Fabian Broich is a man on a mission to change how esports players and teams think about performance, to create more role models and to better improve how people learn about the importance of sleep, health and nutrition.
The former Excel Esports head of performance has just launched his own performance consultancy agency – Achieveminds – with the slogan ‘mindset matters’ and partners such as apparel firm Engelbert Strauss and supplement supplier AM Sport already on board. Motivated in part by his seven-month-old daughter, he wants to make sure more athletes become role models who understand the importance of health and reaching potential, and to better teach students at school about it.
So what sets his agency apart, what’s the latest on his world-first research into esports coaching and how does he reflect on his time in the LEC with UK-based Excel Esports? Dominic Sacco asks Fabian in this extensive interview.
It’s really good to talk to you again – we last spoke with you Fabian during the LEC Spring 2021 Split when Excel went on a bit of a run. Obviously things have changed a lot since then and you’ve left Excel to start your own business, Achieveminds, focusing on talent representation, performance coaching and org structure. Please tell us more about it.
So basically, what I realised is, as I was previously an athlete myself, there’s not always someone closely looking at you [in terms of giving you individual coaching]. In 2013, I was thinking about doing a sports agency at one point, since when I played pro football in Iceland as a 23-year-old, I was left alone and would have loved the support I now can provide to my players and teams.
After working for four years now in esports, I realised that when I moved to a different team, [former] players still reached out to me. And I was thinking okay, there is trust, there are a lot of relationships and I want to help them, but I really can’t because they’re on a different team.
And then on the other hand, I got quite exhausted at the end of this Summer 2021 LEC season, where I worked extremely hard to try and get Excel into playoffs, like changing a lot in the environment, completely creating a new holistic performance approach at Excel, where there were no [initial] foundations at all. We had to catch up in the LEC and we also had to build something.
And then I realised, okay, I have a wife now, I have a kid, so I don’t have time. I want to help more people than from just one team. I also realised I’d done negotiations in the last season, so why not become an agent, but an agent that kind of has a USP (unique selling point) in performance coaching.
I really want to work with individual athletes across North America and Europe, to support them regardless of which team they’re working with. So that there’s this person they can trust and build their future with. In terms of players, I have some [lined up] already which haven’t been named yet. I want to help more than just one team, and have players in different teams.
Sometimes orgs won’t have a budget for someone full time all the time, maybe they want to invest in a pre-season or between splits to change the environment. Hopefully I can help teams with their infrastructure and processes, and hopefully we can progress the professionalism and have assurance for the health of the players. Because I think it’s the responsibility of the organisation, and they have come a long way, they have improved, but it’s still not where I would like to see it after working four years in the scene.
So you’re sort of a coach-for-hire, but as this is an agency, will you have multiple people helping you?
Yeah. So if it’s going extremely well, I will have to hire someone. I don’t want to have, at one point, athletes I can’t look after. I might even have to say, ‘sorry, it’s too many’, and maybe recommend another agent.
Other organisations obviously have limited capacities, but I just started and I want to see how people take it and if they like it. In addition to me, there’s a lot of external people. So I have a lawyer for contract negotiations, a tax advisor, I have a guy for insurance, you know, for financial well-being. But also, I have performance coaches. If I can’t help at one point and there’s obviously people focusing on sleep, athletic, strength and conditioning coaches.
So, this is all there – I have an external professional network. But I’m the founder and owner and focusing on the execution right now. And if I can’t take care of something, other professionals can.
What was it like working with Alphari?
I worked with Alphari at Origen. He is an interesting guy. When I had the introduction call with him, he said: ‘I don’t care about anything outside of the game.’
I thought: ‘Hmm, that’s going to be a nut to crack.’
I was thinking, okay, I’m not going to tell him every day what to do. I just actually said, okay, I’m older than him. I’m already fit, but I will make sure I become a lot more fit and positive, and maybe lead by example.
At one time, I think during the split, he came back and said: ‘Okay, I’m going all in.’
He lost 30-35kg in like half a year. At one point he even outworked me and he “warmed up” as he said, for 45 minutes, which can be easily seen as a solid cardio workout. Sometimes I had to leave the gym because his sessions went over two hours and I had to work on other things. When he puts his head to it, he is all in. He’s all-in or nothing and that’s also why he’s so good. He got a complete mindset shift with what it means to be an athlete.
So we worked together in 2019 when we went to the finals in the first LEC split with Origen, and then after one year I went to Excel because they didn’t have enough budget for the staff, basically. But it was a blessing to work with him. I’m still really close to him and super happy to see him at Worlds again.
That’s the thing with players like Alphari or Upset from three years ago, they always reach out and the parents reach out. You really enjoy these relationships and helping your boys. You have to do it your own way, and I’m not going to represent them because they obviously have agents, but obviously you can also support players or people you’ve worked with before and it’s obviously a really nice feeling.
It’s good to talk about Alphari. I’ve been lucky to have followed his career since when I set Esports News UK up in 2015. He went unbeaten with Team Infused in the ESL UK & Ireland Premiership and I remember interviewing him (Alphari) and Maxlore. He did come across immature at the time, with a blunt sense of humour, but he was only about 16 so was still a young boy. It’s been great to see him grow and mature over his career into the player he is today, it’s a good example of player development.
