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Q&A: Zirene on NA’s worlds hopes, Cinderella stories and prepping for a month-long production

Cloud9 Challenger and Team Liquid Academy compete in the finals of the 2016 North American Challenger Series (NACS) Summer Split at the NA LCS Studio in Los Angeles, California, USA on 20 July 2016.

Slingshot’s Blake Bottrill caught up with Aidan “Zirene” Moon at the North American League Championship Series summer finals in Toronto on Sunday. They talked after the first game of Team Solomid vs. Cloud 9 to talk about North America’s expectation at worlds, who will win the gauntlet and the preparing for a month long production.

Blake Bottrill: We just saw TSM bleed a little bit. People are calling TSM objectively good at League of Legends this year. What do you think is the best case scenario for them or any North American team heading into worlds?

Aidan “Zirene” Moon: I’ve heard it both ways where people want a really strong No. 1 team, whether it’s TSM or Cloud 9, to just 3-0 and get to worlds and be strong. I’ve also heard that people want it to be two very strong teams, 3-2 for whoever wins. Some people are saying Cloud 9 wins so that TSM and C9 go instead of CLG and you could possibly have Immortals which looks like the third strongest team over CLG. Personally, I think the one where C9 wins, TSM is second and Immortals third is currently better but CLG put a little doubt in my mind yesterday with the performance that they had. They may very well be the third strongest team but they would have to fight in the gauntlet, and that’s what I want to see.

BB: It was a really close match yesterday. Insanely close up until the last game. If C9 wins today, CLG has to play the gauntlet and we get a rematch of that game. Is there anything that CLG could do to bring that back?

AM: If the match happens again, I think Immortals take it and they take it faster. Right now, when patch changes happen like this people break off into scrim groups. You’re scrimming only two teams out of the six that are in playoffs. You are shooting in the dark. You are throwing darts in the dark and hopefully you are hitting the right thing. Some of them hit on Tahm Kench; this is great. We saw TSM and C9 actually adopt that in the semifinals. Immortals was a little bit slower to pick that up and CLG as well hasn’t really picked that up either. Now we are seeing a disengage meta. We’re seeing Vladimir, hard to dive. Ekko, hard to dive. Gangplank, hard to dive. Tahm, same thing. You are seeing all these champions that stop pressure from happening and Shen is also there as well where he stops you from diving the bottom. There is a lot of champions in the game currently that we are seeing banned out because they are paralyzing people. I feel like Immortals felt that paralysis yesterday and they decided in Game 5 that they still just need to play their style, have those skirmishes and take that risk early on. They are letting it get to 40 minutes when everything is tied up and then they are taking that risk. You saw in Game 5 with the teleport down when Huni came down and Darshan didn’t, that’s what won them the game and gave them a gigantic lead.

TSM vs Cloud9 in the 2016 Finals of the North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS) Summer Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on 28 August 2016.
TSM vs Cloud9 in the 2016 Finals of the North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS) Summer Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on 28 August 2016.

BB: We often see teams in traditional spots be okay with perennial mediocrity. I’ve never heard a League of Legends player or owner say, “Our goal is to make it to worlds” or “We want to win NA LCS.” It is always, “We want to win worlds.” Is that a good mentality to have or is there some naivety in that?

AM: Everybody strives to be the best. I would say it is very discouraging if the people who are supposed to be believing in you say, “Hey maybe we’ll get third. That would be great.” That is not a champion mindset. I hear it all the time and I personally think it’s a cliche when I hear “You don’t have the mindset of a champion. You’re not gonna go that far.” I used to rag on that but since we’ve seen more sports psychologists in the scene and I have been able to talk to some of them, it really is true. You put your limits on yourself in terms of what you can do, if you are hard on yourself and you bring yourself down after games that is always going to be completely unrelated to what your goals are. That is what holds you back. If you blame others, if you are hard on yourself. Instead if you have a growth mindset and you realize that failure is a part of process, “We may get seventh place this split but that is just a stepping stone in our journey to get better.” The most important thing is a growth mindset over having the type of mindset where we’re going to win this whole thing, and the other one is alignment. No matter what you want to win, make sure everybody is on the same page. If you have a rookie who just wants to play in the LCS, there is going to be some animosity between him and the veteran who wants to win LCS. Just make sure everybody is on the same page.

BB: What do you think it would take for us to see a repeat of Season 2 and Taipei Assassins’ Cinderella story?

AM: Oh man. The TPA Cinderella story was really interesting because there wasn’t too much exposure to that region at the time and that’s what really took people off guard. Everybody said, “Korea is great, Europe is great with Moscow 5 and all of that.” Whenever you talked to somebody in the tournament they said, “TPA is really strong, watch out for TPA.” They saw it coming a little sooner than everyone else and I think it was just the lack of exposure. In order to have that happen again I think it is actually very difficult. There is a lot of exposure to all these regions now. I think Flash Wolves of the LMS going really far and winning would be a Cinderella story and in fact, anybody beating Korea right now is a Cinderella story because they just look so dominant, but I think this might be the year that it happens.

BB: Worlds is coming back to North America again this year. They sold out the Staples Center in 30 minutes again. I have a lot of people ask me about stadiums in North America. Season 4 in Korea they sold out 40,000 seat World Cup stadium. Do you think North America is ready for that 40, 50, 60,000 seats?

AM: Yeah I would say so. We are at the Air Canada Centre right now with half of that amount and it’s filled to the brink and it sold out rather quickly as well. I think we’d be ready for something like a gigantic soccer field. In fact when we did Sangam Stadium that was a soccer stadium we didn’t do in the ’round’ like the current setup we have done for Berlin and the Air Canada Center where you are able to do it 360 degrees, we actually cut off a lot of those seats. I think we could fill it this time.

BB: Worlds spans an entire month and there is a lot of preparation that goes into that big of a production. What is the biggest difference prepping for worlds instead of your week-to-week prep?

AM: Our week to week prep, there are just a lot of conversations with people who cast the games. maybe you go watch the games. It’s a lot easier. There is a huge volume of things we need to catch up on and this season is actually very unique because we dropped best-of-ones in both Europe and North America. The volume of games that we have to watch to catch up to other regions, to be on track with LCK, LPL and EULCS is absurd. So we are going to have to bring in all these international casters, we are going to have a bootcamp, we are going to talk to them for like a whole week, exchange information. That is the big difference, we are bringing in our international partners, it’s going to be a ton of fun and it is just going to be a lot of work. It is going to be a lot of the same, but you dissect things a little bit more and you have more minds to pick.

Photos courtesy of Riot Games