The Unicorns of Love remain perched at the top of Group B in the European League of Legends Championship Series. In their last series before Rift Rivals, they played a difficult best-of-three against Ninjas in Pyjamas, the last place Group A team. Following the match, head coach Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant chatted with Slingshot’s Kelsey Moser about draft decisions, working with this year’s UoL roster, and the upcoming Rift Rivals event against North America.
Kelsey Moser: A lot of the Rek’Sai early paths are kind of standard now, but it seems you still had some trouble dealing with Rek’Sai in the first two games and ultimately decided to ban it. What were some of the issues with it, and why did you decide to ban it in the end?
Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant: The most important ban for us was the Elise ban because we removed AP, and then they went double AD every match. Then they had Renekton, Rek’Sai, they had not much CC in the mid lane. I think they had like Corki and Cassiopeia and stuff like this. So we were actually not too concerned having the Rek’Sai because it’s very hard for the Rek’Sai to actually get in. Our mid lane and top lane needs to somehow get around, and we had red side as well. On red side, Rek’Sai can go behind on top lane, and then it’s hard.
We’ve been doing pretty well, but then at some point, the Rek’Sai started invading, and then he had this kind of early game pressure where, until level 6, there’s almost no jungler that can rival him in terms of mobility and sustain and trading. So we wanted to remove that. We have a wider champion pool in jungle as well. The only thing that went a bit into trouble is that they didn’t ban Zac, and so we had to ban Zac because there was nothing else open, usually they banned it. That kind of forced us to give another ban.
In general right now, Rek’Sai is really strong. The E mobility is really insane, and the passive is good for vision control. He falls a little bit down depending on what build you go, if you go Warriors, but this champion is really, really, really strong right now. The tunnel has like three seconds cool down so it’s really easy to go in a fight and out of the fight. The ultimate is extremely strong because you can tower dive with it, he deals a lot of burst, he tanks everything up even if he goes like Warriors, and then just ultimates and resets tower aggro to your other laners, so he’s really strong.
KM: NiP have been having a lot of trouble lately, especially their bottom lane, but it seemed this series they were really gravitating toward this Thresh-Jhin combo. Were you expecting them to go for that, and did you consider denying it? There is a bit of debate right now regarding whether you deny picks that a team is obviously just much more comfortable with.
FM: We didn’t really consider him to play Jhin because we just don’t think right now that the champion is one of the power picks. He could have played Varus and had kind of the same effect on lane, and the only thing right now with the Jhin is that he goes full crit, so he needs to be able to auto attack. Actually, he was able to do quite well in the games. I think the champion is strong in itself. It is probably one of the playable ADs. But we didn’t really fear him or anything.
Now you scale Q, so the W doesn’t deal so much damage, and before you could just not auto attack, start your ultimate, W into ultimate, and you just win team fights. We loved to play the teamfight with the Gangplank, Rumble jungle, and Jhin ADC. You basically just say we fight now. Ultimate from the Gangplank with the true damage into Jhin W. But we had to scratch that because now you need to auto attack with Jhin, and that makes him kind of like any other ADC.
We just removed anything we felt was strong in the early game. Jhin has good laning phase. You can lane against almost anything. We removed Caitlyn, which was the only strong early game pick, so I think, considering how we play, and where our mistakes and weaknesses are right now, I think we picked accordingly, and Jhin seems to be a good pick, but nothing really outstanding.
KM: In the second game, you went into this scaling, mid collapse, very comfortable Unicorns of Love style comp. Is that something you’re more likely to do after a loss?
FM: It’s kind of weird because the enemy didn’t play proper midgame. They didn’t know how to exert pressure, put correct vision down, and push lanes out. We’ve been constantly getting away with being weaker but still getting a push, which, against stronger teams might not work. Also the Kassadin scales better than the Galio in mid lane because you are trading off an AP damage dealer for the tankiness of the Galio, and usually top laners have almost no damage in that case. We played Rumble, which is good.
In every game, I think we out-drafted them really hard, but we’ve just been playing extremely sloppy. This is really the fault from us. I think everyone will look at themselves and try to fix that. That’s why I think a lot of criticism was also coming from people. But I think just drafting-wise, we’ve been doing extremely well, and I think that the scaling just came natural to us because they just didn’t punish, and we just felt like we could run Twitch-Kassadin and whatever scale top lane, and it would be fine. It was a bit cocky, but I think it was not blind cockiness. I think it was smart because we were allowed to do so. In the end, we won games after like 27 minutes, 28 minutes, and then the outscaling just went off. Kassadin level 16 is unstoppable. We had — Rapid Fire Cannon right now is extremely (pause) strong (let’s say it like this) with Warlord’s as well and Statikk and Infinity Edge. So basically Cassiopeia and Thresh and all those champions just had insane difficulty engaging, so we know that if it goes to mid and late game — it’s just so hard to play against. It’s really, really hard not to get poked out. Corki is also one of the champions where he just scales, and he’s so strong.
