After making the playoffs of the North American League Championship Series in its first split as an organization this spring, NRG Esports has struggled.
At 3-7, NRG is in eighth place for the summer split, though it is only one game back of a sixth place tie, making a playoff spot still possible. The month between splits became one of change for NRG, which swapped out all but one of its starters from the spring. Joining the club were longtime players Alan “KiWiKiD” Nguyen and Lucas “Santorin” Larsen, Korean Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min and Diego “Quas” Ruiz, who was returning to the game after sitting out the spring split.
The transition has not been smooth for NRG, which has tried to get all of the players on the same page while being competitive in the LCS. Slingshot’s Vince Nairn talked to Santorin about those challenges, his own roller coaster career and how he ended up on NRG.
Vince Nairn: Your team has a lot of different pieces. You have a veteran like Kiwi, there’s Quas coming back from hiatus. How have you guys just tried to piece this whole roster together?
Lucas “Santorin” Larsen: When I was first offered by NRG, I saw the roster we were thinking about, and I was really excited to play with them. What I saw on that roster is people who really want to improve and want to win. When I see people like Quas and Kiwi, I see people I know are really good to work with. It’s a good environment for me to be in. I want to be in an environment where I can learn, and it’s easy to criticize other people. Right now, we’re in an environment where people are OK with (critiquing each other). We improve faster, but just the communication part is really where we’re lacking right now.
VN: Beyond communication, what other challenges have you guys faced so far this split? You look at the roster and there’s a lot of talent there, but it just hasn’t translated yet.
LL: There’s issues with champion pools and how we should play, who should be the leaders, who should make all the calls in the game. One of the things we as a team had a really hard time making words simpler so ohq can understand, so GBM can understand. And then we have to pick up where like ohq and GBM, normally I would say go backside, but we have to change it around so everyone can understand. I’ve never really played with foreigners who don’t speak English to an extent where they don’t understand everything I say. But we have a translator Barry, who is helping us a lot, and it’s getting better.
VN: Do you feel you’re starting to get a grasp on how to figure it all out?
LL: Yeah, I definitely feel like we’re getting better and better. When we started playing together, it was really hard for us. It was really rough. We had a really slow start, but we hit a peak where we were playing Echo Fox and Immortals, and then down again because we had to change the way we were communicating. The second ohq understands everything we’re saying, the second everyone is on the same page, it will be a lot easier for us to win games. I feel like we get those early leads. We just need to figure the communication out.
VN: Your career has kind of been an interesting one. You were on Coast, and then Huma, which was kind of a disaster, and then Ember breaking apart at the end of the spring split, too. How do you describe some of the just weird situations you’ve found yourself in?
LL: It’s been a roller coaster the past year. When I was first picked up by Coast, I left school to play for the team. I saw an opportunity. I feel like I had to take the opportunity because I wanted to play in America. I wanted to become really good at the game. I wanted to be known. I just wanted to compete the best I can. So when I went to TSM after Coast, I was really excited to be playing for them. They were seen as the best team back then. Also now. After TSM, personally I didn’t feel like I performed as well I should have, especially at worlds. So I looked at myself, and I was completely fine with playing in the Challenger scene because i had a lot of things I could prove, even from the Challenger scene, and I don’t see a reason to play in the LCS if I can do it from the Challenger scene. So I played with Huma, where the reasons why it was beneficial for me is because I had knowledge from TSM, but I was really bad at being a leader. I wanted to play for a team where I could be the leader, and I could learn and grow So on Huma I kind of took those roles: being a shot-caller, being a leader. So when I got onto NRG and now here, it’s way easier for me because I learned a lot from my past on the Challenger scene.
VN: You went from worlds to a Challenger team. Was there anything you needed to do mentally to be comfortable making that switch?
LL: Definitely. When you play against the best players in the world, you get punished if you make mistakes. When you go to the Challenger scene, that doesn’t happen so much. So that’s one of the things. I was able to get away with more. Also we played from home. I was back in Denmark. It was really weird for me because I was in America for the past year. So no crowd, no stage, no anything. I personally love being on stage. Love being on stage. Love interacting with people, so I definitely prefer to play in the LCS obviously. The main difference is people don’t know how to punish you and that’s also why it’s when I’m on NRG, I had to change the way I think about games.
VN: How did this opportunity come about for you?
LL: So basically when I parted ways with Ember, I had a few opportunities in EU and NA. I just looked at the rosters and who do I want to work with. And I saw NRG as by far the best option I had because I saw people like owners and management, super nice people. I know I could work with them and they would help me grow as a person. And then the players, I feel like I can make mistakes as long as I learn from them. I trust them to help carry me, which is something I’m grateful to have because I can improve faster. If I want to try something new, I can always try it. So that’s why when I saw the roster, I was so happy to play with them.
VN: Who is a player who has influenced you sometime throughout your career?
LL: There’s a bunch of people. One recently would be on Huma, werlyb. I really liked playing with werlyb, and he’s one of the people who have helped me be more aggressive. It became easier for me to be really aggressive because of him. I was really passive when I left TSM, so having helped me improve a lot.
VN: What’s been the best moment of your professional career to this point?
LL: I think it was (IEM Katowice 2015), mainly because TSM, I was performing really well back then. I think we were the first NA team to win a tournament with Koreans in it. That was also when I met my girlfriend, so it was a really great event for me.
VN: I thought you were gonna say worlds last year
LL: The reason I didn’t was because I didn’t perform so well.
VN: I think everyone is pretty much in agreeance Faker is the best player in the world. Beyond that, who’s next? Who else is up there either in the world or even just in NA?
LL: I still think Bjergsen should get a lot of credit. From playing with him, from seeing him still perform for as long as he’s been there, he’s always been doing great. Playing with him, he took a leadership role. He knows how to end games. He knows how to communicate well. He has the skill set to be a really great player.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.