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Mac on MAD Lions Finding its LEC Form: “It will for sure take us some time.”

Tom Matthiesen

A new challenge awaits MAD Lions in the LEC in 2022. After back-to-back championships in 2021, the squad lost both mid laner Marek “Humanoid” Brázda and Matyáš “Carzzy” Orság to rival teams in the offseason. The MAD Lions has built a name for itself as a great rookie-coaching brand. Although two promising names have been picked up to fill the empty slots, Head Coach James “Mac” MacCormack realizes that they’ll need time to warm up.

MAD Lions James Mac MacCormack

MAD Lions Head Coach Mac sees new, exciting challenges for the 2022 season. (Image courtesy of Michal Konkol for Riot Games)

Ahead of the LEC’s 2022 Spring Split, Mac spoke to Hotspawn in a detailed interview. He spoke about his offseason studies and explained how he studied top LPL and LCK teams. Mac elaborated what he learned from them and what contrasts those teams to teams in the LEC. Additionally, Mac reflected on losing Humanoid and Carzzy and what it would mean for him and his team going forward.

Hotspawn: Welcome, Mac! 2021 was quite a year for you with MAD Lions. During the year, we already saw your players needed a break. Did you feel you needed that break as well, at the end of the year?

Mac: [Laughs] A little bit. Funnily enough, less so nowadays. This is my fifth year in the LEC, and I think I have adapted somewhat. Personally, I actually started working on the offseason the day after we got knocked out of Worlds. [Laughs] That was just it. I didn’t really take a break. I think we left Worlds at the end of October and I think I didn’t really take a day off until about the 20th of November. But that’s offseason, that’s the way it works! If you don’t do it, no one else will.

After that, I did get some time to take a good break. I actually spent a lot of time over the offseason keeping myself busy, working on side projects and stuff like that. It was really nice.

All of the top six teams in China have a very clear and strong identity and philosophy. I think that’s somewhat less present in Europe.

Hotspawn: What did you do to keep yourself busy?

Mac: Well, a lot of it is working on the house I have back home. My wife and I have a house in Cambridge together, so we’ve been doing some home improvements and reorganizing because it’s not like I get that much time there.

The other thing is actually getting some time to study League of Legends. [Laughs] It sounds ridiculous, but throughout the course of the year it’s all “go, go, go” and a lot of my job is people management. It’s delegation and it’s handling the emotions of competition. It’s preparing for opponents. In my case, it’s not so much about actually studying and getting new perspectives on League of Legends. It’s part of my job, but it’s something that is less so my role nowadays than it used to be. But I really like doing it. Being able to actually take some time and step back and look at MAD Lions, how we were over the year, and look at other teams and how they played the game, get some different perspectives, different philosophies…

I watched a lot of games from Worlds from a more deep-study perspective. Rather than being like “ok here’s a good play that I can show to the team, check this out guys”, I was spending an hour actually studying a game in detail with my own notes. I could break it down properly and look deeply for cause and effect, the underlying philosophy and mentality that teams have. It was a really nice way to give myself more perspectives on the game. So, I’m excited about League of Legends again!

Groups Day7 Players Hugging

MAD Lions hug after victory in Reykjavik. Image courtesy of Michael Konkol, Riot Games

Hotspawn: Deeper stuff means things like jungle patterns, recall times, and things like that?

Mac: Yeah. Or, you know, the way that teams set up for certain objectives. The way that their early game vision worked was a big topic that I looked at, to see what our differences were. Even silly things like ward placements. Over the course of a year, you have a lot of data to work with. Who were the most successful teams? What’s were the most successful early game vision setups? What were the most important objectives? What were the most important statistics when you relate stats to actual win rates? Stuff like this.

I was trying to eliminate all of the biases that we’ve built up ourselves over the course of the year. Also, let’s say you compare EDG to FPX—I like to compare them because they are polar opposites in terms of their playstyle and their philosophy. They’re both fantastic teams. Regardless of what happened at Worlds with FPX, I still think they are a really great team, and they were very consistent throughout the year.

