, The Esports Observer, and Waypoint. He is also currently the Content Lead for The Esports Journal magazine and has written about games, gadgets, etc. for 100+ publications since 2006.