LPL representatives Royal Never Give Up was the only team that went undefeated at the Mid-Season Invitational 2021 (MSI) Group Stage. Now, on Day 4 of the Rumble Stage, they’ve lost two games with a 6-2 record, which is already one more than first place DWG KIA. 

PCS representatives PSG Talon handed Royal Never Give Up their first loss on Day 3, followed by LCS team Cloud9 on Day 4.

While League of Legends esports fans were eager to see Royal Never Give Up keep up their perfect streak at MSI, coach Chang “Poppy” Po-Hao is not too worried about the losses.

“During practice, we definitely do make mistakes,” Poppy told ONE Esports. “When we practice strategies, we will review, so next time, if we meet PSG again or any other team, we’ll have an added layer of understanding the game.”

Poppy on missing head coach Tabe

Previously part of the academy team, coach Poppy was promoted to the LPL for the 2021 Spring season. Pacing about on stage during picks and bans in his classic midnight blue suit with a notebook and pen in hand, he was technically the one in charge during the regular season. 

Standing alongside Poppy in a matching cobalt suit is head coach Wong “Tabe” Pak Kan, who could not join the team for MSI in Iceland due to passport issues.

2021 LPL Spring champions Royal Never Give Up on stage with coach Poppy and Tabe
Credit: Royal Never Give Up

“When I heard about the news for the first time, when we found out that he couldn’t go to Iceland, to us it was a big loss,” said Poppy.

“For me personally, it was a big challenge. During the regular season I did my best — until the first round of playoffs when we lost to FunPlus Phoenix. After that, Tabe helped a lot and took care of things.”

Here at MSI 2021, coach Poppy values his solo experience while Tabe coaches remotely, and views it as a chance to put into practice what he has learned.

Helping Royal Never Give Up adapt to the meta and the MSI 2021 format

And so far, Poppy has his work cut out for him.

“Maybe in the Group Stage we were ahead in terms of understanding the meta,” said coach Poppy. “In the Rumble Stage, you can see that all the teams are more or less the same in terms of understanding.”

Reflecting on Royal Never Give Up’s first loss to PSG Talon, he recognizes that mistakes were made in terms of team composition, which caused him to make adjustments in their following game against Pentanet.GG, setting a fastest game record at MSI 2021 at 18:32.

In fact, understanding team composition is one of the two biggest strengths Poppy sees in Royal Never Give Up, the other being map control, which English analysts tout as their greatest strength.

“No matter what draft we get, we’ll use our ways to win; whether it’s through teaching or feedback sessions with the players,” said coach Poppy. “We’re all learning from each other.” 

To him, the key difference between teams during draft phase is their pick priority, which then affects their playstyle.

As representatives of the LPL region, coach Poppy also had to deal with a new tournament structure coming into MSI 2021, for the Chinese league uses a single round robin best-of-three format in the regular season.

Acknowledging that there are both advantages and disadvantages to best-of-ones, he appreciates learning from different regions’ playstyles, especially those that Royal Never Give Up hasn’t faced before.

“Anything can happen. You may be stronger at first, but if the opponent makes a big move, they will have a chance to win,” explained coach Poppy.

“If we do lose to these big moves, the next time we meet, we’ll be more aware of how to play against these playstyles. If our fundamentals are there, it’s not easy for the game to flip around.”

Coach Poppy reveals his greatest challenge so far, and how he improves as coach

Coaching the best LPL team in the region, and possibly the world, is in itself no easy feat either.

This is coach Poppy’s first year on the big stage. So far, the most challenging thing he’s encountered is communicating with the players.

“You have your own wisdom, so you explain to the players, but you can’t always communicate the ‘how’ very well,” Poppy said. “In the first place, they’re all very strong players, they’re the LPL’s top players, so they may think that they do not have any issues.”

Photo of Ming of RNG in Day 1 of MSI 2021
Credit: LoL Esports

In this area of communication, he admits that he’s learned a lot. His approach during practice is, first tell the players what they did well in-game, then give them data and present different aspects of the game.

“They’ll think about it, and they’ll think that what you’re saying is reasonable, and why your method is important,” shared coach Poppy, who is still growing in his current role.

Besides head coach Tabe whom he respects a ton, current DWG KIA head coach Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun came to his mind on the topic of developing as a professional coach.

“Depending on the tournament, the most important is to learn how to imitate and have some innovation. If you are able to innovate, like how I remember kkOma during the SKT era, they innovated non-stop until they became number one in the world,” said coach Poppy.

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