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Mac: “I Think There Will Be a Target On Our Backs This Split”

Nick Ray  | 
Mac

Mad Lions' Head Coach Mac feels as if the team is finally getting noticed in Europe. (Photo courtesy Riot)

After shaking up the LEC with a breakout split ending in an upset playoff win over G2 Esports, Mac and MAD’s rookies look toward summer for their shot at Worlds. MAD Lions’ success in spring came as a surprise to most. For Mac, however, it was all calculated. After it was decided that the 2019 Splyce team would part ways, Mac and MAD’s coaching staff knew exactly who they wanted to fill those players’ shoes due to months of rigorous scouting.

In the first half of our interview with Mac, we discussed his coaching background and role in building MAD’s strong player support infrastructure. Here, Mac was able to give us a behind the scenes look at how the MAD Lions 2020 roster came to be, the importance of good scouting, and some of the problems that exist in NA when it comes to identifying and nurturing young talent.

Hotspawn: When you guys made the decision to bring in these young players, you’re also taking on all of the nerves and pressure that came with them. Can you walk me through what it was like building this roster at the beginning of the season?

Mac: Most of the players that are on the roster we were very sure about. We spent a lot of time last year thinking about what we wanted for the next coming years and what kind of approach we wanted to have with our roster.

MAD Lions Humanoid

We decided last year that we wanted to build a roster around Humanoid because it was his first year in the LEC and he played insane. I think that this is a player whose ceiling is so incredibly high and you have the chance to build something around him then you should jump and you should grab it. If that means taking risks, then that’s what you should do. He was already really good friends with Matyáš “Carzzy” Orság at that point and the two of them go along really well together. We’d been watching Carzzy for the whole year thinking “holy crap this kid’s gonna be insane” so that was a real no-brainer. Especially because [Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup] decided to leave for America and after that it was very obvious who our next choice was. Frankly, we didn’t really have a backup choice after Carzzy. We were so sure we wanted Carzzy and we were sure that he wanted to play with us as well because of the relationship that he had with Humanoid. [Andrei “Orome” Popa] we had used in scrims at Worlds and he had some really incredible performances. We subbed him in against Royal Never Give Up [in scrim blocks] and he just dumpstered people. So that was also a no-brainer, and he already had another year of his contract anyway so it was just a matter of renewing it which we decided to do long-term. We really like Orome, he’s a player that I’ve worked with extensively in the past because I did a lot of work with the academy team and so did Peter. He was such a known quantity and we both love the way that he interacts with the team. He’s super open to ideas, really good at giving and receiving feedback, great attitude in general, super flexible. He can play weak side, he can play strong side. He’s really willing to sacrifice for the team, and if you tell him “this is what the team needs to win” he’s gonna commit to it 100% so again he was a super easy choice.

Hotspawn: As someone who’s been studying the European scene extensively, do you see or notice a younger generation of players that’s more willing to be aggressive and play to win rather than to “not lose?” Is there a surge of talent in Europe right now that’s ready to play but being overlooked?

Mac: Essentially yes. I think there are two factors. One: organizations not being willing to take risks on players especially pre-franchising. That gated a lot of young talent from entering the LEC, or [European League of Legends Championship Series] as it was back then. And a lot of really subpar players [were] playing in the league for a long time. Teams are now more willing to do it, especially having seen other [teams] take risks on players and having it work. Even going back to Team Vitality when they first brought [Amadeu “Attila” Carvalho] and [Daniele
“Jiizuke” di Mauro] into the league. Teams started to realize that maybe they were being a bit ridiculous about not having rookies and importing Koreans and all that stupid stuff.

Riot has continually pushed towards a style of game where decisiveness and aggression are rewarded

Number two, I think is more of a meta change thing. I think it’s taken teams a while to realize and adapt, but essentially over the last couple of years Riot has continually pushed towards a style of game where decisiveness and aggression are rewarded rather than control and super-coordinated vision denial, which basically used to be the meta for five years. That’s why the Koreans were so good. Because they were crazy good at denying vision from other teams and were really coordinated at it. That’s now been essentially removed from the game with changes to the number of wards that you can get. There’s been a huge change to the amount of vision that just exists in the game, which means that a different skill set starts to be emphasized and that skill set is “how good are you at making aggressive decisions with limited information because there’s less vision on the map?”

I think a lot of older players really had a lot of trouble un-learning that mindset. League of Legends changes so damn fast that you have to be willing to adapt and unlearn the way you played the game previously, otherwise you’re gonna get replaced eventually. That’s why someone like Faker is credited as being the greatest of all time right? It’s because no matter what the meta was he was always at the top. It wasn’t because he necessarily was so much better than everyone else on every champion, but it’s because he was always in the top two on every champion.

Hotspawn: Remember the discussion that came up about some teams being better on LAN than others after MAD beat G2 in playoffs? How do you think MAD Lions fits into that narrative and do you think the statements had any weight behind them?

Mac : I mean definitely.  It’s very hard to look at that series and say that it would have played out exactly the same on a big stage in front of a huge crowd because that series was insane and the number of kills and the amount of action in that series was really crazy. I think that’s the result of several things, not just the fact that it was played online, but also because of the champion set that we chose to go into the series with and the fact that I think G2 were not very prepared for the champions we were going to play. Having scrimmed G2 a lot, that series does look similar to a lot of our scrims against them.

