TSM Raven speaks to esports.gg ahead of the ALGS Championship in Birmingham.
TSM Raven has helped spearhead a TSM revival in the ALGS. While TSM have always been one of the strongest teams in Apex Legends, they have reached a new level of performance and consistency since the Strategic Coach came onboard just after the 2022 ALGS Championship in Raleigh.
That level of performance has been especially apparent at the two in person LAN events in London. TSM won the Split One playoffs, and took second place at the Split Two playoffs.
esports.gg spoke to TSM Raven ahead of the ALGS Championship about the secret to their consistency, the Season 18 meta changes and more.
TSM Raven feels he is the best Strategic Coach in the world
It has been frankly remarkable that so few teams have won an ALGS LAN event. In a game filled with 'RNG' and unpredictability only TSM and DarkZero (formerly Reignite) have LAN titles to their name. How have TSM stayed so consistent at LAN events?
"Well, it's definitely a combination of my players being the best in the world. And then me being very good at what I do. So, it's hard to mess up with that combination! It definitely sounds like I have a little bit of ego, but I've backed it up with a first and second place since coming in right away. I'm pretty sure I'm allowed to say that!
"So if you have the best players in the world, and you have the best Strategic Coach in the world then it is hard to go wrong."
Success brings pressure
There is always huge expectation on TSM. Any time results dip even an inch below their high standards, people start talking and speculating as to why. It was almost impossible to browse Reddit and Twitter without reading commentary on TSM during their poor spell in the ALGS Pro League.
TSM Raven feels that his roster are completely comfortable in a LAN environment.
"I mean, sure, there's definitely expectations for us to win the whole thing, right? Especially because we were so close last time. It's nothing that we haven't been able to handle. I don't really feel like the pressure at LAN has ever stopped us in any way.
"These players are LAN proven. They don't get nervous at LAN. It's a pretty comfortable environment for us. By the time we get to LAN, I'm very confident that we will get top two. Maybe top three, in a worst case scenario."
TSM Raven feels that Season 18 will have a big impact
Something that both TSM and DarkZero have done is maintain success through several different metas. There has been a range of teams that excel in a particular meta, but fall away as the meta shifts. So far, TSM have risen to the challenge and adapted to whatever the game has thrown at them.
However, Season 18 has brought huge changes to the game. Almost all of the changes in the recent update are significant to the ALGS specifically. TSM Raven describes the impact on the ALGS as "drastic".
"So the loot changes are a pretty big deal because some pois had enough loot to not have to, for example, craft after looting their POI.
"Take Wall, which is where TSM lands at on Storm Point. The whole theme of Wall, for example, was that you had enough loot, where if you had zone near you, you could just play zone. Or, if zone was like really far, you could play in like a gatekeep-y sort of way. Where you would still rotate zone one but be ahead of 'edge teams'. You could hold them out with Catalyst and sort of be like this impenetrable wall.
But now that they've nerfed loot and armors, that means that sometimes we have to take a detour to craft, or we have to spend more time crafting. That's just an example, but across the board it hurts."
"Honeypot" POI's are even stronger after loot nerf
"[The changes] hurts more for zone or gatekeep-y POIs that could early rotate just based off the loot they had. Of course it also makes it so that POIs with "honeypot" loot or guaranteed armors aren't affected as much. Although those spawn rates did get touched, it's not as drastic as the [nerf to] the POI's without that."
Ring Console changes will have a huge impact on the ALGS Championship
Another significant change to the game that will be felt at the ALGS Championship has been to the spawn rates of Survey Beacons, Ring Consoles and Crafters.
Until Season 18, these items had set rates and exclusions. For instance, you would not get neighbouring POI's having crafting. Additionally, some Ring Consoles could not spawn at the same time - famously impacting NRG at Staging during the Split 2 Playoffs.
Now, all of these rules are gone. Every object has the same chance to spawn with no conditions or exclusions. This can result in situations like one side of the map having crafting at almost every POI, and the other side having no crafting at all.
