For the first time, the League of Legends Pro League final was cast in English on-site at Qizhong Forest City Tennis Center in Shanghai on Saturday. Max "Atlus" Anderson and Jake "Spawn" Tiberi cast the four-game clash between Chinese titans Royal Never Give Up and EDward Gaming in the same stadium in which the matches took place.
Following Royal Never Give Up's victory, theScore esports sat down with Spawn to talk to ask him about Royal's victory, some of the key points for the LPL representative at MSI, and his experience casting the LPL on-site.
The Royal Never Give Up victory was somewhat unexpected. The Chinese analyst desk was actually split down the middle with two for RNG and two for EDG, but what was your feeling on whether EDward Gaming or Royal Never Give Up would win going into the match?
My feeling was that RNG obviously started the split very well and put themselves in first position, so I knew they were a good team. However, the fact that they’ve been using NaMei and wuxxin, I thought would maybe mess around with their synergy a little bit. So I thought they might be a little on the back foot.
Yet in Game 5 vs. WE, they looked very good. EDG, on the other hand, I think had dropped maybe one map in five weeks of competitive play or something like that, so they obviously came in with a lot of momentum. I think losing Game 1 really hurt them. Because as soon as they did that, I saw that they weren’t very reserved, and kind of how LGD did — they didn’t want to get on the front foot and make proactive plays in case that would make them lose the next game.
So I thought at the start EDG would have the upper hand, but when RNG came out the way they did, I was worried for EDG.
Were you surprised to see wuxxin start for RNG?
To me, NaMei kind of brings good teamfighting into the team and a veteran level head. wuxx is a lot more hotblooded and will go for the aggressive plays. So I thought that that was really smart, because I thought that if they played NaMei, he’d get too far behind in the laning phase, and there’d be a disadvantage. So I thought play wuxxin, look for your aggressive lane swaps, look to rotate around the map and free up Mata, so I was actually really happy that they did.
In saying that, I can’t believe Royal did go with that because NaMei in Grand Finals historically in the LPL has been an absolute terror. Even in a high pressure map, like in last year when King were going into relegation, he played incredibly well in that set, so I thought they might give him the benefit of the doubt, but in the end, they made the right choice because wuxxin played fanstatically.
You mentioned the lane swap. In one of the games, Royal showed an adaptation where they pushed out bottom lane and then rotated top to counter swap because koro1 didn’t have TP.
Right, so the idea behind that is that cannon creep tanks up enough turret shots that you’re able to catch the big wave. You can’t do that with your top laner because he’ll be down there by himself, and he’ll get dove. However, you can do it with your duo because your top laner should have Teleport on the top side of the map, so even if they bring four people towards it, it should be a 3v4 with the turret in your advantage so you can get away with it.
So what it actually does is it creates an uneven CS advantage. So teams will push out on the cannon creep wave, back, and catch the next wave, which is generally about seven or eight ranged creeps, and then they get this massive gold advantage from it.
What it does do, however, is you’re slightly weaker on your first back because the other lane can go back and get a Cull or a Long Sword, so it gives you momentarily a gold disadvantage whilst giving them an item shop, but then you get a lot back in return.
Do you think with plays like this that Royal have improved some of their issues with lane swap since the last time they played on the international stage?
Yeah, I do think they’ve improved their lane swap, however, I don’t think they’ve learned anything about Rift Herald. If you saw this series, they didn’t go anywhere near Rift Herald. Both teams for the entirety of it. I think EDG took one, and that’s all we really saw, so I think they learned a little bit more about lane swaps, but their neutral objective control — dragon, Baron and Rift Herald — is still questionable. We know they fight over Baron a lot, but their actual set up around the area isn’t that great. This set it was a little better, but they still don’t use neutrals as well as a team that comes first should.
I was watching Royal near the end of the regular season, and I was surprised that Royal didn’t put more emphasis on dragon here because towards the end they were going for a lot more early dragons and using dragon stacking to bait teams to fight them. Why do you think that they did that less this series?
You have to realize that teams try to control objectives to create teamfights. The idea is that you come towards dragon, and you either get it for free and get a stacking buff, or the enemy team teamfights with you, and you win. Royal was getting a lot of advantages in lanes. If you think about it, xiaohu was doing very well against PawN. wuxxin was doing very well against Deft. So I think for this series, for the first 15 minutes, they were very happy to fight in lanes.
That’s why Double TP became massive in the last game because, time and time again, they would just crowd into the bottom lane. I think at 22 minutes in, we had like 36 kills! It was absolutely a bloodbath. I think that, this series, RNG thought, “We don’t need to go near dragon, because they will fight us anyway.” I think it was EDG’s fault that this is how the games played out.