If we do end up playing Summer Playoffs on a big stage it will be our players’ first experience on a stage that big, well, four out of five of them. [That is] not good considering that may decide whether or not we get to Worlds. There are just certain personality types that do super well on big stages, too. Marek and Kaiser for sure. Those guys are cool as cucumbers; they really don’t care. That’s something that’s very hard to quantify and hard to know until you get onto those big stages, but definitely those two I’m pretty sure would play better on a big stage rather than worse.

NA is a region that’s historically imported a shit ton of people and that includes coaches as well

Hotspawn: In North America some teams are trying, but it’s really just C9 developing the rockstars. You called them out for having good infrastructure over there, but what do you think is the issue with scouting both talent and support staff in a region like NA that historically struggles with these things?

Mac: I think it’s really hard to put your finger on and I think it’s a very broad, systemic thing. NA is a region that’s historically imported a shit ton of people and that includes coaches as well. This is pure speculation, but C9 has such a good history of training players potentially because they have the most invested owner who is actually North American and has been in the NA scene for God knows how many years. Someone with that type of experience is super valuable, because when you import someone to a region, they don’t know anything about the region.

The big thing that NA doesn’t have and EU does have is a way to test and prove talent.

Our first roster on Splyce, Peter had no experience [besides] coaching in Brazil and so his frame of reference for whether or not we should get a player was asking me and Duke about it and then doing his own research. Part of the reason that I fell into the niche of being Head of Player Development and doing all the scouting is because I had two years of scrimming European teams under my belt already. That means that I’ve seen a lot of the players. I’ve seen some of these random 17 year-old kids who are going to turn into the next Humanoid or Carzzy or whatever because I’ve scrimmed against them. And that’s a frame of reference that you don’t have when you import tons of people. I think that’s perhaps a minor thing and a bit of speculation, but honestly the big thing that NA doesn’t have and EU does have is a way to test and prove talent. This is why they have to rely on imports so much, because the Academy scene is pretty bad honestly. No one cares about it, people don’t actually want to win it, you don’t have all these other orgs that are there to actually win.

If you look at the European scene you have European Masters, which is actually really prestigious. Just Spain alone has more amateur teams than the NA amateur scene which is just crazy. Then you have France, you have Germany, you have Poland, Italy, you have the Benelux teams, you have this huge number. It’s probably at least 10 times the number of amateur teams that exist in Europe than there are in NA. So you end up with coaches who are way better because they’ve actually been tested properly rather than being dumped into NA Academy against a bunch of other teams that have streamers or a bunch of random players who are there to see if they can make it into the first team. Or basically rejects, to use a not very nice term. People who have played LCS before but aren’t good enough now.

Hotspawn: That also kind of aligns with the talk about NA being at a disadvantage due to their smaller playerbase.

Mac: I don’t think having fewer people matters that much. I don’t think having a low number of people is that important, it’s the number of teams you have competing is the important thing.

Hotspawn: On the subject of teams, assuming Worlds is still happening, EU now has four teams going to the tournament. MAD placed third this split. Do you guys think going into Summer it’s a matter of you hitting the ground running and trying to improve from there? Are you starting to get into the mindset of preparing to possibly head back to worlds?

Mac: Worlds has always been the aim with this team. I think people counted us out a lot, but my ambition with this roster was always top three. I knew that our floor was a bit lower, seventh or maybe even eighth, but realistically somewhere around fifth or sixth would’ve been my mean expectation for this team. Winning the LEC is super important and super hard, way harder than getting to Worlds. But your first step on the way there is always to get to Worlds because it’s always so damn fun and one of the things that people remember you for.

A lot of teams come into the split and say “yeah we’re gonna try and win the championship” but they don’t really mean it. They mean “we’re gonna try and make it to Worlds and see if we can be remembered,” and that’s super important for a player and a coach’s legacy. With there being four teams going to Worlds, I’ll be hugely disappointed if we don’t make it.

I think there will be much more of a target on our backs then there was last split.

I think the regular split in Summer is actually super important because if we have a good regular season with the championship points we have now, then our seeding into the bracket is crazy favorable for making it to Worlds. Like if we have a good regular season and end up making top four, we basically need to win one best of five in order to make Worlds as far as I’m aware which is honestly pretty crazy.

The interesting thing will be how well the teams react to us now, because we’ve generated a fair amount of attention this split and I think there will be much more of a target on our backs then there was last split. The level of difficulty around you versus the rest of the league increases when there’s more attention on you because people start scouting you more. People start taking you more seriously and people start studying you and looking at what you’re doing well. That’s one of the reasons, for example, that Misfits fell off. People started studying them because they were actually doing super well and they realized “Huh. If [Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten] doesn’t get off the ground, this team sucks.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but they were very heavily dependent on really specific play-patterns that they needed their jungle and mid laner to be in a commanding position to execute. It was obvious that Febiven was leading the team in a very big capacity with regards to how they play the mid game, and as soon as teams started denying that, they looked completely lost because they didn’t have that key thing that they identified as their specialism or what made that team work.

I expect teams to attack us more on that front next split, which means that we’re gonna have to be more adaptable, which is a good thing because it forces us to grow.


Mac and his team will begin the Summer Split on June 12th against Spring Champions, G2 Esports. 

Nick Ray
Nick Ray
Nick is a Richmond based writer and pianist with a passion for League of Legends and esports dating back just far enough to say he was into it before it was cool. When he's not consuming massive amounts of League content, grinding out ranked games, or walking his dog, he's quite possibly asleep.