Echo Fox jungler Matt "Akaadian" Higginbotham knows both the highs and lows of the NA LCS after a rookie campaign in spring 2017 that saw him make an immediate impact on carry junglers but then fail to clinch Rookie of the Split as his team's fortunes changed and the meta shifted.
Also of interest in summer has been Echo Fox's practice regimen, as they turned heads by practicing purely internally with their 10-player roster, eschewing the labels "starter" and "substitute" and instead naming a "frontline" and "backline" for each match.
Akaadian sat down with theScore esports to talk about hitting the rookie wall, his opinion on the Rift Rivals result, and whether he was last split's MikeYeung story.
Like Akaadian's play? You can check out some of his recent builds here.
So the first thing I wanted to talk about is your recent Drive episode, and you spoke about hitting the rookie wall, and how now you're aiming to play to be a better teammate. I wanted to ask — how has your own playstyle changed to make that a reality for your team?
It's just a matter of thinking about everyone else's role and not only just mine — thinking about everyone else's game and how things that happen in the game and things that I do affect them. Instead of before, I think most of my thought process was, I would think about all situations and think about how they affect me only, right? And I would just only be playing my role. But I think now I just want to become more of, not necessarily a leader, but ... I just don't want to be putting my team at a deficit, I suppose ... just so I can get ahead, or something like that.
I'd rather think of every situation from both sides and just make the right decision from both perspectives. Which, a lot of games recently, has been, you know jungle's not going to super hard carry and kill everybody. So you don't need to take all the camps. You can build supportive items for your teammates who will just kill people themselves. And you can win the game like that. So that's probably the biggest change, I think.
I wanted to ask a little bit about your mindset. I saw in a previous interview you described yourself as an emotion-oriented person. And I'm really interested in that because I feel like a lot of junglers would describe themselves as maybe a reason-focused jungler. And I want to ask you, first of all, what is your mindset like heading into Week 6?
My mindset is optimistic that our practice is doing good things for us. You can never really tell — with the way that our practice is structure I can never tell how we're going to do because you can never tell how strong you are relative to LCS teams other than playing them in the games. And obviously that type of thing has its strengths and weaknesses, but I hope that our practice is doing good things for us and ... I really want to make playoffs, personally. That's my personal goal with the team. And I hope we get some wins.
So, as far as I'm aware and it sounds like that's still the case, you're still scrimming within the Echo Fox organization only and you're not scrimming other LCS teams. Is that correct?
Yeah. That's true.
So you just mentioned that it's hard to know where you stack up going into any week because you're not playing against these other LCS teams. I know in the past you've been a good soldier about this: in other interviews you've been like, "Well this is what the organization wants to do and I'm gonna do it." But what is your personal opinion on whether or not this is an effective mode of practice? Like this probably unlike other things you've had in the past on some of the other teams you've been on, right?
Yeah. Well, I mean it's completely different.
My opinion is that I think it can be, and it probably is for the long run, definitely the way to go in terms of practice. I think it's the best way to practice, it's just that I think we rushed. We had a rush to put this sort of system together, it wasn't exactly planned, we just kind of pushed it through.
So there are obviously some things that we can improve on, and we can get better at. I think it's definitely a good way to practice, it's just that we are the first people doing it. We're constantly figuring out new ways to do things, new structures to put in place, etc. to sort of control it, to make sure that it's productive.
You sort of alluded to something, which is that you're able to do this because the organization itself has a 10-man roster. The organization calls it a "frontline" and "backline." And next year, all NA LCS teams will be required to have an academy team, and could do this if they wanted to. That's an interesting take from you, that eventually this will be what everyone does, because right now you guys are the only ones doing it.
I just think that it's not viable if you don't have players in every role that can challenge the player on the frontline or the backline ... I mean, I don't even really like the frontline and backline terminology. It's just something that was sort of coined, I think, because there was a lot of backlash when I was, not replaced ... Grig played instead of me in Week 2, right? And there was a lot of people hard-flaming that, and that's when they came up with the term, the frontline and the backline.
We're Echo Fox 10. It's not like starters and bench people. Some people obviously play better than others consistently, so they consistently play on the frontline. That's I think generally how it goes.
I think other teams will probably start doing this in the future. When our management talked to us about it, it's really weird that you play your competition [for practice]. You don't play your competition in things like football and basketball. They have coaches that have run practice where players play against each other, on the same team, all the time. That's how every sport works, you just play against your own team for practice and you play against other teams for real games.
I think League of Legends is unique in that a big challenge you're presented with is, you need to have players who can challenge each other in practice, constantly. I think that's the only things that orgs might struggle with, or that might deter orgs from doing it in the first place. Because you must get 10 players on your roster that are all competent and really skilled in your own right.
Last split, especially first half of the split, I feel like your name was the name on everybody's mind because of the impact you immediately had on your team.
Yeah, I was MikeYeung last split.
There you go, you pre-empted my question. I wanted to ask you about MikeYeung: do you see any parallels there, but also have you had a chance to talk to him at all about what it's like to be a rookie jungler in the NA LCS and have all that hype behind you?
No, I've never really talked to him. I don't think I've ever talked to him before, actually. He just came out of the blue.
