When all of your cards are laid on the table and destiny is left up to the rotating wheel of fate, it’s hard to stand firm on a decision—any decision. Coaches in esports and the support staff that assist them, are often overlooked and undervalued. Julien "daemoN" Ducros is one of those coaches, but not only is his story triumphant and compelling but it shows that anything is possible with determination and will power. It proves as a quintessential example of what a strong, and young coach can do for a team. The Frenchman did not always lay in the lap of success; he worked for every inch he had gotten along the way and continues to do so to this very day.
Your cards glide forward, in hopes that you’ve made the correct call, but as the cardstock drifts off the pads of your fingers, you can’t help but start to question yourself. A cacophony of static starts to cloud your judgement as doubts flood in like a wave would crash against the still shore.
“Is this for me? Am I making the right decision? Is it time to cut my losses?”
Having 100% “truth” is nearly impossible in life, especially in the esports industry.
Before his time as a coach, daemoN was a semi-professional League of Legends player. From his time competing, he adapted and molded the experience he had gained from playing the MOBA at a high level and crafted it into a passion for esports, but he yearned for something greater. In a serendipitous turn of events, Blizzard Entertainment announced their newest title at BlizzCon 2015. Overwatch was Blizzard's first foray into the first person shooter (FPS) genre with Overwatch. DaemoN took stock of the situation, gently pushed his chips across the felt table, and with his head and his heart married in this unified decision, he was all-in.
DaemoN’s first foray into Overwatch came during the open beta tests. It brought him the same joy as League of Legends but added a more hectic, fast tempo with a mix of FPS elements. In September of 2016, daemoN took the dive, but gave himself an ultimatum; he had one years time to make his dreams reality.
His first trial with a team was met with rejection, but they offered to take him on as a manager. DaemoN first approached the trial as a player, but begrudgingly, he sacrificed his dreams of playing on stage under the bright spotlights role backstage. A more supportive role that gave him many of the same perks a player might have, but it carried the responsibility to develop and facilitate players so that they may perform at the highest level. This opportunity would slowly evolve and grow into his first major coaching break with French gaming organization and news website, GamersOrigin.
While playing under GamersOrigin, Lucas "Leaf" Loison contacted daemoN and asked if he would be interested in becoming his personal coach. From there, a personal coaching session germinated and blossomed into a coaching position at GamersOrigin. As someone who had appreciated good administrative work and theorycrafting, daemoN always had the idea of becoming a coach in the back of his mind. It was a match made in heaven.
When Leaf spoke about his former coach, it felt brotherly, in a way. It read as something you might hear from a younger sibling after the elder teaches or helps him in some way. Leaf spoke proudly of his time with daemoN.
“Ahahah, well he has a particular personality. You need to be ready to argue a lot when your opinion differs from his, but it actually forced me to think about all the ins and outs of every idea I have. Overall, daemoN is a great friend and I will always consider him as my coach. He is someone I would listen to above everyone else.” Leaf spoke candidly about his former coach, he continued to explain the transitionary period that daemoN went through, coming from personal coach to team coach for GamersOrigin.
“Well, it all went very fast, actually he did one VOD review of us losing to an amateur French team and sent to me. It was the first time he was analyzing something, but it was very good. I wasn't really happy because we had 2 staff in GamersOrigin at this time and none of them had any game knowledge. So, I showed my teammates the review and everyone liked it so I kind of forced him into bootcamp with us by saying that ‘if he wasn't there I wouldn't come either.’ Having a player risk his career for yours, is not something to be taken lightly. Leaf would not join the team if daemoN did not accompany him. Fate would have it that GamersOrigin would sign the both of them. It all ended very well with the addition of daemoN in GamersOrigin and we got better and better.”
“Therefore, I had one goal; work hard enough at understanding the game, so I could have the right answers in any situation, critical or not. I wanted to be as “perfect” as possible.”
— Julien "daemoN" Ducros
“I think that I was quite in a challenging position. In every team that I would get involved with, I was reaching a level of expectation way higher than I would deserve. First from nothing to a national level, followed to a European level, followed to a world-class level.” As his tenure with coaching grew, he cleared each and every hurdle placed in front of him.
In March of 2017 daemoN would take his leave with GamersOrigin. It would be another 3 months until we see our protagonist again, this time with the Movistar Riders. With his time within the Riders, daemoN worked tirelessly as an analyst to help improve a fledgling team with potential turn into something truly great. After speaking with a former player from Movistar Riders, Raymond "Kolsti" Tea, the picture becomes more and more clear.
“We had Séns as a coach in Movistar Riders but we wanted someone who had more experience and knowledge in the game—like an analyst. I recommended daemoN to the team since I previously worked with him as a coach in GamersOrigin. What really interested me in daemoN is the way he works and how he treats his work. I think he was the first coach I knew of [that] put so [many] hours and data analysis into Overwatch at the time. We trialed him and the team liked him, so we asked our organization to sign him.”
The praise continued, it was prominent that daemoN had a positive impact on Kolsti. “I really enjoy working with Daemon. He was my coach but also a really close friend I made during my time in GamersOrigin and I wouldn't be at the level I'm at without him. I couldn't be happier that he succeeds because he truly deserves it.” The more I spoke with Kolsti, the more I could tell daemoN not only deeply impacted Kolsti and the entire team, he also left a lasting impression. His hard work was not only recognized by his players, but it was mirrored in their results. Movistar Riders took 4th at the TakeOver 2 LAN and did quite well in the qualifiers for Overwatch Contenders Season Zero.
“When we came to him with arguments, issues or questions, he always made sure to counter-arguments, even if he agreed, so we could develop our style and intellect further. He pushed us to our limits to think about the game and how to approach it.” Kolsti continued, “He also gave us inputs on strategies, team compositions, and on how to apply them. During VOD reviews he showed us with statistical data when it worked and when it didn't. Obviously, stats aren't set in stone and it's case by case, but it speaks a bit more when you see "With this team composition and this playstyle you have 33% success and with this, you have 90% ..."
