Slingshot’s Andrew Kim caught up with Phoenix1’s Derek “Zig” Shao after Week 2 of the North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS). They talked about Phoenix1’s 0-4 start, how Zig started playing Kled and dealing with losses.
Andrew Kim: To address the elephant in the room right off the bat, it’s quite the surprise to see Phoenix1 to be struggling so much after the spring split. Not that the pressure isn’t impacting you guys, but what are some of the things that have led to the tough first two weeks?
Derek “Zig” Shao: It’s really hard to say because if there was a magic solution, obviously we would just apply it, everything would be good, and we’d be winning. I think it’s a variety of reasons. The league is more competitive now. People have been more acclimated to this type of patch. Between seasons it hasn’t changed too much, I think. A couple of picks were introduced, but teams are getting comfortable with how the games are being played, and it just seems like there’s a lot of volatility in general. A lot of the matches we could have won, like we won one game, but this week we just went 0-4. I don’t know, a lot of teams are being upset and stuff like that. I think it’s still early, and I think we can still turn it around, but we have a lot of soul searching to do.
AK: Would you say that it’s a fair assessment to say that Phoenix1, despite the losses, is steadily learning or finding things to fix?
DS: Losses are the best ways to identify weaknesses and figure out areas of improvement, but at the same time, it’s kind of morale killer to lose so much and to not really know what’s wrong. We have ideas, and every week we try to change a couple of things and see if it makes a difference, but our match score this weekend was actually worse than the last one, and now we’re in sole possession of last place. It’s looking a bit rough, but I think we’ll bounce back.
AK: Having a rough start in the split does a number on morale, as you said. Is there a particular way that you find is useful in preventing yourself from dipping down too low?
DS: I think you gotta win some time. Esports is very results based, just the industry as a whole competing and everything. If we keep losing, it’ll be really hard to turn it around without roster changes, and we already put in Meteos (William Hartman) instead of Inori (Rami Charagh). Our Game 2 against Cloud9 looked a little better, but then we came back today versus FlyQuest and just got torn apart. I think we just have to find a stable roster, really identify what our strengths and weaknesses are, and keep trying to improve week to week. We have another four day week of practice before the LCS, so hopefully something changes in that time. Hopefully we can get our shit together.
AK: How did you get started playing Kled?
DS: When Kled was first released or announced, Karma-Sivir comps were really popular. There’s five guys, maybe a Maokai in front of you, and everyone presses R and you try to run around the map and be fast. When Kled was released, I thought he’d be broken just because that was built into his kit, the Karma-Sivir ult kind of thing. For two or three months, I was just putting in games in solo queue, and no one really played him too extensively. When the worlds players were coming around NA, so around October or November, that was my most comfortable champion. I would just lane against Smeb (Song Kyung-ho), and some of the people that came like other European laners, but I did absolutely shit on Smeb in lane one game. My confidence steadily built up and when we traveled to Korea, I was practicing him a lot but he was always kind of a pocket pick. It turned out that my coach was also a huge Kled aficionado as well. He’s Diamond 1 Master tier in Korea, and Kled and Ivern were his most played, so we just found some situations where we thought it’d be good.
Last split I had a really good showing on him because it was a combination of people not knowing how to play against him too well, and I was also super proficient on the champion. This split I’m actually 0-2 on him and I think I’m still pretty good on the champion, but I haven’t been practicing it that much because people target ban me with it and I already kind of know most of the ins and outs of the champion. But people are more careful about playing against it now and they don’t let me get snowballed just from lane phase in a pure 1-v-1. I think the champion is definitely really good. It’s getting more popular in the LCK, and LPL always loved (it) because it’s fighting style champion where most match ups you’ll lose by getting poked down do you have to constantly all-in. That’s kind of the theme with the character. If you miss your skill shots or miss some stuff when you try to all-in, it can kind of go bad. I think he’s a really fun champion and he’s really a lot of fun to watch, too. His animations are hilarious and he makes funny noises when he dies. I’m glad I’m associated with a champion too, and I’m glad when we were in Vancouver I was able to pop off on him.
AK: When it comes to innovative top lane picks, Urgot happened today. What’s the story behind that?
