G2 Esports had a long five game series against Splyce, their opponent from last year’s summer finals, in the quarterfinals of the European League of Legends Championship Series playoffs. After a grueling set of games with pauses for bathroom breaks, Coach Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool spoke with Slingshot’s Kelsey Moser about Splyce’s drafts, the controversial pause, and looking forward to H2K in the semifinal.
Kelsey Moser: This series, it felt like Splyce came with a lot of interesting ideas in picks and bans. Did you have the expectation that they would bring out more of this pick comp approach?
Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool: They played so many different things. Going into the series, we had certain expectations of matchups and where you can and can’t pick champions. The first game, they broke all the rules by picking Jarvan-Galio the first rotation. We said if the enemies do that, and we pick Cassiopeia and Thresh, then that comp is nullified. However, then they also picked out the Camille-Morgana, which in hindsight was the one where the draft kind of went wrong. We still had a good draft, but the combination of the Camille ult and the Black Shield against Tristana with the Galio ult, that was just a bit overwhelming. So even though we nullified the Jarvan-Galio, which we thought it would, the Camille and Morgana were too much.
KM: Even though you can play Cassiopeia into Galio, it can still be a little bit difficult if the jungler is stronger (like Jarvan) or Cassiopeia can have trouble getting into the fight. So I thought it was interesting that you said that Cassiopeia works well into Jarvan-Galio. Can you talk more about that interaction?
JS: Yeah, so what we concluded after the game was that the mistake that we made was banning Gragas and picking Zac (which was not an early game jungler). We said if we had Rek’Sai here or Gragas, we would have had a much stronger early to mid game, and we would have actually been able to control the mid lane, but because we had Zac, and they had Jarvan, we weren’t just gonna straight up win.
And in scrims, teams weren’t picking Jarvan-Galio, especially not when Cassiopeia was up or Lucian was up (which was banned that game). It was just really surprising that they just went for that, and we didn’t think ahead with the jungle matchup 2v2s because our understanding of the meta was that Cassio can play with any jungler, even scaling junglers, because she’s really good at 1v2ing lanes. And if she gets ganks, she can often get a kill or just fight back really well or whatever she wants to do.
But Jarvan is a very tough one — a very tough cookie because his his ultimate is very good against Cassiopeia and any mage.
Game 2 — is that the one where they played the Elise?
KM: That’s the one where they played the Lucian and Jhin comp with Kled.
JS: OK, so we knew that Wunder likes to play Kled, but we didn’t expect the Jhin. Looking back — I don’t think that draft was that good. I don’t remember, but they were relying heavily on Lucian carrying, and we picked a bad matchup because Luka played it in solo queue this morning against Caps and felt very confident in it. So he said “Let me play Leblanc, and I’ll carry the game.” And he ended up doing that, so that was more just focused on individual prowess instead of actually drafting a good comp.
KM: And Lucian almost feels like a kind of trap pick sometimes because it seems to do really well in laning phase, but it’s hard to draft around it. Do you have any thoughts? Teams are almost valuing it so highly that they first pick it, so I’d like to hear more thoughts on it.
JS: I think I have a different opinion. I have the exact same opinion as you do. I think my players have a different opinion. They think it’s a really strong lane and can scale really well and is good against certain picks. I do see its value because it is indeed a very strong laner, and if you don’t make mistakes, or don’t get ganked early, and you have a good jungler playing around you, you can indeed control the pace of the game and just move a lot on the map and always control the pink wards on the island pushes (the pixel pushes).
So in that case, it’s really strong, but I feel if it’s a pick that gets behind just a little bit, it’s almost useless.
And Game 3 — that was the Elise game, right?
KM: That was the Elise-Jayce game, yes.
JS: Yeah, they went for a full early game comp, and even though they got everything they could ask for (they got three towers for zero), they just didn’t have any engage, so the longer we could stall, we were just really fine, and they could never engage. So if we could just stall and eventually find a fight at the Baron or the dragon, we’d be fine. We still had some hiccups, but it was our own mistake in getting caught.
KM: The way Cho’Gath has evolved a bit — he’s been picked much more later in drafts. Why did you feel like you could pick into the third and fourth games?
JS: I think the team composition was really well set up up for Cho’Gath [in the third game]. We banned Gnar, which is its real counter, and we had Jarvan, which is also decent laning into Cho’Gath. And we had hard engage in Ashe, so all we really needed was the follow from Cho’Gath. It just fit the comp so well. We could have also picked Maokai, but they banned it.
