Day 4 of Lock-in, there’s a group match with an almost outsized importance. Due to a series of upsets, botched leads, and shaky early season gameplay, the loser of this match will have to play Cloud9 in a best of 3. The winner gets to play one of Immortals, FlyQuest, or Dignitas—a much less feared matchup.Team Liquid will win the match against TSM in under 5 minutes.In all honesty, it begins in the draft where TSM funnels into AP threats against a Galio and pulls a bizarre first-pick Lillia that becomes even more bizarre when you realize Nidalee was open. In turn, Team Liquid gets to lock in an insanely potent Camille-Galio duo and one of the meta’s top junglers.At about 3:10, Santorin strolls into Spica’s jungle and casually spears away the gromp from him after he smites it. This is about 135 XP lost for Lillia, so a 270 XP swing in Santorin’s favor, and he has a smite advantage to clear even faster to widen that level gap. But the abysmal draft, the brutal spear snipe, these are not what win TL the game by 5 minutes.Tactical and CoreJJ are.Knowing where Santorin is now, TSM put their bot on the strong side of the map, Spica pathing to take the bot side scuttle crab. Lost and SwordArt can now push their wave into tower and create pressure. Except, they get a bit too cozy with their advantage.CoreJJ dematerializes a minion and shoots a hook right as it vanishes, catching Lost off guard. This isn’t the first time the 2020 MVP has used his dematerializer to trick the enemy bot lane and it won’t be the last. While Core’s engage is clever, up next is the Tactical show.Tactical immediately funnels in on Lost, flashing for the coup-de-grace, but is a hair shy of auto-range. Recognizing he’s overextended, that SwordArt has ignite, and that Kai’sa’s W is up, he doubles back and slides behind Core just in time to let his support body block the W. Now getting slapped within an inch of his life by Leona, he slides behind the minion line. Just in time, he gets right behind a low caster minion, casts double-up, and puts an extra chunk of damage. If Tactical does any of these movements wrong, he will die. Depending on when he dies, this trade becomes a 1-for-1 or even a 2-for-0 that ultimately favors TSM. This is the modern meta of League of Legends. You have to play at the limit to play optimally.SwordArt goes down right before he can land the death blow. CoreJJ flashes and kills Lost, who hovered too close to the fight. TSM didn’t just lose their bot lane, they lost their strong side. They lost the part of the map that gave them any leverage to make wider macro trades. The rest of the game will be a disaster for them. They’ll go on to lose 2-1 to C9 in the quarterfinals.
Do you feel like you can read what the opponent is gonna do as well, based off of items and power spikes?Yes, I do.
And this is all purely feel, do you feel like this is a muscle memory thing…Well, I’d say [pauses] it’s not completely intuition but it’s just a habit from doing it over a long course of time. By now it’s really an automatic process. But at the start, I’d say my first time in the LCS, there was a lot of stuff I’d think about actively. It was kind of hard. But now since I’ve been doing it for almost a year by now, it’s just more automatic of a process.
Can you give some specifics there? What process or things you feel are more automatic for you now…I’d say a big one would be macro. Before I’d struggle or have less confidence in what I think should happen on the map or times that I could do [something] on the map, or what we can do. Now it just seems like I’m a better player overall – kind of.Another example would be laning phase. LCS has higher level play than academy so people are playing matchups to the more accurate representation. So like, let’s say I play a certain matchup in academy and I never got punished but I played in LCS and I got punished, I would actually learn that. Now since I’ve played at the higher level for a while, I just have these matchups memorized in my head and I kind of know how to play it without having to talk with Core.
I kinda wanna break this into specific examples. For the macro one, let’s take the fight against Suning where you’re on Jhin and you roam up to mid…Yeah, yeah.
Is anybody on the comms, are they like, “Tactical, Tactical get up here!” Are you already going? Do you already know at that point?It was more, I made the decision to go up.
Say, when you started that split or a few games into the split, do you feel like you would’ve had that confidence or was it something you gained up to that point?I’d say it’s something I gained over time – to be able judge the situation myself and rely less on other people. So I guess it’s like I had a better idea of what I wanted to do in the game rather than in the beginning when I was just listening and asking people what to do.
