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Akaadian on being a rookie and aggression in the jungle

Slingshot’s Andrew Kim caught up with Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham during Week 2 of the North American League of Legends Championship Series to talk about Echo Fox’s start to the season, adjusting as a rookie and the state of junglers.

Andrew Kim: How do you feel to be part of a team that no one expected to do well this season?

Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham: It feels good for me because I think a lot of it was Looper (Jang Hyeong-seok) was expected to be this world champion. Obviously he’s going to be really good. Froggen (Henrik Hansen), the one criticism people have for him is that it looked like he’s not moving out of his lane, but really I think that was more of a testament to, I guess, less things happening on the map, less opportunity open rather than his fault as a player. It feels particularly good for me because I was one of the players people looked at and said, “This guy is not going to be that good in the LCS,” and then I came to LCS, and I’ve been performing really well. So I think personally it’s a lot more, I guess validation for me to be doing well, but also it feels good to win. It always feels nice to be the underdog and then win because people have always liked those types of stories.

AK: Your name is being mentioned by a lot of different people as one of the jungle players who is taking the region by storm. Does that kind of success come from the synergy of the meta and your play style or is it something else?

MH: So I think a lot of the junglers in the LCS right now that are highly touted, supposed to be really good players, and I think junglers that are having a lot of success abroad, there’s one common thing with all of them: it’s just that they’re all pretty aggressive, always making plays and stuff. And I think junglers that aren’t like that are sort of out of place or out of style, you know? People who, I don’t wanna name names or anything, but there are some players in LCS that are considered good junglers, but they are not aggressive players at all, and I think there’s no place for that in the jungle right now. You have to be aggressive. You have to do some stuff. Whether it works or not, that’s just what jungle’s for in the current meta. That’s my opinion on it.

AK: How have you been practicing your mechanical skills? It’s clear that you have mechanical prowess even considering the current strength of the jungle.

MH: I think I’d say now I have the ability to, I’m mechanically strong enough to play any character that’s strong, and play it pretty much to the perfect mechanical ability that it can be played. But I think I train my mechanics for years. I’ve been playing this game for eight years now, since I was 12 years old. When I started out, I wasn’t even trying to be good at the game. I was just playing normals, and then I think honestly, my mechanics being trained, I think a great way to improve your mechanics is playing champions that move around a lot. You’re moving your character. You don’t want to play some easy stuff, like if you play Malphite, you’re not gonna have good mechanics. If you play Nunu, you’re not gonna have good mechanics. I was known for, when I played top lane, I played a lot of Rengar, who has a lot of jumping in bushes and stuff, and I was very strong on that. Then I played a lot of Yasuo, who’s clearly a very mechanical champion. So I think playing those two champions, and then after that I moved to Nidalee. I just enjoyed the high mechanical. I’ve always taken pride in my ability to, I get in a 1-v-1 scenario with anyone else in the game, and I’m just able to beat them because I’m fighting them better than they are at fighting me. I think that’s it where comes from.

AK: How are you taking in all this media attention so far? You mentioned that no one expected you to do well.

MH: So I know, maybe people’s perception on the first day of me, because I made a point of shit talking Inori (Rami Charagh) on the first day. I made sure to do that because I think that sometimes speaking your mind is not bad, and being honest about what you think isn’t bad. It’s not always good, so I think in general I’m trying to stay humble, even though I did really well last week, I think I performed a little bit worse this week, but my team performed much better, so we got two wins. But I’m really just trying to focus on my own level of play, and I just am gonna try to keep it up, I suppose.

AK: Now that Echo Fox is here in the early in the split, what are some things you and the team are looking to improve for the rest of the split?

MH: I think particularly a large reason why I think I had a lot of success in the early game is just not only do I know, I think if you jungle against me I’m gonna know what you’re doing. Like, almost all the time, just because there are only so many paths the junglers can do, and I’m always telling my laners, you know, what they can do, what they can’t do, but it’s also on the laners to be playing well. So I’m fortunate in that I don’t have some very aggressive players on my team that will just die to free tanks, so that’s good. But I think in the future we’ll just try to — we have pretty large champion pools as it is, but — play more characters, develop more unique strategies, keep our shot-calling strong. Because I think the only thing really we worked on in practice, the main thing we focus on this week, was our shot-calling, and I think it really showed. We literally just had similar game to last week where we had strong early lanes, and we just ended the game actually because our shot-calling was improved a lot.

AK: Do you watch any other regions or teams in particular when you’re studying?

MH: I think every region is unique in that they play, I think European LCS plays very slow. I’m not a fan of watching European LCS just because even though the players there are gifted mechanically, I would say at a higher level than NA, just the teams play so slow and so scared that I don’t really watch Europe very much. I don’t think they have particularly good junglers either, so it’s not really valuable for me to watch that region. If there a region I watch, it’s only LCK and it’s only the top teams. If any junglers are, obviously there’s Peanut (Han Wang-ho) but he’s been just spamming Khazix recently and he literally does nothing while his team wins the game for him. So there’s nothing that much to learn, so mostly I’ve just been trying to think of new things to do, and I think it’s important for me to relax after srims and stuff. So usually I’ll go to the gym or just take a break or something and I won’t watch other regions.

AK: Now that you mention the gym, you command quite a physical presence in the team. Before you started your esports career, how much time did you dedicate into going to the gym?

MH: I didn’t actually go to the gym at all before I started playing esports, but I was a swimmer from the time I was four to 13, and when I got to high school I just switched from swimming to water polo, so I played water polo until I was 17, and then once I was in esports for a while, I noticed my body kind of deteriorating. Like, I lost all the muscles, gained a lot of fat, and I was like, “This is not the way I want to be,” so I just started to go to the gym again, and that’s what I’ve been doing since then.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games/illustration by Slingshot