So yeah, I think Cho’Gath fit really well into the comp because it could survive any lane (which was its only role, to survive land and just teamfight really well), so they could have picked Renekton and probably dominated the lane and also get tower (it didn’t matter). We just wanted a strong team-fighting champ that was hard to dive, so we went for Cho’Gath.
KM: Jayce-Elise is something people have experimented with into Cho’Gath. Do you think that’s a bit overhyped, or that they didn’t play it correctly in the that game?
JS: If you play it very clean, you can pull it off, but it’s not worth the risk because we’re in a meta where, eventually, you’re going to have to team fight at Nashor — usually at Nashor because, I think, teams in Europe have gotten to the point where they can force Nashors (also because of the team comps people are running).
People know when to force Nashors. They’re like “OK, it’s either now or never,” but all those teams are also understanding of that situation, and they do it very well. I think Splyce today did it really well, and last week ROCCAT did it against us. Fnatic did it against us. I think the teams have a good enough understanding that they can always force a fight at Nashor if they have a teamfight comp against a really strong split-push comp.
What happened for Game 4 again?
KM: Game 4 was the one where they had the almost pick comp disguised as a teamfight comp with the long range engage from Jarvan and Sejuani and the Jhin that kept picking people off.
JS: We had such a good team comp that game, such a good team comp. Really, we had everything going for us in the game. We had good scaling and their towers were slowly falling down because we had pressure in top lane in and in bot lane, and mid lane was doing really fine even though we shouldn’t — but we just started fighting. We would play to their win condition, which was early to mid game fights, and instead of just slowly whittling down the towers and — yeah, once they got snowballing, they still had a hard time beating us because our comp was that good, but we just made too many mistakes to actually win.
And then in Game 5 — how do I forget everything?
KM: I think it was the most teamfight comp-like draft they actually had. With the Gnar.
JS: That’s what I expect from Wunder: the Gnar. I was so scared of Gnar the entire series, also in scrims. I am of the opinion that Gnar is the best top laner in the game right now, but my team isn’t always agreeing with that. They’re valid, but my opinion is that the only counters to Gnar are in other lanes, and not in top lane.
So if you are in a winning team and you have a Gnar in your team, then he will just control the pace of the game because he can always push and move with the team first. But my team did prove me right because the Cassiopeia was really good against it, Alistar was really good against it. We should have gotten something going early on: the Elise-Jarvan on the Gnar, especially when he was small. We were trying to plan for it, but we just never got anything off, so I really thought we were going to lose that game — unless we got like a really fast Nashor with the Mountain Drake that we had and the Cassiopeia-Elise.
I don’t know how we ended up winning those team fights later on because I do think they had a better draft going into the late game — unless Jarvan-Cassio were outplaying their opponents. So that was kind of the win condition late game, I felt. Expect played so good in the team fights that he actually just won the game for us, but Perkz and mithy were also equally crucial in the last fight.
KM: I feel like in the fifth game, there were a lot of good hero plays where players were playing around vision and getting a lot of good flanks off. What were they feeling like going into Game 5? It seems like they were, in some ways, more on point than the rest of the series?
JS: I think everyone felt pretty good. We were fairly happy about our drafts. We thought that the two games we lost, we actually had a better draft. And we had side selection, so we just opted to do the same draft again and execute it better. We just wanted to do small adjustments.
So I think everyone was really ready. Luka struggled a little bit at the start like “I’m having a really bad day,” but we just talked to him, and then he went to the bathroom and came back and said “Okay, I’m really fine, I can play whatever the team needs. I can just play Cassio again, it’s fine, even if the matchup isn’t the greatest.”
I think mindset was really good. Everyone was level-headed. We’re not a really emotional team. Emotion going in was very well.
KM: Speaking of the breaks, I do kind of have to ask some of your perspective, there was a bit of a controversy over the pause for the bathroom break because Trick wasn’t feeling well. Do you have anything to add to the situation?
JS: Trick really had to go to the bathroom from before the game even started, but the referee didn’t let him. And it came to a point where he couldn’t focus anymore. And what happened was that — he died, and he was about the pee his pants (literally), so we were asking for a pause.
