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Those who watch the LPL on a regular basis will know the name of Barento “Raz” Mohammed. Former coach and analyst for teams like Dignitas, nowadays Raz is a resident commentator on the English-language cast for the LPL and one of the biggest specialists in the region.

In the wake of the LPL grand final which saw Invictus Gaming sweep JD Gaming for the title, I sat down for an interview which, well, got a bit out of hand length-wise, spanning 40 minutes and a 4,000-word transcription.

This is Part 1 of that interview where me and Raz go over the JDG/IG final, JDG’s unique Cinderella storyline, his predictions for MSI 2019 and the influence the LPL has had on international League of Legends.

Tune in tomorrow, May 1, for Part 2.

On the JDG vs. IG final

The big thing last week in the LPL was obviously the final between JDG and IG, which was a series many expected to go for, but ended up with IG sweeping JDG in mostly one sided manner. There are many explanations as to why JDG lost the way they did — from draft to playstyle — but what’s yours?

Coming into the series, I expected a 3-1 win for Invictus Gaming. My reasoning was that even with the strength that JDG had in team fighting and rotations from their players, I thought IG could do it better.

But what ended up happening, funnily enough, started in the draft. Homme is a wonderful coach for JDG, I think he has a great mind for the game and lot of people don’t get to see a lot from the coaching staff outside the pick and ban. This time around, when I saw the plan coming through, I understood what they were trying to go for. I understood they were trying to pick better late game scaling composition and try to work around killing split push with Nocturne and Ornn. They tried to go for heavy dive compositions and look past the laning phase.

If you’re opting into a bad laning phase in your counter-pick against IG — the strongest laning phase team — that’s already a bad idea.

They went for red side, trying to get the best lanes — lanes that could get 10cs behind but then get to late game scaling teamfights. But the problem is, every single time during the regular season that teams have done this versus IG, they’ve failed. Most of the time, a cardinal sin in what JDG did was letting IG get Jayce or Ryze on blue side and refusing to ban those options. If you’re on red side and allowing them to get either of chose between their top and mid, all you’re doing is saying, “OK, we’re guaranteed to have a bad lane in either match-up, because on red we won’t have the opportunity to give ourselves a good laning phase on our last counter-pick.” And Ryze specifically does really well scaling into late game.

What ended up happening was Flawless was forced to consistently make plays early. IG kept mashing them after they had great lane leads. They’d get the lead, counter Flawless’ way to get back which was his mid lane ganks… I thought the strategy was very ballsy but just didn’t pay off. The moment it failed in game 1, you could see the adaption in game 2, like, “OK, we’re picking stronger mid lanes.” [laughs]

I can’t remember who made the point that JDG really lacked the flex in the draft. IG kept picking Ryze and Jayce which are champions you can’t really predict where they’ll go. Both TheShy and Rookie are amazing on them so JDG were already in trouble in the draft, because even if they had a strategy, they didn’t really know how to counter IG and the way they pick.

I agree completely. Coming in, as a former coach myself, when you go into match day, your goal is to control the variables. When you go into a draft, you have to know what pathway you can take to emulate what practice has been for you. Throughout the entire season, IG have been utilizing Ryze and Jayce to their fullest. If we look at Rookie’s OP.GG, at that point he’d been spamming Ryze. If you are JDG, my biggest issue is that by game 2 and 3 they had already disowned that game 1 draft; at this point, their practice must be out the window.

But to your point, IG had plenty of flex picks and it makes it so much easier going into the draft, knowing that on blue side IG have a higher win rate as they can always control the match-up, even if that is the main strength of red side. If you’re looking at Yagao’s picks, he doesn’t have a similar champion to Zoom. The closest is Jayce, but that’s not a champion Yagao really plays. And Zoom oftentimes moves to counter-pickable champions. Zoom would much rather be on red side where he can control his match-up perfectly, but they actually locked him into tanks, because that’s probably the best pick against Ryze. You’re going to have a bad lane, though, and if you’re opting into a bad laning phase in your counter-pick against IG — the strongest laning phase team — that’s already a bad idea.

But I respect having the guts to do this. [laughs]

There was a press conference after the final and TheShy actually said he was disappointed that Zoom got put on tanks. I think he was expecting a more bruiser-esque engagement up top. Do you think it was actually a point of pride for TheShy to be able to beat Zoom in a more action-oriented match-up, given the Zoom vs. TheShy narrative leading up to the finals?

I never know if the players have bought into the hype that the fans and analyst have been pushing, but I know for certain that everyone had respect for Zoom as a top laner at that point. On top of that, JDG prided themselves on being able to play through Zoom. They didn’t have a bot lane during the regular season. LvMao and Imp were consistently coming out with deficits from lane. But even before they decided to play through top, they were not synergizing well, communication looked off, they were dying a lot. That was a stat that was coming up often — their 2v2 deaths.

The way JDG thrived was with Flawless going top and especially being able to play through his picks, because he had many of them.

So I think TheShy was disappointed that JDG came into the match-up with this tank, playing-away-from-top mindset. That’s what TOP did and they failed. But during the regular season, JDG actually beat IG by specifically playing to their top lane 2v2. That’s what TheShy came into this series recognizing — that JDG would be a team able to challenge them, but that didn’t happen.

On JDG’s playoffs run and the WE, RNG and FPX series

On their run, JDG knocked out many top teams, including FPX. What were they doing that the best teams couldn’t answer? Was it just the anime-esque power of believing in themselves or was there anything on the Rift?

Then, JDG and especially Imp and LvMao smashed WE in the series. They solo-killed Mystic and Missing, the major strength of Team WE, and I think they were really shocked by that. At least in that series, it felt like JDG succeeding through their bot lane for the first time in a very long time.

