This past week, Lee "Heen" Seung Gon won the title “Esports Coach of the Year” award from Esports Awards, identifying him as the most effective and influential coach among all esports in 2020.
After joining Team Secret as a coach in 2019, Heen has molded the team into one of, if not the greatest Dota 2 team of all time. With a ridiculous 81% win rate over 220 games since Heen’s arrival, the team’s dominance is undisputed.
In an interview after OGA Dota PIT S3, Kyle Freedman asked Heen, “...are you the secret ingredient? Are you the reason teams win?” to which Heen replied, “I don’t think so. I think a coach can only boost a team so much unless the players really don’t want to assume any responsibility whatsoever. But our players are...thinking players, they try to solve problems, so it’s not like I’m going to transform them to a new level.” Between his subtlety and being coach for one of the most established captains in the world of dota, Heen is rarely the center of attention. With that said, coaches such as Sébastien "Ceb" Debs and Zhang "xiao8" Ning have proven a good coach is instrumental to a successful team, so Heen must be given a level of credit for Team Secret’s almost absurd levels of success.
Heen’s beginning in Dota 2 was as the position 5 player for Team MVP Phoenix. Known for his Ancient Apparition, he helped the Korean All-Star team establish a name for themselves, despite being in a region with no dedicated server and few established players. Heen continued to play on Team MVP until the end of 2015, after which he left the team. In 2016, he began helping Team Liquid in bootcamping, taking the role of their coach. As a coach, he developed the team over the course of a year into the team that would perform the first 3-0 sweep in the grand finals of TI7 against Newbee.
After Team Liquid, Heen briefly coached TNC Thunder Predator, a team that grew tremendously with his arrival. In an episode of the podcast Position 6 with Dan Offen, Heen describes his experience with TNC compared to Liquid. “With Liquid, Kuro...is a very strong presence in the team. He is very confident in his strategies and ideas, and I was there to support and help him. Whereas in TNC...no player wanted to have the responsibilities or burden of being vocal in what direction the team wanted to go in, and that’s where I stepped in.” With TNC, despite his time there being rather brief, he clearly proved his ability to shape talent and give it direction.
Returning to the present, Heen is coaching Team Secret, notorious for being the strongest team at every tournament except TI. While this year has been drastically different than years past, with exclusively regional tournaments and no TI, Heen has proved that he can take a team as phenomenal as Secret and push their limits even further beyond. While the next TI is far in sight, Heen may be exactly what Secret needs to break their curse and take home their first Aegis of Champions.
Header image photo credit to Epicenter