Immortals CEO Noah Whinston on signing both Huni and Reignover: 'Together they're more than great'

by theScore Staff Dec 8 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of NA LCS / IMT video

Immortals, a North American LCS team backed by a large investors group who acquired Team 8's LCS spot, entered the scene with a lot of buzz but have been relatively quiet while they gathered the pieces of their roster.

Immortals' CEO and co-owner, Noah Whinston, sat down with theScore eSports to discuss their roster, the support staff, and how he sees it all fit together.

Immortals have just announced their roster. Would you mind going over your team's signings?

We've signed Huni, Reignover, Pobelter, WildTurtle, and Adrian. Contrary to a lot of rumors, Huni will be playing top lane. He did mention that he was sure he would crush Forg1ven in lane if he ever played ADC. I'm sure if you're a fan of Forg1ven, you'll take issues with that.

I think that these players represent the overall philosophy behind the team. They're all really young guys despite the fact that they've been around the scene for a while. Pobelter has been with a lot of different teams, and he has not really found a permanent home yet. Adrian was around at the top levels of Challenger for a very long time when he was still too young to play, and only recently was able to make his LCS debut, and when he did, he was one of the best vision control supports in North America. WildTurtle is one of the most competitively accomplished players in the LCS and has years of experience playing at the highest domestic and international levels, but still has a lot of room to get back into a carry role.

Huni and Reignover played their first year professionally in the west on a public stage with Fnatic. What impressed me most wasn't just how they played, but how they played together and how they synergized with each other in terms of personality as well. Huni's very over-the-top and outgoing. Reignover is very much more reserved and helps bring Huni down to earth when he gets a little too emotional.

I think that the reason these guys are going to play well together isn't because they're the most individually skilled, it's because 100% of this team speaks English, 60% of this team also speaks Korean. We're living in an area where there's lots of Korean food and Korean markets so that Huni and Reignover feel comfortable. Our team manager Dodo moved here from Korea when he was 10 years old and still speaks fluent Korean and cooks Korean food for us all the time. So I think that, when we thought about the roster we wanted to bring over, we really understood that it's not just about who has the best talent, but who is going to be able to display the best talent on stage given the living conditions of the house and the country in which they are living.

It's easy to say Faker is the best player in the world, but I think if you cut Faker out of SKT and put him on a North American team, he wouldn't look like the best player in the world if he's out of his element. Our goal was to find players who are flexible, who are adaptable, and who are able to be in their element wherever they are.

What was it about Huni and Reignover as a unit that made you decide to sign both of them? Did you think about getting only one of them at some point, or did you always see them as a package deal?

To be honest, we thought about it, but Huni and Reignover wanted to stay together, and together they're more than the sum of their parts. I think Huni is a great player, I think Reignover is a great player. Together, they're a lot more than great. I think they're world class when they're together. I think the reason that is is because of the way their personalities play off of each other and the way they grew up together in the scene. I think that's an experience you can't replace. Both Huni and Reignover hadn't had very successful careers until they joined Fnatic, so when they were successful, they were successful together. I think that breeds a camaraderie you can't find anywhere else.

You mentioned briefly that Huni will be playing top, but you also said he mentioned he thought he could beat Forg1ven. Did he ever seriously talk about moving to AD carry?

That was a thought that went through his mind. Huni's idea of moving to AD is a perfect example of the way Huni and Reignover work together. Huni saw that the patch was going to be AD-centric. He knew the next meta was going to be one in which the AD carry had more carry power than the top laner. Being the carry style player that he is, Huni said "I want to play ADC." Reignover said, "Huni, you play too aggressively, your playstyle is exactly the wrong type for ADC. You're going to stay top lane." And Huni said, "Okay, I'm going to stay top lane."

Pobelter has been in the scene, as you said, for a really long time considering how young he is. He's changed positions, he's had to fill different roles on a team. Are there any unique challenges that Pobelter brings?