And then the RNG set was even crazier. RNG were shocked by the fact that not only were Imp and LvMao playing the lanes well, especially in teamfights with the Fiddlesticks. And then RNG went back to what people criticized them for: when pushed to a desperate situation, they all turtle to the bottom lane and it’s all Karsa focuses on. And then JDG challenged them, picked up multiple teleports and just out-teamfought them.

LvMao and Imp were now a lane you could play through, rely on them to not just outright lose in the laning phase.

Also coming into this series, RNG had top lane issues so that one was a little more expected, to be fair.

And the last one, I still believe FPX should’ve won. In game 4, FPX over-engage after they’ve won Baron, lose the teamfight and then the game. Then you go to game 5, FPX have a huge win in the early game. Doinb as their primary gold holder at that point completely mis-itemizes. That was a heart-break for me, because I felt that had FPX kept a more disciplined mindset, they could’ve gone forward.

That’s what sold you. If you were a JDG fan, or a fan of everything, you go into that series and you’re changing everything into JDG jerseys. [laughs] That literally sells you on the team.

All series had their own stories, but the major point for me was that LvMao and Imp were now a lane you could play through, rely on them to not just outright lose in the laning phase.

On MSI 2019 — predictions and IG’s chances

The win qualifies IG for their first ever MSI and there’s immediately the talk about where they stand in relation to the other favorites: SKT and G2. Where do you put them? Is China the favorite for MSI win this year as well?

Yeah, I think they are, I think they are immediately No. 1. There is great challenge, but IG have too many strengths and the meta currently favors them.

Who can realistically topple IG and what do they need to “solve” to beat them? Is it just figuring out what to do with TheShy and Ning?

I think you’re right, I think it is about the top lane. SKT are currently coming in as No. 2. Some are listing them as No. 1, but the reason why I stick them below is that right now, Khan is Mr. Inconsistency. He’s a great top laner and in early 2018 he showed he was the best in the world, but a major issue is that if he doesn’t get the attention required— or even regardless of that, when he moves into teamfights, sometimes he loses his mind and doesn’t have the focus. And he certainly needs it if he’s not only going against TheShy but also being able to hit teamfight with a lot of the consistency IG are coming at him with.

Teddy is the best carry in LCK and challenging for that one in the world with the current state of Uzi.

That’s what I’d say SKT need to work on but they have a great strength in Clid. Clid has gone up against IG in the past when he was with JDG and he was a phenomenal Lee Sin player. I think he will challenge Ning really well. I don’t want them splitting sides of the map, because I think Clid’s talent is too much for him to be put on splitting duties.

Isn’t Teddy also a big threat to IG, because he’s been fantastic in both the playoff series SKT played. He basically through them Griffin series in large part and was great against Kingzone as well. I think fans are happy to see him out of the JAG prison and now SKT are fully enabled. Is there a reason to watch the bot lane match-up?

It depends on the meta. Although I said earlier that it’s an IG-favored meta, with how many tank changes have come through, that usually does spell that it will be more ADC focused. If that’s the case, I’d certainly certainly tilt the IG vs. SKT bot lane match-up in SKT’s favor. You’re right, Teddy is the best carry in LCK and challenging for that one in the world with the current state of Uzi.

I really am interested, I want to see how the meta looks like if we’re in the tank top/jungle and we’re going full ADC protection, bringing the Kogs back. If that’s the case, I favor Teddy.

On LPL’s influence over LoL

Fans have been concerned about the waning power of LCK. Many, myself included, believe that the region is in its toughest year and that its unwillingness to change or at least evolve their macro, objective-focused playstyle is costing them in the long run. Do you believe this is true?

I think it’s more of an evolution now in the LCK. To be fair, the meta through the years has changed so much, away from risk-averse vision control to being a lot more scrappy. Because of that, a lot of the teams you’ve been seeing rising like SANDBOX and DAMWON have this great mix. Seeing Nuguri being such a great carry top laner and have a mind of being able to dive straight through — essentially being teamfight focused…

What you see in the LPL has started to bleed into other regions, especially the LCK. SKT had to evolve into a team that literally had to pick up that LPL jungler so they can really pick up on these fights they’ve been missing out on. And even in some of the games I’ve seen from SKT, they’ve been a little bit slower than the better LPL teams; I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it’s more so a mix of both, a mix of patience, pushing side waves and waiting for your time to shine and then really going for those fights when you see these opportunities.

What you see in the LPL has started to bleed into other regions, especially the LCK. 

I think the LCK has come back. Last year was a blip in their history after they were all in on slow play, specifically talking about the Gen.G’s and Afreecas of the world. KT was a shocking one. I am kind of sad that KT’s reign at that time didn’t go further, because they got taken down by the world champions. I think it’s sad that the LCK as a whole was looked as a major failure last year because KT was that team that did succeed. But unfortunately, they found that first team in quarterfinals…

Are there teams in the west capable of adopting LPL’s style and executing it well, not just being poor copycats?

I think that mentality is always in the mind and hearts of players. If I’m looking at G2 with Perkz and Jankos, these are players who if they see a good opportunity, they will go for it no matter what. And when they go back and review these fights, they’ll say, “We should’ve taken it” rather than argue they should’ve played slower.

Because we’re not in that time frame anymore. You think more of execution, more of mechanical skill, more of laning phase and when it comes to Baron, you have to be able to take the 60/40s, 70/30s… There’s always going to be a chance for contest and unless you’re willing to go all-in on these teamfights where you just Realm Warp in, you need to have that mentality.

The West is slowly getting to this point and in G2’s case, I think they adapted really well.

That kind of mentality is really interesting at these tournaments like MSI. It’s not something that you learn through coaching and grinding, which makes it very unexpected when you go against Play-in teams.

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