Yeah. He was super cocky, but he has to be cocky. I think when he was 19 he was quite similar. Because if you’re winning almost everything and are super successful and make a good salary at this age, you think you know it all. I did this as well when I was an athlete.
He’s completely different now. He’s super mature. He’s extremely intelligent. And he also shifted away from being selfish. He basically grew a lot and integrated himself more as a team player than an individual. For sure, he has developed loads.
There was that incident earlier this year when Alphari was benched at Team Liquid and I liked how he dealt with it.
Barney is not a guy that is disrespectful, he’s blunt, he’s open and he wants to win. Sometimes people in esports can’t take… it’s not criticism, he wants to win and he has a different view. Sometimes that different view is weirdly seen, so it’s important to talk about things.
Absolutely. You have a background in League of Legends, will you be focused on solely that game or other esports as well?
I will focus on League of Legends because I have worked in this game for four years now. Obviously at Schalke I worked also with PES and FIFA, but like you said, I’ve worked with Fortnite players at Excel and at Astralis they have the Counter-Strike team, so I’m highly aware of the stressors.
They’re team sports and are quite similar. In CSGO you are travelling a lot, so there’s a lot more about nutrition and having a travel snack list, you know. Sleep hygiene is a focus because you are changing countries and continents all the time. Without Corona, the League system is a lot easier. So I want to start with League of Legends first and then obviously, if it’s possible I want to go into different esports and increase. I’ve been really interested in football lately, and I can’t really tell you where it ends. But yeah, the main focus right now is League of Legends.
Like I said, we are talking about humans and people are having the same issues, challenges and obstacles, but it’s not all about the negative stuff. You also want to make sure if you have winners or want to create winners, that they have goals and you have goal-setting, regardless of what teams there are. In League of Legends you have less fluctuation compared to say, Valorant, where you sometimes see almost weekly changes in teams.
It’s really hard to understand, when the team is assigning a player and two months later, he’s gone because the tournament is done, you know, and at least with this, then you have someone you’re continuously working with. So a long story short, I’ll start by focusing on League of Legends, but there are obviously possibilities to increase into different titles and also traditional sports, but step by step, obviously.
You recently became a parent, you have a seven month old child. How is parenthood treating you?
It’s going really, really good, especially since I now have time at home and have my own agency. It’s super nice. I like to be competitive and work a lot, but for the last six months I haven’t seen her, but the last month I have. It’s obviously a blessing to be working from home and I’m just super excited. So I’m super excited to see her learn things like a high-five or falling and stuff, so it’s super cool.
Where are you going to be based? If an org comes to you and says they want you working with just them for a year. I guess that’s not what you’ll be doing now?
So, basically, I have a place with my family in Potsdam. That’s 15 minutes away from Berlin on the train. So I’m relatively close to players here. I will have one-on-ones with the players. From a structure perspective, I can’t really do too much within a team because if I’m a player representative, I don’t want to have any issues or conflicts of interest.
If I’m working with player A in team A, and if he has a different agent, I have a possibility from a sports psychologist or a coach to work with him, it’s a bit of a weird situation.
I want to work on the leadership of the organisation and educate them on the performance model to integrate things, talk to coaches and also simply just support coaches. Because I have created a masters on coaching profiles in esports. It’s the first one worldwide. The research is 65 pages. I just wrote this and I’m working on a coaching licence as well.
So I will not work just with one team unless just one team is interested, but I will make sure that I am definitely not an external guy who is full-time somewhere, that’s not what’s going to happen. Also, I would travel. At one point I obviously moved to Denmark or wherever because my wife was there.
I would always travel back and forth to North America and Berlin, and if I’m not there, obviously I’ll always be there on the phone. But it’s important for me to physically be next to people, especially when there’s a big tournament.
So I guess you’ll be with a certain team if needed, but not like the whole season in a gaming house like you were with Excel.
Yeah. I would distance myself from gaming houses to be honest, I would work with upper management.
I would obviously do work like one-on-ones with the people I represent as an agent, or go to a basketball or football game, once Covid allows. I like to do activities instead of being at a desk. So I will be still doing a lot of things in person, but I will try to detach myself from the organisational building, unless it is for the performance structure and implementing things.
I will not be seen too much with the teams because it’s quite a conflict of interest. I want to separate myself from the individual players of a team.
I have to ask you about Excel. You guys came so close to LEC playoffs, so many times. What are your reflections looking back on your two years with Excel?
A lot of change, I would say. I knew it was a lot of work when I started, like I could have worked for huge successful organisations in Europe and North America, but I decided to choose at that point (Summer 2019) the very worst team in the league, because I wanted to show people that this is not a joke, this is not a meme, this is not marketing.
We are talking about humans. And every human is in an environment where they can thrive. They can trust people looking up and can fully focus on the game. They are going to get better. And we did that, but not at all to the level which I wanted to have, results-wise.
