Seven ravens currently inhabit the Tower of London, under the watchful eyes of a man ominously named the Ravenmaster. Legend has it that if that number were to fall below six, due to death or escape, the castle walls would crack, the keep would fall, and England would shortly follow. Their wings are clipped for this reason, and there’s a rigorous breeding program to ensure that any unfortunate accidents don’t preclude the country's downfall.
Apex Legends esports has its own Raven in London, too, and I’m not talking about Bloodhound’s faithful companion, Arthur. TSM’s coach has turned the fan-favourite team’s fortunes around since joining the organisation in August. After a disappointing performance at the ALGS Championships in Raleigh (“Seventh isn’t anything to be happy about,” says Jordan ‘Reps’ Wolfe), Raven’s analysis and coaching has had an instant effect, and TSM are the bookie’s favourites to take home the Playoffs trophy at the Copperbox Arena this weekend.
“I'm the most confident I've been in a while,” says Phillip ‘ImperialHal’ Dosen, the team’s in-game leader and the most recognisable name in Apex. “Ever since we've picked up our coach Raven, we've been more structured and prepared, and I don't have to worry about that myself. I also think, personally, I've been the most confident as a player, so I think that's helped a lot too.”
Raven changed everything when he joined the roster five months ago. TSM is using different Legends, landing in different drop spots, and all three players think he’s getting the most out of their individual talents. It might have been a lot for some teams to take in, but TSM quickly adapted, and head into the Playoffs with a first place in Pro League under their belts. There’s no doubt about what caused the dramatic shift in performances, according to ImperialHal, “It all stemmed from Raven, our improvement as a team and as players.”
“I'm feeling more confident than last time [at the ALGS Championship LAN in Raleigh],” adds Evan ‘Verhulst’ Verhulst. “We're as good of a teamfight team as we were for the last one, but now our macros are five times better with the help of Raven. Raven has done so much to help our confidence for this upcoming LAN, and we're a lot more prepared this time.”
All three players agree that preparation has been key, and the macros form a big part of that. Macros are the decisions made in the early stages of the game, usually around what route to take towards the zone and how to position yourself for the endgame. Verhulst explains that TSM now has specific plans for every zone, rather than relying on instinct and intuition as they did before – all of which is Raven’s doing.
It helps that the team has a state of the art bootcamp at their disposal in London, where they can practise and scrim ahead of the tournament. I chat with the players at the Red Bull Gaming Sphere, accessed through a nondescript door in trendy Shoreditch. At the bottom of a disheveled metal staircase is a modern, RGB-filled facility with top of the range PCs, separate rooms for streaming, and the fastest internet connection going. It feels like a supervillain’s secret lair, complete with projectors that the team beam onto the walls to map rotations, which Verhulst notes is “totally overkill, but it's so cool.” It’s the first of many quality of life improvements that London offers TSM – Raven’s last bootcamp experience was in the back of a Walmart with former team GMT (now Pioneers), so this is a marked step up.
While the trio are a little disappointed that all three ALGS LANs this year will be hosted in England’s capital – nothing against the city, but it is called the Apex Legends Global Series – ImperialHal sheds some light on more of the improvements that this forethought and planning has brought about.
“Before, if you got Covid, we didn't have separate areas to play. So if you had Covid, you're done. But now they have that,” he explains. “So that's probably due to better planning and more time to set up. They also have better PCs compared to last time, so that also helps, so I don't know if there's a trade off.
All three players mention Japan as their dream LAN destination, no doubt influenced by their tour to the country last summer. Apex has a huge fanbase in the country, and hosting at least one tournament there would help the ALGS to live up to its worldwide name.
Back to the competition at hand. TSM is more confident than I’ve seen them in a long time. Finally, I’m able to sit down with the man on everyone’s lips, and Raven is as thoughtful as his players say. He monologues about his coaching theses, gives thanks to those who’ve given him a chance (namely TSM and, before that, Casper ‘Gnaske’ Præstensgaard), and provides surprisingly candid analysis of TSM’s performances. His answers are in-depth, and his coaching inspirations are as disparate as League of Legends coach Nick ‘LS’ De Cesare and Korean MMO MapleStory.
“I'm the guy who's sitting there and building all the strategic game plans,” he explains. “I'm also there to instil discipline.” Raven speaks like a coach of any sports team, and he’s understandably quick to praise his players.
“We've definitely been working harder than anyone [else],” he says. “We spend a lot of time preparing, we have daily meetings, and a lot of discipline and focus.”
Verhulst echoes this sentiment, and believes that the work they’ve put in with their new coach has alleviated some of the pressure that comes with being the esport’s top dogs. “I feel like there's less pressure [than in Raleigh], because we've all put in the work this time around,” he says. “We've all done what we need to do and we all know what we need to do. I don't think there's any uncertainty, we just have a level of confidence this time around that we didn't have last time and that removes a lot of the pressure.”
If TSM was focused before Raven joined, they’re lasered in now, and they bring that focus to every match, big or small. Scrims, intense rounds of practice sessions intended to simulate competition-level lobbies, are a hot topic in Apex Legends. Many teams don’t take them seriously, and that impacts the effectiveness for everyone involved. What’s the use of practice if the match is nothing like what will happen at LAN?
“I came into a team that already took the initiative to take scrims seriously,” Raven says. But, to paraphrase German military tactician Helmuth von Moltke, even the best laid plans may not survive contact with the enemy, and that goes double if the enemy is not taking your battle seriously and is making erratic decisions. “You have to remind them that sometimes you do the right thing and you still die,” Raven says.
Just as TSM has adapted to Raven’s new landing spots and Legend compositions, they’ve adapted to scrims, too. Raven sends them into each round with a specific, sometimes hyper-specific goal in mind. Winning is nice here, but it’s ultimately meaningless, and not the end goal.
Not every change has been welcomed, though. TSM’s ill-fated run using Catalyst to disrupt opponents is directly inspired by LS, Raven says, a “concept of counter picking and forcing your enemies to make mistakes rather than relying on them to make a mistake for you.” It seems like a good idea on paper, but when you’ve got playmakers like ImperialHal on your roster, disrupting isn’t in his DNA.
“That was terrible,” ImperialHal tells me, but Raven sees it slightly differently, and thinks that some positives came out of the experiment.
“We didn't lose any harmony on the team from the discussion,” he says. “It only brought us together because we had a better idea of our goals and how we wanted to align ourselves.” Joining TSM was as much a learning experience for him as it was for the players he coaches. But, despite the rare disputes, despite the 1v1 fights to decide whether or not to play Fuse, his influence is working. But it’s not all down to game planning and Legend-picking, Raven’s presence is improving things for TSM off-screen, too.
“Raven tries to be our therapist,” Verhulst laughs. “If our team has issues like a big argument or we’re getting too heated with each other, Raven has that nice calm voice that keeps everyone in a good mental state. I think he does purposely try to calm people down.”
TSM are the team to beat at the ALGS Playoffs. They’re the bookies' favourites, and will likely have the biggest fanbase in attendance in the Copperbox. They’ve got their mojo back and are in red hot form, all thanks to their new coach. This weekend, there are eight ravens in London, and TSM will be hoping that this one won’t fly off and leave them to crumble in his wingbeats.
Next: Apex Legends’ Hardcore Mode Showed Me I’m Not As Bad As I Think