Ji "Aaron" Xing, the coach of EDward Gaming, is known as one of the most successful coaches in the history of League of Legends. Following his team's game against the Bangkok Titans, Aaron spoke to theScore eSports about the World Championship and his history as a coach.
Congratulations on the win. First of all, you faced BKT, and you were expected to beat them. You let G4's Zed through. It's usually permanently banned against him in the GPL. Did you prepare for it?
We didn't know that that was a very strong pick for his team, but we felt Zed wouldn't counter our meta, so that's one reason we didn't ban it. Also, it was a champion they picked at the very last minute. We wanted to give the other team the chance to try the best champions they can play to show the World stage what they can do.
Your team picked Skarner, and you've played it in Regionals. Earlier today, KaKAO also picked Skarner, and he wasn't extremely proactive on it. What sort of composition or approach do you have to have for the Skarner to be successful?
First, the difference between Clearlove and KaKAO's Skarner is that when KaKAO plays Skarner, he's more focused on farm, and he's not proactively trying to initiate fights or contribute to fights, but Clearlove tries to find more opportunities to dive and to initiate fights, so he can better help his team find leads.
Also, both the teams chose a lane swapping strategy in the early game, and both the Skarners could successfully reach Level 6. If we want to pick Skarner as a strategy in our meta, we are more focusing on the other champions to provide more to the team while Skarner farms. In the early game, Skarner is not a champion that is very good at ganking. He's better at farming, so he'll need his team to create more opportunities for him to act as Skarner.
Typically, your team is very team fight oriented. During the playoffs, in the games you lost to LGD, you had less team fight oriented compositions. Can you explain what you were intending when you drafted those compositions against LGD?
When we played against LGD in the playoffs, we had played so many games. We had won 18 straight LPL games before the playoffs, so at that time, the first game, we had very good pick and ban, but unfortunately by the last game, our mindset was not so good so we didn't pick as well. For the second and third game, we intended to choose more early game picks to try to initiate skirmishes in the early game, but this lead to our loss.
On the other hand, I did have expectations that we might lose to LGD or lose other playoff games. As an LPL coach for many years, I know that if we keep winning from the first game until the end of the season, that might not be a very good thing. If we can experience failures, this can help us to learn more.
You are very experienced in coaching. You've been coaching and analyzing more or less since League of Legends was being played professionally in China. Western infrastructure has taken more time to catch up in League of Legends. What first got you interested in coaching and analyzing the game?
Originally with WE, I wasn't able to go to IEM because I had visa problems, but I had been focusing on the game for a long time. I had a lot of thoughts on how I can make the game better and how we can make the professional teams more professional, and how we can make the industry more mature, so I wanted to dig more into League of Legends from this perspective.
With that in mind, I contacted the manager of WE and was accepted through the interview process. I think it was because of my thoughts and my experiences on how to make the team more mature in the professional League of Legends eSports industry.
You are going to face SKT T1 again in this group. I don't know if you have the same perception in China, but for many of us in the west, it's the rivalry of the two most successful coaches in the history of League of Legends. You bested kkoma at MSI, and I heard from San Shao [Interviewer's Note: EDward Gaming's manager] that he thinks that maybe SKT T1 will win because they're hungry for revenge, so what are your expectations for going up against kkoma this time around?
The EDward Gaming vs. SK Telecom T1 final was a great set, and there was no winning team or losing team. There was the result that EDward Gaming won MSI, but we think both the teams were great because we played until Game 5.
For Worlds this year, SKT might have the desire for revenge, but I think both of us can play excellent games in the Group Stage and further. I guess that, although we are in the same group as SKT in the Group Stage, those might not be the only games we can play against SKT. We will do our best to play and try to win the World Championship, and give our audience a very excellent game when we play against SKT T1 in Group Stage. We expect to meet them again in later on in at Worlds.
You have worked with Clearlove for a very long time. What do you think it is about him that has allowed him to improve steadily? People say he is a very hard worker and very focused on the game. He practices a lot, he's very dedicated and motivated. XiaoXiao said that if his teammates are not practicing, he will bother them. Is that the main factor of Clearlove's success, or do you perhaps have some other insight?
Clearlove is a very good pro player. Every pro player has to be gifted, but from my perspective, Clearlove is very gifted.
I have known Clearlove for a long time. Clearlove joined Team WE after I joined team WE, so I worked with him since his first day in Team WE, so we grew together. Although I'm the coach, and he's the player, it's not like I'm always teaching him what to do. I feel like we can learn from each other, and we grow with each other. Other than that, Clearlove is a player who pursues perfection, and I'm a coach who pursues perfection, so we match and work well with each other.
San Shao has said that EDward Gaming will play only with AmazingJ this tournament, and Koro1 will stream. What factors have lead to making the decision to use AmazingJ as a team?
There are two reasons. The main reason is that Koro1 still has pain. Similar to what happened with pawN, his neck and his back always hurt when he's playing, so we cannot let him play all the time.
In addition, in the current patch, the OP champions are champions that AmazingJ is good at, so we feel comfortable using him in the tournament.
Could you give us what you feel are your strengths and weaknesses as a coach?
First of all, I want to talk about my disadvantages. Because I have never been a pro player, I can never think in the same way as them when they're playing a game. Another thing is that because I wasn't a pro player, I cannot experience their experiences during their lives. For example, there will be ups and downs in their pro lives, but I cannot experience that.
As for my advantages, I'm a leader or organizer for the whole team. I can notice every detail of what happens in my team, and I can get everyone into a group as soon as possible. We are no longer five players; we are one team. That's what I'm good at, and I can also use my analysis skills to help the team level up. To me, all the pro players are like little kids, so I really want to get them together and make them lead and play as a group.
This interview was conducted through a translator. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore. You can follow her on Twitter.