The Unicorns of Love won a wild IEM Oakland League of Legends on Sunday, first defeating North American power Team SoloMid in the semifinals before beating Flash Wolves in a bizarre five-game series filled with pauses in the evening.
Slingshot’s Vince Nairn caught up with UOL coach Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant before the semifinals to talk about his team’s season, the state of IEMs and UOL’s desire to play in Katowice next March.
Vince Nairn: IEMs are kind of weird because you never really know what you’re going to get, especially with it being the offseason. What did you guys expect?
Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant: It was really weird. After our loss against Splyce (in the European regional gauntlet), we saw people playing on the world stage, and we felt that we missed by such a short amount. We thought we could make it. We got very excited once worlds got to the group stage and the semifinals. We met already way earlier to start practicing. So we’ve been practicing for a month and with the entire team for like two and a half weeks. So basically our prep for IEM was two and a half weeks practice with the team.
VN: The roster we saw today, do you expect that to remain intact going through into next season?
FM: We have the exact same roster as when we left the LCS (season). We’re looking to keep the roster we have right now. Of course, anything could still happen. But showing from the results we have had at IEM, I think we have right now a relatively strong roster.
VN: It was such a weird season for you guys in general. You started the spring split really strong, but then you lost diamondprox because of the visa situation and had to try to fill the jungle. There was kind of a lull there during the summer, and then you go and make a run almost to worlds. How do you sum all of it up?
FM: Crazy. Somehow, every Unicorns of Love year is crazy. We’ve had so many roster shuffles in almost every year we’ve (played). Always getting to the playoffs. Always fighting for a worlds spot. This year was extremely close, even the year before was extremely close. We had three opportunities to go to worlds. So yeah, summing up this year, visa problem, roster changes, and I think we were last place at some point as well. Then we worked ourselves up to sixth, fifth place. So yeah. Crazy year.
VN: I know it was early in the year, but how did the situation with diamondprox just kind of set you back from the start?
FM: Diamond was a really nice person. He was hard working, very experienced. He was one of the jungle prodigies back in the day. He has what it takes still to be one of the best players. At the time that we had him, it was really good. The visas issues came out of nowhere. Sadly, he is from Russia, and as much as it sucked for the organization, it sucked way more for him. He comes from Russia. He can’t really do anything about his nationality. He has built himself such a great legacy, and now was forced to stop even though he was willing to do more. It really sucked.
VN: How do you feel about the current state of IEMs in general for League of Legends teams?
FM: I can say that the production backstage for this IEM is way better than the production last time backstage. We have like our own (areas) we can practice, which is really good. So that’s definitely an upgrade. I think it was relatively smooth. Apart from this, I think IEMs so far is something that’s really great. Having more international competition is fantastic. That the teams kind of declined in such a short term kind of sucks for the viewers as well. At least we have TSM here. They bring a lot of national pride in. I think, honestly, the teams should stick a little more to it since it’s such a crucial time. It’s very difficult to find the best teams because usually they have the most important players, and they do not have roster shuffles.
VN: But you guys seemed genuinely pretty excited to be here, right?
FM: Yeah. It was the first time we got to play an Asian team. Ever. First time we played against them, and that was already a highlight for us. We’ve done well. We’re actually really happy about being here. We want to win this so we can also play at IEM Katowice. So this is really important for us
VN: You mention the weird timing of the event, but is there anything anyone can really do about it?
FM: I think it’s just a problem of esports right now in general or League of Legends. You have this time where players are just going around and organizations are not able to able to hold up to their players. Maybe they should schedule something around this. I don’t see a possibility for this. But the more that the esports scene is maturing, maybe you have substitutes, maybe the roster is bigger, and the players become more educated in how it works, they will stick to the team to play out the tournament to show themselves. It’ll be a gain from both sides.
VN: What do you think about the year of League of Legends on the macro level?
FM: The best-of-two, best-of-three implementation (in the LCS) was really exciting to see. I don’t know exactly what Riot is going to do for the next year, but I think that was really great. Once again, having SKT win finals, again, I think there’s just a lag between the Western and the Asian scene and people have been commenting so much on it. But I just really wish that this does not happen like in Starcraft, where all the Koreans are just dominating the scene and it just pressures out the rest. As long as this sticks, I think it will still be exciting.
VN: Do you have a preference between best-of-two and best-of-three going forward in the LCS?
FM: We have not tested out the best-of-three. I can see the downsides of schedule. It’s hard to schedule around best-of-three because you don’t know how long it is. Since we are before NA, I think it’s very difficult to have best-of-three implemented in Europe. Once again, it’s schedule versus having the excitement of a clear winner in the end. But in the end, I don’t care too much about those.
VN: What was it like having Koreans on the team and having a mixed roster at a time where it seems pretty clear that the best teams seem to be the ones where everyone speaks the same language?
FM: We have worked before with a Korean. Basically, their work mentality is extremely good. So they will sit down and put in the hours and actually practice. They will listen to what they should be doing. They will implement it themselves into the game. They’re really invested into the game, which is fantastic for me to work with. Also from the language barrier standpoint, it’s been difficult. If you have trouble speaking English, it will affect the team in a negative way. We are lucky that Veritas is speaking very good English and Move is speaking not-so-good English, but Veritas can help. And he’s slowly upping his English as well. I think we’ve found a really good middle ground, where the knowledge of League of Legends is mixing well with the language we have. So in the end we still have a really good work flow and can understand what’s going on.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games