The academy did great and we could really see that the overall structure we implemented really was great. We also had some veterans in the team, but still just having good players doesn’t mean you’re a good team. And things were different with Coronavirus and Brexit. We had to change what was basically a student home to an office where people lived in, to a performance office where we even have a gym and no one is living here, they’re in separate apartments. So that was operationally a crazy, big task.
We integrated performance measures so every team had a sports scientist who did operations and executed on our performance structure. That brought in an enormous extra value to the wellbeing and to the performance of the guys. But yeah, it is sad because we were really close to making playoffs – and that was the minimum. That was not a goal for me, making playoffs, sixth out of ten is less than average and we didn’t manage that.
It was a really bad thing, because the amount of energy and content we pushed with ‘The Power of Better’, we used this focus to be a megaphone to other organisations to open up and see: This is your responsibility. You have to take care of your players and if someone has a burnout, it’s not their fault, of course they are having this lifestyle but no one tells them it’s bad or tries to change it. I’m happy about the outside of the game approach but on the performance side and the results, it was quite rough.
Burnout seems to be very prevalent nowadays. It must be hard to get that balance right between putting in the practice, improving, gelling as a team and getting results and not pushing yourself too much. How do you strike that balance?
There’s a misunderstanding still in esports around preparation. Looking at football and traditional sports, usually you have five or six weeks in a pre-season to prep you for the entire year. And then you have some days where you’re extremely hurt, like it’s a practice, you’ll have some off days, and sometimes a once-a-week practice twice.
The problem in esports is everyone plays every single day, every single time, the same amount of hours and that is a big problem. Also, the misunderstanding that you have to change and give off days within the season. You have to do it and less is more. Obviously I’m not saying you have to play just one game a day.
It happens often in the gym too. If you do your bench press on Monday and you max your bench press. I’m going to tell you if you do it on Tuesday and Wednesday as well, it’s not the same value as it’s actually decreasing, because your body can’t cope with it. Esports players have a mental marathon almost every single day and, you know, not recovering… the brain must rest. Esports players are over-training and it leads to burnout.
Some say Coronavirus didn’t hit esports that much because we could still compete. Covid didn’t really change too much for the players cause they are living in this closed door environment, whereas the general population struggled a lot with COVID restrictions. This simply underlines a needed change for the health of the players, because they are still inside a lot… and you realise that’s what they’ve been doing all the time.
So you want to create a shift.
That’s really why I want this agency, because I don’t have to talk about this team or that team, it’s not about marketing. I am here because I have a daughter, and I know esports will be huge when she’s 20 in 20 years’ time. I want role models. People nowadays are not learning about nutrition in school anymore – what I eat is medicine, basically. They’re not learning about sleep or sustaining themselves or why nature is so important.
We all hear about sleep issues, mental health, physical education and nutrition, but we were never more sick. So it’s a really big picture, but I want to have role models as athletes who embrace this and later create content which should be taught in high schools. Students should understand what they as a human need to be successful and have a good mental and especially be staying healthy.
So I want to impact the scene. Seriously, I know these are big words and this is a big try, but I’m all in because I’m not limited by anyone. I can help players within different teams. I have the mission to have a huge impact, create a really healthy environment and a healthy movement. So that’s my main motivation, to be quite frank.
I have to say Fabian, and I’ve said this before in the Excel Esports BBC documentary, your style reminds me of Arsène Wenger, you have a calm, methodical approach and from what I can tell, tend to guide players rather than push them.
That really touched me when you compared me to him. I try to push players sometimes, but with other players you have to give them a bit more freedom.
When you spend so much time with the boys, you know someone cares for you and wants you to be the very best, it has an impact on them at one point. You don’t know when, you might miss it or he might get it when you leave.
A good example is Markoon. He’s super talented and joined the Excel first team in the middle of the summer split. I told him: ‘Mate, you can be the very best person in your position, but you have to use your genes, you have such good genes for sports, you’re so young and can really become healthy. But if you continue what you’re doing outside of the game, you’re super talented and will still have success, but you actually have the chance to be the very best.’
So I told him the next time I see him somewhere and he’s playing, he has to use his genes. And guess what? He texted me in the off-season saying he’s going to the gym three or four times a week. I couldn’t believe it but I’m super happy.
What UK League personalities Caedrel and Alphari say about working with Fabian:
Alphari, Team Liquid top-laner, said: “Fabian has shown me how much more there is to esports than purely skill and drive, helping me not only to become a better player, but a better teammate and person. After working with him, I’m still inspired by the passion and selflessness he puts into his work, to further push players and teams to be the very best version of themselves.”
Caedrel, LEC broadcast talent and streamer, added: “Fabian changed my approach to competing as a professional and practically turned my life around mentally and physically, to help me reach higher highs and avoid lower lows.”
“When you read that, you get goosebumps,” Fabian says. “In the end we’re humans, and people forget that. They can be super harsh to a player because they don’t see Marc, they see Caedrel, they don’t see Elias, they see Upset, and so on. If a player makes a mistake, it’s not because they want to do it or don’t give a fuck, it’s just they’re humans who are making errors. They’re super competitive and thinking about a lot of things.”
You can follow Fabian Broich on Twitter and visit the Achieveminds website here
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.