DS: We were just thinking of Kennen counter picks. Kennen’s a super abusive champions in a 1-v-1 setting, and about three years ago when I was still playing Challenger, it wasn’t the LCS format, you go to LANs. It’s funny because I played Urgot top against Balls (An Le) but I was on Dignitas B and he was on Cloud9 and I just thought he was getting buffed constantly, and Kennen’s a pure 1-v-1 lane bully, and Urgot’s kit is an anti-ranged carry, anti-1-v-1 lane bully because his E-Q combo outranges auto attacks from ADs. I played him in scrims a couple of times, it went OK, our backs were against the wall today, and it didn’t exactly work out. But I felt in the pure 1-v-1 lane phase as a split pusher Urgot vs. Kenenen, it still seems pretty good. I would be willing to play it again, but I think we might narrow our focus and try to work out some things because it is pretty random. A little off-the-wall.
AK: There’s a kind of difference from last split’s P1 and this split’s P1, not just about winning and losing, but because you guys had a particular style in the spring. You were very comfortable with the 1-3-1 formation with split push and team fighting. That tendency seems to have been shifted away a bit in the summer. Is that fair to say?
DS: I think stylistically some of our strengths and weaknesses kind of got muddled up and us not really knowing what champions are great or what strategies at the start of the season. Little by little after we lost Week 1, we tried to change up a lot of things because we felt like our drafting strategies were just wrong, and sometimes in LCS we would end up with these really unforgiving drafts where if we fall behind it’s really hard to come back. We were trying to change up a bunch of things, and coming into this week we were playing more for lane. But then sometimes that makes people over focus on going for kills instead of objectives, and all sorts of other problems start to arise. We’ve been trying to make a lot of changes and that’s kind of what losing does. The other thing is, going into Week 1 of the LCS, we were actually doing really well in scrims for the most part.
When it came to stage, we weren’t getting some of the same champions we had in scrims, and we played against different things as well. So I think our games were just super volatile. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, and I think we’re just overplaying a lot of situations in the game right now. When we’re losing, there’s just more pressure. Everybody feels the individual pressure to overplay and make a super play or something, and try to win the game themselves, snowball a big lead by themselves. But it just won’t work against the current stand of the LCS. It worked last split because they were less coordinated and everything, but most teams were doubling down after their poor performances last split. So I think the overall strength of the NA LCS has risen, and we’re still just trying to find our group at this point.
AK: You mentioned that the team went through multiple different changes to try to find what the problem is and fix it. Do you think it’s worth trying to switch your focus when these kind of things happen or is it better to stick it out with what you had before?
DS: Honestly, I think there are arguments for both sides. This week I think we’ll have a lot more meetings and just talk about it, and talk about what we think is good, what we think is bad, what direction we should move toward as a team. I think maybe it is the wrong thing to try to change everything all at once because we get less confident in our strengths and some of the things we were doing a lot, really well even in our losses, we completely neglect and we go for a different strategy. I do think it’s a game of focusing on your strengths and trying to minimize your weaknesses, and if you change too much stuff up, it might cause some confusion.
AK: A lot of players say that the team that makes the least amount of mistakes usually wins. What is a team that doesn’t make mistakes?
DS: I think every team always makes mistakes, but just with flash, it’s pretty forgiving. You can make a positional mistake but as long as you use your flash before you’re exposed to dying or getting picked off, it’s fine. If you’re behind, you can always give up objectives or concede vision and make a final stand at a tower or something or a final stand at Baron. I think it’s more so the overall team play aspect of conceding things when you have to, fighting things when you have to. I guess SKT would be a cop out answer, but you’ll see them down like 3K (gold), because some bad shit happened in the early game. But they can keep the gold disadvantage at 3K for a super long time until that gold disadvantage is rendered useless. You play to your team’s strengths and weaknesses, you try not to overplay things, when you have to overplay things, like if Peanut (Han Wang-ho) needs to steal a Baron 50 percent of the time or higher and he does, then they get back into the game just like that. If you need a game winning team fight or something, then everyone plays super well. You’re allowed to make mistakes in the cases where it’s not going to lose you the game, but when it will lose you the game, that’s when the best teams will focus hard and avoid any big mishaps.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games/Slingshot illustration