During the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship, participating Chinese teams received heavy criticism for failing to execute lane swap tactics and fell behind as a result. In the LPL, Snake have differentiated themselves as the lane swapping team, playing a lane swap scenario in 17 of their 23 games.
As a result, Snake often secure early gold leads, averaging 600 gold over their opponents at 10 minutes and 1,621 gold over their opponents at 20 minutes (the highest in the league). In order to better understand their approach and why they have decided to pursue this strategy while the rest of the LPL attempts to avoid lane swap scenarios, I visited the Snake Esports' gaming house to talk to their staff and players.
In my interview with Snake Esports' team captain, Li "Flandre" Xuanjun, he discussed Snake's current strategy in the LPL, his own playstyle, and his friendship with Invictus Gaming's mid laner, Song "RooKie" Eujin.
I know that you have a popular nickname in the Chinese community — “St. Gun Brother.” Could you explain to English speaking fans how you got this nickname and also let us know what you think of Lucian top.
When Lucian just came out, I was among the first few players who tried this champion. One game, I had a lot of CS, so a lot of people called me “St. Gun Brother.”
As for Lucian top, I tried it privately, but it bombed. It wasn’t very good top.
Back in the LSPL, some people compared you to PDD. What are your own thoughts on that comparison?
It’s hard to comment on this right now because PDD has retired. I think that when PDD was playing, he was better than I am.
Over time your style has evolved a lot. In the LSPL you played a lot of carry tops like Fizz and Yasuo when others weren't playing them, then in the first LPL split you played a great deal of tanks. Now you are playing champions mostly dependent on the meta. What is your favorite style to play and what style do you feel you are the best at?
I like champions that create a lot of damage like Yasuo and Fizz, but when we entered the LPL, tank champions were very OP. I used these kinds of champions and champions now because I want to win.
I know that you make a lot of Snake’s decisions and calls. Do you find it difficult to play carry style champions and direct your team at the same time?
I thought it was very difficult initially. In the beginning, the entire team just listened to me and obeyed my calls, so if I made the wrong decision, or if I didn’t notice the minimap because I was focused on what I was doing, and I made a wrong decision, then the entire game would be lost. This is a difficult role for me, but with more practice, I am improving.
When you were in the LSPL, there were two very strong teams. One of them was Snake and the other was Team King. You both entered the LPL at the same time, and in your first post-game LPL interview, you said you felt the biggest threats were King and EDG. Why do you think Snake succeeded whereas King didn’t perform as well?
Perhaps they relaxed too much. When we were in the LSPL we felt we just can’t beat King, but in the LPL, we entered a much different environment. It might just be that King didn’t train as well as other teams at that time.
This split, Snake has a unique style within the LPL. You lane swap in 75 percent of your games, which is much more than any other team. What made your team decide to focus on this strategy?
Because our head coach observed our team, he decided that we should practice lane swaps. Our players try to practice this very hard and practice it more than other teams. We use it in games very regularly.
At the LPL, Zzr said that Snake practice lane swaps a lot in scrims, so not just on stage, meaning that other teams see you do them a lot and see you get a lot of early leads playing this way. Why do you think that other teams haven’t really attempted to match this strategy as much?
I think that other LPL teams may feel that it’s better to just try to beat their opponents in lane in 1v1 matchups, but for our team, we want to try to find the best method to suit our entire team. We play as a team, not a single player.
In these lane swap situations, you are often the player given extra time with the bounced wave to get more experience, but even when other LPL teams lane swap they often do this with their AD carry. Do you think it’s better that the top laner get extra time with the wave in general, or is this peculiar to your team since you often play carry champions?
Because in many games, I use Quinn or Gangplank or another champion that needs to farm a lot. If I receive a lot of farm, I can perform better in the late game and carry the team.
When you play, you seem to have a very aggressive mentality towards initiating or entering fights. What factors do you consider when you decide to initiate a fight?
For a top laner, if you want to start a teamfight, you must make sure your teammates can follow you and follow up your initiation with damage. If you decide to start a teamfight, you also have to realize that you can’t hesitate. You have to go and commit once you go into a fight. If your team is relying on you, as the top laner, to engage, you have to take that responsibility.
Perhaps in situations where you’re behind in gold relative to the enemy team when you engage or if your team hasn’t communicated well that you’re starting a fight and the fight goes wrong, how do you maintain the confidence to engage again later in the game?
When we are playing games we avoid talking about the last teamfight. If we lose a teamfight, we just don’t talk about it during the game. We focus on the next fight. Maybe for the next fight, I will think about how the last teamfight went and alter my style for this game and make a different prediction when I go in. This situation depends on my communication with the other players.
When Snake first entered the LPL, your teamfighting seemed very strong, but now it seems to be less cohesive. What are some struggles that your team has with teamfighting, and how do you think you can fix them?
I think maybe our individual skills overall aren’t as strong as when we first entered the LPL. I also think that too much teamfighting is a gamble. It isn’t very safe to rely on teamfighting to win a game. Right now, we prefer to maybe focus more on getting some farm or preparing in other ways before we decide to team fight. We will then only take a team fight when we think we are ready to win the game. I think this is the better way to win.
Do you think that, even with so many attempts to engage in the LPL, there is still a way to play so that you can avoid fighting if you don’t want to?
Our strategy needs more practice. We have only just now begun to use it. We have many problems, so right now we are taking teamfights when we don’t really want to fight. As we encounter more of these situations, we will learn more about how to avoid them. It will take a lot of practice and time.
When I spoke to your manager, Zuowu, he said he wanted fans to think of creativity and Smite Top when they think of Snake. Do you think of yourself as a creative player?
I think that I am sort of a creative player. I play a lot of champions, and I like to use them in the top lane. For some of them, I don’t want to play them in a competitive match, because it makes it harder to win. For others, I’m just starting to study them. Maybe some day soon I will play a new thing in the top lane.
When you look at your own playstyle, what is something you really want to work towards and improve?
Many parts of my play can be better. I need to work on how to avoid ganks and improve my CSing. Sometimes I just miss CS. I also think I really need to work on TP. I’m not really good at TP usage, but I’m trying to get better now.
I know you have a good relationship with Invictus Gaming’s mid laner, RooKie. Some fans in the west want to know how the two of you became friends and started playing ranked games together.
It began when I helped RooKie become No. 1 in Chinese solo queue. We played together many times, and it built our friendship. I think it’s good to have a friend like this.
Is there anything else you would like to say to your English-speaking fans?
Perhaps if I become more patient and don’t let myself get ganked as much, I can win more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter for more coverage of the LPL and the EU LCS.