Vitality's new coach is only just starting.
"I want to see myself as a conqueror," Jakob ‘YamatoCannon’ Mebdi tells me, as we talk about him, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon. "Sure, I'm not there yet. But I want to conquer Europe."
At 21, YamatoCannon has played on multiple teams, coached four others, and as of yesterday, began a new position as Team Vitality’s Head Coach. For him, it is the next stage of the warpath.
BUILDING A LEGACY
We talk, of course, about Jakob’s recent departure from Splyce, a mutually decided separation between himself and a team he coached for three splits. A team few thought would be his last.
"I want to build a legacy," he says when I ask if he has considered a life away from esports. His answer is an instant rejection. "I want to be a part of this industry until the end. I want to look back, and I want to be one of those guys that is a legend. When I'm 60, I want to be invited to some analyst desk, and people will remember me."
According to Jakob, his legacy in Europe so far is a mix of the cockiness he puts outward and the humble pride he feels inside.
"I think I had this period of time where I was being quite feisty on the analyst desk," he laughs. "When I was throwing shots left and right -- I think a lot of people remember me for this."
He stops laughing for a moment, and speaks of Splyce’s fifth game against Unicorns of Love in the regional qualifier -- the moment they earned their spot at Worlds 2016.
"Everything was just falling into place, and everything was perfect," he reminisces. "Sometimes you just have those perfect games and you just feel so good. And in that moment, where it mattered the most, everyone just played in a way that was absolutely beautiful."
"At that time, I was tearing up," he continues. "It was very emotional because it was such an important moment, and everyone really pulled their weight and did something for something that is greater than themselves. Everyone just gave 100 percent."
HOPES FOR VITALITY
YamatoCannon’s fans want him to take another team to worlds. They’ve cheered for his new position at Vitality, said that he will take them there. I hear quite different words from Jakob himself.
"I never try to sell any bullshit stories," he tells me. "When I had the conversations with Vitality, I didn't tell them that 'Oh, I'll take this team to top three and we'll do great things.'"
Behind his words, though, there seems to be plenty of the conviction Jakob isn’t keen to sell. He lauds the team’s talent, says they can accomplish so much more, and that he believes there is a way to pull the roster together. You may have heard Jakob speak on "the process" in the past. He lays it out for me: putting your energy into practice, into the environment, into making each day an improvement -- that will eventually bring results, if you do it right. Everything else is an emotional distraction.
"I told them that there might be scenarios where we lose," he says, self-assured, "and we will deal with that. I'm not going to make any stories about any type of results. I don't like to make predictions."
"The only thing I promised Vitality is that I will make sure that practice is as efficient as possible, that the players are happy, and that they improve and work as a team."
EXPECTATIONS AND DEFEAT
Even talking about his modest expectations, Jakob speaks with confidence. He is eager to see both wins and losses ahead, but perhaps it is because he sees far ahead, and high above, the day-to-day stress of the LCS.
"I don't really care about results," he says. "I think results are something that clouds a lot of people's judgment. I think on paper for sponsorships and for the fans, wins matter a lot and, of course, winning is fun."
"Everyone loves winning, right? I'm not saying that losing gets me all excited and giddy," he chuckles, "but the idea is that I like to put focus on the process."
Every time Jakob speaks of the challenges ahead, a smile cracks in his voice. The thought of taking the reigns completely and proving himself is exciting. He says he is very happy, he calls himself "rejuvenated." For YamatoCannon, happiness and responsibility go hand in hand.
"I think the more guns that are pointed towards me, the more things I can pull off."
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A COACH
What comes with the acceptance of loss and full control is blame, and Yamato knows it. It’s a selfless nature of improvement that he calls a "mix between brother and father." There is always a way to solve a problem. There is always a way to make a positive impact on someone’s life, and while it’s possible to point fingers at others, he says the role of a coach must be selfless. That when things are not working, he likes to blame himself.
Being a coach also means maturing into a new kind of love for the game.
"There was a time when the only thing that I wanted to do was play League all day," he says of himself and former teammate/current Vitality midlaner Nukeduck. "We skipped school to just play League, and we just duo queued all day, and we scrimmed all day, and we just talked about League all day. Probably when we were sleeping, we were dreaming about League."
"It changes with time," Jakob tells me of his relation with the game now. He’s glad to look away from League now and then, to find comfort in his girlfriend’s support. In his mother and brother who watch every game. In a close group of friends at home who first showed him the game and who, away from the bright lights and tension, haven’t changed at all. They call each other "byn," the Swedish word for "village," and a fond memory of where it all started.
A successful pro career, Jakob says sadly, means sacrificing these social connections. It’s that part of League he’s okay leaving behind.
"But there are other aspects of it that I always love," he returns. "It’s the fact that I get to coach, I get to be in this unique position where I have a lot of responsibility. I can connect with players on a very deep level. This is what I love about League."
THE ROAD AHEAD
Jakob says his dream is to retire at 40, then maybe become a gardener or baker. The solitude, the peacefulness, is something he sees himself enjoying one day. But not now. Right now, he wants to conquer Europe.
"Then I want to go on to conquer North America. I want to conquer all regions. While I'm in North America, I'll learn some Chinese and some Korean, and then I'll transfer that to all over the world."
"Sure, at this time," he says with a smile, lowering himself only an inch downward towards the earth, "if I think about it, it feels a little bit unrealistic."
"But I have a lot of time."
Photos courtesy of LoLEsports Flickr