SK Gaming has had a dream week in the League of Legends EMEA Championship. Coming into the weekend with a paltry 1-2 record, and games against hotstreakers Team Vitality and G2 Esports on the cards, it looked like the German-based outfit would be on course to crash out of the 2023 Winter Split at the first hurdle.
However, this isn’t the same SK Gaming we saw in Week One. Driven by a renewed vigour – the result of an altered mental approach towards the game – the team not only managed to outdo both teams on the Rift, but it also stomped reigning LEC champion KOI.
Outside of returning midlaner Daniel ‘Sertuss’ Gamani, SK has come into the LEC this year with an entirely new roster, built predominantly on talent that has relatively little top level experience. Aside from support Mads ‘Doss’ Schwartz, who has barely spent two years all-told in the LEC, only former Excel Esports man Mark ‘Markoon’ van Woensel has spent over a year in the league.
As League’s current pro meta continues to place a heavy emphasis on playing through bot lane, dynamic junglers with strong dive potential like Elise – as Markoon himself demonstrated in both the game against G2 and Vitality – are quickly becoming popular options. To learn more about the pick, how SK was able to shift its mentality for the better, and how the team is gelling, we caught up with Markoon after Sunday’s game against Vitality.
The Loadout: Markoon, congratulations on the win today – another victory against a team poised to go flawless this week – talk to me about the game.
Markoon: Coming into the game I realised we’re gonna have to make stuff happen, you know, playing Elise/Renekton. We did have some scaling the bot and mid lanes, so I was just looking to be proactive early because it’s a winning jungle matchup and I had opportunities to dive.
You definitely seem to be a bit of an Elise savant here in the LEC. Talk to me a little bit more about the champion – where she is at the minute, and where you want to be playing her.
I literally prepped this champ last year – that was my pocket pick I had ready to play into Jarvan, actually – but I never got to pull it out. So I’ve been playing it for a while now.
I think the champ just fits into the meta quite well. Bot lane is very divable at the moment because people are playing a lot of ranged support champs, so there’s a lot of pressure on bot to dive. Early game, she’s very strong levels three/four/five, so you can really abuse that and push into the enemy jungle if you want to create a lot of pressure. You have an easy time doing drake as well. So you can just push your advantage in the early game very easily.
How do you feel about the meta in general right now?
It’s a bit weird. I feel like you can play almost everything. I actually think Riot has done a good job with the jungle. It feels weird to say because I always hate change. But it feels like you can be very creative in the jungle and not get punished too hard, but you can also powerfarm if you want. I think it’s actually starting to strike a decent balance between the two.
Where were you originally on the jungle changes? Were you on the ‘oh my god what is this?’ train when they originally came in?
Whenever Riot changes the jungle I get a bit annoyed at first like, ‘ugh, another year, I’m gonna have to read all the patch notes, what are they doing?’ But while discovering the patch, a lot of things changed. And I’m still discovering the patch – from preseason to now – because it takes a while for me to figure out what actually is the best to play and how to play around those champions.
And obviously we still have big changes coming into pro (patch 13.3 tank support changes, patch 13.1b itemisation changes, etc.), so I guess for you it’s just going to be a constant evolution of trying to figure out what’s going on for the next several weeks?
I was quite annoyed at the AD changes, because this is exactly the kind of stuff that you want to put through Preseason. It kind of felt like Riot was AFK the entire Preseason and then decided to go HAM when the season started.
[Now] I don’t mind, we have one more week on the same patch, and we’re gonna have like a week to figure out the new patch, which is gonna be hard. It’s gonna be wild, and I think we’ll be quite surprised by what will be meta.
Considering how volatile it’s likely to be, do you reckon teams will start playing whatever they’ve theorycrafted, or do you think they’ll just go ultra-conservative and stick as much to comfort as they possibly can?
I think the fact you have very few scrim days means that some teams are gonna think something’s strong, try it in scrims, and if it even remotely works, I think they’re just gonna pick it on stage.
I don’t think you have time to completely figure out everything, so you’re just gonna have to choose something that you think is strong. Try it, if you like it, just pick it – don’t think twice.
I respect that approach. You’ve beaten both G2 and Vitality now. Speaking on broadcast you were talking about this big mental shift that’s taken place between weeks one and two. It’s one thing to change your mindsets, but what was the actual process of doing so like?
After game two [against Team BDS], my coaching staff realised we needed to fix something. So after the game, we all sat down on the couch, shared our experience and how it felt playing the game, and we all realised that it was way too stressful – there was too much pressure, and we were all kind of crumbling under it.
It was just very different than normal scrim days for us, and we realised that, since we play well in scrims, we’d just try to mimic how our scrim days are going and try to have the same mentality. At the start, we had to force it a bit because we were still a bit nervous. But for me now it already comes naturally. I’m not sure about my teammates, but everyone seems to be having good vibes on game days.
We absolutely love to see it, and those good vibes are, of course, just as important outside the game as they are inside. What’s it been like getting used to this group of players, and how’s the team building going?
I think we have a pretty good team dynamic – I think everyone really likes each other. For me, I’m kind of getting the vibe that we’re also friends and not just colleagues, which I think is pretty important in a team environment.
[In terms of team building] we stay in the office together, we have done some team activities together, we go to restaurants, and we’ve had board game nights a few times. So we’re just trying to actually become friends, and I think it’s working.
Briefly shifting away from the team, and thinking about your opponents this year: you’ve played against most of the rookie junglers that have joined the LEC this year. What are your thoughts on what they’re bringing to the league?
For Yike, I think he’s very very good at pushing his lead when he has strong laners. So when bot lane has prio I think he’s gotten like 3,000 gold leads every game. So in that area I think he’s very, very good – I’m very impressed. I just want to see what more he can pull out of the hat when he has weaker laners, or he needs to scale, or he’s on the backfoot a bit. I want to see how he develops in that area.
Bo is a very solid player. There’s not much more to say about him. It feels fun to test my skills against him because he’s just that solid. And I think Sheo is kind of the same for me, I think he’s just playing very solid.
Very last question: you’re now starting to gather momentum, especially after those two big wins. How important is it for you and SK to keep that going, and what kind of confidence are you taking from these games?
It’s a lot of confidence. But for me, personally, I don’t really care about the momentum. I think the moment you start putting pressure on yourself like, ‘oh, let’s go 3-0, 4-0, 5-0’ it’s actually counter-productive.
For me, I just want to play the game as best we can. If we lose some games because we’re inting, then we can improve so that when the game actually matters – Playoffs etc. – we’re gonna be as good as we can be.