Cloud9 entered the Apex Legends Global Series Split Two Playoffs in late April as one of the favorites from North America, if not in the entire field. The trio of Zach Mazer, Paris “StayNaughty” Gouzoulis, and Mac “Albralelie” Beckwith form one of the most fearsome squads to fight in the game and they entered the Stockholm LAN as one of only seven North American teams to win multiple lobbies over the course of both Pro League splits.
Then, Zach tested positive for COVID, forcing the team to field former Kungarna IGL Martin “Graceful” Wongphrom as a substitute. The team still did well with Graceful, finishing 10th overall. But they feel there’s far more to accomplish when the ALGS Championship rolls around in July.
“People haven’t seen the potential of the full C9 roster,” C9 coach Jamison “PVPX” Moore told Dot Esports. “I don’t know if that’s a surprise to people or not… maybe that will be a bit of a surprise, how much stronger C9 gets if we get to play with our full roster.”
When you talk to PVPX, it’s clear he doesn’t lack confidence and he’s not afraid to share his mind. That’s born out of his years of experience as a content creator, coach, and player in various titles from Apex to VALORANT and Overwatch. But he’s also not arrogant or speaking just to hear himself talk. Instead, he channels his outspoken nature into making continual improvements to his own team and pushing for improvements to Apex as a whole.
As a coach, that outspoken nature comes in handy when giving instructions to his team. And while coaches might not get the same level of attention as players in the Apex scene, that doesn’t take away from how vital they can be.
Coaching in Apex isn’t necessarily as easily understood as coaching in other games, nor is it as common. Most North American teams don’t even have coaches, with Team Liquid’s Haris “Hodsic” Hodzic being one of the only exceptions. In a battle royale, every game comes with hundreds, if not thousands, of variables that can resist the best-laid plans. Compare that to VALORANT, where PVPX caught the coaching bug. The number of opposing players never changes, the maps remain the same from round to round, and teams can plan out where they will be on the map, as well as what guns and utility they can use each round. In Apex? Forget it.
“I think that’s where the big discrepancy is with people thinking coaches are useless in battle royales,” PVPX said. “As a coach, you can’t always predict the exact scenarios that people are going to run into. It’s heavily on the IGL and the players to make those decisions in-game. But as a coach you can build their thought processes and the ideology of what their goals are supposed to be. You can help them make those decisions on their own.”
This approach to coaching, trying to equip players with the ability to make better decisions for themselves in-game as opposed to simply listing out set plays and rotations for players to carry out, served C9 greatly at Stockholm. Without their normal IGL, the squad was left both with a new player to try to bring up to speed and without the normal person who made their rotational decisions. Graceful stepped into the team and took over the decision-making for small, moment-to-moment plays toward the end of games, such as when to fight and how the team should position themselves in the final circles, according to PVPX. Meanwhile, Albralelie took more responsibility in determining the team’s macro strategies in-game, calling the team’s rotations and strategies for different zones.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t any plays the team discussed with PVPX beforehand. In fact, the team used a very low-tech way to remember some of those strategies they might be missing with Zach gone.
“At LAN, we actually had all of our plays on a piece of paper as a reminder,” PVPX said. The playsheet helped Albralelie easily recall information and strategies for different rotations and zones, and allowed him to more easily slide into a dual-IGL role with Graceful.
Some aspects of coaching are more straightforward than others. Sometimes, it’s as simple as discovering new loot routes for players when dropping to save them precious seconds when they’re trying to work their way from their landing area to a game’s final circles. Other parts aren’t quite as easy, like trying to predict how teams that land around yours rotate and coming up with myriad contingency plans for all the different possibilities any one game of Apex can bring.
And coaching on LAN? That’s a whole different beast.
Generally, coaching Apex consists of watching players’ games, as well as looking at the points of view of other players to better prepare for what other teams might do in the future, PVPX says. While coaches can’t talk to players during online matches, they can see what’s going on and get a feel for what other teams are doing at the same time, constantly looking for ways to improve the team’s performance. In Stockholm, on the other hand, PVPX didn’t have any access to other teams’ POVs or even his own monitor. Instead, he sat behind his squad and observed how games progressed from their monitors.
Due to these constraints, coaching in a LAN environment becomes more of a matter of prep work and building a team’s thought processes to succeed. During LAN competition itself, the coach is there to give their squad reminders, help settle players down, and maintain the confidence necessary to tell a team what went wrong in a match and how to improve.
For the time being, all of C9’s efforts toward improving as a team are made with the ALGS Championship in Raleigh firmly in mind. That championship will be played on a different patch altogether, with a host of changes introduced to the game with season 13. And while most attention in the competitive scene will focus on whether Newcastle can shake up the game’s meta, PVPX looks at a different change he believes will help the future of competitive Apex.
“This is the first time in Apex history that we’ve had an actual competitive environment outside of customs or tournaments that can help people play together as a team,” PVPX said.
He was part of a group of pro players and streamers who gave feedback on the game’s ranked mode over the past several months. Many of the suggestions came from those feedback sessions, such as tier demotions and a system by which kill points are shared throughout the squad. Combined with higher RP entry costs, the changes completely shook up the ranked experience at almost every level of the game.
PVPX believes those changes will only strengthen the competitive scene, helping players improve at the game and make their way into the professional ranks. He says Apex was often played more like a competitive deathmatch, rather than the battle royale that it is. And the ranked experience more closely resembling the pro experience should pay dividends in expanding the player pool in the lower tiers of professional play, like the Challenger Circuit.
There are still changes PVPX wants to see made to the game, of course. Anyone who’s followed his Twitter account will know that. He thinks the height Valkyrie can achieve with her ultimate should be nerfed and that gold knockdown shields should not exist as they currently do in ranked.
On the other hand, it’s unmistakable while talking to PVPX to not hear the enthusiasm he has for Apex or the optimism he has for the game’s immediate future.
Looking forward to Raleigh, PVPX maintains that optimism and confidence and shared inside information on C9’s Storm Point plans. He hinted at C9 possibly moving away from Launch Pad, where C9 have landed for several months now, and closer to a POI with an IMC Armory nearby. The new Armories on Storm Point can turn into a death trap for some players. But in pro play, where contesting drop spots is somewhat rare, they can give teams a significant advantage.
Some might say there are too many ideas and theories rolling around in PVPX’s mind; he’s constantly looking for ways to improve the game, his play, and his team. But he sounds absolutely certain of one thing.
“With Zach, I’ll be honest with you… just synergy-wise, and our playstyle as a team, if we had Zach [at the Split Two playoffs], I think everything would’ve been so perfect that we would’ve walked away with a dub that tournament,” PVPX said.
With the C9 roster set to compete in Raleigh for their first LAN event as a full team, we’ll see in July just how well placed that confidence is.