KM: You said that you think you’ve been playing so sloppy. I’m hearing this from a lot of top teams right now, not just UoL and not just in Europe. Is there a meta or other reason for this?
FM: I think we are just extremely self-criticizing. We know what it means to be weak and the corresponding losses with that. The people that have been longer in the scene as well are pushing this kind of mentality that it really sucks and it’s really regretful to lose and to be weak. That is the right sports mentality if you are going into a competitive environment. I think right now with 70 million, 80 million people playing and with Korea being so dominant and so extremely well-prepared, I think it’s a good thing that people are so self-criticizing.
Even Faker will go over a game and say this and that. In one year, we will look back to ourselves like we do right now and say how extremely poor or weak or bad I was back then and how much you learned as compared to one year ago. We are 10 times stronger. I think that this kind of mentality and this push for improvement is actually great to see as long as it’s not self-inflicting like “I’m so, so bad” and suddenly you become depressive or you become self-destroying. If it’s like a good amount and being realistic, I think this is a good thing for a sports person.
KM: You mentioned looking back, Unicorns of Love very frequently has to rebuild its roster. I imagine many times you have to start over when you add new players by teaching them the system, making them catch up, etc. What’s a big difference between starting this split with the same roster and restarting in the past with brand new rosters?
FM: That’s pretty hard. I think that our very first roster with Vardags and whatnot was mechanically not as strong. I think we have been stepping up with that a lot. For example, Xerxe seems to be naturally gifted. He’s 17 years old, so he doesn’t have the experience to carry him through at some times, so he just kind of effortlessly almost — compared to someone who is 24 like Csacsi who has been working hard, you know? He’s almost kind of a bit unfair. He’s not that extremely talented. I mean still Csacsi has so much knowledge from all the time, but it’s still very impressive for me to see.
I think that Samux has been doing well as well. He didn’t seem that strong in the beginning, and that makes me kind of think that even though maybe something innate was with Xerxe. Just us restarting right now — that our base is just extremely strong. We’ve cut all the bullshit and all the unnecessary stuff, and we’ve become closer to the way that leads straight to the goal of becoming the strongest team or becoming as strong as possible. That is credit to Vizicsacsi and Hyli and also Exileh, Romaine, and everyone who is involved. Credit to them as well.
If you have to restart a roster every time, kind of my mentality going towards that — because I think it’s like maybe scary for some coaches if they are in the same position where they can’t keep their roster because money or because they’re young and want to do different things. It’s a relief to have this kind of authority for yourself that you know what they can do and learn every day. So right now if everyone would leave from our team, that can happen, that’s a possibility — I feel so strong with my own knowledge that I know exactly what Csacsi was thinking and Hyli and Exileh, you know like 80-90 percent. As long as I have this knowledge and I know how to apply it because I’ve been coaching for a while, and apparently it seems to work, then I can just build a strong roster. Especially with Romain, who is like making a really nice environment. This comfort, this confidence, and what we learned already just made our team really strong in this split with the right people.
KM: Has there been a shift from learning fundamentals to something else this split?
FM: I think that our fundamentals get more solid. I think that people are bringing something new in. I think Xerxe and Samux have really nice ideas how to play the game. Always fresh air. Our knowledge is kind of all over the place because we have so many different ideas. Hyli is playing extremely aggressive, so sometimes I have to think about stuff like although our team comp is supposed to do this and this, and we’re weak in the early game, this seems to be an okay position to fight. So I’ve been pushed in a situation where a normal coach would just say “Just back off, this is like 4-v-3 fight although they don’t have ultimates,” but I’ve been pushed more towards this (aggressive) side. So that’s really interesting, that’s something that Hyli tried to push. I’ve grown on that, we have grown on that as a team. Samux and Xerxe did as well. We have grown from that as a team, putting that to our fundamentals and just sharing overall. I think right now we have such a great mix of what came new and what we had already. Now our fundamentals are really strong because they’re constantly contested. We can actually refine them and refine them.
Right now, we went 1-7, three games in a row, and we still managed to win mid and late game. I think against G2 we also fell behind because we tend to fall behind a lot. We’re just playing very, I think, solid.
KM: Have you gotten to a point where you might try new strategies or something else like this?
FM: We are trying to always do new things, but not for the sake of doing something new. Everything is geared toward winning the game, and that’s like everything that matters. You can do everything right and still lose, but that’s life. The more you try and the more you put effort in, the higher your chances are, and we’re very aware of that.
