UoL Sheepy: “I see victory chances, even if they’re slim.”
Unicorns of Love suffered its first loss at the Mid-Season Invitational, biting the dust against Royal Never Give Up. Sure, it is still highly likely that the team advances to the Rumble Stage: the LCL champions faced little resistance from Pentanet.GG—the only team they need to beat in the three-team Group A. However, if Unicorns of Love wants to stir the pot going forward, they’ll have to step up their game.
After the game against RNG, UoL Head Coach Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant sat down with us for a chat. He reflected on his team’s performance on the day, and what he’ll do going forward to ensure a better showing. Sheepy also spoke about the Unicorns of Love lineup, which is slightly different than the one we saw compete at Worlds last year, and how his role as a coach has changed within the team as a result.
Hotspawn: Welcome Sheepy! Unfortunately, you guys lost against RNG. I think the outsiders will say that it was expected that your team would lose this, but I’m interested in hearing your perspective.
Sheepy: I mean, I’m obviously extremely disappointed. It doesn’t matter if something is expected or not. But I think we just didn’t show much. I have to watch the replay of the game. The enemy snowballed through the top side, and then our Gnar fell three levels and 40 cs behind. In the bot lane we also didn’t really do much. We didn’t get any pushes or any priority. Then their Alistar roams to the mid lane and they get a kill there… So now my mid lane, my jungle, just everyone was behind. I just don’t think we played well.
The draft was also not that competitive. We could’ve gone for a more active route and challenge them more. I’ll have to discuss it with my players, but we were just not ready to play.
Hotspawn: You’re going to play against RNG quite a few times, so how did you prepare for them?
Sheepy: I think RNG didn’t play anything surprising. Obviously, the Lucian is a super popular pick, especially if we pick Gnar. Alistar was the most-played champion on support too. Xayah into Kai’Sa is normally picked, Olaf is one of the champions that the jungler often picks… I don’t think anything was really out of the ordinary or something like that. I don’t know. It was just so indecisive and I dislike that a lot. I’m sorry that people had to witness this. [Laughs]
Hotspawn: For now it’s just one best-of-one you’ve lost, and as said before you’ll play many more in this group. Still, you seem really upset that this game was lost.
Sheepy: Well first of all: I really love League of Legends. I love life. I love competing. I love the clash of different people and getting the most out of it. I think it’s really a pity and it feels like such a waste. There is not much coming out of a game like this. I don’t think RNG enjoyed this game either, I don’t think they’ll talk about it. I think none of the viewers really enjoyed the game; they would have liked to see something more competitive.
Personally speaking: We have the experience, and we should be able to provide something better. I’m not going to be frustrated about it in the future in the way that it will impact us in a negative way. But if you feel bad about something, it also means that it’s important to you. If I wouldn’t feel anything about this result and would just say “let’s just go to the next one”, I think we could expect a similar performance in other games. I really want to play good League of Legends, and I’m super annoyed when it’s just not happening.
Hotspawn: Many people are expecting you to get out of the Group Stage. With one opponent that’s a tournament favorite, and one that’s considered the weakest at the tournament, what do you expect to get from the Group Stage for your team?
Sheepy: I really just want to play good League of Legends. I think on day one we had a great performance: we stomped Pentanet and played a good macro game. We didn’t start unnecessary fights, we played around the strongest points on the map as well, generally speaking. I think the draft was competitive as well, with people playing actively. It felt very good. Compared to today’s performance: today was worse. We need to discuss how we want to approach the game and what we can do, because RNG is playing very aggressively. Obviously, there is a learning process. We just didn’t do much on the map. We will discuss that.
So overall, what I want is just a good performance playing League of Legends from us. Something that we’re proud of. Whether it’s against Pentanet or if it’s against RNG, that doesn’t matter to us. Preferably, of course, we beat RNG.
Even during MSI, UoL bot laner Lodik finds time to write his Bachelor’s thesis.
Hotspawn: The lineup you’re playing with is almost the same from the Worlds 2020 lineup, though now you have part-time student and full-time League of Legends pro Lodik in the bot lane. What is the atmosphere like in the team?
Sheepy: Compared to Worlds, it’s obviously a little less comfortable. We have only played half a year with a new roster. We also started the year with Frappii, the French AD Carry, in the bot lane. There were some language problems and some experience problems. Frappii is a new player, so we still need to mold him. Lodik has a little bit more experience on the stage. He has played on the top level of the Russian league. He’s a very hard worker. He wakes up at six, goes to bed at like eleven or twelve, and then just wakes up at six again. He keeps working all of that time. I’m satisfied with what he did. Compared to Gadget: Gadget did play with Vega Squadron for a very, very long time, together with SaNTaS. They were on the same squad and went to MSI together.
So yeah, heading into Worlds last year, we felt a little bit more comfortable. We knew all of the players, we had the team synergy and we had the team identity. Now, heading into MSI, it was a little bit difficult, especially because of the substitution with Lodik. I don’t think there is any bad blood or any underlying issues. It still feels comfortable.
Hotspawn: Have you noticed that your role as a coach has shifted now too, with the team being different from last year?
Sheepy: Yes. I feel that I have taken up more of a leader role. I think everybody likes each other in the team, which is not a bad thing of course. But sometimes, friction in the team leads to a form of energy, and then that energy can push people. I think the role can be very exhausting. I think it is one of the most impressive skill sets to be able to motivate people. Not just as a coach, but as a person. To have a lot of energy all the time and push people, not be afraid. Even if something is awkward, you push it out and tell the people exactly and honestly what you think. I think that it transmits to other people, it makes them happy. So that’s my role in that area.
The second area is obviously the expertise. I think that, in a lot of cases, I have to push people to be the best version of themselves. I am learning a ton. It’s not that, just because I went from 4.5 years in the EU LCS to Russia, that it’s a downgrade or something. I have to work just as hard, if not harder, to get the results I want. So that’s kind of my job right now.
Hotspawn: So, the Mid-Season Invitational is a big learning experience for both you and your team, then. Do you see it as a hop-up to Worlds?
Sheepy: The goal for me is always to win the whole thing. Even this MSI. So, if we’re losing against RNG and we’re not the favorites to win, it doesn’t really matter. Obviously, RNG is very strong individually, they know what to do with the champions. The likelihood of them making mistakes is just smaller. But there are always scenarios where you can win. Like in chess, if you play a certain opening, it’s like us playing a certain team composition. If we feel comfortable and we ban the right stuff, anything can crumble and fall. So that’s the goal we’re aiming for. I see victory chances, even if they’re slim. The goal is always to win. MSI, Worlds, whatever. Even if it’s difficult. Any experience that comes out of the path to that goal is valuable.
Unicorns of Love play their next MSI game on Saturday, May 8th, at 3 PM CEST against RNG.