The referees didn’t pause, actually, and mithy just took it upon himself to pause the game, and he died while pausing. There were some frustrations from our side, probably some frustrations from the referees that Yun didn’t empty his bladder, but hey, what can you expect from someone who drinks two bottles or three bottles of water a game?
So he had to go to the bathroom. I didn’t even know if it was anything other than his bladder because he told the referees he wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t check up on him, so I will do that right after this.
KM: G2 players on the desk and when I’ve interviewed them before have really hyped up Splyce and said that they’re a really strong team in certain ways and that they’ve been underestimated. A couple of your players rated them above UoL. Do you think there’s something about Splyce where they kind of have your number, or are they just really performing well?
JS: I think they’re a team that has no weakness, and usually we are good at exposing weaknesses of other teams because we have five really strong individuals. So if there’s one player in an opposing team that isn’t very good, we can expose it. I think that Splyce also showed pretty decent macro in this series, like they played well around vision and decently around tempo.
I don’t think they had our number. I think we could have played much better. I think we were — I think, in a lot of games, the communication had too much energy. We were too forceful instead of just calm and thinking about our win conditions.
But I would also rank them above Unicorns, and I would rank them above Misfits and above H2K as well. It sucks for them that they had to meet us.
KM: Why do you feel confident ranking them above H2K and Unicorns when they did so poorly in the regular season against them recently?
JS: So we have not scrimmed Splyce recently, of course, but we have scrimmed against Misfits and H2K, and our win record is through the roof. It’s really abnormal, so that’s also why we’re so confident because our scrims are really going well. Only Fnatic is capable of winning more than one or two games a day. It feels like we’re the only rivals to each other, and the rest is just below us, but today Splyce showed that they can take multiple games off of us, so that’s why I think they’re better than H2K and Misfits.
KM: We saw yesterday that both teams picked red side in the Misfits and Unicorns series, but you and Splyce both picked blue side today. Do you have any thoughts on the rise in red side popularity?
JS: I think the sides are pretty balanced. Red side is a pretty good side if you don’t have to ban anything because it’s too OP (which is, right now, only Kalista), so you have a lot of room to ban things on red side if you want to. I just think it’s a preference because, right now, if you pick blue side, it just means your first pick is going to carry the game or you’re probably going to lose. Red side gets the counterpick on support, which is really strong, so it’s just — it’s just a balance. Either they’re first pick carries, or they’re last pick carries.
KM: I think the last time I talked to you, we had a much longer conversation about your role on the team before last year’s MSI. I heard from some that you’ve changed your responsibilities a lot. Could you briefly describe how you view your role on G2 now?
JS: Back before MSI, I was the only staff involved with the team. The current manager is was our remote analyst, so I was the manager, and the coach, and the cook, and the cleaner, basically. Now that we have more staff, I can focus on coaching itself and just setting up schedules and working on the game itself instead of just having to cook and clean and manage the emails and all those kinds of things.
KM: There’s been kind of this weird narrative because Fnatic parted ways with their coach last split and improved, and we’ve had Splyce recently part ways with their coach, so of course people are going to be saying —
JS: So G2 has to part ways with the coach. Right, right.
KM: No, no. I just mean in general this seems to be kind of a joking phenomenon. As a coach yourself, how do you view this situation when something like this happens?
JS: I just think that, since coaching is very new, it’s very easy for a coach to be harmful to the team instead of being helpful. A lot of us coaches are still learning a lot. That’s the years that we are in right now, so I am one of those coaches. I need to learn a lot. Pr0lly needs to learn a lot. YamatoCannon. Sheepy. We’re just in the learning phases of coaching. There are going to be people who are actually harmful to the team.
KM: Looking forward to semifinals, you’re going to play H2K now. H2K are a team that — based on your description of Splyce, they also have very few weaknesses in individual players. They play a lot of strong lanes. How do you feel about approaching this team?
JS: I’m more comfortable than Splyce. I like to play against teams that don’t do anything weird in the draft, and that’s something you can count on against H2K. When you play against Splyce, you always have to be careful of Wunder picking something weird because he’s played things like Akali in scrims and Karma and gone nuts. Plays Kled and Gnar a lot, so I think — indeed — H2K doesn’t have any weaknesses, but they also don’t have any hard carry players. Febiven is their strongest lane right now, but I’m very confident Luka can hold his own — if not do better.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games