Q&A: An “Balls” Le on Cloud 9’s origins, the Hai effect and League of Legends’ rise

Cloud9 enters this weekend’s North American League of Legends Championship Series spring playoffs as the No. 3 seed with a 12-6 record. It’s been a fascinating spring split for C9, which has been trying to wane itself from being so dependent on longtime star Hai “Hai” Du Lam. It signed two players in the offseason, Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae and Michael “Bunny FuFuu” Kurylo, to begin that process but soon found Hai was still too vital to the team’s success.

Top laner An “Balls” Le was one of the early C9 players and has developed a good relationship over the years. He sat down with Slingshot to discuss his start in League of Legends, how the game has changed and this year’s approach with Hai and BunnyFuFuu. The transcript is below:

Vince Nairn: So you were one of the first Cloud9 members. What’s it been like seeing the organization grow and rise throughout the years?

An “Balls” Le: It’s pretty cool that I’ve been here since the start of Cloud 9. I’ve been here a long time, and I didn’t even realize it. It’s been almost four years. It’s just amazing to see how we built up our fan base and how far we came.

VN: And three years in League time has to feel like a decade, I’m sure. And not only C9, but how have you seen the entire esports scene revolutionize in your time?

AL: I never expected esports to be this big. I was just playing League for fun. Something I do for a hobby when I go home from school. And it turned out the game just got bigger and bigger, and I start participating in LANs, and it just took off from there.

VN: How’d you get into it? How’d you first pick up the game?

AL: Well I think my cousins all started playing it in beta, and I just came to his house one day and asked what he was playing. He said it was League of Legends. It was a MOBA. I had no idea what was going on. Five players vs. five players. He said I should try it sometime.

I think after I picked it up, it was weird because I played (Twisted Fate). It was at the point where I bought like nine health (potions) and 10 mana pots to start off I had no idea what to buy. I was so bad that my cousin didn’t want to play with me. So I just picked it up and kept it going.

I don’t think I had ever played a MOBA game before League. I didn’t know Dota existed. I didn’t play HoN. League was my first MOBA game.

VN: So what was the first point you got to realizing you might be able to make something out of this hobby?

AL: It was, first of all, it was the ranked solo queue system. I had to play on top of that. I don’t think there was Challenger at the time, you were just diamond. And it goes by the points system, 2,000-2,400. It was around Season 1, Season 2. I just got up there, and if you’re up there you get known by the other players. They start noticing you. You just make friends, and you form a five-man team and just participate in LANs. And you go against other teams and they notice you, then you get a good rep. I just got up there, and people thought I was a good top laner. That’s how I met (Jason “WildTurtle” Tran) and Hai (“Hai” Du Lam), and they just picked me up.

VN: It was so different back then, just meeting people and forming your teams off that when you didn’t have the Challenger Series or anything like that.

AL: Yeah. You had a lot of Go4LoLs. The weekly, was it $50? $20 maybe? I don’t know, but it was really small. And the monthly one was $500? The weekly ones were $100. The monthly ones were $500. There were some days we wouldn’t even get that far, my old team, APictureOfAGoose.

Then we’d go against CLG, Kobe on Amumu. And it was just scary going against them.

VN: So what’s it like seeing things now with so much structure involved than when you came up?

AL: It was pretty cool how the small LAN events just got bigger and bigger and started getting more professional. At first, it was just MLG events, and you’d go to a place that was just super crowded. We played in an area where the other team’s on the other side of the computer and we’re just competing against each other. And if someone yells loud enough, you can probably hear them through the headset because they’re right across from you. It’s just crazy how it changed from that to a stadium where we’re playing side by side. It’s crazy how it changed a lot.

VN: What are some of the other biggest differences you’ve noticed just during the time of your career?

AL: I think the other one is where the tournament brackets, it was not like the LCS yet. The LCS didn’t come out. You played tournament brackets where if you got far enough online you’d go to the LAN events. Then it would be like going up to seed number and seeing who you play. Just like how it would be in tennis, that format. And then going up there, we wouldn’t even play on the big stage. You’d be on the smaller area while the bigger teams be on the main stage for the main match. It’s cool how the LCS, you have all the fans watching you from the start. Back then, there was almost like no one watching.

VN: What were the crowds like at those early tournaments?

AL: There was, like, some audience by the main stage. Maybe a TSM or the more popular (teams) had some fans. But that was pretty much it.

VN: Looking at your team this year, you obviously added Rush and that was a big addition. What has this split been like just trying to work him in?

AL: I think this split we were testing out whether Bunny could fill in Hai’s spot for a while, but it didn’t work out well since we didn’t start off well with him. I think just improving our individual confidence and stuff without Hai is helping us get better or play better in scrims. So if we decide to put Bunny in future games, we’re able to all pitch in and do better.

But we notice that us talking more, combined with Hai, is scoring better too. But we’ll see how it works out in the future.

VN: Not even just any boost that he gives you during the games, but what effect does just being around Hai have on the team?

AL: I mean, I’ve played from the start with Hai, so we just kind of got used to when Hai’s in the game, we all talk a lot. When Hai asks questions, we answer. Just talk a lot. Without Hai, it’s a different voice, and we didn’t notice that until when he was out. But then we noticed that we didn’t talk that much without him, so we started talking more.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.

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