The ROX Tigers won Group A of the League of Legends World Championship and will head to Chicago for their quarterfinals, which begin Thursday. Slingshot’s Andrew Kim had the chance to talk to ROX coach Jeong “NoFe” No-Chul (in Korean and translated to English) about his team’s chances, the worlds experience and the upstart Albus NoX Luna team.
Andrew Kim: ANX proved to be the team of upsets in the group stage. Did you also think ANX came out of nowhere just as much a surprise?
Jeong “NoFe” No-Chul: Of course it was a very unexpected outcome for me. We watched the games of the other teams in the same group and thought that G2 and CLG would show up, but we also could only think that ANX still had a long way to go. But after coming to the worlds stage, playing them, and watching them play, I started to think that ANX was an unexpected team, a very scary team, and a very talented team a lot.
AK: What did you think of CLG’s performance?
JNC: I think that CLG was a more textbook team, rather than an unorthodox one. They have good game management, and I also think that they know how to press the early advantage, so I thought that as long as we didn’t let the game run away from us, we would have no problem.
AK: Who in your opinion grew the most on the ROX Tigers this worlds?
JNC: Our team had the same four players make it to worlds with one roster change in the jungle, and this is his first international stage. In a sense this is the largest stage in his career. I’m very proud of him for showing the most impressive and amazing performance. I feel like he will continue to grow as a player this year and the next.
AK: A lot of teams are having troubles with illness amongst their players. In your case (Song “Smeb” Kyung-Ho) was known to have some illness as well. How did you combat this concern?
JNC: Actually (Lee “Kuro” Seo-Haeng) was sick since he was in Korea. We were on a plane in that situation, and as we arrived here both I and coach Kim Sang-Soo also got sick, which then Smeb caught. At the time we didn’t really realize how serious the situation was until both he and we, who caught it earlier, didn’t show any signs of recovery. I think because the area here has very steep changes in temperature and gets very cold during the nights, the recovery was slow. We tried our best to contain the illness to the people who were already sick, and I’m very relieved that no one else got sick afterwards. I’ve heard that other teams also had trouble with sick players, so it’s quite fortunate for us that it stopped with Smeb.
AK: Are you recovering OK?
JNC: I think my cold is on its last legs, and I’m more concerned about the players so I think we’re pretty good.
AK: Were you concerned at all about getting to the quarterfinals as you were facing off against CLG?
JNC: I think it was inevitable for me to be concerned. Our game against CLG was a sink or swim match, right? If we lose we go home and if we win we can try for first or second place in the group. Naturally, both the players and the coaching staff were concerned before our CLG match, but despite that, I know it’s hard to notice from an outside perspective, I think we have been improving as team in skill and playing as we do in practice, so I did definitely think that we had a good chance at winning.
AK: You’re very well known in the LCK for brilliant drafting, but this worlds the ROX Tigers have made some interesting choices. Did the thought process of the drafting phase change at all?
JNC: When we were playing the LCK, we had a lot of games against other teams, had a lot of evidence to go on in terms of drafting, and had an easier time understanding the meta. But in the worlds stage, where a large group of people with varying different ideas come together, the meta and priority champion picks are completely different as well. In that sense, we did our best to catch up to the meta and find picks that bring the best out of our players. In the process, we have very interesting drafts and were rather shaky in the earlier stages of the tournament. Going into the second week, we almost got a perfect grasp of the meta at worlds, the players are practicing picks based on that knowledge, and we’re also preparing our own joker picks that amplify our strengths, so I think we can show a much better performance in future games.
AK: ANX, as a team who has made a lot of upsets, seems to shine the most in best of ones, where they can take advantage of odd jungle pathing and level 1 roams from the support. Do you see their style going far into the tournament?
JNC: I think ANX is a team with a lot of strengths. In the case of their bottom duo, they have very unique picks that are threatening, in the case of their jungler we think that he is a very skilled player, even their top and mid laners have large champion pools that puts pressure on their opponents, so I think they will continue to show up in the tournament. I also felt a very strong sense of competition from them from both an observing standpoint, and as a team that faced them. I also think they have smooth communication, so they are certainly a team to look out for. As you have pointed out, their odd picks and strategies seem to work in single game formats, so I do somewhat think that they might run out of steam in a best of series, but they are a good team overall. I suspect they might be the best team in the history of all the wild card teams.
AK: Lastly, this is your second worlds stage as a head coach. Does it feel any different from your first time here?
JNC: The first time I made it to worlds I was still kind of dazed in a sense, and there were some issues with the sponsorship. So if I describe the team then to be overcoming adversity as a unit, this season we’re going into it under much more affluent conditions and calmly playing each game. However being in such an affluent situation, I feel that the players have become a little lax in mentality, so we’ll look at that and tighten them up for the rest of the tournament.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games