LCS has finally started up again, and hell, it's about time. I won't be around for most of it to bring weekly interviews like before, but I got a bunch of cool ones this past weekend to share before I have to go on an employment-forced hiatus. First up: Cloud9's support Daerek "Lemonnation" Hart! I got to chat with him on Day 1 about his surprise at TSM's form, the process that brought us C9.Incarnation, and how the new C9 is doing as we kick off an exciting Summer split.
First off, just how do you feel winning the first game of the split?
I didn't actually expect to win vs TSM. I kinda thought that their weakness at the international tournament was just kind of a non-repeatable thing – just a single error. I thought they'd come back really strong to beat us, because we're kind of new with Incarnation. We still have a lot of issues to work out. It's very unexpected to me, and I'm very happy that we were able to win.
I guess let's jump on that a little. You mentioned TSM's “error” at the international tournament that you didn't think they'd repeat. What exactly do you the root cause was of all those struggles at MSI?
We were scrimming them before MSI, and before that. Before, like during the end of last split, they were doing extremely well and they would just destroy us in scrims. But before MSI, they were playing badly. We were beating them in scrims. They were just making a lot of mistakes, and I dunno, it kinda seemed like they were on tilt as a team and they just weren’t making the correct decisions – where they're usually extremely smart about what they're doing at all times, and they don't really have weaknesses that are showing. They just weren't making the correct decisions.
So was the TSM that you played today closer to the TSM from scrims than the TSM from Spring?
[laughs] I don't really know. I think they were playing extremely well early game. They didn't give us any blue, they didn't give us any dragons, and were choking us out. But then we were able to get a few turrets, which I think was a mistake by them. They gave us these turrets that allowed us to come back in the game and start our scaling, because we were an extremely strong scaling comp. Giving us those free turrets meant we had enough time to reach the late game and eventually win.
Hai's retirement came soon after the end of the split, but the idea of C9.Incarnation had been teased a few times before that on some of the C9 players' streams and such. Was the idea of trying out Incarnation something the team had considered before Hai actually stepped down?
Back then, I think Jack had his eyes on Incarnation as a possible person that we could pick up and try out to see if it'd help the team and make it better. So that combined with Hai stepping down basically meant that we were able to do tryouts with Incarnation, Pobelter, and Yusui. I think all three of those were extremely strong candidates, so even though we went with Incarnation I don't think it was a set thing. It was actually extremely close.
It seemed like the general thought was Incarnation had the spot from the beginning. What about Incarnation as a player led to your choosing to play with him rather than Pobelter or Yusui?
In the tryouts, we actually had more success with Pobelter than we did with Incarnation. The scrims with him would go better. He has a lot more experience playing with a team and communicating, knowing how to transition out of laning phase. Whereas Incarnation was doing amazingly in laning phase, but outside of that he didn't really know what to do. But Incarnation definitely had the most potential to learn that, because he's only a solo queue player so that's kind of expected that he doesn't know what to do outside of it. Because that's so different from solo queue, it's like night and day – what you have to do outside of laning phase in competitive.
When Hai stepped down, he explained that it was in part due to the sense that his team had “lost confidence in his abilities as a player and shot caller.” Do you think you could elaborate on that a little bit, from your perspective?
[long pause] I think...when we were winning every game it was easier for the entire team to have confidence in everything we were doing, but when we started losing the games there were more doubts. “Should we be doing this instead, or this instead?” “What's going wrong?” More doubts come about. And I think that hurt Hai. We didn't have complete confidence.
Speaking of Hai's shot calling, how exactly were the calls distributed on C9 during the end of last split?
It was always the same way with Hai as the leader. Hai had the final decisions for shot calling. Meteos would give us timers for jungle buffs and call Dragons, and I would do early game and lane switches and stuff like that. I would give suggestions for stuff to do, and Hai had the final decision.
Taking him out of the team and bringing in someone who's never played in those high pressure matches, with all that late game shotcalling experience, how has that really changed the dynamic of the team?
The main thing is that now Meteos is the shot caller instead of Hai. Incarnation is very...he's not a quiet, do-whatever type of person – he's outspoken, and he will voice his mind on whatever we should be doing so that's good. But he is not the shotcaller at all. We're transitioning to having Meteos having all the say and learning what we need to do at all times. We're still making that work, and it seems like it's been going well so far. I think Meteos has stepped up on that a lot.
You guys have been playing together forever, and looked like a real family to the fans for a really long time. How has adding a new player to that dynamic changed the atmosphere at the practice house and the way the team works together?
I don't know. We still practice all the same ways, it just changes how our in-game works basically.
So now we're here at the Summer Split. A lot of the teams have changed a lot, and there are a lot of new faces. How are you looking at the strength of NA this split as compared to spring, which was already a really competitive split?
It's really hard to say, because I really don't know a lot about a lot of the players who are joining. Move, for example, I have no idea how good he'll be. Emperor, I don't know how good Emperor will be. My assumptions coming in are that TSM will still be the strongest team, just because of how strong they were last split and my assumptions that the weakness at the international tournament was just a mistake. I know a lot of other people are kind of thinking that they won't be, and they're counting them down because of how they showed, but I don't know. I guess we'll see if I'm right about that or not. I don't have too much of an opinion on the new changes yet.
Would you say that based on the relative strength of everyone, you have a pretty good chance of making the finals again?
Honestly, I think it's way too early to tell if we are or not. It all comes down to how well we play with Incarnation, and I honestly don't know yet.
Just to finish out, we've had a couple patches since Spring ended and some of the power picks are shifting around a little bit. TSM banned out the Alistar and the Ashe for instance, which were not priority bans last split (with Ashe having the new rework). Where do you see the power picks in the current meta as compared to before?
The meta's changing just like it always does. Ashe just got a super big buff so it kinda makes sense that she's gonna be good coming up. She wasn't terrible at all before they buffed her. She wasn't really picked, but I think she was on the borderline of being viable and not. So her getting very significant buffs makes sense that she's gonna come up. Alistar has been slowly coming up for a while now and he's a very strong support. Kalista's basically always been strong and continues to be strong. Next patch will change support a lot: the patch that live is currently on right now. It buffed up a lot of the utility masteries, and made Ardent a super good item, and made Talisman better. I think support meta is about to change as well coming into next week.
Different picks, or a different kind of playstyle?
I think it'll be both.
Just to finish off: do you have any final statements, shoutouts, anything you'd like to let your fans know going into the rest of the split?