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Youngbuck: “Playoffs is the minimum. Internally, we want a Worlds spot.”

Tom Matthiesen

For the fourth year in a row, Excel Esports is trying to reach the Playoffs of the League of Legends European Championship—a goal unattained so far. By keeping four of the five players who made a splash towards the end of the 2021 season, Head Coach Joey “Youngbuck” Steltenpool hopes to capitalize on the roster overhauls his opposition went through.

Youngbuck, Wants Worlds

Can Youngbuck lead Excel to its first-ever Playoffs appearance? (Image courtesy of Michal Konkol for Riot Games)

At the end of the LEC’s opening weekend, Youngbuck spoke to us about his targets with Excel for 2022. He explained why he kept such a large part of his 2021 Summer Split roster, and if he thinks the roster can finally claim a coveted spot in the Playoffs.

Hotspawn: Welcome YoungBuck, and congrats on the victory against Vitality! It was hard-fought, but you close out the weekend with a 1-2 overall score. What are your thoughts on this first weekend?

Youngbuck: Based off the scrims right before the LEC—which didn’t go so well compared to our scrims in December—we still hoped to beat BDS. Looking at the schedule and the results in our scrims we thought that, if we got two wins, we would beat BDS and G2. Not Vitality. So, ending up only beating Vitality is the world upside down. But for morale, if you’re gonna win any game, winning this one is probably the best one. Ending the week with a win just gives so much new energy and hope for the next training week. I’ll take it.

Hotspawn: In the games against BDS and Misfits, Excel looked solid but threw their leads. Against Vitality, a supposed title contender, your team is behind early on but then comes back. How do you explain that?

Youngbuck: I wish I could explain it. I think there was a really big difference in individual performances on the days, and a big difference in the decision-making that we made around objectives. We have been working a lot on our drake setup and on making the right decisions after teamfights. Losing [against BDS] because we were not doing the drake fights properly was one of those moments where you have to count to ten. As a coach, but as a player as well, I believe.

Hotspawn: You’ve kept a large part of your roster from the Summer Split, only changing the top lane. We haven’t heard much about those decisions—can you explain your choices in the offseason?

Youngbuck: It felt that we gelled really well when the roster got together and that there wasn’t a need to make any changes. But we also, at the time, had a few players running out of contract: Kryze, Patrik, and Nukeduck. We were holding tryouts for all three positions because we couldn’t secure them early on. If you offer an extension in August, later in the offseason, players will often see what their options are and see what comes their way.

So, we did a lot of tryouts and it reaffirmed for a very large part that keeping the roster together is gonna be a good move and that it would work well together. We just ended up finding that Finn was performing better than Kryze, and fit what we needed better in terms of communication. I think Kryze is an LEC-level player, but sometimes he wasn’t as communicative as Finn was. Finn did bring that, and that was the deciding factor.

Hotspawn: That core of four players—Markoon, Nukeduck, Patrik, Advienne—made a splash when they came together mid-Split last year. The expectations are that they will pick up where they left off, in terms of growing as a team. How is that going?

Youngbuck: When you get together and see all the other rosters, of course, you do a little bit of estimating with “We can beat this team, that team is tough”, you know? We did the math and ended up with a Playoffs position for ourselves. Whether that is sixth, fifth, fourth, or third, that’s up to how well we do as a team. If you look at the teams, you say that Fnatic and Vitality are the top two. The rest is fighting for basically any given Playoffs spot. We should be able to make Playoffs if we continue where we left off.

Hotspawn: At the start of this year, we are almost obligated to discuss Excel’s everlasting struggle to reach the Playoffs. The past offseason saw many teams rebuild their rosters and some are clearly rattled from it. This seems like the opportunity to capitalize on that. Is reaching Playoffs the goal, or do you aim higher?

Youngbuck: I think, for us, Playoffs is the minimum. Internally, we want to have a Worlds spot. Fnatic and Vitality are looking really strong, but I think there is a lot of room for teams like MAD Lions and G2 to drop maps against teams like ourselves. I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibilities. These teams just have more weaknesses than they did last year.

It’s a high goal, but it’s an achievable goal if everything lines up.It’s just that, over the course of a season, a lot of things happen in teams. If things go well in our team and we keep growing as a team, and other teams start having issues and cracks, which will happen in almost any given team, I can see us making it there.

Hotspawn: Last year, when Markoon came in, he changed how Excel played the game with his proactive jungling style. Is that something you’re building around this year?

Youngbuck: No, but that’s more because the meta really dictates whether that’s possible. Right no, it’s not so possible. What we did in the last Summer Split, is that we were very focused around strong mid/jungle combinations. Right now, in the meta, there are just a lot of Viktors, Corkis… champions that you don’t easily play around. We did have a LeBlanc against Vitality, which is easier to play around. Maybe it’s saying something that we won that game and not the other games. [Laughs]

It’s more difficult to draft for mid in the meta and it shifted more to bot lane carries being able to kill towers very quickly. We have to adapt to that. It has not been too easy, but I think there is some slow and steady progress.

Hotspawn: Excel definitely has eyes on them after beating Vitality. Is there anything you’d like to say to those supporting Excel?

Youngbuck: I am really grateful. We do read a lot of their Tweets. I hope that, sometime soon, we can go back to the studio as well. I think we have the best fans at the studio with their chanting and singing. It’s always so crazy. It’s not always easy being an Excel fan, but I think we are all really grateful that the fans are sticking with us.

Excel Esports plays its next LEC match on Friday, January 21st, at 6 PM CET against Misfits Gaming. You can watch the game live on the official LoL Esports site.