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Inero: Silent Success

Golden Guardians Coach Nick “Inero” Smith has quietly seen solid success in recent seasons. Since 2018, he has helped coach teams to two LCS playoff appearances, qualified for Rift Rivals, and a second place finish in academy playoffs. The worst finish he had was seventh, and once again his team is in the hunt for playoffs this split. Despite this record, many people are silent about his success. I got a chance to ask him some questions about his recent career and got some interesting insights.

2018 Echo Fox

Starting with the first season of franchising, Nick found himself coaching a hyped Echo Fox roster. Anchored by start top laner Huni and controversial jungler Dardoch, the team rocketed off to a 9-1 start. Dardoch seemed to shine, after several down seasons on teams like Immortals and CLG. Despite the hot start, the team finished 12-6. When asked about the end of the season, Nick said “Honestly, nothing really changed too much towards the end of the year. Frustration definitely started getting worse, but a lot of it was due to things outside of the game that were out of our control.” Additionally, teams began to adapt and ban out several picks used to get early wins. Another factor in some of the losses was the substitution of academy players Damonte and Papa Chau. According to Inero, the substitutions were more about getting new players stage time, and less about fixing team issues.

2018 NA LCS Spring Split Week 1 Day 1

Even with the slump, Echo Fox finished the season in second place, earning a first round bye. In their first Bo5, they faced off against a hot Team Liquid and fell 3-1. They quickly bounced back with a 3-0 win over Clutch Gaming in the third place match, earning a trip to Rift Rivals. Not many players or coaches have international play on their resume. Even less can say they took down a top EU team, as Echo Fox did to G2 and Splyce. Inero said he enjoyed the event, including the competition. “It was pretty cool to see some of my friends from EU again, and the games were definitely a lot more competitive. I was already kind of checked out of Echo Fox at that point though, but it was still a good time. EU was definitely better than us then, but it was nice to be the first team to take G2 down for the first time. It was a bummer that we did that in the Bo5 part of the event and the other NA teams ended up losing to the other EU competitors so we lost 1-3.”  As he mentioned, Inero left Echo Fox after a very successful Spring Split and took the Summer Split off. However, it wasn’t long before he landed on another team.

2019 Golden Guardians

In October of 2018 Golden Guardians announced Inero as the new head Coach. Nick said he was excited about the opportunity to join Golden Guardians. “Talking with Kirk was a pretty big motivator for me. It was clear that he had a different outlook on the future of the league than other people I had spoken to in the scene. I was pretty jaded with esports at this point after my experiences at Fox, Tainted Minds, etc, but the conversation with him really motivated me to keep believing in things. I knew I would be coming in with better management than I had experienced in the past, so I would have a better chance to improve myself as a coach and build a long-term system.” After a disastrous 2018 season, the organization revamped the roster bringing in star midlaner Froggen as well as veterans Hauntzer and Olleh. Although the roster had talent, there was still question marks at the AD Carry and Jungle roles. Still, the team had a solid split earning the 5th seed in playoffs. In an exciting best of 5, they went back and forth with FlyQuest. Unfortunately, success was not to be, as they fell 3-2. Once again an Inero coached team was a playoff contender.

2019 NA LCS Summer Split

In the summer of 2019, Inero mainly worked with the Golden Guardians Academy team, but towards the end of the season assisted with the LCS team. He worked a lot OCE ADC FBI alongside role-swapped midlaner Huhi, who both were moved up to starting spots on the main roster. Inero said he had kept an eye on talent in the region since his previous time there. “I always try to watch games and keep up with upcoming players in wildcard regions, so FBI was someone I had on my radar. I thought he was good mechanically and just needed help learning how to actually play games out with a team, and I knew that was something I could teach over time by bringing him in to work with me on academy.” Even with people doubting the move, the team still was in the position to make playoffs. After a loss in tiebreakers on the final day of the season, they finished the year in 7th place at 8-10. While some people my consider the year a failure, it tested out several building blocks for the future season.

2020 Golden Guardians

In November of 2019, Golden Guardians announced the signing of Turkish Jungler Closer. A surprise to many people, it left the team’s two import slots in the hands of emerging region players. “This was similar to the FBI thing. From watching wildcard region games, I knew he was a good player and only really had concerns about his communication + personality. Once I spoke to him, I immediately told management that he was 100% the jungler to pick if we wanted to focus on long term success.” Closer has had an impressive start to his LCS career, doing his best to live up to his coaches hopes. He has been a key play-maker for the team, and has done well communicating despite not being a native English speaker. “His English has been perfectly fine this entire time. We’ve never really ran into issues where he’s unable to communicate to laners what he’s looking for. It happens, but it’s a pretty rare thing and is usually just over really small things that don’t affect the outcome of the game.”

At the same time, GG announced their midlaner to be Goldenglue, the sole resident at the position in the LCS to start the season. When asked about how they chose Goldenglue, Nick said: “With an import at ADC and import at jungler being a target, we were looking at native mid laners and management (formerly C9) had worked with Greyson in the past and highly recommended him as a teammate. From working in academy last split, he was definitely one of the more frustrating mids to plan around and compete against, and when he scrimmed against our LCS team, their team caused a lot of problems for the game through him and Blaber. It was a pretty straight forward prospect for us, and fit what we were looking for in terms of intangibles.” After having the label of a player who could only perform in scrims and not on stage, Goldenglue had shown promise with his substitutions on C9. Many people argued that his C9 Academy team could’ve beaten several LCS teams; 2020 was his time to shine as he got his starting spot.

Los Angeles, California – February 10: — during 2020 LCS Spring Split at the LCS Arena on February 10, 2020 in Los Angeles, California, USA.. (Photo by Paul de Leon/Riot Games)

With two weeks to play and the team one game out of playoffs, Inero reflected on his controversial imports and their performance. “I think they’ve both done a great job of representing their region. Summer 2019 wasn’t the best showing for FBI, but I hope people are starting to see the potential he has a player. Closer has immediately come in and started to make a name for himself, which makes me really happy. There are great players in regions other than EU/KR/CN, and I think teams just need to try harder to look for them.” Many people counted out the 2020 Golden Guardians roster, but once again Inero has his team poised for playoffs. Strong drafts and a decisive gameplan have been key to the success of GG this split. While the coach of the split award may be given to the split winner, not many Coaches have a resume like Inero. Although the team has some tough games ahead, playoffs is still possible. A berth gives Inero 3 playoff appearances in the last 4 splits, with the worst season ending in a tiebreaker. Not many coaches can say similar things.

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