In the course of a year, they went from clawing themselves to a renewed spot in the LCS to qualifying for Worlds.
And if someone had named Splyce as a contender for one of the coveted seats among the very best six months ago, they would’ve been met with ridicule.
Still, the team has made themselves comfortable in South Korea preparing for the challenge of a lifetime – and preparing to disprove the doubters.
”I think people will see that my players belong at Worlds”, Jakob ”YamatoCannon” Mebdi tells Aftonbladet Esport.
When Splyce landed in South Korea two weekends into September, they carried with them a successful season where they went from a team who only managed five wins during the Spring Split regular season, to the second best squad in the EU LCS. Since Jakob ”YamatoCannon” Mebdi joined the ranks of the young and unproven team, who because of Riot’s rules against owning several teams were sold by Team Dignitas and eventually ended up under the Splyce banner, they’ve been on a steady climb to the top. The key to their success, according to a heavily jetlagged Mebdi calling on Skype from the Seoul hotelroom where him and the team will be holed up for the next two weeks, is nothing but hard work.
”I knew the minute I joined Splyce that it would take a whole lot of work and that we risked ending up in relegations. It was nothing that shocked me, I knew that the guys needed time and experience. What drew me to Splyce was that I’ve been in so many teams and needed something that felt right, a place where I could create something. I felt that Marty (Strenczewilk, team owner) gave me complete trust and I can do what I wanna do. Already the first day I felt that ”they don’t have a clue how they’re supposed to play, but they’re really hungry”. We were so far behind everyone else in the race to become better, but I never felt that the losses in the Spring Split were negative. We took something with us and the players showed their hunger all the time. They worked hard and that pays off, which really showed in the second split, Mebdi recalls.
You had a very clear curve during the Summer Split where you got better and better and went undefeated for several weeks. Tell me a bit about the season from your perspective.
”For me, the growth we showed during the season was exactly what I wanted. We could compete against Gamers2 on a good level. I couldn’t be more pleased and I’m really proud of the guys. Nothing changed even when we won. I was very clear that the results don’t matter, they follow all the practice and all the playing. They showed me they don’t care about results but only want to play good League. In the end of patch 6.14 it felt like our patch, because we played really good then.
”Patch 6.15 changed the game completely”
Shortly before the playoffs, Riot released patch 6.15 which spurred a huge debate in the community. The patch consisted of enormous changes to the meta, when the distance between turrets in the top and bot lane was changed to be assymetrical. Something that eliminated the omnipresent lane swap tactics. The changes threw a wrench in the by then tuned Splyce machinery.
”Patch 6.15 was released and it changed the game completely. Lane swapping was something we were really good at. That way, you force mid game right away and that’s where we were good. It happened in about half of the games and in half of the games we had an advantage. Sure, it doesn’t mean we’re bad in lanes and have to avoid it, but when you have your strengths in swapping and you lose it of course it’s gonna hurt you. Teams like H2K and Unicorns of Love are better in standard lanes. They have junglers who don’t play that good economically but they’re good at ganking and taking risks that might pay off in standard lanes. They looked better and we looked worse after the patch.
Was it frustrating to become disadvantaged that way?
”I’m just glad we got the results in the end. We wanted to qualify for Worlds and be in the finals against G2. Perhaps I would’ve wanted to play better against them but I’m not ashamed to lose against a team like that. But the games against H2K and UoL were too close for comfort. Against H2K it boiled down to a Karma Q that Gnar side stepped. Things would’ve looked different as well if Ryu (Ryu Sang-wook, H2K midlaner) hadn’t trolled by running into Gnar, giving him movement speed. Little things like that made us win. It was the same against UoL. In the third game we were down with 15k gold but somehow we magically turned it around. I don’t even remember what happened but I know it looked really bad.
I think it was the game where Trashy pulled off a Baron steal?
”Yeah, if you win games on Baron steals… you don’t go into a game with the plan: ”Today we’re gonna steal Nashor, then we’ll win”. It was a really weird game, but we got the results we wanted so in the end it’s alright. If we hadn’t won I’d be angry that 6.15 changed everything, but that’s how League is. It’s not unusual that patches come along and change everything, you just have to adapt. Personally, I didn’t make sure that our practice was as efficient before the playoffs compared to the splits, so that’s on me.
”Don’t know what happened in Fnatic and Origen”
For anyone who watched EU LCS last season but didn’t catch any games this year, the results would look nothing short of alien. Fnatic and Origen who dominated during 2015 have underperformed and in their absence, teams like H2K, Splyce and Gamers2 have become the teams everyone else is looking to beat. But YamatoCannon doesn’t agree that the quality of EU has become worse as some claim.
”Many say that EU is worse because Origen and Fnatic are worse. They are the big teams and people say that Splyce is only in Worlds because they others underperform. But that’s just another aspect of patches. Players are good on different patches. And I don’t know exactly what happened in the teams but when G2 take Mithy and Zven (Alfonso ”Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez and Jesper ”Zven” Svenningsen), the two big reasons Origen were in the finals last year, it’s only natural that the team will fall.