Do you have an internal timer of the enemy team’s ults, summoners, key spells?Yes. We also have a timer where Core, whenever we ping a summoner, he’ll time it in chat. Sometimes in League, there’s certain champions where it’s more important to keep track of their flash because of a flash-ccDefinitely I know what my threats are in fights and I’ll always ask if they have flash. I’ll always say I’m fine, I’m safe from this guy, I have flash or cleanse or galeforce. I have a general feeling of all the cooldowns in the game, so I like to keep track of those. For example, if Thresh hook is down in laning phase, it’ll be down for 20 seconds or something and I try to make the most out of it.
Is this like a “quick maths” or an intuition thing for you?It’s like an intuition thing. I have like a general estimate of how long cooldowns are – and most of the time it’s correct. So, got that with me. Was that something that was an easy thing for you as a player to develop? Like, when you were [still] hopping into solo queue and you were still at that Diamond level.I’d say it’s something that most people don’t keep track of actively. Most people in Diamond, the’re still trying to polish up on their basics a lot. Even until competitive, or even up until 2020 LCS, I was not that good of keeping track of supports’ cooldowns in lane but this time around I feel way better or confident about myself. I feel more knowledgeable about the cooldowns.
How does that confidence affect you? I’d say the biggest difference so far has been in laning phase. Before I would be scared, kind of like, “oh does he have this ability?” I’d constantly make myself worry so I wouldn’t play as aggressive. Now it’s like I have more precise or accurate information of what the cooldown might be so I’m able to abuse the timings by maybe two more seconds.
As the teamfighting becomes an automatic process, Tactical shifts his mentality towards laning. This is something he’s been working towards ever since Worlds: move that automatic mind over to the lane. Read the seams in the opponent’s aggression, count the cooldowns, and hit opponents where they aren’t used to being hit.Automatic mind: Laning“So now I’m just focusing on laning,” Tactical says, “because I realize that if a gap is made big enough in laning phase, it can just provide so many free advantages – tools to winning. So me and Core are just trying our best to just smash lane.”
Do you feel like Core enables or encourages that kind of [aggressive] style in you?I think so. I think Core’s a very good player and basically he just helps the AD carry focus on themselves the most. He rarely messes up his own role in the game. He always has a good idea in the game what he wants to do so I think it allows his teammates in general to focus on their own thing and not worry about what he’s doing. In terms of being aggressive and letting his carries play up front, I’m not sure if he’s the factor for that but I feel like he helps my growth.
Do you feel like Core gives you a historical knowledge of the game that helps out?Yeah, I think if there weren’t drastic changes with the champions themselves, we could use ideas in the past that had worked. Like the idea of playing X champion against Y – and it still works sometimes. Just like, knowing why people picked certain champions before is pretty helpful.
Does it feel kind of cool to reach that point where you’re teaching Core something about the matchup?Yeah. I’ve always thought he was the better half of the duo where he always was the one kinda carrying me. But it does feel like now I have more confidence in myself and I’m able to provide more this year.
In the moment, is there Core saying, “Go go go!” or is it just like you’re both fairly quiet or you don’t necessarily need that – you know that this is the time to go?Nowadays, we don’t really have that where we have to explain in detail what we’re both looking for. It’s fairly simple communication like, ‘I’m looking here.’ and I’ll get what he’s trying to do or what he wants.
Right. Is that a shift compared to when you started?When I first started, I kinda just followed everyone around but now it seems like we’re splitting the responsibility way better – way more evenly. We both have our own ideas and it works out better. There’s more flexibility now, it seems.
Did it seem like the communication improved as you improved?Yes, I think so. We would have less comms necessary to say stuff that I know now. I’d say a lot of stuff doesn’t have to be said nowadays.
Because it’s just a shared knowledge now – that you have with him…Yeah, exactly.
How much do you and Core limit test in bot lane and generally talk about how to optimize a matchup?Oh we talk about it every game. There’s always something we think we can do better.
For you is this a lot of lane talk now?I’d say it’s mostly lane talk now.
Carry.exeAs Tactical blooms into a multi-threat carry, he does so in the midst of Team Liquid’s own metamorphosis. This team, once a late-game juggernaut filled with veteran decision making, now leads the team in early game metrics.TL has the top Early Game Rating with 82.4 (this is a homebrewed stat from Oracle’s Elixir).TL has the top Gold Difference at 15 with a massive 2,707 gold lead. TL has a staggering 100% first blood and dragon rate as well. Forget what you heard or learned, early game is no longer the problem. Nor is aggression. Before anyone jumps the gun, we’ve only seen 7 games—many of them against incomplete rosters and unpracticed squads. However, the team identity clearly shifted in the offseason and over the course of Worlds.
Writer // Austin R. Ryan
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