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AoD: “We care more about making progress than about anything else”

Tom Matthiesen

Astralis is in a difficult spot in the LEC Spring Split. With only three wins after six weeks of play, their chances of making it to the Playoff stage are very slim. Though the team has made progress over the weeks, it’s not quite capable of closing out their games. It’s a problem Head Coach Baltat “AoD” Alin-Ciprian recognizes but isn’t worried about just yet. His eyes are on the long-term progress.

AoD, Head Coach

AoD is predominantly focused on long-term development of his roster. (Image courtesy SPARXS / Riot Games)

After Astralis’ loss against Fnatic, AoD spoke to us to talk about his team’s performance and progression during the Spring Split. He explained how he has gone about bringing the team together, and how they are taking it step by step to make sure Astralis keeps improving their gameplay.

Hotspawn: Welcome AoD! You, unfortunately, did just lose against Fnatic, but at least it was an exciting game. How are you feeling?

AoD: Overall, I’m not that ‘bueno’ after the loss, but you know, I’m just going to stabilize and look forward to what’s next. We have a lot of stuff to adjust in order to stand our ground.

Hotspawn: When you look at the chances of Astralis making it to the Playoffs, things aren’t looking so good. What was the atmosphere like in the team, heading into the weekend?

AoD: Of course, we care a lot about the Playoffs. But actually, more than anything, we care about development. We’re seeing that development happen in official games, and scrim games translating into stage games. We are playing our game no matter the opponent we face. So that’s mainly our focus, kind of. I think we care more about making progress than about anything else. I think we’re achieving that week to week.

I think against a lot of the teams we scrimmed this week, it showed that we are making progress. There were positives like us being able to stop the bleeding, fights that went our way even though we were behind, all these kinds of things. So I’m happy with the team atmosphere that the team has, despite the results. We’re all looking forward to improving.

Hotspawn: We’ve been seeing small steps of progress indeed. How have you been working with the team to make these steps?

AoD: I think that our job mainly is to get them on the same page. We oftentimes review official games and scrim games together. We actually spend the time needed to discuss them and we arrive at a conclusion or a common ground. Sometimes, it’s not easy of course. But then it’s just a matter of getting closer to each other’s vision to find that common ground. Of course, we try to cater to the pick and ban as well in order to help us when there’s a problem until we can actually solve the problem through different means. It’s just a longer process, and I think there are many ways to go about it. But I think, overall, it comes down to five players playing the game through unified vision.

Hotspawn: You have five players from four different teams on your roster. Is it difficult to bring them all on the same page, despite the fact that most of them are veterans? How much more complex is it than telling them “Ok we’re playing A, B, or C today”?

AoD: I wish it was that easy sometimes. [Laughs] I think they know the A, B, and C, right? But sometimes, people don’t always agree with what B means, or what C does. Maybe they see the value in it, but they don’t necessarily agree that that’s the right course of action, right? Yes, they come from different teams, but we knew this when we scouted them. The common ground was reached much faster by us because we scouted people with the same playstyle. We wanted them to be daring in official games, explosive, have carry potential. I think we’re seeing that many times in official games, but especially in scrims. So it’s just a matter of grinding it out, what holds us back every week, working on those topics, and making progress slowly.

Hotspawn: Astralis seems to have problems with closing out games so far. The game against Fnatic you just played is a perfect example. Most of these players come from successful ERL teams, so why are they having trouble identifying how to close out the game?

AoD: This is mainly because we are taking it step by step. I think improvement, for me, means working from the ground up. That means starting with the early game, which has seen the most improvement from the first week until now, and it has remained consistent. So that was our focus for two, even three weeks. Then, afterward, we started working on what happens after the early game and consistently transition into the mid-game. Fixing our lane assignment problems, tempo losses, all that kind of stuff. Objective control is another one. Basically, all the things that lead to snowballing a game to perfection.

The reason why we didn’t see consistency in being able to close out games, is because we never reached the point where we fully focus on that. There are actually many problems before that, you know? So, in my opinion, if you skip steps from early/mid-game to close out the game, then you’re having a lot of holes in your foundation.

Hotspawn: Where are you in this process with the team at the moment, then? How far along the progress path are you?

AoD: I would say that we are still working on our mid-game. It definitely has improved. I definitely see improvement from three weeks ago, in our mid-game. But the mid-game is a very complex topic, I think. We are still working on it. In scrims, you do now see a lot of moments where we could have closed out the game differently, taking fewer risks to close it out and so on. So we’re kind of touching on that as well now, because we’re closer to that stage of the game in the process. But we’re not really fully there yet, as you could see from today as well.

Hotspawn: So, you’re going to fully focus on closing out games once your mid-game is polished enough?

AoD: I think you can always fragment it to A, B, and C like that, yeah. But I think, of course, that B, which is the mid-game, has a lot more topics to cover. You can lose the mid-game for many different reasons. It’s just a matter of identifying what that means for our team, and if our visions differ from each other in some way when it comes to playing out the mid-game. Then we’ll work from there.

Hotspawn: When I look at Astralis I see players that are willing to go for interesting picks. You played Caitlyn/Morgana, Skarner/Thresh, so you’re not afraid to experiment as a team. Still, the creativity isn’t enough to throw teams off guard. Is it really just those fundamentals that they have working better?

AoD: Hm, it’s hard to say, really. I look at the gameplay a lot of times, and I’ve always had this stance on best-of-ones: as long as you are very close to the other team with your level, it’s actually a very 50/50 type of thing. Of course, drafts give you a certain edge. But it’s not really like drafts win you the game, or anything. It just means that you have to execute whatever you have and whatever the enemy has. I just think, looking at their games, they play pretty well a lot of the time. But that doesn’t mean that, if you put them in a best-of-three, the same winner comes out on top. I just look at it as a sort of coin toss. But it’s an ‘earned’ coin toss, you know? [Laughs]

Hotspawn: Going back to what you said at the start: your eyes are on improving mainly, right now. But let’s look at the long term. Many people frowned upon the signing of four players who are on the older side of the player spectrum, some of whom already had a chance to play. So, do your goals with this roster extend beyond 2021?

AoD: I think they do extend beyond this year as well, yes. But for this year, the Summer Split matters a lot. You want to take the growth you had and the identity you built in the Spring Split into the Summer Split. So that’s things like picks, vision of the game, all these things, you know? You kind of want to make sure that, by the end of the Spring Split, you reach a certain peak and have consistency around that peak. Then we have to translate that into the Summer Split. It’s very important for us to actually not start from zero in the Summer Split, and have everything already in motion so we can actually contest for the Playoffs and really make it. I think we can do it.

Astralis play their next match in the LEC against Misfits on Friday, March 5, at 7 PM CET.