– And you can’t expect Fnatic to be as good as during their year with Huni and Reignover (Seong ”Huni” Hoon Heo and Kim ”Reignover” Ui-jin) either. They performed well the first split without them but the second split they had coaching problems too. I don’t know what kind of problems specifically but it was fairly obvious they had problems. At the same time I feel that even if they had played as good as the last split, Splyce and H2K would’ve been able to compete against them and make it to Worlds.
The footage after you secured the spot at Worlds, where you couldn’t hold back the tears, was really powerful. Tell me about your feelings in that moment.
”Haha, yeah. We had such high expectations to make it to Worlds, so I don’t know what kind of hell we’d been pulled through if we would’ve failed. It was very frustrating watching that whole series because in the first game we played to our standards. But then we lost it and played on a lower level than usual. From my perspective that’s really frustrating because I blame myself. Then in the fifth game I felt that everything fell into place and early on, when I heard the guys talking and saw how they played… It was like music to my ears. They were really comfortable with themselves and each other, and when you see something that beautiful you already know that if they keep it up, UoL don’t stand a chance. I was just so incredibly proud in that moment, when they showed everything they had in the most important game of the season. It was a huge experience for me, I was really proud of them.
How nervous are you, sitting behind the stage without being able to help actively?
”In the fifth game it was like throwing the birds out of the nest and hoping that they’ll fly, it’s not much more you can do. You can sit there and yell at the screen, but…
In a best of five there are a lot of emotions, but it’s important that I don’t show them. I have to stay cool and show them they have a person to look up to. There are a lot of thoughts running through your head but I’ve learned through the years to dampen the feelings and focus on what’s important. In the end I know I couldn’t do anything more so I relaxed, and then everything just rushed forward.
”The players are really hungry”
Now, Splyce are, like most of the other Worlds teams, in South Korea to practice against the very best in the World for almost two and a half weeks. During that period they’ll enter a ”League of Legends bubble” where every waking minute will be focused on the game. And despite their crippling jet lag and only three hours of sleep for the last couple of nights, the players have already started to acclimatize to South Korean solo queue.
”We have mainly been playing solo queue so far, the different in ping and quality is so big. Especially now when every pro player in the World is here playing on new accounts and facing each other all of the time. We had our first scrim today, it went so-so since we haven’t slept much. The guys went to bed straight after so I hope it’ll be better tomorrow.
Who did you play against?
”We’ll just keep that between you and me”, he says secretively.
You have a pretty young and inexperienced team. How have they been doing so far in South Korea?
”You can tell quite a bit that they’re really hungry. When they know there are people who are better than them they get more psyched somehow. The same thing happened during the split, we weren’t quite sure that we’d clinch the second spot and they just became hungrier and hungrier. We’re struggling with the jet lag but everyone gives one hundred percent still. You can tell that they know why we’re here: To practice and compete against the best.
What will be your main focus during the bootcamp?
”It’s all about grinding games as much as possible. We practice and spend more hours on the game than we’ve ever done before. Throughout the split we’ve been preparing for Best of five games, we’ve played them every day and had meals specifically to endure those kind of games. Right now it’s all about high energy and grinding as many games as possible. Some days we will scrim for 12 hours, that’s almost triple compared to how we usually practice.
Did you have time to see the group draws while you were traveling?
”We were actually on the plane and decided not to spoil it for each other. The first thing I did when we landed was buying a mobile card with unlimited surfing and then we all sat in the hotel and watched the groups. It was interesting, because we had a slim chance of ending up in a dream group, but I feel there are good chances for an upset. We’ll be underestimated by everyone since we’re the obvious underdog but we’re a team full of quick learners and we respond well to challenges. Last split, nobody believed we could accomplish anything and we took second place. Something like that might happen again.
Personally, what do you want to take with you from the preparations and Worlds itself?
”I have no specific expectations, but what I want to see is that we enter the tournament and leave without any regrets. I don’t want to feel that there were days where we slacked in our training or days where we could’ve done more. I want to know that we spent as much energy as we could and did the best we could with the time we had. After that we’ll see where it gets us. The important thing for me is that the process is finely tuned and done the right way.
”It’s the best practice we can get”
Despite the underdog status YamatoCannon believes that his players will make their mark during Worlds. He hopes that the bootcamp will be the key to his players growing even further before the World Championships kick off in little over two weeks.
”It’s the best practice we can get. I think that after we’ve been to Worlds every player in the team will have evolved into a player that should be at Worlds. That’s what I think we’ll get out of this bootcamp, because if you look at our journey so far that’s always been the case. I think people who will see them play will see that they belong at Worlds.”
Splyce will enter Worlds 2016 against Samsung Galaxy on September 29th, 8.30 PM Pacific Time.