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Fnatic coach Dylan Falco on post-Rift Rivals changes: “We were all very aware of the weaknesses of our play style early in the split.”

Fnatic coach Dylan Falco says the team's weaknesses were always in the open.
Fnatic coach Dylan Falco says the team knew it needed to change its play style. Photo courtesy of Riot Games/Slingshot illustration.

Dylan Falco joined Fnatic after a difficult spring split coaching EnVyUs in North America. With Rift Rivals in the past, Fnatic has focused more on a global meta — with the occasional surprise pick. Following Fnatic’s 2-0 against Misfits in Week 8 of the European League of Legends Championship Series, Falco talked to Slingshot’s Kelsey Moser about Kayn, working with rookies, and his role on Fnatic.

Kelsey Moser: The narrative has been that you guys are playing a lot more meta stuff, particularly in the AD carry position, but you’re starting out with a lot more engage in the AD role. Some people say it’s hyper AD meta or something like this. Why do you guys think high priority should be on Ashe and Varus?

Dylan Falco: I guess when we tried to kind of form a new identity for a team and the sort of things we are playing, we heavily valued enabling our support to move a lot. I don’t think it’s as much about the utility from the AD carries we’re picking. I think it’s more that just pushing the bot lane is going to allow Jesse to get mid pressure, kind of like what we learned from the NA teams. So seeing a lot of our games, that’s kind of what we’re trying to do, and Ashe and Varus are winning a lot of these matchups. I would expect us still to play — you’re going to see Tristana, and a lot of other picks, but that’s just kind of the way the drafts went.

Also just in the meta, right now, there’s a lot of engage in general. Team fighting is really strong. We have five better players than all the other teams, so if we have stronger team fight it’s, I think, pretty hard to lose. Like, there’s a lot games, even in practice, where we were behind, but we can always, with a team fight comp, outplay ourselves back into the game.

KM: Broxah was trying out a few other things, but you guys seem pretty comfortable with him playing more of these early snowball junglers for sure. Are you still working on some of the other stuff? Obviously today they just left Elise on the table.

DF: I think Elise is just a really strong pick right now, and he’s, you know, been like an Elise one-trick. He’s like 1,000 games of Elise in his life, and it’s his most played in competitive. So it’s, I think, something we can always play. They just happened to leave it up.

As far as just in general, I think Broxah has done really well to pick up the tank junglers. He’s new. He’s a rookie. He hasn’t been playing for that long. He’s never — he’s only played like either Lee Sin/Elise/Kha’Zix in solo queue, and then one split playing Lee Sin/Elise/Kha’Zix in competitive, and that’s it. It was actually — it required a lot more work from me, and from our coaching staff, to make sure the team knows how to play with tank junglers, and he knows how to do it.

But I’m really impressed with how quickly he’s picked up all the tank picks, and I think it’s really important for us in the last half of the split because the jungle meta changed, and our rookie jungler needed to learn something really new, so I’m impressed.

KM: I know that Fnatic have done a lot with playing side lanes: a lot of 1-3-1s, a lot of 1-4s. The sentiment seems to be that that’s not as good now, but you guys went for this kind of play again against Misfits.

DF: Obviously team fight meta, and for the last three weeks, we’ve played almost only 1-4 team fight comps, so I still think they’re really good. This was the only 1-3-1 game we played with Caps in side lane and Paul in side lane like the entire split, and it’s just — we just wanted to try it. We’re open right now to trying new things onstage as long as we feel like it has a decent chance to win the game.

I think the thing with trying different stuff and having new strategies is you don’t just pick it, you know? You have to think, like, in the draft “Is this a time to try our Kayn 1-3-1 that we’ve been practicing?” and it looked OK enough today to try it.

KM: Before we started the interview, you seemed kind of excited about the Kayn, and you really wanted to talk about it. Can you expand a little bit more on the logic for why you think it’s really good?

DF: Not sure if Kayn mid is really good. I see it kind of like a Talon. Very similar. You can just roam through the walls to side lanes to make plays, and then later, you can split-push and always go through the wall if they try to go on you. Like it’s really annoying to try to gank Kayn mid in the side lane.

So we practiced it a bunch for this week. I think Caps played like 40 Kayn games in solo queue, and he was just like obsessed with the pick. As a coach, it was kind of difficult, because obviously it’s a risky pick if you’re playing something like a full AD assassin in a team fight meta. But he just showed so much will to practice the pick, and he had so much practice on it, and he was really confident that, in this scenario, it would be good, so we just all like — me and the team — we just put some trust behind him for this moment, and it ended up working out.

I think it’s important when we pick it, not just the fact that we pick it. Yeah, it was fun. It’s really fun to see when this champion is ahead. It’s crazy.

KM: When you decided to lane it against Syndra in particular, people were afraid or apprehensive because there’s been a lot of discussion about how the assassin form is useless compared to the Rhaast form. Can you talk about the differences in preparing to play this Assassin Kayn vs his other transformation?

DF: Not sure it makes too big of a difference. I think — I don’t know the mechanic completely, to be honest, but I’m pretty sure if you’re laning against ranged, you’re always going to get the assassin one first. So he just picks it and just goes for it because otherwise you have to wait, and he doesn’t want to wait for four minutes just to transform. He’d rather get it earlier. It just turns into pure assassin. I think it’s fine.

