Reigning League of Legends EMEA Championship holder KOI proved that it doesn’t only have Team Vitality’s number in a best-of-one, but in a best-of-three, too. KOI – formerly Rogue – cleaved through VIT 2-0 in the LEC 2023 Winter Group Stage tie, setting up a Playoffs grudge match against domestic rival G2 Esports.
Though KOI came into the VIT series the underdog on paper, having struggled to find consistent form during the Regular Season, it quickly became clear that the roster – majoritively unchanged from 2022 barring the addition of Matthias ‘Szygenda’ Jensen in the top lane – was rediscovering it before our very eyes.
Following the series, we sat down with head coach Simon ‘fredy122’ Payne to discuss the preparation coming into the week with LoL patch 13.1b finally arriving in pro, how the team’s dynamic has changed with Szygenda, burnout risks in a more condensed LEC format, and more.
The Loadout: fredy, thank you so much for joining me, and congratulations on the win today. I just want to kick off by getting some thoughts from you on the games.
fredy122: Honestly I felt very good coming into today, and I think that we had very good prep. I think Vitality is missing a pick or two in the meta, so that helped us get advantages as well – I also think VIT didn’t have the best showing.
That’s a couple of things I want to pick out from that – first of all, the preparation. What was this preparation that you felt so good about coming into this week?
I just felt like we had a way better read on the meta. Yuumi is a champ that’s been annoying us for years now – we played it very badly as well. So when it got snuffed out it helped, and Heimerdinger is a champ we were not too fond of. So there were some things in the patch that helped us.
To be honest, most of our prep was for SK, because we played them first. So we didn’t know what Vitality would and wouldn’t play. We had yesterday to just prep and see, and we noticed a few picks missing [in VIT’s read], so I think we were really able to exploit that. We kind of looked a bit at what Heretics was doing and took some good parts away from that. So yeah, thanks, Heretics.
Thanks Heretics! As you said, we’re on the new patch, and you’ve not had a whole lot of time to really shift over to it yet. What’s the kind of work that’s been going into getting that meta read?
It’s really difficult, actually, with these free days. You just have to look very closely with the players, get their opinions, and also follow your instinct – that’s the thing that I would do.
You also have a baseline from the last patch, so you can see what kind of got nerfed out or what didn’t get nerfed out enough. So you have an idea where power shifts might happen. Maybe, for example, Heimerdinger getting nerfed actually affects champs around it like Varus a bit – those are the kind of things you have to think about. It’s always hard to say for sure. I think the nature of this new system is that you have to learn on stage a bit, and just kind of do what you can in the free days – Pick something. Practise it. Play it.
I was talking to James ‘Mac’ MacCormack last week, and he was talking about how the new format has condensed your days. We were just talking a little bit about how it’s affected how you’ve approached the new patch. But more generally, how has it been affecting how you’ve approached the split?
I’ll be honest, I was up for a format change, but I’m not the biggest fan of the format. I think it’s super hard work. I mean, obviously, that sounds bad. But if you’re not careful, you can get burnt out very fast. So we have to adapt to that. For us, we didn’t actually practise in December, because we knew this was gonna be a very intense format.
I think that’s maybe an advantage we have – that we took a longer break at the start of the year. But yeah, it’s a lot of work, so I’ve gotten a little bit more intense to match it. You definitely don’t have much time to deal with problems outside and inside the game. It’s hard, but we’re adapting well so far.
Clearly, as evidenced by this this week. And obviously, aside from those factors, were there other things that you weren’t vibing with with the format?
I wasn’t a big fan of the fact that there’s three splits, but there’s only one LEC trophy at the end of the year. You do now have MSI as a reward [for Winter], which we didn’t have before. But in the past it was two trophies a year; two chances. Now you could win all three of these mini splits, and then come second in the Finals. And you’re gonna tell me that that team did not deserve to win at least a trophy or something? Because that might become a reality, and that makes me very uncomfortable.
We’ll see. There’s still a long time left to go. For sure, playing more games on stage is gonna be good for the overall level – there’s no argument there. So pluses and minuses
That is definitely very valid criticism. I feel like KOI has really started to hit form this week. You were saying that you had more of a break in December, so I just wanted to get your thoughts on where you feel the team is right now on a scale of 0-100%.
I think we still have a long way to go. I’d say we’re getting to maybe 70%. You could see from our game that there are still times we’re playing too slow on the map. In my mind Szygenda is still kind of a rookie, so he still has a lot of games and there’s only so much we can teach him without him actually experiencing those scenarios on stage. And that will really solidify his learning in his brain. So he needs to just play games, play games, play games, and we push him so he will always be progressing throughout the year. There will always be more that we can achieve with this lineup for quite a long time.
I love to hear that you’re always moving forward. On the topic of Szygenda, you’ve very much gone from that veteran presence in Andrei ‘Odoamne’ Pascu to a rookie. Speaking to Markos ‘Comp’ Stamkopoulos the other week, he was quite excited about potentially having a bit more flexibility when it comes to playing strong/weak side. Aside from that possibility, how has Szygenda’s arrival affected your dynamic as a team?
I think we’ve been okay. The good thing for us is that Szygenda’s personality has meshed with the team very well. He’s actually brought a lot of energy into scrims and stuff. And it’s very good for the other four that we have someone like this.
Odo was always very good to have in big moments as well – I would never say a bad word about him. But right now we are very happy with what Szygenda brings. As the year progresses – we’re not doing it so much right now – we’re for sure looking to open up or to play through top depending on the meta. Right now you can play carry tops, they’re ok, but the power’s in bot lane again, as always. But should the meta shift, then Szygenda is someone who will be able to play crazier champs top.
I’m looking forward to seeing that! Very last question: we saw Kim ‘Malrang’ Geun-seong’s Xin Zhao come out today – the first appearance for the champ in any of the major regions this year. Can you tell me about this pick and where it sits in your meta read?
I think it’s usually not a very good pick. But the situation in that draft was that they picked Nidalee, while we had a scaling mid and a bot lane that’s vulnerable to ganks. We just wanted someone who could fight Nidalee and get us through the early game, so we picked Xin. We haven’t actually practised it, we just thought ‘yeah, this looks okay.’