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YamatoCannon on how Korean League of Legends has evolved for Worlds 2020

The Worlds analyst also gives his diagnosis of NA teams' woes and predicts the fates of G2 and Fnatic

The 2020 League of Legends World Championship has been a pretty predictable affair so far. The favourites are all still here and present, and there were no real surprises in terms of who qualified from the group stage.

As a result, we have a properly stacked knockout stage ahead, brimming with the top teams from the LEC, LPL, and LCK. And now with the prospect of playing to an actual crowd in Shanghai’s Pudong Football Stadium, there’s even more incentive to reach the final after a year of predominantly online play and empty studios. But who will be reaching that final?

Well, as someone with considerable Worlds experience as both a coach and as a broadcaster, Jakob ‘YamatoCannon’ Mebdi is the perfect person to ask. In the build up to the first quarter-final – an all-LCK tie between DRX and DAMWON Gaming – we had the chance to pick his brains about his critical analysis of MAD Lions’ early Worlds exit, his view of the Korean LoL scene, and where he thinks it’s going wrong for the North American teams on the international stage.

Here’s what he had to say.

The Loadout: Let’s start with NA. Where do you think LCS teams went wrong in this Worlds specifically? They had a lot of pressure off the back of a collective poor showing in 2019, so what’s going wrong in that region for you?

YamatoCannon: I think it can be kind of wrong to put everyone under the same umbrella. Because if I look at FlyQuest, this year has been quite successful. They’ve tried to break the mould of who is the top team [in LCS], which was always Cloud9 and Team Liquid, and I think getting back to back finals is something to be proud of.

I actually think the same thing for Team Liquid. They dropped in spring, made adjustments, came back, and were probably the strongest NA team at the World Championship.

There are definitely some good organisations and some good signs over in North America. But I think the issue is the big difference to what we see in Europe. I think there are a lot of organisations [in LEC] that do their best to challenge G2 and Fnatic.

G2 and Fnatic at the end of the day always end up on top. But like, for example, my history with Splyce: I worked with five rookies and replaced one rookie with another. And then I got second place with Vitality, where I brought in three rookies. So now the trend is that there’s almost always this rookie team that is making a breakout, and I think the issue for NA comes when the organisations that aren’t on the level of Team Liquid or Cloud9 are just not taking risks.

League of Legends coach YamatoCannon

They’re not being bold at all in the way they’re approaching things. They’re not doing anything to challenge the system that has remained the same for such a long time. That’s why you keep seeing the same players winning the region over and over. I think that breeds comfort – and comfort breeds weakness.

On the topic of rookies, we obviously had MAD Lions’ young roster at the play-ins. It’s safe to say they fell short of a lot of people’s expectations by not making the groups. Do you think anything went wrong with them in particular? Or was the level of competition just too high?

I’m of the opinion that the play-ins weren’t necessarily that strong compared to previous years. So I don’t think it’s tied to the level of competition necessarily. Like with FlyQuest, I look at MAD Lions through the lens of what the year has been for them. I think it’s rather successful considering they came in with players that barely anyone has heard of. Peter Dun did a fantastic job of scouting these players.

Of course, coming into the World Championship, I had high expectations because I thought the majority of their issues came from just bad ideas and the read on the meta.

I think in hindsight, it was so much more. Worlds 2020 has a very jungle-dependent meta, and I think Zhiqiang ‘Shadow’ Zhao previously found success through being able to be quite spontaneous and mechanically play well with champions like Lee Sin. This is no longer rewarded in the current meta. Now it’s all about precision, and this has never been Shadow’s strength.

We’ve also seen a lot of focus on the top lane at the World Championship. And I think the meta is also not to Andrei ‘Orome’ Popa’s strength.

And the last thing, which is completely speculative, it’s just the idea of them playing on stage. They seem to massively underperform and the burst that they had throughout the year started when everything went online. The rumour has always been that MAD Lions has been fantastic in scrims. Even coming into this world championship, I heard rumours about them being good in scrims. So maybe the pressure just got to them.

Moving on to Korea, a region you’ve had a lot of experience with this year. DAMWON have come in as the top seed and pretty much the joint favourite to win Worlds alongside Top Esports. What have they been doing over there to make them so strong?

