Beatdown On NACL Summer Winner: “[Team Liquid] has just been a cut above the entire split.”

Volamel 2023-07-19 12:00:22

League of Legends is beginning to tap into their tier-two infrastructure but not for the reasons you'd expect. Here to weigh in, North American Challengers League (NACL) commentator and expert Nathanael "Beatdown" Birhane spoke with Esports Heaven about FlyQuest's tumultuous run in the mid-lane, his North American Challenger All-Rookie team, his far too early summer predictions and more! Author's Note: This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.  
Recently we saw FlyQuest's decision to promote Djalal "Spirax" Djiar for their match versus NRG. And now he's back out for Lee "VicLa" Dae-kwang. What's going on? Is this the right call?  My guess, from the outside looking in, is the desire to try something because whatever has been going on with FlyQuest all split has not been working. It is very clear the team is struggling, it is very clear VicLa is the one struggling the most. So trying to get a switch, even just for a little bit. Especially considering the success that Team Liquid have had by bringing Eain "APA" Stearns in, like Cloud9 had last split bring up Jang "EMENES" Min-soo from their challenger's team when they had one. I'm sure there have been a number of factors. FlyQuest have been doing alright in the developmental scene overall. Last year they had a pretty solid academy team. So, it's not to say they got the whole idea from them, but I'm sure the appeal definitely increased when you see how well APA is doing, how well David "Insanity" Challe is doing, etc. It's like 'Oh, damn, what if I do that?' I will say though, I do think Spirax has had a pretty good year so far. When he played for Maryville University he was pretty promising, because he's only been playing for a couple of years. There were some growing pains when he joined FlyQuest last summer, but to quote one of my colleagues from the challengers league; 'there hasn't been a meta where Spirax is bad.' He is, at worst, just fine. And he's done well on meta different styles. [Spirax] is very flexible. So different champions, different styles, and it seems like he's gotten better this year. I'm glad he got a shot on the LCS [stage] and honestly, in the game, I thought he did fine. About what you expect for your first time in the LCS and maybe a bit more than that. Maybe this seems a little cope, but [FlyQuest] needed to get a lead early, they needed to get early objectives, specifically Rift Herald, and hope you can snowball that way.  And they started to fall behind. I think that pressure was there for Spirax because he started to play a little scared, but he wasn't the problem.  I only make this so wordy because I'm concerned that community sentiment [could get bad], you know how league fans get.  One bad split ruins careers, you know?  I'm sure he'll be fine. Overall, I believe FlyQuest when they say that they are still happy with him as a player and his performance and how he'll be going forward.   Should FlyQuest have experimented with adding Spirax earlier in this split?  I'm not sure. Maybe? I have hindsight to be able to say that. The thing that's so hard this split, for every team, is that because of the walkout, how that delayed the season, every week is a super week now.  Six teams have three games a day, you get one less scrim day and very little rest. It's very hard for teams, especially for those teams that are struggling, to figure out what to do. Because you have so little time to practice, so little time to ideate and then 'Whoops, it's match day again!'  And then you've got three days of matches to play and I can only imagine what this is doing to the mentality of the team and there is so much momentum with this kind of stuff.  It's so hard to know if Spirax would have done anything.  Obviously, we saw DSG riffle through some of the wreckage of the academy team exodus, was it strange to you that they didn't just sign everyone from C9 Challengers?  With the players, not necessarily. The circumstances are a lot different now. Has Dimitri "Diplex" Ponomarev gone back to Europe, because I was under the assumption he was at least in talks with C9 to be a substitute? Even though challengers did return in the summer, there is definitely concerns about some of the changes after the exodus, as you called it.  So it's not exactly inspiring to players, especially ones who are international. So I wouldn't be surprised if he just cut his losses.  Lawrence "Lost" Sze Yuy Hui? I couldn't tell you what happened to Lost. Like he's got a North American [residency] he was really good last split. He was in talks for the Most Valuable Prospect going back and forth, like he was good. I don't know what the hell happened.  It's sad that a lot of really good players didn't make it through the summer.  Is it fair to call DSG the favourites coming into the summer split for NACL? No.  When the split started, we all kinda agreed that they'd be around the top three. For me, I had FlyQuest, Team Liquid and then DSG and then you know, the rest.  I think they struggled at the beginning but they're living up to what we expected. But no, not tournament favourites. If you had to pick one to win it all who would it be? Give us your way to early prediction.  Team Liquid Challengers.  They've just been a cut above the entire split. They are the only roster returning completely unchanged. This is the program that had back-to-back winners last year, during Proving Grounds. Plus 3 of those 5 are currently LCS and doing well.  Yeah, the system they have there is really good. Their coach Jake "Spawn" Tiberi is kinda the GOAT.  With Joseph Joon "jojopyun" Pyun, David "Insanity" Challe, and now Eain "APA" Stearns getting some much-deserved respect, it feels as though there is this drip feed of new names being lifted from Challengers and other amateur ecosystems. As the volume of those names grows, are the teams taking notice or is there a scouting issue?  Yeah, I do.  Most LCS teams already cut back on spending this year and their probably going to do the same next year. The only exception was FlyQuest but I'm sure they won't be an exception for too much longer.  