Araneae: Fnatic coach talks League of Legends

We talk counterpicking, critiquing and Korea with a League of Legends legend.

Fnatic coach Araneae talks to his team at League of Legends London at Wembley Arena
© Philippa Warr

Alvar 'Araneae' Aleñar was announced as Fnatic's League of Legends team coach on the first day of the LCS London trip. The former Millennium jungler now spends his days on his university studies in Madrid and evenings giving valuable feedback and advice to Cyanide, Rekkles, YellOwStaR, sOAZ and xPeke as they scrim, train and compete.

Red Bull managed to pull him aside at Wembley Arena to chat rogue Ziggs picks, critiquing friends, and why he's so interested in the Korean scene – read on to find out what life's like for a pro after hanging up their mouse...

What's different about watching matches when you're a coach? What are you looking for?

When [Fnatic are] playing here in the LCS I can't really go in front of people because I get too nervous, so I prefer to watch on my screen. I'm writing everything they're doing – the bad and the good. After the game I congratulate them if they win, or try to motivate them of they lose. Then, that same day I try to get an hour or 45 minutes to analyse the game. I put the video on and watch it minute by minute. We talk bans and picks and whether they did what I said and followed the plan.After that we go through what I wrote down. I also talk itemisations – what items they're going for and why one and not another.

That's LCS. Training is different because every day they play four or five, maybe even seven or eight games. I watch all of that. They're shorter matches and I write about 10 or 15 lines about what they're doing. I especially try to take screenshots and upload them, so I can talk about that screenshot. Like, if someone is not following a goal I can take a screen and upload it, then ask them what happened.

© Riot Games

So what was the feedback from Saturday's match against Gambit?

Even though [Fnatic] won the game I was pretty mad. They didn't follow the plan we had. I predicted every single pick the enemy was going to do, so we react on those picks with our own. But the team was a bit scared of one pick, so they decided to change it, and it was a bit harder for them to end the game. They were ahead all game but it wasn't enough to close out the game fast. They had some trouble and struggled a bit in the mid-game. That's why it took so long to end and why I wasn't really happy about the game.

Which pick was it?

We said for xPeke to pick last for mid-lane and we thought about a counter for Nidalee, but he went for a safer pick, probably his best one, Ziggs. Even though it was a really strong pick, against Nidalee they can stall the game forever and that's what Gambit did. They stalled the game for like 40 minutes.

What's it like transitioning from pro to coach?

I stopped playing that much because I'm on exams – I'm at university right now doing industrial engineering. In my free time, in the morning, I go to the library and study for six to eight hours, then when I come back they tell me when they're scrimming, and I watch the scrims from three or four until nine or ten. Then I have a break for eating or whatever then studying until bed.

The decision was easier because I had something to do but if I didn't have studies I'd be a bit frustrated because I'd keep playing the game and want to be pro level again. Thanks to my studies I have something to do and don't have much time to play.

How do you deliver criticism without sounding mean?

It's hard. I've been a friend with xPeke for four years and with sOAZ and Yellowstar, Lauri [Cyanide] as well. Rekkles I met a bit later but I've known them so long and people think I'm not going to shout at them or be a good coach. That's not true. I have had so many arguments with pretty much all of them! After a couple of weeks dealing with them I realised that sometimes you can analyse what they're doing, how they're playing, their rotation or the metagame they're doing, but in terms of mistakes or praising, it's somehow better to do it in private.

I try to coach them by Teamspeak and Skype. They're in Germany and I'm in Spain. We go on Teamspeak and they play. I listen to them and try to give them tips and stuff. Then I go to Skype and if someone has made an individual mistake and I have a screenshot, I don't show it to everyone. If I show it to everyone and people start thinking 'This guy is making mistakes all the time', they will probably change their vision of him. I'm trying to avoid that by talking in private. I can talk with the team about why they went with an item – that's something we talk about all together – the opinion of xPeke or the opinion of Rekkles [or the others] is going to be good. But in terms of individual mistakes, I'd rather tell them privately. With that kind of stuff I avoid future problems.

How long have you been working with Fnatic?

A couple of weeks. Officially, since yesterday [Saturday, June 21], unofficially, probably for three or four weeks. They were testing me because they weren't sure I would be a good coach or not. After the test period we started talking about an offer, and I came to London to meet all the people and accept the offer.

Are you feeling positive about it?

I feel really positive. It's a new step on my ladder, being a coach. As I said, I'm an engineer and in the future I would like to work at some kind of company and I'd like a high position. Right now, dealing with five guys and trying to make them work the way I want is a good thing, a good mindset for me.

© Riot Games

What changes have you seen in the last few weeks?

When I left Millennium I had three offers from LCS teams to join as coach, and plenty of offers to join as a player or coach for amateur teams in regions from Brazil to North America. But I wanted to join Fnatic because I know how they act and who they are. We can get mad with each other because if someone has an opinion and someone has another opinion, sometimes it's not that easy with young people. Still, I really know them and I like all of them. It's easier to make them correct mistakes. When you tell them something you can see in the next game they've already improved it. Every single mistake they make, I tell them, I write it three times in Skype, and the next game there's no mistake, they already corrected it. It's brilliant.

How closely have you been working with their manager, Oliver Steer?

I just try to work with the team. Outside of the game Oliver and I try to work together to make them happy and motivated.

He's been trying to get them to the gym, I think...

That's a perfect example. I'll probably do that when I go to the gaming house because I'm really motivated. Waking them up, going running together. But he's more focused on the Riot stuff. I talk to Oliver a lot about the attitude of players. I'm trying to focus more on in-game things. I'm trying out some psychology as well – to have a brief talk with all of them to find out how they're feeling and work on that outside gaming life.

Why do you think Fnatic decided now was the time for a coach?

In the past they were always a top team without anyone else being around but they realised when they went to All Star that when they played a top Korean team, they got crushed by them. They realised it's not enough right now with only five guys. They're playing 12 hours per day, but how can you improve if another region is better because you have no time to watch them? I try to watch Koreans and if there's a game, I like I send it to Fnatic and tell them to watch it, check the picks and check the bans. I also keep track of the Korean players, what the AD carries are playing, what the junglers are playing, and the supports are playing.

When you have five guys, if someone made a mistake who's going to say so? You could say someone made a mistake but who has the truth, and who has the right to say what is the good call? So having five guys is hard but if you have another person, he's almost always going to be right because he's not the one being influenced by emotion. I can watch it [as an outsider]. Another reason they called me is because they thought I had a good understanding of the game. I focus on analysing and watching games and the metagame. They thought I would be a good addition.