Urszula Klimczak, NAVI Performance Coach: “The peak form of the renewed roster should be somewhere beginning of next year”

Олексій Харченко

NAVI Performance Coach Urszula Klimczak talked with Players. We discussed the similarities between performance coaching and classic sports psychology, working with various esports disciplines, emotions, B1ad3 and the peak form of the updated NAVI roster.

Can you tell me a bit more about performance coaching? Are there any similarities or differences with classic sports psychology? 

It’s the same. Performance coaching originated from sports because in sports you also have sports psychologists and performance coaches. The difference is in the productivity aspect because we work a lot on bonding a team, staying productive and focused, and having the right preparation and warmup. All those aspects are also impacting the game itself but during the game. 

On top of that, I have a psychology background so at the same time I’m doing both. So everything that’s outside of the game is miss-impacting players' performance. It could be either conflict or personal situations, lack of trust or simply not having enough motivation or burnout - these are things falling on my shoulders. As I previously mentioned, if the team is having energy - that’s on a performance coach I guess. 

How did you get to esports? Were you interested specifically in Counter-Strike or other disciplines as well? 

I started in League of Legends and already have 10 years in esports. It was purely from my passion for gaming because I’m a gamer myself. I was following the first League of Legends World, competitions. We had a Polish team back then competing. I was watching with my partner and I was saying “Look, they don’t have energy, they don’t trust each other”. Then I texted one of the players to look at certain things and he said that maybe I could help them. It slowly started. 

Back then I was working in business and I was also working on dynamic teams that had a lot of pressure, I was a Senior Manager in a very dynamic environment. All the theories connected to burnout and keeping your productivity were transferred from one discipline to another. I had the right background to impact that team. It was a successful impact and since then, so many years in esports, from one team to another, big projects. I guess I’m enjoying it. At some point, I quit typical business office work to do something I love. That’s my passion. 

That’s interesting. Was a transition from League of Legends to Counter-Strike easy? 

You know, I’m not diving much into the game itself. I understand the game and critical moments. Playing the game itself helps me to understand how players feel but overall the theory behind the feelings, whether players are experiencing burnout, levels of productivity, trust and building relationships - it all stays the same. At some point, understanding the game helps me to recognise the right spots that could be dangerous for the players or could be a potential threat. 

For example? 

For example, when the score is 0:3, what’s happening with players, what they could be thinking, and how to spin them up at the right moment. For example, when they should breathe or when they should prepare themselves for the rounds and visualising to pick in specific moments. Understanding the game and all the titles I work with is helping me a lot. However, the background is important to have a sense of the person. I think that if you don’t feel emotions and you don’t have high emotional intelligence in my role, it will be difficult to spot the moments and recognise when the player is really stressed. The players can tell you that “I’m good” but then the body language is asking “Are you really okay”? It’s all about the big picture and experience. The more you are in the job, the more you work with people, the more experienced you get. 

If you see a difference in body language, how are you reacting and what are you doing with the players? Talking to them? 

It depends on the moment. If it’s a boot camp and it’s outside of the competitive moment, my way is to work those issues out. If these are personal issues, we talk about it. If these are issues connected with a team then we do try to solve them as a team because we need to be open about a team, we need to build trust, and we need to be happy for each other not compete inside of the team. If these are issues straight during the competition, we have those breaks when I’m going outside with players. 

Sometimes, in between rounds, if we have a short walk I’m planting a seed: “Hey, do you remember this thing or I really like it when you do those types of things”. That’s making players smile and giving them a switch not keep thinking about mistakes. What’s happening quite often is that players are overthinking mistakes and this is destructive. I always told them: set yourself for how you want to behave. If you ask any of the players what I taught them they will say: you are what you think. At some point, this connection between how you approach yourself, what you think about yourself, your teammates and your performance - that’s all translating into the game.  

During these breaks, what helps players and you more? Breath exercises? 

We definitely talk a lot about the breathing. I’m teaching them to support each other in the game as well, so if we feel that players are drifting with thoughts, I do refocus them. I tell them, “If your teammate doing this, make sure you know about certain things we discussed, underline specific facts etc.”. I’m building them to be the one cohesive unit in the game. Outside of the game, it’s quite often a little switch that’s needed. We are just starting so at some point I gave them a little bit of theory. We worked for three weeks together, it’s just the beginning. What I like about this team is that they are like a sponge. There’s no rejection, no questioning “No I don’t need it”. They listen and apply everything. Every time I see players who are willing to support each other, that’s the thing. 

Do you have a timeframe for results? From your side or maybe the management of NAVI?  

Usually, I see it straight away. The moment we started our workshops and defined what the team is, what I want the team to do and how they should look at each other. These are the moments that guys see and how it should be. Then when they experience difficult moments they start talking about those steps together. All the staff outside of the game like peak performance, practising focus, getting the right levels of dopamine, improving focus and so on - these are the things that we even talked about today. They have been given a lot of knowledge but the key thing is to move from one game to another, from one workshop to another but not lose everything they learned on the way. We talked with Andriy today (B1ad3 - Players) that the peak of their form should be somewhere beginning of next year. We should see the roof of their abilities at some point. We will see how things go. There’s no definition that they should be exactly the best in that specific moment but if they pick up the pace and if there are no other obstacles on the way, then we just see them striving and working hard for the success they want and they are all hungry. That’s good news. 

You mentioned B1ad3, are you constantly talking with him as part of the job? 