I think in this regard, we’re just playing good. We’re just doing well for ourselves. I really want to give credit to the people themselves because they’ve been very self-aware and grown up a lot. Xerxe is like 17, and he has a really great mentality.
KM: Unicorns of Love have an interesting scrim reputation. Do you have a different view from some other coaches on how scrims should be used or the purpose of scrims themselves?
FM: I think that we’re taking a lot out of the scrims. Possibly sometimes not as effective as it should be. Maybe we’re taking a bit too much time. We’re perfectionists at some point as well, I think that’s everyone in the game. But that’s why we have to do this split between being effective, getting 80 percent out of it instead of getting 90 percent out of it, but you take twice as much time.
Our scrim reputation is that we do all this crazy stuff. There’s a lot of kills, a lot of this, a lot of that, we have new picks every time, and you never know what’s gonna happen. I think that’s kind of died down more. I think we’re still very competitive when we’re playing the scrims, so it might end up being a lot of kills because we think we are stronger when we are not or they think they are stronger when they are not, and we’re contesting that. So we are really pushing ourselves to know our limits. But the whole craziness about different picks and all that is not that vivid right now.
But if there’s something that’s broken or new or OP — like we are the only ones who are playing Hecarim, we put out Warwick, we put out Ivern the first time. There’s a lot of other stuff we’re playing as well that we’re not sure is going on stage. That’s sadly died down as we are driving more to how to play the game correctly than changing everything. We’re just trying to perfect what we’re doing.
KM: I talked to Zven a little earlier today about Rift Rivals, and he thinks you will do well in the best-of-one stage because your style is very difficult to play against if you haven’t experienced it. Is this something you agree with, and have you tried to cultivate that at all?
FM: I really am not a big fan of styles. I think that Fnatic has a style as well. If I’m reflecting about it now, it feels like I’m seeing other teams, and it feels like they have styles, therefore I don’t see us having a style, but I think they will see us as having a style, you know? But really, our own concern is play the game as good as possible, and we don’t feel like we have a style.
Maybe it’s like a preference in pick and ban. Like we’ve picked a lot of scaling lately, we’ve picked a lot of champions that aren’t so meta in the mid lane like Vladimir, Ryze, and stuff like this. But we’ve never picked it for the sake of picking — just because we think it’s the strongest, you know? I feel the same as well for Fnatic who are always drafting Kennen ADC and stuff like this, I think that’s just their strength. That is kind of what they think is the strongest right now. It’s working for them. That’s the nice thing about League of Legends as well where mastery of the champion and viability of the champion are something that goes hand-in-hand. So if Rekkles is extremely good with Kennen, he can make it work because he knows exactly what to do. That’s awesome, and that’s a way to win the game.
For us maybe we play a lot of scaling and try to win that or play pushing bot into mid lane rotation (we do that a lot). I think it’s really cool to see that they have different styles. For us, I just feel that we don’t have that. I trust [Zven] as well. If he says we have this style, then it’s like this. I really think that we have a tight style. We rarely let something slip (I mean not in terms of dying, I think we are dying a lot). If we see an opportunity, then we’re going to really grind it out. I think that might be how to play. We are right now like 4 or 5k behind in the early game. But if our style — let’s call it our style — becomes a little more solid, then I think we can just roll over people as well.
KM: You have probably been watching NA to prepare for Rift Rivals. Is there an NA team you watch that you feel you relate to more or really understand their mentality when they’re going into draft or the way they set up their play?
FM: I don’t have this thought when I watch them. I think my biggest thought is that sometimes there’s some place where I’m more than surprised that this actually worked out. I remember enemy is TPing behind TSM or something, and they should lose really hard, but somehow it’s their perspective they were totally fine. Then there comes this insane play from Svenskeren where he’s surviving with like 10 percent HP with Lee Sin and kicks someone in.
That is not a solid, replicable play that you go into thinking oh this is going to happen or it’s a macro advantage or something. That happens to me like all the time (when I’m watching NA) like holy where does this go now? If it’s punished correctly, then you should win. But if they’re able to pull this kind of stuff off against us as well, then it’s going to be really interesting. I think I look the most forward to TSM because of our rematch. They want to have their revenge.
KM: UoL vs TSM is always fun.
FM: Yes, it’s always a fun time against TSM, and P1 is like last place, so I think it’s fair to say that they may be a team that needs to surprise. I’m also looking forward to Cloud9. I think their mid laner is playing well as well. I think the mid laners that they bring — well, they are European as well. But I think Bjergsen and Jensen are pretty good, and I remember we played against Bjergsen, and they played Zilean-Olaf against Viktor mid lane from us. They dived mid lane like three times. I’ve never seen this before. I don’t hope it happens against us, but I hope this kind of stuff can maybe happen a bit.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games