Though Li "xiaohu" Luanhao has had a short career so far in the LPL, he came into the league with high expectations. Picked up by Gamtee early last year before he came of age for the LPL, he played through two 2015 Promotion Tournaments, one with Gamtee and one with Royal Never Give Up. Now, he and RNG sit at the top of LPL's Group B with a bye in to the Semifinals.
xiaohu talked to theScore esports about some of the moments he's had in the LPL over the last year, as well as his thoughts on his own style and how Royal has changed in 2016.
When you began in the LPL for Gamtee last year, you had to wait before you were old enough to play. What was the experience of watching your team like?
As I was watching my team play, they lost continuously, and I couldn’t really practice with or play for the team. I felt extremely anxious at that time.
Gamtee played a lot of different styles, and you picked a lot of interesting champions like Annie, Lucian, or Irelia that many teams weren't playing in the meta. Was this something your coach wanted, or did you suggest these kinds of picks?
After a period of time, it was just impossible for us to get into the playoffs. So this is when we mostly played strange picks like this. Our staff decided it was best then to just let the team relax and play things we thought were fun and try to have a good time for the remainder of the competition. It just happened that, at that time, I really enjoyed playing champions like Lucian and Irelia. When we took it out in the competition, I didn’t actually think we’d win those games. [laughs] But we did.
At the beginning of your career, there was a modest expectation that you would break out into a very strong carry mid laner. Is this image still something you strive for?
Before I became a pro, I was playing on the sixth Chinese server. I was only Diamond I, but I was pretty good on Syndra. So back then, I had a friend who was with a club, so I went to my friend to ask if he could introduce me to other clubs because I wanted to go pro. My friend’s club was missing a mid, but this is how I started playing professionally.
From then until now, I have grown a lot. Especially this season, I think I have improved quite a lot. I think right now, I just want the rest of the esports circle to acknowledge me.
Before your start in the LPL, you played with mD E-sports Club in the TGA, but failed to qualify for the LSPL. When you were picked up by Gamtee, there was speculation that you would do well right away. How did you react to this speculation?
After I joined the team, but before I could officially start playing, I wasn’t really sure I could bring them to victory. After all, I hadn’t even played in the LSPL before, I was just starting right away in the LPL. mD failed multiple times to make the LSPL. When I first started, I just wanted to be able to win one set. Gamtee kept getting ties, so this was hard.
Though Gamtee managed to re-qualify for the LPL, your team’s spot was purchased by Royal Club. Were you nervous that you wouldn’t be able to continue playing for an LPL team?
Even though we managed not to get relegated, I wasn’t very happy with my time on Gamtee. Then, when the team did get purchased by Royal, I didn’t feel very nervous about playing in the LPL or not because I had confidence in my abilities, and the club said I’d be on the starting team.
Royal didn’t rank very highly in the LPL last summer, but the team did extremely well in the offseason and even won competitions like WCA and NEST. How much importance does the team place on these non-LPL tournaments?
I think one of the reasons our team didn’t do well last summer was because of me. I thought, even if I didn’t practice much, the team could still win matches. I didn’t practice that much, and my mentality got progressively worse. I started to come back before the end of the season, so we luckily didn’t get relegated.
I do think winning NEST and WCA gave our team a really big confidence boost, and it was really important to us because of that.
Royal was one of the last all-Chinese teams in the LPL last year. Does it feel different playing against Chinese teams with Koreans now that the team has recruited Looper and Mata?
I really don’t see the difference between a “Chinese player” or “Korean player.” Any player, if you’re Chinese, Korea, or American — if you’re a good player, you’re a good player.
Coming into 2015, the most experienced players on your team had only played in the LSPL. Have you found the team's additional experience this year has made a difference?
The addition of Mata in particular on my team has really raised my individual level and the level of the team as a whole. Before, when I used to lane against an opponent, I really wouldn’t think about my actions critically. If someone asked me why I did a certain thing, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to explain it. After Mata joined the team, he was really able to teach me to think about why I do things and make clearer decisions.
When I watched Gamtee and RNG last year, I felt you made a lot more stylish plays, but this year your play seems more stable. How has your own style evolved?
Previously, I used to be the type of player who really wanted to get a laning phase advantage. All I focused on was being able to trade with the opponent or harassing the enemy mid laner. I would just have more health than the opposing laner and try to use that as an advantage. Now I think about a lot more things, like ways to focus on last hitting, controlling the flow of the minion waves and enemy map movements. So yes, I think I have become a more stable player.
You enjoy playing a lot of Azir, so I wanted to ask you about the current meta where Teleport is very popular in the mid lane, but Azir is also quite strong. If you are playing Azir and the opponent has Teleport, what do you have to do to get the advantage and make an impact for your team?
If the enemy mid laner takes TP and I’m Azir, but I don’t take TP, I feel that because Azir is really strong in lane, I will still be able to farm and push out waves really well. Taking a more defensive spell is really good for teamfights. It’s pretty good to not take Teleport, but I also don’t think TP on Azir is bad ... If you find a good time to B so that the enemy mid laner doesn’t have time to push or take an objective, Teleport isn’t bad.
What do you think your role is in Royal Never Give Up's dynamic? Are you one of the carries, is your role to control waves, engage, etc?
It depends on the champion, really.
But then which type of style do you feel most comfortable with?
I like to play any playstyle. For example, my three favorite champions are Leblanc, Lissandra, and Azir. If I’m playing Leblanc, I look to find picks for my team to take objectives. When I play Lissandra, I focus on starting fights for my team and using CC. If I’m playing Azir, I’m playing a style that needs to find an optimal way to constantly put out damage.
Do you have any comments for your English-speaking fans?
I am grateful there are English-speaking fans who take notice of my team in the LPL and my own performance. I hope to show better performances this season.
Translation assistance provided by Jenny Lee.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.