Part of daemoN’s story that seemed so legendary for me was the story that he traveled on his own dime to the Movistar Riders team house and helped them in person prepare and train for an event. This was something rare, you don’t hear about that kind of dedication and determination every day, let alone in the esports ecosystem. “Séns wanted to surprise us by bringing daemoN to Madrid.” Kolsti corrected me, “So, he took the train 2 weeks before the PIT League playoffs and came to the house. Seeing him here and being able to work with him face to face made things much easier and also gave us a good boost to perform even better. I think I can speak for all my former teammates when I say that daemoN really motivated us to perform better and he also became a really good friend.” While not as grandiose as I first thought, the impact was felt all the same.
Image courtesy of @MoiraiOW
To share my own experience with daemoN; it was BlizzCon 2017, daemoN, myself, and a few other colleagues were sitting around the lavish fountain outside of the Anaheim Convention center. Banners for Hearthstone, Diablo, StarCraft, and every other Blizzard title laid as the perfect background to cap off a unique evening. We all sat on the cold carved stone, discussing the upcoming Overwatch World Cup matches. However, a massive crowd started to congregate around the fountain as we continued our discussion. The four of us sat and watched in awe as a couple was read their vows and was wed. As unintentional wedding guests to a Blizzard-themed wedding the conversation quickly, and understandably, derailed as a train of thought slipped right out from underneath us.
The next topic we started to discuss came from daemoN. He candidly opened up about his worries come the next day. He had flown all the way from France to work alongside the French Overwatch World Cup team and was starting to question whether or not this was really going to all workout. After some strong words of encouragement, his mood lightened a bit. I identified with his sentiment, like many who dream of working in esports tend to do.
“Is this for me? Am I making the right decision? Is it time to cut my losses?”
Through his slight grin, his “laissez-faire” attitude, and his obvious—but understandable—French accent, you could clearly tell this is what he wanted to do. In some fashion, he was always meant to become a professional coach. The words “passionate and inspired” gets thrown around a lot, but in this case, I think it does a nice job of capturing the moment. As the night raged on, the conversations dwindled, we said our goodbyes, and we all went our separate ways.
Shortly after returning home from the event, news broke about daemoN as he was signed to the LA Valiant as their Assistant Coach. With his dreams realized, he would be coaching for an Overwatch League franchize. After all the train rides, all the of data, all of the hours of footage collected, all of the hard work—it all finally paid off for him. He joined his fellow countrymen and former colleagues, Benjamin "uNKOE" Chevasson and Terence "SoOn" Tarlier and set off for the United States.
daemoN pictured with fellow LA Valient teammates SoOn and uNKOE.
“It’s obviously the best feeling in the world to see my long-term goal be achieved on a timeline, I wouldn’t expect it to happen. One year ago I matched my training and ambition to reach the necessary level to be part of the Overwatch League when it would come.” Humble and determined, daemoN drew back the curtain to explain his side of the story.
“In the end, I’ve been saved by Benjamin and Terence. Without them, I think I would have met the same destiny as many others that deserved the spot. Now I know that I just need to embrace my “forced-luck” as I’ve done since my debut and work as hard as possible to show both the community and myself that I can become one of the best in the field.”
Like many in the Overwatch scene, daemoN was a starry-eyed young man, whose dreams had taken him across Europe and would land him in Los Angeles to assist in coaching one of the best teams in North America. However, text can not describe the trials and tribulations that grinding the social ladder that is learning to become a coach or an analyst.
There is no “solo queue” there is no “ranked ladder.” Becoming a coach is a trial by hellish fire. You have to earn and command the respect of your players, maintain some sense of peace between young men, all the while recording and reviewing every inch of every practice session. Lose your footing? A disagreement of opinion with a player? You’re out the door, little to no questions asked. Oddly enough as esports attempts to adopt more and more traits from traditional sports, the emphasis on keeping good coaches has not caught wind. Players tend to be weighted over their support staff counterparts almost tenfold. DaemoN’s award was not granted by sheer luck or some miracle granted by the City of Angels, he stuck his face hairs away from the red-hot grindstone and worked his way up the ladder.
“I’m the type to think that everything experienced, bad or good, is to be learned and is necessary to become even stronger.”
— Julien "daemoN" Ducros
Now that he had reached to top, daemoN described what his next steps would be in the Overwatch League. “My biggest issue to solve right now is to feel “stable”. Basically, I want all the administrative needs to be done with as soon as possible, so I can feel like myself at “home.” Same goes with the pace of the league, how things are working, what’s the most effective way to coach, and handling your in-game and real-life schedule. In the short term, well I want to fully speak English so I don’t get frustrated in a minute because of my accent. A long-term goal is to learn Korean because I feel it has become mandatory for a while now.”
Call it what you like, but your life experiences have a way of figuring themselves out. I speak for a lot of people when I say that sometimes you stumble across a career or take a chance on something and by a sheer stroke of luck, it works out. No matter if you are a professional player, a coach, a journalist, an artist, if you consistently “get back on the horse” and continue playing the game of life, it tends to work itself out.
Everyone could always use a reminder during their most trying times.
“This is for you. You are making the right decision. Whatever you do, do not fold.”
DaemoN’s story is a love letter to the worker bees in all of us, but more importantly, the passionate esports coaches who continue to climb their way up their proverbial mountain. An ongoing story of determination and grit, daemoN’s journey to the top has notes of the quintessential tale of a coach, seeing an open trail, taking many chances, and finally realizing all that he’s worked for.
Photo Credit: GamersOrigin