My opinion of him before was... I feel so bad, they put it on the Riot broadcast. I really need to start thinking about what I say every time I'm asked a question that could be aired, because sometimes I just say what's on my mind, and it can be so mean.
I didn't really mean how mean it was. All I knew from him before was that he was a Nidalee one-trick. And then they put it in there with a really negative context, me just saying that he was like bad, you know?
That's not what I meant, I just meant that that was all I knew about him. He really did come out of the blue. Honestly, I think he's playing well. I think I was a beneficiary of how the meta worked and some of the OP champions that are being played. So I just get Kha'Zix and I get a cheese kill in the early game, and then I just pop off because it's Kha'Zix, it's easy to do. I didn't really get to play Rengar at all, but I guess other champions I was able to have some good games on.
But I think also people have a different... I mean, dude, I didn't win very many games, I didn't win many matches, even, last split. I wasn't as successful as even I thought I was at the time.
So I think MikeYeung's doing very well right now.
Since you've been in that position though, where you've been on kind of a hot streak, even if that streak maybe didn't continue until the end of the split: is there a danger there? You spoke about it in Drive a bit, that there was a point where you felt like you became too confident in yourself. Is that something that he's potentially going to face, from your perspective?
If you go on his Twitter, he literally just posted something. I just saw it because someone retweeted it on my timeline, and I saw it and was like, that's interesting. He said that a lot of people were worried that he was going to be overconfident or something, and he's really trying to stay humble. So that was nice to see from him, you know, that he's trying to stay humble.
To be honest, I said the same thing. Only time will tell if he actually falls off. He did a lot of unique paths in his first few weeks, and I feel like a lot of junglers can look at that and say look, this is working really well even though we didn't think it was good. And they'll remember it when they play him, and it'll just become easier to read. Because really, when you think about the LCS: how many times have I played Dardoch? How many times have I played Svenskeren? How many times have I played Reignover?
I play Reignover, I know exactly what to expect when I'm going into the game. Because I've played this guy in so many professional matches, I know exactly how he plays. I know his tendencies and decision-making even. Usually you can just kind of know from playing each other.
And this guy is new, and he's actually playing well. He's doing some innovative paths, and he's just playing well. It kind of took people off-guard. Maybe he's going to own, I don't know. I hope he does, it's fun to watch.
I saw some images and video of FoxCon, and Rick Fox hanging out with the team. I got to meet him once, but it seems like he's always a larger-than-life guy. What is it like having him in the organization as a player?
It's just nice for me. I came from Challenger, right? I mean the only other organization I sort of felt comfortable on was Team Liquid Academy. It was like, they're going to be able to pay my salary every month. All the other Challenger orgs are just like, "Dang, I don't know if these guys really have money, or if they really are who they say they are."
So that's one of the immediate things that's really nice about being on Echo Fox. You don't have to worry about it at all. But he's said some things to me. Like when I was a rookie, actually, right after Week 4, we beat TSM and CLG. And everyone was like, "Oh my god, Akaadian is so good!"
Right after that, he sent me a message, and just said "Look, don't let this go to your head," basically. And it sorta did, I don't know.
That was my follow-up actually: did it?
Yeah, it sorta did. That was my bad. It definitely did, and that's not a mistake I'm looking to repeat ever. In general, I don't care: I think if I work hard, there's definitely going to be a time again when people are like, "Wow, this guy's owning everybody." Because I know I can do that. It's not the hardest to, and I just need to play well all the time.
So when that time comes around I hope to just be able to be like, this can change at any point. And just be humble about it, and keep working hard, you know? I think that's all that's important.
Echo Fox was not at Rift Rivals, but what do you think about the lack of points and the bragging rights-type format? I know a lot of teams were back in NA scrimming, some of them like 12 hours a day for practice. Meanwhile the teams that went to Rift Rivals got to play against EU, but they're maybe not using that time anywhere near as effectively. What are your thoughts on the format?
I think a lot of the teams did take breaks, by the way, during that time. I think a lot of teams take breaks, at least from what I've heard.
But I personally would love to play in Rift Rivals, just because it's NA vs. EU. I think if it was another region I wouldn't care. But there's just been so much NA/EU beef in the past that I think both teams really cared about winning or not.
I was happy myself. I was like, "Nice, we stomped EU. It's nice." It's so annoying if you're from NA, and you see an EU guy flaming NA, you're just like, "Man, screw you!" And I'm sure it's the same for EU and NA.
But you don't really ever get that chance to prove to them that you're the better region, except at Worlds, and then even then...
And then at Rift Rivals, it's like, "Wow, you guys got owned, what's going on?"
Were you surprised at how badly NA stomped EU overall? It was pretty bad.
I was pretty surprised. I think I went into it with the opinion that EU was probably going to win. Everyone's always like, NA has these clown fiesta games, you know? But then you watch EU games and it's like, this is some nice macro going on.
But then when you really think about it, EU style in general has literally just been slow. And they don't practice making a ton of proactive plays all the time, and that's why they got owned, in my opinion, by North American teams.
NA teams have had a lot of practice making proactive plays.
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.