Snake Esports' jungle Zeng "Zzr" Zhanran joined the team as a promising solo queue star. He managed to secure two Top 10 accounts on the Chinese solo queue ladder before rotating into the team alongside Korean jungler Kim "Beast" Joohyun in the 2015 LPL Summer Season.
Since joining Snake, Zzr has struggled with community pressure and quickly adapting to the competitive environment. Zzr talked to theScore eSports about his thoughts on jungle matchups, the pressure he feels from the community, Snake's recent acquisition of former SK Telecom T1 jungler Im "T0M" Jaehyeon, and what he's learned from studying Ming "clearlove" Kai that can help him develop his own playstyle.
You joined Snake relatively recently and were on their bench for a while after they picked you up. At that time, what were your goals, and did you think there was a chance you could start for the team that split?
My performance was poor at first. But I was getting better and better, so my goal was to just learn how to help carry the team more at that time.
When you were able to play for Snake for the first time in the Demacia Cup, what was your mentality going into that match?
The first time was very exciting, and I called my family to watch the game. Though unfortunately I didn’t play very well, but my teammates were very OP, so we still won my first game.
Many professional junglers say that there are significant differences between playing solo queue and jungling for a pro team. What do you think is the largest difference as a jungler who is still relatively new to pro play?
In solo queue, junglers prefer getting kills for themselves, but in professional games, a jungler should first think about how to help his teammates build their advantages in lanes. I think this mentality change is the difference between solo queue and competitive jungling.
I know you really like to play Elise. What do you think about Elise in the current meta with champions like Nidalee, Kindred, and Gragas being very popular in the LPL?
I think Nidalee is the most OP jungle champion right now. Kindred is just so-so because, if the other team chooses Kindred, I can use Elise to counter it.
LPL and LCK teams pick Kindred a lot more than western teams. In what situations do you think it’s a good time to pick Kindred?
In some situations, Kindred is just as capable as Nidalee. If I can choose to pick Nidalee or Kindred, I will pick Nidalee because Nidalee is just much better. If the enemy team chooses Nidalee, Kindred is the best option because if you pick a different champion, it will be easier for this champion to fall behind. So Kindred is a response to Nidalee.
In what way does Elise counter Kindred?
I think that, for Elise and Kindred, other champions like Gragas or Rek’Sai cannot fight early with Kindred. But Elise can use her E to control Kindred. At this time, Kindred cannot fight with Elise. If Elise is caught by Kindred, she can use her E in spider form to wait for her teammates to come and help.
In lane swap scenarios right now, the jungler might help push a turret if the team is behind, but many times the jungler will just farm. Do you think it’s harder for a jungler to have a strong game impact in lane swap situations in the early game?
In lane swap games, things move very quickly in the first ten minutes. In this time, the jungler works to help his teammates to get an advantage. In these scenarios, I think it’s good for the jungler to do what he can to help his teammates get more turrets down, so if I’m pulled to the side lane to help push turrets, even if I lose farm, I think this is the way in which a jungler can still have a really good impact.
Mid laner cool roamed a lot in Saturday’s match against OMG. How do you deal with situations where the mid laner creates a lot of pressure as a jungler?
We have faced this kind of situation before. In these situations, the best solution is to pressure them more with your mid laner and the jungler. Against OMG, TANK was playing Nautilus. Nautilus is too heavy and too slow, so it was hard to stop OMG’s more mobile pair from doing things together. We should have realized this before we picked Nautilus.
There has been some recent jungler shuffling on Snake. Previously, you shared the role with Beast and now Snake have signed T0M as a substitute jungler. Do you feel increased pressure from sharing the role, and are there benefits?
It isn’t that large of a difference for me. Whoever is in the match, a win is a win for my team. A while ago, I felt I wasn’t playing very well. I suggested to the head coach that T0M should play a match, but T0M wasn’t performing well in scrims, so the head coach decided I should continue playing. It’s a good thing that I was able to return to the team, but I also remember that winning the match is everything.
Did the situation with T0M make you feel more confident that you’re the right choice for Snake right now?
I think my pressure increased rather than my confidence. If I continued to perform poorly, my team would lose. If I can’t return to a strong form, this is not good for my entire team. It forces me to fight to keep the best form I can and be a good jungler.
Is your personality or mentality to blame yourself a lot for games where your team loses?
In the beginning, when I was starting to jungle competitively, no matter how well I played, many people on the internet were criticizing me. At first I felt really bad, and it made me lose more and more confidence. This became a large source of pressure for me.
In situations where you feel you aren’t doing well or you are receiving a lot of blame, is there anything you do for yourself, such as taking a break, to try to drown out the doubt?
At first, I just avoided paying attention to these comments. No matter what I do, however, I realized that these kinds of comments will still exist. I slowly understood that if I play better, even if there is criticism, I will overall receive less blame from the community. This was a good thing for me to realize, so I can focus on improving myself and just avoid looking for these comments for now.
When I watch the LPL now, I get the feeling that a lot of the new rookie Chinese junglers like yourself are strong. In the past, the LPL wasn’t especially known for junglers. Have you noticed this change, and do you have any theories on why this might be the case?
I don’t know about other teams, but I joined Snake based on my solo queue points. When I first joined Snake, I had a Challenger account with over 1,000 points, and after I joined Snake, I managed to get two accounts into Challenger with over 1,000 points. Solo queue is very important way for new junglers to get noticed right now.
In the past, you have spoken very highly of clearlove. Recently Snake defeated EDward Gaming 2-1. What did you think about clearlove’s play in these games?
I believe clearlove was still very strong in those games. EDward Gaming recently changed their mid player. I think the new mid laner, athena, hasn’t figured out EDG’s style of teamwork yet. We knew this and focused on targeting him in our first game. In the second and third game, we played not very well. After we lost the second game, we also didn’t play well in the first part of Game 3. Things only changed after we stole the Baron. So I still really think clearlove is quite strong.
What is it about clearlove’s playstyle that you respect?
When I was playing in solo queue, I thought clearlove was very strong. When I started playing professionally, I began to realize that the thing that made clearlove different from other junglers was that most of the other junglers in the LPL, including me, just go by feel in the jungle. I think clearlove uses his brain and thinks a lot about considering different situations. So I have worked hard to study this part.
In what ways do you incorporate this way of jungling into your own playstyle?
There are two ways I’m trying to improve myself. The first way is to study this style of thinking about the game. The other way I want to improve is my individual skill. clearlove doesn’t really prefer to use champions that require high skill cap. I want to practice both of these things.
Do you think that these two skills are at odds in any way?
I can practice both of these two things at the same time in solo queue. The important thing is to learn more about the jungle and not just become another clearlove. I want to build my own style, so this is what I’m working on now.
In this case, do you have a vision of the kind of jungler you would like to be at this point?
Right now, I don’t have a vision of the style I want to create for myself, but my goal will always be to win.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.