The Unicorns of Love have charged furiously into the 2017 EU LCS Spring Split, boasting an undefeated 5-0 record through four weeks of play. But their Week 5 opponents, G2 Esports, have similarly taken no prisoners, sitting at 6-0 on the season.
One of these two teams will register their first loss this week, and a major factor in the outcome could come from the battle that's set to take place in the jungle. In terms of picks, both UoL jungler Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir and G2 Esports' Kim "Trick" Gang-yun have similarities — they've shown a willingness to use Ivern, and both are comfortable using Rumble this split.
What separates those two junglers is their experience at the highest levels of European League of Legends competition. Trick is a two-time EU LCS MVP, earning that accolade in both spring and summer 2016. He boasts an overall KDA of 6.04 so far this split, playing Kha'Zix (7.17 KDA) in four of his games and winning all three of his Ivern games.
Xerxe, despite his impressive results so far, is new to the EU LCS, having spent time with Dark Passage in the Turkish Champions League. He is undefeated on Ivern this split, earning a 39 KDA over five games with the champion and posting an overall KDA of 8.26 — second only to Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen in the EU LCS.
But UoL have a track record of finding and developing talent — like Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov and Kiss "Vizicsacsi" Tamás — and so far it looks like Xerxe is the real deal. Before his Week 5 matchup, Xerxe spoke with theScore esports about what it was like to join UoL, what he's learned so far, and how he's preparing for his imminent matchup against Trick.
What was it like when you got the offer from Unicorns of Love? What were you doing and how did you react?
I was a substitute for UoL in scrims before they went to IEM Oakland 2016. I thought we were doing really well together, winning most of the games. I also expressed my wish of joining the team, but I wasn't given a sure answer as [Kang "Move" Min-su] was still part of the team. Even though I was happy for them winning the IEM, I got a bit discouraged and I thought I'd receive a straight "no."
I remember the evening of Nov. 24, when [UoL coach Fabian "Sheepy" Mallant] messaged me to ask me to talk. He didn't know this, but I had written a notepad with all the reasons I should be on the team, in case he refused me. Luckily, I've never used the list. Sheepy called me on Skype and for 10 minutes he said nothing relevant, I was so confused! Out of nowhere he said "welcome to the UoL family." I was so relieved and happy, and I couldn't believe it.
What has been the most important thing you’ve learned since you started playing in the EU LCS?
Sheepy taught me that the most important thing in game is adapting to each circumstance. This way I can never be caught by surprise and know how to handle the situation. Outside the game, I learned how to use the washing machine.
Did you view yourselves as underdogs going into this split?
I believe most people did see us as underdogs. This didn't really bother me. I knew we were a well-built team and we could improve even further the more we played together. I believe [Kim "Veritas" Kyoung-min]'s absence was yet another factor for which people considered us underdogs. At the time Veritas left the team, I was a bit afraid that we might not be able to find someone to replace him. We got [Samuel "Samux" Fernández Fort] in the last second, he has proven himself to be a great addition to the team.
Based on pre-season predictions, the Unicorns have surprised a lot of observers. At what point did you personally realize that this roster was among the region’s best?
Pre-season predictions were not in our favour. We were ranked as an average team by most. I always knew that the roster was strong, especially with veterans like Vizicsacsi and Hylissang, but I personally realized we were among the region's best after we won against H2K.
You are currently undefeated on Ivern this split (5-0). How strong do you feel this hero is in the current meta?
I feel like even after the nerfs he went through in the last patches, Ivern is still pretty strong. In SoloQ the champion might not seem so useful because of the lack of communication between the players. On the competitive scene, on the other hand, the utility, the shields and the heals he can provide for the team is what makes him so good.
You’ve got an upcoming match against G2, where your opponent in the jungle was the EU LCS MVP for the last two splits. Are you intimidated at all by Trick? What will you be focusing on as you face off?
I think Trick is a really good player and jungler, but despite his titles I learned not to be intimidated by my opponent. When I go on the stage, to me it doesn't matter who I face, I always give my best and do everything in my power to secure the win. I'm training a lot for this game because I know I can get on his level.
You and Trick have some similarities in terms of hero pool: the use of Ivern, and the willingness to use picks like Rumble. How do you approach that situation in this matchup? Will it require you to play something outside your comfort zone, or do you think you will you have enough room in the draft to play some of those shared picks?
It's true we share almost the same champion pool which makes the upcoming series even more exciting for me. People underestimate how big my "comfort zone" is. Sometimes I do prefer off-meta champions over the usual picks, but that's because I strongly believe they work better in that situation. I don't do it on purpose and even if people might criticize me for it, I'm here to win at all costs.
You’ve said in past interviews that you’d love to go to Worlds. If you qualify, what’s the first thing you’ll do?
If we qualify I intend to celebrate with my teammates and dye my hair pink.
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a krug enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter.