Giants Gaming played a much faster 3-1 promotional tournament victory against Ninjas in Pyjamas than Schalke 04 did in defeating Mysterious Monkeys. Following the series, casters James “Stress” O’Leary and Devin “PiraTechnics” Younge spoke with Slingshot’s Kelsey Moser about the excitement around the promotion tournament. They discussed series predictions, the Giants and Schalke rivalry, and whether teams getting promoted from Challenger Series is good for the European League of Legends Championship Series.
Kelsey Moser: First, Stress, I have to put you on the spot because when I asked you last week, you said NiP and MM go through.
James “Stress” O’Leary: I knew this was coming.
KM: So what are your thoughts now, and where do you think you kind of weren’t looking? And how did they surprise you?
JO: I think for me, my predictions — when I made them — I would stand by them in the sense that I thought MM would be matching up against Giants, and I thought it would be Schalke against NiP. That’s part of the reason for MM. I think MM was the weaker prediction. I anticipated them to maybe show up a little bit better and have some aspects of side lane push up against Giants, who had proved against Challenger teams that they could teamfight really well, but I thought that maybe that was an edge MM would have.
For NiP, part of the hype was buying into the win against Fnatic. I do maintain that any team that can beat a No. 1 team from a group has shown they have the potential to be that good of a team, but it was clear today that NiP, apart from the one game, didn’t necessarily have a read on how to play (whether it was the patch or against Giants). Mid lane was way more influential than NiP had actually shown us, and I think that was a big pitfall here.
Speaking specifically on the predictions, I would make those predictions again, but yeah. I was quite wrong. One of them might still make it through because it is double elimination.
Devin “PiraTechnics” Younge: It could be NiP.
KM: Is that what you guys think now — that one of the LCS teams will still make it through — or do you think it’s going to be the CS teams?
DY: I think it’s hard to say based on how they match up against each other. In a tournament like this when there’s so much on the line — just day-to-day kind of mental (toughness) is a really important thing, and I think it’s fairly underrated when you’re often looking at analytics of how a team is going to play. It seemed to me that Mysterious Monkeys, even though it was a longer series, fell apart mentally a little bit more. I don’t know how it will actually unfold, but you saw how Amazing was kind of sitting there by himself after the last Game 5.
I feel like the Monkeys aren’t quite as mentally strong as NiP are, so I expect (NiP) to go through. Depending on if Schalke or Giants kind of get crushed by the opposition, I actually think they could be the team that comes out on top in the next matchup.
But that’s a lot of “this has to happen, this has to happen, and this has to happen,” so, while I don’t think it’s likely, I’d say that maybe a 30-40 percent chance NiP makes it back in.
JO: For me, it feels a bit less certain for the LCS teams. I think the benefit for a team like NiP and Mysterious Monkeys is that they do have a week now for anything they misread on the meta. I know Kikis made a tweet about misreading the Irelia matchup in one game. Amazing was talking about how he wasn’t active enough. I think those things can change in a week, and that will be a benefit for them because they are more used to having this structure with their experience.
I think Schalke and Giants look quite a lot stronger in the respective matchups than I was expecting, and that makes me kind of default to thinking they’re the stronger teams overall, but again, I was expecting different draws initially.
DY: Minitroupax is a god. You can put that on record, by the way.
JO: Luckily, we can say at least one Challenger team is making it in. I think it’s a lot more 50-50 between the second one and NiP.
KM: Do you think it’s really healthy for the scene? When we compare it to NA, there’s a definite gap, I think, between the Challenger level teams that we saw in the Promotion Tournaments this year and the LCS teams we saw. Do you think it’s really healthy for EU that we’re still seeing CS teams do really well?
DY: I think so. I think the fact that there’s parity with the lower level of LCS competition and with the higher level of Challenger competition is good because it kind of proves that there are a lot of talented squads and talented players in Europe. We’ve prided ourselves for a long time in being a talent-rich region. We can even afford to export a few players here and there.
Cough, Jensen, cough.
But — yeah, it does seem like it’s not secure, not as safe. But that’s kind of motivation, sometimes. If you have to worry about the teams at the top of the Challenger ladder coming for you, well nothing else is going to light a fire under your butt faster than that.
JO: I think the interesting thing for me about this topic is — it still doesn’t mean that the LCS is inherently closer from top to bottom either, right? It’s like Challenger has leveled up in multiple ways. Not just in game, but you look at the support behind the scenes: teams like Schalke, PSG, Giants as well. The teams that have been successful have typically been the ones that have invested in coaching staff and resources for their players outside of game, too.
That stuff has caught up behind the scenes, and I think that’s been the most positive impact on that because it means when you have less experience players getting to the LCS, suddenly it doesn’t feel so alien. Suddenly it doesn’t feel like you’re a group of five friends without an organization that’s making it to the LCS. That’s the real benefit that we’ve started to see.
DY: We saw that really highlighted with Giants. We spent a lot of time talking about how they didn’t really have stage jitters. Not only in the Wind and Rain series, but I think this one today. And I think that’s a large part of why, right?
A lot of people put up question marks around what a coach really does: how much they’re helping out in draft, what they’re doing between games. But the most coaches in any sport in my mind are the ones that are able to put their players in the right mindset to win.
KM: Of course, the flip side of that question is that Giants and Schalke are organizations that have been in the LCS before. Do you think it’s encouraging and positive to see teams that drop out completely retool their rosters — a lot of them actually went really heavy on rookies for example — and then move to make it back in?
JO: I think it’s a very positive sign of the realization of mistakes. To imagine a world where every organization is perfect on the lineup they pick up or the coaching staff or how they train — we’re still not at that point yet when every organization has been doing it for years to the point where they know what happens.
Funnily enough, it was actually one of your interviews with Kikis where he was talking about the mix — and please correct me if I’m mistaken — the mix of veteran players and rookies. I think that’s one thing that has been slow on the uptake at times in Europe. We lost some of our big name players (the xPekes of the world), and we needed that new crop of players. We had the Perkz, Sencux era of players, and this is the next crop of them where you’ve got your Jiizukes, your Minitroupax — your Upsets that are now coming through.
I don’t necessarily think it’s much about rookies in the sense that the experienced players alongside them are giving them a lot of — almost education.
DY: It’s happening in the LCS too, though. Look at the most successful team this split so far: Fnatic. They have two rookies: one from the beginning of the spring split and one from the middle. That’s also really encouraging. You kind of look across the board, and most the teams that are finding success are finding ways to mix in new players. That’s really cool because you can’t just have the same five old guys around forever.
KM: Speaking of some of these rookies, when you look at some of the excitement around these rosters, there’s been a lot of attention on Minitroupax and Upset in particular. What do you guys think about these two players?
DY: Minitroupax is definitely — I’ll start with him, since we just finished him.
KM: He’s a god?
DY: He’s a god. He’s definitely a player who can be multi-faceted. We’ve seen him go to picks like Varus, we’ve seen him play Caitlyn and just siege it out. He’s very comfortable on that style. But he also plays a lot of the Kalista. When he’s banned away, he’ll say “That’s fine, I’ll take MF, I’ll take Kog’Maw.”
When you have a player that can be as varied in his play style and consistently still outperform the enemy AD carry in a variety of matchups, that’s when you know you’ve found something special. Because you really can’t predict for this guy, you can’t plan for this guy, and you definitely can’t ban him out.
JO: I think for Minitroupax, he’s definitely a really talented player when you look at his ability to accrue leads. The one thing I want to see from him is — in some respects, I want to see him dealt a situation where he has to play from behind or more bad matchups for Minitroupax where that growth curve of a newer players where you’re not just having comfortable matchups all the time. That’s what I see how he handles because, to me, that’s always how we see the rookies kind of get forged in the fire. A lot of players struggle on that first hurdle.
I want to see if Giants have kind of prepared him for that moment where — OK, maybe it’s even against Schalke next week where Schalke go “Okay, this guy is the guy I have to play against.” Schalke have shown they’re very comfortable playing into bad matchups and turning it around later on.
I guess now we want to talk about Upset, which is kind of ironic because Upset was almost — in my mind — almost like that in Spring. Upset was this very hyped player where everyone was talking about how good he was. I know, in his mind, the series wasn’t necessarily about his performance where they ended up falling against Misfits Academy, but you could certainly see the way Upset, under pressure, wasn’t at the same level of Upset in online competition.
The biggest thing for Upset, for me, I don’t see that. I see an Upset who has gone — who has settled himself, who learned from VandeR, and who is now even teaching Norskeren a few little things in his own admission. That’s the first step of the growth in becoming a more experienced player. By the time he gets to the LCS, he’s already going to have had one setback. That’s the thing, I think for Upset, is that he has a bright future if he can keep those lessons he’s already learned in mind.
DY: The matchup between the two of them is going to be pretty impressive.
KM: This series, I think the way that there have been back-and-forths between Giants and Schalke — there are a lot of ex-Giants players on Schalke. Even Gilius was on Schalke. There are so many storylines you can approach. Since you guys are casters and, by very nature, storytellers, how would you approach setting up this series?
DY: With Giants, it’s the double entendre of revenge as well as making it into the LCS. It’s cool because both teams will know each other better than they would their LCS opponents. It almost raises the stakes because it should be a higher level of thinking going into how they approach the stages of the game, so I think, if anything, it just makes it more exciting.
JO: I think it’s almost a golden goose of matchups, as you said, not only because of the organizations swapping, but play styles as well. Seeing Minitroupax being more of a player we paint as a lane leader, whereas Upset drafts for the later game typically with the rest of Schalke. You look at top lane, where SmittyJ appears to be the lane leader for Schalkes, whereas Ruin has unorthodox matchups like the Poppy he brought out later today.
The jungle matchup where Memento and Gilius (both former LCS players, both headstrong and seemingly leaders on their lineups), and I know you’re very excited for the Caedrel Jiizuke matchup, who are both players who a lot of people have underestimated, still. And a lot of people, I think, still will because — and I’m not meaning this in a harsh way, but neither of them have had major impact yet in the European League of Legends scene. This is the series for them to do it. We’ve seen different play styles with Jiizuke playing side lane, which is very cool, Caedrel playing some aspects of the control mages (we’ve also seen a Leblanc game here and there where he can carry), and I think it’s that clash of styles across the board that means I don’t know what we pick as our headlines story.
DY: We have, basically, an entire book to draw these stories from, so I hope it goes to Game 5. Otherwise, we won’t have a chance to tell half of them.
KM: For a quick question about the games today, something that I found really interesting is that NiP almost seemed to panic tunnel vision on the Lucian. Do you want to talk about that?
JO: Sure, I think it almost was the right thing to do — almost. I think, because it worked well in Game Three for them because they finally found a mid lane matchup that worked out for them. It even looked to be the same in Game Four where Lucian was staking over against Orianna. If I remember the game rightly, they made a dive in on mid lane, did get the kill — but did they get the tower?
DY: No, they couldn’t, that’s when Gilius came up to stop them.
JO: Right, Gilius was able to stop them. I think, the fact that they couldn’t revisit that advantage was part of the problem here, and I think that’s where NiP’s focus will likely go on the next week. Hey, how do we actually make sure a player like CozQ doesn’t get a good matchup because — I feel like Taliyah might have been the right option in Game Four, but that’s very difficult to say. The Lucian was the first pick in Game Four draft, and I can understand why, if it works once, you just go back to it, but I just wonder if — Nagne’s Taliyah has looked very good, it wasn’t’ banned. Maybe second rotation, phase one, you pick it.
DY: We talked a lot about, not only that mid lane matchup, but what could happen up top. There was some shakiness there from NiP trying to snowball. They obviously showcased it in Game Three, but they had built an entire composition that was built to dominate in the early game. That’s still risky because let’s say Shook doesn’t get a couple kills early on and can’t do the Mejai’s. All the sudden you don’t have any magic damage on your team, and it’s pretty easy to itemize against.
So, they took risks just to win the game that they won, and I’m a little bit worried for NiP. I know I said that they’re the team that would be a chance to move back into the LCS, but that’s only because they understand the Monkeys’ play style, and they should be able to play around it.
KM: I have to ask now, who wins the hype Schalke Giants matchup?
DY: I’ll do it. I’m the stupid caster. I think Giants. Obviously, that’s coming off the excitement that just happened. Stacking things up side by side, I think Giants a harder time considering they kind of collapsed by the end of it. I think NiP, who are stronger, in my mind than Mysterious Monkeys, didn’t put up as much of a fight, and I think Giants should be able to take the victory here.
I don’t think it’s going to be an easy 3-0. I think it goes five games. But I think Giants win.
JO: I agree on the five games, but I think five games will be a slight benefit to Schalke. I continue to underestimate Giants, and I’m well aware of this. This series, I thought it was going to be a lot closer, but I’d say five games with Schalke taking the win. I feel like SmittyJ is going to be instrumental in a handful of those victories.
DY: Give him Jax.
JO: I don’t think he’ll get Jax, but I think Schalke will be able to play a bit better for the late game than NiP did just from the way we saw them do it against MM and RB.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games