Pobelter is an interesting guy. The way that he plays is very unselfish. I think the reason we prioritized him wasn't just because he speaks Korean. It wasn't just because he's a good player. We prioritized him because we feel he's a very similar player to Reignover. They both fill the role that the team needs.

As we've seen Pobelter evolve over the years, on Winterfox he played more of a high econ carry style role. When he moved to CLG, he reduced his gold intake. For us, and my philosophy on team construction, I prioritize players who are going to be able to adapt to new metas and patches. Otherwise, you run into problems like GE/KOO Tigers when the jungle meta shifted. The reason we prioritize flexible players is because we know Riot is going to change patches. We want to be great across every possible meta.

You mentioned two things so far: one is that Huni wants to be the carry-style player and also that you prioritize flexible players. Do you feel like Huni can be that adaptable player or is Immortals going to build around him as a carry?

Huni is still a really young player. When people talk about Huni, they talk about him like he's already a veteran and his playstyle can't evolve. I don't think this is his peak. I think he has a lot of room to grow, not only in his mechanical play, which is already Worlds caliber, but also in his champion pool and playstyle. Huni is an aggressive outgoing personality. I think that's why he plays the way he plays. I don't think that means he can't adapt his play or change to suit the meta.

Regarding Adrian, there was some controversy when he left TiP where some were speculating he wasn't completely valued. I'm not sure what exactly happened in that situation, but what do you think Adrian can bring to your roster?

Anyone who thinks Adrian is below Top 2 as a support in North America is fooling themselves. I think social media will prioritize the players who make flashy mechanical plays. Madlife was a legend even as his play started to decline overall because he could always make those Flash hooks. I think the same reasons that Madlife is overvalued are the same reasons Adrian has been undervalued.

Adrian is good in lane, and he's good mechanically, but what wins him games is his understanding of map level play. Adrian's vision control is immaculate. He was warding more than any other support, he was making up for all the wards that XiaoWeiXiao wasn't placing.

People talk about Team Impulse like Rush and XiaoWeiXiao were the main carries. I think Adrian was the main carry of Team Impulse. Without his vision control, Rush's risky plays and XiaoWeiXiao's risky plays would never have paid off. They would have made those plays without vision and gotten punished for them. When we were looking for a support, we looked for someone who is adaptable, who is smart about the way the game is being played, and who has a level of game understanding that I think rivals a lot of western scene legends like Yellowstar.

Turtle had a challenging 2015 where he faced a lot of criticisms, how do you expect him to adapt this year when ADC is so important?

I think Turtle had a bit of an identity crisis on TSM last year. Historically he had always played a more aggressive carry-style ADC, and that style was disrupted due to the team’s dynamic and the way patches affected the ADC role. I think with Immortals, Turtle has a better environment to find success in and an opportunity to step up and take a leadership role.

We talked a lot about the roster we're going to see in game, but a lot of teams have started to beef up their support staffs in North America. You mentioned Dodo, but could you talk more about the guys who will be off camera most the time?

While I'm really happy with our roster, the support staff is what I'm most proud of. Dodo was the support for Team 8. After talking with him, I realized he was already functioning as a manager. He's older than the players, he graduated from college. He got his degree in teaching because he wanted to go teach English in Korea, but then he ended up playing League of Legends. He's a fluent Korean speaker. He's a much better cook than I expected. His food is incredible.

Dodo also really understands the importance of helping people assimilate to the culture of the United States, since he had to do that when he was younger too. So he can bring a sympathy for the Korean players leaving their culture that they know that I don't know if anyone else would be able to bring. He's going to make that transition easier.

Our head coach, Dylan Falco, is a former analyst for TSM. Two things tipped me off to "This guy is really smart, and I need him on my team." The first was that he really prioritizes the important elements of analysis and game knowledge. That's not "let's collect a bunch of numbers that don't mean anything," it's "what wins games?" He finds out what that is and pays attention to it. If he doesn't think a certain number wins games, he won't pay as much attention to it. I think that's a really unique quality because it helps him filter out all of the chaff.