With that in mind, I'm pretty confident that there are some players from their challengers' roster that are going to go up next year. And when you get to the point where, as LCS teams, you have to spend even less, domestic is quite literally the only answer.  So it's not exactly how we were hoping to get here but it seems we're tapping into that tier-two space more.  So it sounds like there are gems to invest in but there just hasn't been much urgency for teams to stray away from known quantities. If we're in a recession and teams can't spend tons of money on the hottest new import, then is scouting domestically the logical next step? Is that it? I'd say so.  And to your point about scouting, I'm not sure what it was exactly, but there have been players in the past that carry this stigma of not making it to the LCS in the past and that seems to have been a contributing factor.  The other part, I'm not sure. I couldn't tell you what [some staff] are thinking when they pay an exorbitant amount of money to gamble on an import.  When you do that, you're ignoring a lot of the NA talent base that you could be spending less money on and developing.  I think that's the real problem. Not necessarily the scouting so much as it feels like, and I'm not sure which, but it's like a lack of ability or willingness to develop talent.  Because if we want to talk about players with potential, I've got a laundry list. These players? They got something to them, but they need polishing, they need refining.  And those types of things don't just happen on their own or with minimal coaching.  That's what it really comes down to as an issue.  It's interesting because I was listening to The Dive [the other day] and they had Mingyi "Spica" Lu on and they were talking about this as well.  Spica said, and he said it with enough authority that it's got to be true in some cases, but he said that he thinks that part of the import and veteran player bias is so that coaches have to do less.  If you get someone proven, from somewhere else, they already know a lot of what they're supposed to do, so there is less for you to have to teach.  And if that is true, I'm genuinely not even mad. As corny as it sounds, it's just disappointing. It's just a disservice to the entire region and that is not an exaggeration. It's just insane to me that this is something that people could do. And it not only just harms the space in general but fewer players will consider going pro and more money is spent overall at the end of the day.  Just feels like a lose-lose and NA will continue to [suck] internationally.  So what was it all for?   Going to toss you some thought experiments here. First, let's lead with freshman all-stars. Form us your ideal NACL roster, that technically would be considered graduating rookies in the LCS.  For top lane, I feel like I'm doing Jett Michael "Srtty" Joye dirty here but I'll take Faisal "Faisal" Kakar. He's been around for a while but it wasn't until he joined AOE that I noticed him. His coach at the time insisted that he'd be in the LCS within two or three years. And honestly, he's been on quite the rise.  For mid, I would have said APA, but I can't now that he's played. Gun to my head, if I have to pick one right now, give me Chase "shochi" Capello. He's improved a lot in this last year and continues to show potential.  As our bot duo, as our ADC it's Fahad "Massu" Abdulmalek and Brindon "Breezy" Keesey at support. Massu started playing competitively a year ago and I was immediately impressed, this year has looked even better which speaks volumes about his potential. As for breezy he’s been around for a few more years but the last 2 years have been particularly good, I think he’s ready to move up. And as our jungle, I'd take Ganbat "Yuuji" Ulziidelger. Are you taking Yuuji because you're a big Jujustu Kaisen fan or what's up? HAHA, no.  I honestly didn't make that connection until about a week ago, I swear to god.  I was like 'Hey, wait a second…' Yuuji has been on FlyQuest for a while and he gets nods every split for Most Valuable Prospect. It's crazy, he was on a collegiate team for literally two months and FlyQuest was like 'Absolutely not, give me that' and signed him. Yeah, they got him fast and he's been on the team ever since. He's been really good.  With your team assembled, how do you think they compare against LCS teams? Where do you think this team would power ranking among LCS teams today? I think the team would be 10th out of 11 teams.  Not the worst, but not great.  They'd be better than Immortals.  I feel bad because I think Onur Can "Bolulu" Demirol is pretty good, but outside of that, yeah, they're last.  Part of it is hard to measure because of resources, coaching staff, how is everyone going to mesh, how well they can be developed etc. That's probably the best of players that have never played tier one before, in my opinion. Lastly, I'm going to put you on the spot and make you GM for a day for a team of your choice. Let's keep the resources within reason, but pick any team, it can be a Challengers League team or an LCS team, what are the first three moves do you make? So the team I'll take is FlyQuest.  Oh, am I ready to make this take?  I think I am. Ok, day one moves, LCS 2024, I'm the new GM of FlyQuest--move over Nick Phan. 1.) I'd make Spirax full-time mid.  2.) I'd make Massu a full-time bot.  3.) And then invest a boatload of time/money into content. Like player content, I want people to know and care about my (hypothetical) players,  have them stream a set amount of time, all that stuff. Yeah, those are my changes.  As we wrap up, any plugs or anything you want to shout out that you've got coming up? Watch Challengers League, it's very cool. With how things are going, there is a very real chance you'll see these players next year. Wouldn't it be cool if you say 'Oh my god, I watched these guys last year. They do X, Y, and Z!'  You can impress your friends by getting ahead! You're welcome. 
Images via Riot Games, Beatdown, and RallyCry

Latest Poll

first poll

Which region will win OGA Dota PIT Invitational?