So, I would look at the same mid-game situation and say: “How would EDG play this situation, and how would FPX play this situation?” I would try to understand the underlying mentality and the philosophy that permeates a lot of teams’ decision-making processes inside the game. It’s another good way of getting more perspectives.

Hotspawn: There is still a clear gap between what people lump together as “the East”, meaning LCK and LPL teams, and “the West”, meaning LEC and LCS teams. And, only recently, people are seeing more clearly that these teams have their own identities. Still, during your studies, did you see things that LCK and LPL teams all do consistently better than other regions? Or are teams just good at their own style?

Mac: I think a lot of them have incredibly good fundamentals. In different ways. If you look at Korean teams, their vision set-ups are incredibly good overall. If you look at Chinese teams, I would say that they tend to be really good at playing a high-tempo playstyle. When it comes to qualifying what kind of teams they are, something that I think is very prevalent in LPL especially, is that the teams are all very specialized. All of the top six teams in China have a very clear and strong identity and philosophy. I think that’s somewhat less present in Europe. If you look at the top six teams in Europe, I wouldn’t say that any of them are, on average, incredibly specialized and have such strong identities as in China.

A trend that we’ve noticed is that Eastern players will be more willing to be like “Yes, it’s a losing matchup, but I know it better than you.”

Hotspawn: In what way do you see those identities reflected?

Mac: Something that the Chinese and Korean teams tend to be very good at, is pushing matchups. It’s often quite shocking and has been shocking to a lot of the players I have worked with in the past, going into international tournaments. A trend that we’ve noticed is that Eastern players will be more willing to be like “Yes, it’s a losing matchup, but I know it better than you.” It fills the niche in their team the absolute best, so they’ll take the losing matchup. They’ll make it work, and they know their team is gonna make it work because they are the best at making these types of matchups work. The players accept that they’ll be fulfilling their niche in the team so they’ll be in their comfortable team composition.

You have people like Doinb who will just blind pick Galio, or you have people like Cryin who would just pick Annie. We would be like “What? Why is he picking Annie?” But it’s because it fills the exact niche inside the team that he’s supposed to occupy. On the opposite of the spectrum, we had scrims against LNG, where Ale would just blind pick Fiora. [Laughs] In the West, this does not happen. It never happens. Many Western top laners would look at that and say “That is wrong. That is categorically incorrect.” I feel this notion is a lot more fluid in China and Korea.

Hotspawn: It’ll be interesting to see how you implement your learnings in MAD Lions in 2022—

Mac: Well we had some blind picks Wukong already! [Laughs]

Humanoid, Carzzy, Mac

MAD Lions in Reykjavík. Image courtesy of Lance Skundrich, Riot Games.


Hotspawn: [Laughs] That’s fair! But, talking about your team, it has quite drastically changed in the offseason. Humanoid was one of the best players in the entire LEC last year, and Carzzy was an important voice in the team. How was it for you to see them leave, and can you tell a bit more about the offseason for you?

Mac: We certainly had a lot of discussions with them over the course of the year about what they wanted from the future and whether they wanted to stay, how we could make that happen. We were trying to find an arrangement that both sides were happy with. In the end, it didn’t work out. There were a variety of reasons for which both of them left.

For Humanoid: he and I have been working together for three years, which is basically my entire LEC career. I had one year in the LEC—or EU LCS, back then—before Humanoid. It’s a long time since I last worked with a new mid laner. So that’s daunting and exciting, in equal measures. He has been so consistent. Something that we’ve spoken about with Humanoid before is that he does have such a strong identity as a player, that he kind of forces the team to play in a certain way. We’ve had a very clear identity as a team, I would say.

With Carzzy: Carzzy is such a unique individual. [Laughs] Such a fun person to be around. It is very different with him leaving as well, for sure. It’s an incredibly different environment, going into next year. I felt a little bit like Ash Ketchum, waving goodbye to Butterfree, you know?

