Despite its current tie for eighth place in North America, Phoenix1 impressed spectators at Rift Rivals with a strong early game against Fnatic and a win against Unicorns of Love. Following the match, Phoenix1’s Derek “zig” Shao talked to Slingshot’s Kelsey Moser about expectations for the event, Renekton matchups, and whether or not P1 will win Worlds.
Kelsey Moser: The first obvious question — P1 really weren’t expected to show up for this tournament. How did you feel coming into it?
Derek “Zig” Shao: We didn’t really have high expectations of ourselves either, I guess, because obviously we aren’t top three right now in our region even though we qualified for this tournament last split. I think it’s just a win-win situation for us. We’re a relatively new roster, and any international experience really helps us a lot. If we win? Sweet, we win. If we lose? Oh, the eighth place NA team lost to a European team. So there’s not much pressure, and I think it’s a good environment.
But, that aside, there’s still the stress of jet lag and stuff. Scrims didn’t exactly go well the first day we were here, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but when we were playing on stage it really felt more comfortable.
KM: Before you came, you had the win over Immortals. Did that give you some confidence?
DS: We’re going off a 2-0 weekend. Our first eight matches, we went 1-7, but now we’re 3-7, so we’re out of last place and into a tie for eighth place in NA, and I mean our play has just been getting cleaner as time goes by. We’re really just focused on trying to make the postseason, trying to make playoffs and qualify for the gauntlet, so I definitely think that win helped us out coming into this tournament. It showed us that we can still actually win, and everyone was like “Daily reminder, P1 is going to Rift Rivals and Immortals isn’t,” but no one can really say that shit after we just beat Immortals, so it kind of solidified that we’re not that bad of a team, and we could do stuff here. We could show up.
KM: It seems like right now top-jungle synergy is really important. How did adding MikeYeung to the roster affect the way you’re playing?
DS: Our previous jungler and I didn’t really have too much synergy. We actually made a lot of fumbles when we were playing around top side, but when we brought Meteos in for last split, he liked playing a lot of tank junglers and supportive — he liked playing around vision and stuff instead of hard farming and trying to carry the game. That actually opened up my weird style a lot better. I got to play different types of carries and stuff.
I think Mike is similar to Meteos in that he can play around every lane pretty well. In LCS and in scrims, he’s really successful ganking top, and we actually get a lot of advantages from it when we play a lot of Renekton-Elise which is really high pressure for pretty much any top laner. You don’t really want to play against Renekton-Elise. I think Mike just sets up ganks top pretty well. I think being able to play around every lane is really important because it depends on the draft and all sorts of other factors like luck and if laning phase went well. Being able to create an advantage from anywhere I think is really good.
KM: Speaking of the Renekton, you guys went ahead and played the Kled into it. Typical answers are like the Gnar or the Kled. Did you go to the Kled because you’re personally more comfortable with it?
DS: Yeah, I think we played Kled vs Renekton against Immortals. And I’m not even sure if Gnar was banned or something. Kled is kind of one of my comforts right now. I was one of the first people in NA to play it. Into the Renekton matchup, it’s pretty much if you stabilize early, you’re just a way more useful champion later because you have more gap closers, five man ult, and he’s really tanky too. I think — yeah, it’s really one of the answers we have for Renekton. I think we’re used to playing with it as a team.
KM: Against Fnatic, you had some pretty strong lane matchups and got that early lead. There have been a lot of back and forths this split. What sort of considerations do you have for closing out the game when you pick for strong lanes?
DS: I think for that game in particular, our execution in team fights wasn’t good enough. As the game goes on, playing against Zac and Corki is actually just like really really hard unless we do every team fight perfectly. We had a few fumbles mid game, and I think we should have played around Baron more and tried to get a fight going, but it just felt like they were able to stabilize the game, and even though we were up like two turrets, we probably only had like a 1K gold lead because they were still farming pretty well. They seemed generally pretty clean. We had advantages, but they were conceding things pretty well. If they couldn’t fight at dragon, they’d give it. They just team fought better in the end. I have to watch it again, I guess.
KM: As the tournament goes on, you’ve picked up some momentum. Do you feel pretty clear on how you’ll play through the group stage?
DS: I think we have to play G2 tomorrow. We’ll watch their games today. It just feels like the North American and European metas are a little different. We have different priorities on Galio and Caitlyn. They really like Kha’Zix. Some teams really like Kassadin. Like UoL, for instance, really likes Kassadin. I think we’re just going to try to not stray too far from how we usually like to play because I know that’s a trap that a lot of teams fall into when they go international. If they see a team’s doing something well in scrims, they’ll try to pick it up really fast and change their entire draft. I think we’ll just keep doing what we do well, playing around similar picks. If it stops working and we get crushed on stage, we’ll re-evaluate then, probably, but right now I think we’re in a pretty comfortable spot. No one expected us to even win a single game, and Day 1 we’ve already won one. I think we’re already exceeding our own expectations, and we really have nothing to lose.
KM: Is it weird to play against a team like UoL that will do these really late scaling picks? Is it something you were prepared for?
DS: UoL is one of the weirder teams in Europe. They have a different approach to draft. They were playing Hecarim and Warwick recently, and those are champions we’ll never see in North America for whatever reason. I’m not even sure if they’re good. Seeing them win with them, it kind of confuses us. We made a lot of considerations in draft and definitely put a lot of preparation into the match. We snowballed really hard early. I think Ryze in general, if he doesn’t get a lane winning or he doesn’t win his own lane, he’s just not a good pick, and Corki is actually really insane now scaling-wise, so yeah I think we just had the better plan today.
KM: Do you know why Ryu likes the Rod of Ages on Galio?
DS: We were playing scrims, and he was playing Lucian mid vs Ori, and the Ori just went Rod of Ages, and just lately like in LCK, I think MaRin built Rod of Ages on Gragas vs Kennen. I think if you can get away with it, it’s a really good item. I guess he pretty much did get away with it because he won that early game — he got ahead. If you can build it for free, and you’re against a high damage threat, it seems pretty good. But when I play Galio, I don’t build Rod of Ages. Maybe it’s just like a mid lane thing or something.
KM: The casters seem to really want to know — is Phoenix1 going to win Worlds?
DS: Yes. Step 1 is place eighth. Win through the Gauntlet through full reverse sweeps like Cloud9 did however many seasons ago. Then we’ll go and win Worlds just like that, beat all the Koreans.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games