"The beacons changes are massive too. There was some POIs that had over 90% spawn rates for beacons on Worlds Edge. Now they're finding themselves having to either hit a beacon on rotate or just 'take the L' on rotating early and having to craft up, especially if they don't get good armors, right?
"So there's a lot more worst case scenarios now for zone POIs where they don't get a beacon and they also don't get good loot. Playing around that is going to be extremely important for a lot of those teams, especially us too.
"There's a lot of POIs that actually got buffed with the beacon changes, right? So you have POI's like Geyser, Staging, Landslide that got their beacon spawn rates buffed. You can actually play more of an honest game from those POI's now. Across the board, it did level at the playing field. But some POI's definitely got nerfed, those POI's that did get nerfed are going to have to adapt."
TSM Raven feels that changes came too close to Champs
One of the most difficult balances for a live service game with an esport is around when to release major changes. Unlike some games, the ALGS is currently played on the live version of the game. There is no separate ALGS-only client as their has been in the past.
Respawn and EA want the ALGS to reflect the current game. For example, if a viewer sees their favourite team make an amazing Revenant play, but it's actually the old Revenant they are using then that would not be a good advertisement for the game.
Season 18 released just 29 days before the opening matches of the ALGS Championship. TSM Raven feels that there has not been enough time to adjust and adapt before the event gets underway in Birmingham.
"It's far too close. I'm not someone who hates change, I actually quite encourage change. But the problem is, if your POI is just dramatically worse now because of these changes, you want time to go and contest a new POI and then also go learn that POI.
"That's because when you're contesting, it throws off your early game timing. So you can't practice the macro. But the problem is when they add this change three weeks before a $2,000,000 LAN, there's no time to go contest a new POI and then also learn it.
"There are measures in other esports used so that teams don't have to deal with this. So, it's pretty disappointing that Respawn just like... doesn't care about that but it is what it is. Gotta adapt."
Why do teams need so long to adapt?
Something that might not be immediately apparent is the amount of work and preparation that goes behind the choice to change POI. The work needed requires time, and TSM Raven feels that there was not enough time available for teams to make a change if they felt it was needed.
"First, you pick a new POI that you want to contest. Then you have to 'Lab' a contest, and then you have to schedule contest practice. Ideally you want to run those contest practises like before you have to contest in scrims. Then you have to contest in scrims, which against a bad team might not take too long, sure. But if it's a good POI, chances are it's a very good team so that might take a couple of weeks.
"After that you have to learn the macro, the rotates the timings etc. In my opinion that takes quite a while because the problem is in scrims, is you don't get to choose the zones that you practise, right? So it's just a toss up like you could go a couple of months without practising some zones or a couple of weeks or whatever. You don't get to choose what zones you practice.
"The practice tools in this game are so limited. It's just completely infeasible, right? Like, it's completely unfeasible to find a new POI and do all that within three weeks. If you're actually contesting a good team."
TSM Raven reveals the unseen work of coaching
More and more teams have added coaches and analysts to their rosters ahead of the ALGS Championship. NRG and OpTiC, two of the biggest rosters without a coach at the Split 2 Playoffs, have added iShiny and Loopy respectively.
There is a large overlap between coaches and analysts in Apex Legends. There are a wide range of approaches, with not a lot known or shared about what Coaches do day to day.
TSM Raven set out what his "9-5" looks like when coaching TSM.
"[My job] really depends on what is going on in terms of changes to the game. If there's a lot that's been changed then I'll be labbing a lot. I might be playing ranked to test out characters or comps. I might be in customs to test out new rotates because legend changes impacts macro a lot for example. So I might be doing a lot of that.
"If everything [with the game] is stable, we'll just scrim both blocks 9:00 to 2:30 PM. Then, I VOD review by myself a lot of the times right after scrims. I'll come back to them with feedback and what we need to address and what we need to do. If there's like a lot of problems or a lot of things that we need to address, then we'll do a team VOD review later in the day.