Additionally, his Summoning Insight appearance was incredibly impressive. If you haven't seen it, I encourage you to go watch it. Monte and Thorin, who I love as content creators, have very dominant personalities on Summoning Insight, and often it's hard for people to stand their ground against them when they unite in disagreeing with the guest on the show. Dylan not only stood his ground, but convinced them both that he was right. He didn't do it in an over-the-top aggressive way. He just said his argument, heard their argument, and reiterated his own. That's really hard to find. A lot of people will resort to yelling or resort to over-the-top rhetoric. Dylan doesn't need to do that. I can't think of anyone I'd rather have leading our coaching staff.

I also think it's a little unique that Dylan occupies the roles of a strategic coach. Some people might think "Why are you making your strategic coach your head coach? That's different from what CLG and TSM have just done." I think Dylan brings experience in coaching that a lot of other strategic coaches don't have. He was a poker coach for a long time like Deilor, and he has this inherent understanding of how personalities interact and what type of structure is necessary.

Our other coach, who we refer to as our performance coach, is Robert Yip. He has worked in traditional sports for a long time in Rugby, Swimming, and Tennis. He also worked as a sports psychologist for Origen during the last part of the season. He has a degree in sports psychology and has worked really closely with Weldon Green, the sports psychologist for CLG. He's a physical trainer. He's paying attention to make sure what we're eating is keeping the players healthy.

I think Robert and Dylan make a formidable team. Together, they understand the best ways to regulate player behavior. The way you do that is not "you aren't allowed to drink soda," you say, "If you want a snack, there's a bowl of grapes here." You incentivize healthy behavior, you don't mandate it. He carries that across everything in a way that is so comprehensive that I never ever feel the need to step in.

Regarding Dylan, you spoke about that Summoning Insight appearance a lot. How much did it influence your decision to hire him?

I had already been talking to Dylan before his SI appearance, and I already had a really high opinion of him. That appearance just confirmed I was right in my initial decision.

You mentioned the roles of both Dodo and Robert Yip in ways that, to me, sounded somewhat similar. Could you differentiate them for me outside their respective training and qualifications?

Dodo is more of a direct support system. I view Dodo as more of the peer of the players. What Robert says goes as an authority figure—and the same is true for Dodo. If he tells them to do something, the players need to do it.

The difference is that I envision this being a situation where the players can vent to Dodo. They can emotionally depend on Dodo because he's been where they were just a year ago. He had the experience of being a professional player, and he'll be with them most of the time. The coaches will go off on their own to have meetings and deal with coach things, but players need to get driven to go shopping, or if they are having a tough day of scrims and need a shoulder to lean on, Dodo is there. Dodo is just a really easy guy to be friends with.

There's been a lot of debate about how coaching and staff hierarchy should work. Are you afraid of a situation where the manager becomes too much of a friend to the players that he loses some authority?

I think having someone on staff as a friend to the player is important. Sometimes people put too much importance on everyone being an authority figure. In Reignover's interview with theScore, he mentioned he felt unhappy because he lacked a support system in that he lacked non-teammates he could consider friends. I think having someone who is not playing on the team, but is still there to be a friend, is important.

As far as command chain goes, Dylan is the head coach. He makes the final decision on everything. The reason I trust him to do that is because I've seen him take other peoples' input and allow it to change his opinion. He is not a tyrant. He is always willing to listen. Robert has had many conversations with him where he has changed Dylan's mind about a few things, and finding that ability to both have authority allowing your opinion to be influenced is an important duality.

It's difficult because you don't completely know the rosters of teams you will compete against, but how confident are you that this team can make it to the top of the NA LCS?

I'm not going to pretend it's going to be easy, I'm not going to come in here and say "Our goal is to win Worlds." We need to be realistic about our goals. Our goals are to be top two in North America. Our goal is to make it to both MSI and Worlds. That would mean both placing first in Spring and being top four or so in Summer. I think when you factor in our coaching and support staff with the raw skill of our players and our team environment, I think we're pretty good money to do that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports, covering primarily the European LCS and the Chinese LPL. You can follow her on Twitter for gifs and Sivir rants.