I’m not sure exactly why they’re so strong or what they’re doing over there, but just from a holistic view, the LCK, has in the past been very staff-driven. And I think in a world where a game can be mapped out perfectly and in a world where there’s very few variables, that level of staff-driven discipline can be very powerful.

But [it’s not powerful] in a world where there’s a lot of randomness – no, randomness is not the right word… In a world where every game has opportunities to change the path that they go down; there’s the small moments, key moments that change, always, from game to game, depending on the champions that are in the game and the decisions you make.

I think players that have their own thoughts and ideas coming into a game and are willing to adapt are going to be stronger. This has been the evolution of Korea within this year. A lot of teams are working towards making the players more involved in the process of finding success. I think together with that open mindedness and with the discipline that Korea has had since the very beginning of esports, the region is now very, very strong, and it will continue to become even better.

The knockout stage for this year is really stacked with the world’s top teams, so how do you fancy the LEC teams’ chances to make a run? Fnatic have a particularly hard draw against Top and G2 were shaky at points, so what are your thoughts?

I think that with the current meta, the stars kind of aligned for Fnatic. Gabriel ‘Bwipo’ Rau has always been very good at playing the champions that are in the meta currently, whether it’s an Ornn or a Gangplank or a Volibear, so it fits him very nicely. Same thing for Oskar ‘Selfmade’ Boderek. I think he is very, very good at what’s in front of him right now.

When it comes to Top Esports, the conversation that I’ve had with a lot of fans and viewers in general is that everyone’s judging teams based off of their group stage performance. But in past years, group performances have rarely been indicative of who is going to completely annihilate everyone in the tournament. Even IG [at 2018 Worlds] came out of their group I believe with the second seed. Same with FunPlus Phoenix. They dropped games against Splyce in the group stage and looked rather horrendous, yet they went on to win everything.

However, I’m looking at Top Esports and at what they’ve accomplished throughout the year and I think they are looking very, very fearsome. I think coming into the matchup against Fnatic, the big edge they have is the ability to just play through mid lane. I think anything that is going to be able to play through mid lane will instantly have an edge because it is just the most effective and most quick way to control the map.

If Fnatic [find themselves with] their key champions and their big draft picks that they like – for example Orianna, Graves, Senna, Ornn – I think still maybe they can take a game off of Top Esports. But Top Esports definitely can’t underestimate them, especially in this meta.

And what about G2?

I think they probably got the best draw they could have hoped for. Both G2 and Gen.G had a lot of issues during the group stages, but looking at the year as a whole G2 prepared themselves for the World Championship thinking that the ganking junglers and the fighting junglers are going to be very good. And now they’ve had to kind of catch up.

I think in a world where Gen.G can play through mid into bottom, I think they will beat G2. But in a world where they don’t – which happened many times in the group stage – I don’t know. What worries me about Gen.G is best-of-five scenarios. On paper, Gen.G is better. Pound for pound, they are looking stronger than G2. But I just have a hard time trusting Gen.G completely in best-of-fives.

I also believe that in the span of a week [between groups and the quarters], G2 will be able to solve more problems than Gen.G can, and G2 are dangerous [in best-of-fives].

This match is probably the hardest to predict. Because it completely depends on what the teams figure out about themselves within this week. And that’s so hard to speculate on.

So go on then, time to talk favourites. You’ve mentioned how strong Top and the Korean region are at the moment, so who’s reaching the final?

I’m with the general consensus that DAMWON and Top Esports will make it [to the final]. I think that one is pretty straightforward. Everyone had this idea coming into this tournament, and nothing we’ve seen has gone against the idea of them being the two finalists. It’s actually supported the idea of them going to the final.

I’ll be really looking at DAMWON if they reach the final because a lot of their success has been without the crowds, so we’ll see how they deal with it. But I think I’m heading into wishy washy territory and this is usually if I don’t want to go with my analysis. I like to leave these aspects out of it!

And finally, on a personal matter, you announced this week you would be leaving SANDBOX as head coach. What does next season look like for you now? Sticking to broadcasting, or looking for another challenge as a coach?

I want to remain in a competitive environment. I know that what I can do is far from completely explored. I want to get further in the World Championship. I’ve only been to groups and I know that especially now after all the experience that I’ve accumulated, I’m ready to go all the way.

Any particular region?

I’m not sure yet – I am exploring the whole world.