As for the Syndra matchup, I don’t know the matchups in competitive because I haven’t seen it that much, but at the very least, when Syndra ults, you can just ult into Syndra, and it negates the ult. Which, if it happens, is, I guess, good.

KM: You talked about Caps being really interested in playing this. I remember seeing some of your interviews when you were on Immortals, and you were talking about how you really trust players to decide what’s good, and this is part of your coaching philosophy. Has this remained largely true, or in what way has this changed?

DF: I think for every coach of every team, there’s always a balance between player opinions on the game, and then just the obvious global trends and stuff that’s just statistically really strong. It’s really difficult, I think, when players don’t believe in the fact that there’s a global meta.

I was talking to — was it Parth? I think it was Weldon I was talking to about this. He was saying that there is a global meta, and there is just stuff that is strong sometimes, and I think as long as your team accepts that, as a baseline, and you’re trying to find stuff from there, I don’t think you’re going to run into problems, right?

Because if you’re playing something that’s super off the global baseline, you understand that it’s a risk, and I think as long as my team understands that it’s a risk, and I think everyone did, it’s fine. It think there could be issues — like maybe on Immortals — where people kind of refuse to believe that there is stuff that’s strong on a patch, and that’s just the way it is.

KM: Did you have trouble with that on Fnatic at all? Because when I interviewed sOAZ and Jesiz, they both said that there were a little bit of issues with off-meta picks.

DF: I think it was really hard for us in the first half of the split because we had a formula that was winning in a lot of the matches that counted, but also we kind of struggled — we were all very aware of the weaknesses of our play style early in the split. I’m pretty sure everyone was. I think it was kind of frustrating that we didn’t have anything else when we lost. But it wasn’t like a team understanding where we thought what we were doing was invincible, and we were just like — had our eyes closed or something. We knew the weaknesses, it was just a calculated risk.

KM: Do you think it can sometimes be harder to work with a team on improvement or when you need to make a change, then, when you’re winning?

DF: No, it’s always easier to work with any team when you’re winning.

KM: Fair enough.

DF: That being said, as far as winning teams are concerned, Fnatic’s like a really difficult team to work with in general. It’s pretty stressful. The players are just passionate all the time, and they just all want to win, so even losing a singular scrim can be a big issue if it’s something that people feel like really needs to be fixed.

So I like it. It’s really engaging. I’ve had to work a lot harder this split than, I think, any of my other coaching splits. But at the end of the day, it’s more rewarding because my players are extremely talented, and they perform, you know?

KM: What kind of role would you say you specifically have on Fnatic? A lot of the players are a bit older or more experienced, maybe have a good idea of how they believe the game should be played, etc.,.

DF: Because we have two rookies on our team, as far as playing the game, I’ve had to work a lot more with Broxah than I have with my previous junglers, which were Reignover and LirA. Both very experienced players, and they’re also very forward-thinking and study themselves a lot. I think that’s the biggest change from other teams.

I think the two rookie players get the most from working with Paul, working with Jesse, and working with me. Jesse takes a leadership role on the team, so I can always look to him as far as helping to structure things and planning and team-wide planning. I know he mentioned that in an interview — I think it was with you.

Basically, my role is to structure our practice, make sure our practice is efficient: what we’re playing, when we’re playing. In addition to that, I want to be able to keep track of problems, keep track of goals and stuff we need to improve on. I think that’s really important. In addition to that, I need to manage analysts, I need to make sure we have presentations that help us improve. I need to make sure we have proper scouting. I need to make sure that our preparation is rock solid for each individual match pick-ban-wise.

It’s a pretty all-encompassing job, and I do a lot more of it here than I did on Immortals because Immortals had a lot more people working under me.

KM: Now that you guys are kind of locked into playoffs, are you more meticulous and specific about what practice goals you want to play for? Are you testing more things on stage or how does that change your approach to scrims or practice, if at all?

DF: I don’t really think being locked in for playoffs changes anything because we want to ensure we’re first place. Ideally, we’d like to go the rest of the season without dropping any games or matches. We really want to win first, you know, so the fact that we’re locked in for playoffs I don’t think makes much of a difference.

KM: Do you think that that general mentality of being focused on winning the match of the week is good for improvement or are there strengths and weaknesses to it?

DF: No, I think it’s just good as long as we understand we still need to learn what’s strong. Learning what’s strong should, in theory, be the best way to win (if that makes sense).

KM: We’re entering the last stage of play, what teams in your group are you most concerned for?

DF: The only match that I think will be difficult is G2, obviously. They’ve been playing a lot better. The idea for us to win against NiP and ROCCAT, who are weaker, and then go into G2 and have the match not even matter. That would be pretty ideal for us, and I think it’s pretty realistic for that to happen.

KM: Obviously you still want to win against G2, but do you think they’ve gotten to the point where they’re a really big threat again, or are they still slowly ramping up? Do you still see some of their problems from before?

DF: It’s pretty clear that we’re the best team right now, at least from the practice and stage. I think — below that — H2K, G2 are probably close. With, then, Splyce and UoL just a tier below. I’d separate it into three tiers like this.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games