TSM have a solid foundation for their gameplay
"The majority of the frustration is right after we die in scrims. So VOD review is always pretty chill even if we do poorly. But I also don't want people to think that we don't value VOD review and that's why we don't do it all the time.
"We have such a solid base of gameplay because we've landed our two pois [for a long time], we have our roles. We can just have conversations without having to get into a call, all of us at the same time. If there's, like, major changes, we do VOD review more often and we'll get into customs or whatever."
How much can a coach change during a tournament?
LAN events are when coaches get the biggest spotlight. However, according to TSM Raven LAN is when he has the least impact on the team. His job is to get TSM prepared to win, by the time they step out onto the stage, his job is done.
"This last LAN I did pretty much nothing to be quite honest. The thing is my job is getting them prepared leading up to LAN, my job is putting in that time leading up to this 3-4 day tournament. So once you get to LAN, there's just very little that you can change overnight. You can't dramatically change things overnight, it's not possible.
"So it's when I get to LAN I'm literally there to just keep the vibes up pretty much. That's like my main job at LAN. Otherwise, 95% of my job is just everything leading up to LAN. That's where I put in my hours."
TSM Raven accidentally entered Apex coaching
But how did TSM Raven find his way to TSM? Raven's career began with 'GSD' in the EMEA region. There was also been spells with teams like NRG and GMT before Raven joined TSM last summer.
"This is totally accidental. I had no intentions of being in esports or ever wanting to be in this industry at all. I don't know exactly what I'd be doing otherwise. Before Apex I was doing stem research, but it wasn't totally my thing. I've tried a lot of different things!
"I've realised I'm not someone who's ever going to like commit to one thing. I honestly just think I'm going to be like a curator of sidequests."
From Twitch chatter to team analyst
Raven joined up with GSD through Gnaske. An initial inquiry developed into a fully fledged analyst position.
"During COVID I just had a ridiculous amount of free time. Before that, I was just a spectator. I'd watched competitive Apex, I just enjoyed it. I was spending more time in streams and watching competitive Apex. I was in Gnaske's chat and he made it seem like there was something about zones that viewers didn't know or people didn't know or even pros didn't know.
"So I was like, I'm curious what he means. He's being very esoteric about it. I'll start documenting zones and trying to find patterns and stuff. I found something about zones. Specifically, being able to predict the zones from zone one with a pretty high accuracy that pro players didn't know about.
"I showed it to him and he was like "ohh, OK you should be our analyst." I wasn't coaching them. I was just like an analyst. Honestly, I was just mostly collecting zones and documenting zones, getting information on other teams and stuff.
"What it was especially like nice about that experience was that I just got to learn a lot about the game from him. He was the IGL of the best team in Europe at the time. I learned a lot from him and that's basically how I started."
Pep Guardiola helps inspire Raven's coaching style
Raven has developed a distinctive coaching style, and has a unique approach to the game. Never afraid to break away from metas and change perceptions. Raven is one of the most notable Apex Legends personalities. Who inspired TSM Raven as he entered coaching?
"LS in League of Legends. Shout-out to him. He he definitely taught me a lot, specifically about like playing in a low variance way and also counter picking. Also just innovating and not being like traditionalist.
"So, LS in League of Legends for sure, and also Pep Guardiola in football. Big fan of his. It's actually quite funny because the way you win, in my opinion in football is pretty much the complete opposite in Apex. However, the concept is still the same and it's about how do you force mistakes? So there's parallels in that way. I really enjoy how he thinks about Football."
Then, when asked which Premiership Club TSM are, TSM Raven drew the comparison with the team he supports, Arsenal.
So, if TSM are Arsenal, who is the Apex equivalent of their arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur?
"NRG" Raven said, without any hesitation.
Raven and TSM will attempt to bring home the ALGS Championship when competition gets underway September 6, in Birmingham, England.