I have no idea what the expectations are actually gonna be for us winning.

Hotspawn: For me, as a kid, it was more emotional to see Charizard leave. That was my favorite Pokémon of Ash. Sad times.

Mac: Oh yeah, absolutely. [Laughs] So yeah, from a human perspective and an emotional perspective, they’ve both been a huge part of my life and my own professional development. I’ve said many times that I think Humanoid taught me so much about League of Legends. It’s definitely hard to see them go.

At the same time, it is exciting to be able to show what you can do without them. After this year, if things go really well, there is no way that anyone can say that I hung my hat on Humanoid and just hoped for the best, right? [Laughs] It’s honestly a question that I’ve asked myself as well, in the past. How well would I do without Marek around?

Hotspawn: We’re about to find out!

Mac: Yeah, we’re about to find out, which is exciting. It’s really nice to be able to have new players who are… I don’t want to say “empty vessels” in a sense, but UNF0RGIVEN and Reeker are just sponges waiting to suck up all the new knowledge. At this stage in their careers, they also haven’t formed a real identity as players yet. That’s something that is really fun to be able to help them with, guiding them through the process of shaping their identity and finding their niche. There is a lot of different emotional and professional aspects going on at the same time, by changing [Humanoid and Carzzy].

Hotspawn: The question then, is, if your goal is still to win the LEC immediately with your new roster. You’re the defending champion, so people have that expectation.

Mac: I hate expectations, in general. I say this a lot. The whole process of being a team and being good at League of Legends is about this constant evolution and adaptation that you have to undergo. Part of that process is sometimes losing and being bad. If you come into the year with the expectation that you’re gonna win the Split, then you can only be disappointed in many of the cases. Every bump in the road will hit your ego that much harder because your expectation is that you’re gonna win, rather than you’re gonna learn.

I try to steer away from that in general. I do think, had Humanoid and Carzzy both stayed and we kept the exact same roster, obviously, people’s expectation would have been that. Which, in a way, would have been harder.

Then again, I would also say: Every single year that I have been in the LEC, we have changed at least two players. From 2018 to 2019 we changed three players, and then we made Worlds. In 2020 we made Worlds quarterfinals, and we had changed four players from the year before! After that, we got two new players, and it was also a rebuild for us. I remember people asking “Why are you taking rookies now? This is such a huge risk.” But I think every year is a rebuild, in a way. Last year we rebuild and we won. That doesn’t mean that it’s always the right way to do, but to an extent, there is always a degree to which you are rebuilding. This year, I think that it will for sure take us some time. I have no idea what the expectations are actually gonna be for us winning. I think we can be a good team, and that’s exactly what I thought at this time last year. But there will always be question marks. [Laughs]

Hotspawn: We’ll see how it all translates to the official games! As the last question, Mac: I spoke to GrabbZ a while ago, and he is obviously starting his own new project at BDS. About his approach for his new team, he then said “I really like the way Mac and MAD Lions do it: coming out swinging and just trying stuff.” Any thoughts on his project at BDS, and is he the one you want to defeat most now?

Mac: [Laughs] I always love playing against GrabbZ. I’m actually really happy that he gets the chance to do this because, having spoken to him privately, I know that this type of project is something that has been on his mind for a while. I think the narrative around GrabbZ at G2, and the social media aspect of it, has not been overly kind to him at times. But he is a coach and a person that I have a huge amount of respect for. So, I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do. I’m really glad that he got the chance to do it. I think that he’s gonna be really happy there, which makes me really happy.

He’s a great sportsman, he has fantastic banter, and he is always magnanimous in both victory and defeat. I think he’s a very humble competitor, which I appreciate a lot. So yeah, nothing but love and respect for GrabbZ.

MAD Lions play their first game in the LEC Spring Split 2022 on Friday, January 14th, at 6 PM CET against Team Vitality. You can watch the game live on the official LoL Esports website.