Of course, we plan things together. He knows them better so I’m also asking him about certain things. Especially with players he has been working and was around with. He knows what the critical moments are when they are shutting down. It also helps me to prevent things from happening. Performance coaching is a lot about prevention. You can compare my job with a lifejacket on a plane. You probably won’t need it but you have to know how to use it. 

He’s helping me with direction but we also sit together, I’m asking his opinion about things I want to improve. For example, when we started a boot camp we planned together a list of topics I should start with, what are the potential issues right now, and how to facilitate Igor to the team. These are the little things that slowly push the players forward. Every knowledge requires practice and I can’t dump on them without allowing them to practice because they will start forgetting things they learned. It’s a mix of working together, supporting each other and reinforcing messages of each other. So far so good.   

Counter-Strike matches can be quite nervous and dramatic. How are you dealing with your emotions? How far inside the game are you? 

Everyone can tell you that I’m in the studio because I’m a very expressive person and I’m super positive so I never give up. When there are good rounds I cheer for guys and when there are negative rounds I try to figure out if is there something to work on this specific round for me. In general, I’m a very energised and positive person. Even if there’s a loss I’m trying to underline the fact that we are just learning, trying not to give up any point. I’m just thinking about what else can I do to give them better tools for the next game. For me, it’s more from game to game, while quite often some players have that type of mindset “Oh we lost, we are not good enough”. I’m trying to teach them not to think that way. It’s a process. The process takes time. 

Can you tell me about your experience working with other teams before NAVI? Was it a good experience for you? 

If we are talking about cooperation with other teams I’m always looking to find myself and my personality in that team. I’m trying to facilitate myself but also try to understand the team and the organisation dynamics, how they are managing the staff and everything. I’m always digging a little bit deeper into that. I can’t say any bad words about my past employers. Obviously, there were good and bad times. It’s good to understand from both sides that there’s a specific direction. When there are different visions of managing players or where the team should go and so on, that’s a natural process. It’s ok to have different opinions but if I feel the opinion is too far away or we don’t have a match in that specific aspect, it’s a natural process of people moving on. All the teams I’ve been working with, we understood each other very well in those aspects and whenever I felt I needed a change, I was just changing. 

You recently started working with NAVI. Are you working with rosters in other disciplines? 

I’m also involved in the Valorant roster. I work with the boys, they are travelling to Japan (during the time this interview was recorded - Players). We had a couple of workshops but my biggest impact with them will be when we bootcamp in January. But we are meeting with the players, I’m working with a coach at the same time. We discuss all the potential issues or what’s happening inside of the team. I’m enjoying it because I like Valorant myself. 

So you are a big fan of different games. 

Yes, I am. I’m a gamer. This is what brought me into the environment. It would be weird not to enjoy and understand it. For me, it’s work and passion at the same time. Of all the games, I’m best at Valorant. I’m bad at CS, that’s why I probably don’t even try to embarrass myself too much. Working with the Valorant roster is a kind of energy for me. I’m learning, that’s the thing. 

What about Dota and other disciplines in NAVI? 

No, I’m not in charge of them. For now, we want to focus a lot on improving those two rosters. If we get them into the shape where we want them to be, then we will be looking outside of it. I’m just one person so taking over too many jobs means not completing them at the right time. We want to take it step by step and see what the future holds. 

When you joined the CS roster what was the atmosphere? 

When I joined the team, the team was not sure about what they were capable of. There was a lack of experience of what the future holds for them. I started working with them when Igor joined. I met Igor and the whole team in boot camp in Barcelona. 

So you didn’t meet Sasha? 

No, I didn’t meet Sasha (s1mple - Players). I started working from that moment. The thing I helped them to understand is that we are starting a new project, with new opportunities, and a new vision. Let’s make it maximum. At some point, I don’t want them to focus too much on past experience, I want them to build a new experience and vision for themselves and create new personalities and their own personalities in the game right now. To be honest, it doesn’t matter to me what was the atmosphere before because once I joined I brought a new atmosphere. I brought a new focus. The fact that they are keeping the focus and atmosphere, that’s a win for me. 

Can we say that with a new CS2 roster and you as a performance coach NAVI is changing a strategy? 

I think that NAVI is a smart organisation and they know what’s needed inside. I don’t think it’s a change, I think it’s adjusting and finding extra tools to go higher, faster and better. At some point, I think it’s understanding of what is the dynamic and what is the need right now. I definitely agree with how NAVI is looking at the roster and how we looking at finding new talent and the right people at the right moment. We are going in the right direction. 

Did NAVI hire a psychologist as well? 

There’s a Marina, who’s also working with CS teams. We don’t have a common language because she speaks Ukrainian and doesn’t speak English while I don’t speak Ukrainian. So it’s a bit hard for us to communicate. I met her at many events when I was in ENCE and I was always admiring her work. Picking over this team and learning from Valerchik (b1t - Players) what was she doing with the team, I got totally the same direction. We have the same type of approach to the team environment. I know she is amazing and I’m super happy to work by her side. 

How many trophies do you have in esports? 

I have Dallas (IEM Dallas 2023 - Players). Also, outside of other teams, we had a couple of finals and wins with other organisations. I feel that the most difficult one to get was the 2018 League of Legends World Final with Fnatic. It was a pretty big and tough project for me. It was pretty difficult at the same time because of the player dynamics inside of this team. I’m rotating in many teams so quite often I’m growing the players, leaving a team and what stays with players is the assessment of my work. The fact that many players are just texting me “Hey, this trophy is a little bit yours too, thank you for teaching me or we miss you so much here”. These are the things that are my trophies and I’m looking forward to hear these messages from this roster so hopefully I will get these too. 


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