Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi made history on Saturday, becoming the first European coach to win a game in the LCK after helping lead Sandbox to their first victory in Summer 2020. The Swedish coach hasn’t had it easy during his stint in Korea, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sandbox have finally gotten off the bottom of the ladder, taking down Team Dynamics 2-1 in Week 3 of LCK Summer 2020. It was a big night for the organization, who welcomed coach YamatoCannon onto the stage for the first time after quarantining in the country for 14 days.
With a roster change, bringing in mid laner Yoo “Fate” Su-hyeok for the week, Sandbox put on three of their best performances of the season so far.
In game one, Park “Summit” Woo-tae reminded everyone that he is still one of the LCK’s best Irelia players, helping jungler Kim “OnFleek” Jang-gyeom tear down Dynamics across the map. While the same couldn’t be said for the top laner in Game 2, Sandbox managed to bounce back after the loss.
Fate had a standout performance on his Corki, navigating the early game perfectly to help Sandbox scale into the late game with Aphelios and Kennen in tow. It didn’t even need to go too late, with the cellar dwellers getting out from the LCK basement in just 30 minutes.
The win was historic on many levels. For Sandbox as a team, it was the start of a new chapter in their organization’s history with the Swedish coach on stage. YamatoCannon also netted the accolade of the first Western coach to win a game in the LCK.
We are on the board #SBWIN— YamatoCannon (@YamatoMebdi) July 4, 2020
The Sandbox team right now is unlike anything we’ve seen from the region before — outside of Nick “LS” de Cesare’s stint with bbq Olivers. Sandbox communicates with Yamato in English, which one would think would lead to confusion, but according to the players, it hasn’t affected them.
“He gives us a lot of good advice, and cheers us up, so he really helps boost our confidence,” OnFleek told the LCK casters.
Mebdi has come a long way since his playing days in the pre-LCS era, helping lead teams like Vitality and Splyce to Worlds. However, his journey to Korea is an unprecedented challenge, but one he is willing to take on, head on.
“When I told my girlfriend about this idea to come to Korea, she thinks I’m crazy. The thing is I don’t like it when it’s easy. I like a challenge. Challenges motivate me, and I’ve noticed in the past when things become mundane and I don’t feel like I grow, that’s where I do worse,” he said in the post-game press conference.
One could argue the Swedish mastermind perhaps got complacent in his final years in the LEC. While he managed to help Vitality reach Worlds in 2018, 2019 was less than impressive, only managing fifth place in Spring and sixth in Summer.
The opportunity to travel to Korea to lead a team that has always been on the cusp of greatness, despite the language and cultural barriers, motivated Mebdi and ignited a new fire within him.
“In the case of coming to Korea and working with Sandbox, I saw the potential, I saw the staff, and I knew they were capable of great things. That, and the challenge together, is all the motivation I need.”
Mebdi has been in Korea before, bringing his Western teams to bootcamp in League’s most famed region. However, he’s now got a different perspective as an “insider,” and it’s taken him aback.
“When I bootcamped in Korea, practising against Korean teams was always the best experience you could ever have. Korean players are concentrated and focused, [unlike] in Europe sometimes — disaster,” he said.
“The amount of hours, and the effort that the players put in, and the relationship between player and coach, I see very big differences here. I think that they are best-of-threes makes a big difference in preparation, and honestly I like it way more. We are very busy, I don’t feel like I have enough hours in the day, but that’s a good problem to have — to be busy all the time.”
Yamato is aiming to instill a team environment that’s more like a “family” at Sandbox, and finally being able to mesh with his team in person has helped progress that along. It’s not only out of game, but in-game they need to carry that mentality.
“They need to support each other, they need to be like a family. We saw that in the game: Corki [into] Lucian is a very difficult matchup, but everyone was helping him, and then Corki carried the game as a present back.”
Sandbox do currently sit in a meagre eighth place, three wins off the top five to make playoffs. Despite their 1-5 record now, Mebdi is confident the team can turn it around now that he’s out of quarantine. After all, he didn’t come to Korea to lose.
“I think anyone who’s competing and is not aiming to win everything is doing something fundamentally very wrong. We are going to aim to win it all. I think anything else would be like ‘why am I here if we don’t win everything?’
“Sandbox is doing everything in their power to get better, and we are still very motivated, and no matter what the scoreboard says, we are going to do our absolute best.”
Sandbox will face off against Hanwha Life and KT Rolster in Week 4, with action kicking off on July 8.