In the last game, you mentioned there were a lot of kills and aggression. At 18 minutes, xiaohu’s Leblanc was 6/0/4. Internationally, there has been a lot of debate about the situations in which you can pick Leblanc. Do you think Chinese teams kind of get away with it because there’s so much fighting early?
I think Teleport Leblanc is something no one really expects internationally. It was kind of like when people were saying you couldn’t pick Fizz or Diana near the end of last year, and We1less came out with TP Diana and used it to get through a lot of these laning phases. xiaohu did get a little bit lucky because Lulu is great into Leblanc, but he did get snowballed early, so I think it’s a mixture of two things:
1) Other teams don’t play it with Teleport
2) And there is a lot of fighting.
So I think this is the perfect storm that makes it really viable in the LPL. I do think that against some international teams, you will be able to run it with Teleport because having a flanking Leblanc may sound a little bit silly, but if she’s able to come behind your turret and dive with something like an Alistar or a Braum, she does amazing splash damage in the early game and can execute well in these situations.
What would you say, based on this series, are some of Royal’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?
One strength is the laning phase. Royal used to have a poor laning phase that they made up for with aggressive invades. I think laning phase is something they have very much nailed now. xiaohu has improved out of sight for me. xiaohu is kind of like the meiko of this year where he was an unproven talent. When he came to Gamtee he was very hyped up. I think he started the season underage, so he couldn’t even play, and then he came in and played a lot of assassins. I think now his control mage play is much better, and his assassin play is still very good. I think this is something Royal will be able to use very well. People will underestimate the Chinese players on Royal, and I think they’re actually very good.
The other thing is that Royal used to break teamfights apart and kind of skirmish teams to death. Now they’re happy to pile in and 5v5. This is something else they do better.
One thing that is a weakness is I think they tunnel on lanes too much. That last game, Koro1 got so massive because they kept trying to shut Deft down, and even when it was unsuccessful, they just kept going bottom lane. In reality, a better team — EDG is normally a great team, but today they didn’t play as well — would have just got their Trundle ahead and split-pushed them to death. So I think they sometimes get too focused on one win condition and don’t really diversify.
You said “Today EDG didn’t play as well.” Do you think this is a situation where maybe EDG are the better team and they stumbled?
I don’t really believe in that. I think if you can’t execute in high pressure situations, the better team will always win in my mind. So I’ll mentally recalculate RNG during this split. The way I explain teams is that EDG, in my mind, used to be a team that would play between a seven and a ten. On a bad day, they’re a seven, on a good day they’re a ten. So they can play between that variance.
RNG I would say is a team that can play between a five and a ten. On a bad day, they lose to very bad teams, and on a great day, they can beat anyone in the world, right? So what that just means is that, maybe on today RNG played at a nine, and EDG played at a seven, and it just wasn’t enough to get the job done.
In saying that, being a part of being a great team is consistency. A lot of people underrate this. It’s no good if you play the best on a day to win a tournament because tournaments now go for weeks long, so what’s the point of that? You have to be able to bring it consistently on Summoner’s Rift, and unfortunately EDG didn’t show today that they are consistently better than Royal.
What did you think of the drafts today since they’re being debated a lot right now?
I’m back and forward on them. I think both Twitch drafts were risky. For example, in Game 4’s draft, if they ever fell behind the Lulu-Lucian, there was no way Royal could kill anyone. If Leblanc isn’t strong enough to kill Lucian, then they lose that game. Lucian just chases down the front line, and Trundle ults the Ekko and just runs at the Twitch. I think the same can be said about the Game 2 draft from EDG.
The one draft I did like was the losing draft from EDG in Game 3 when they picked up the Karma. I thought that, if they didn’t get turret dove, there was no way they would lose structures. Instead, they just got out-rotated around the map. That game could have gone forever. Because when you look at the low range on Royal, I think they had Alistar, Lissandra, Quinn — Poppy beats Quinn eventually, and all this low-range dive.
Karma is the queen of anti-dive. If you dive her, she has her empowered W. If you dive someone else, she has her empowered E, which does ridiculous damage, and gives everyone a shield. So Karma to me is a great anti-dive champion and has instant wave clear. I liked their Game 3 draft, but their execution is very poor.
One thing I will say, is I think RNG are very good at going forward, and I think EDG did not respect that. They didn’t either match the going forward or kite back effectively.
What do you mean exactly by going forward?
If you watch that team composition again, they left the turret at like one health and then baited EDG to either come at them or back away. EDG stayed in that middle ground, and what Royal do is they land their CC very very well, so they send in Parallel Convergence, then they send in their Lissandra claw, then they send in Alistar, so a bad team would use all those abilities at the same time, but on RNG, Mata — and xiaohu especially — will never use CC on the same target at the same time. They will stack CC.
What that means is that progressively there’s a big snowball that keeps rolling at you. If you back off a little bit, then Mata is able to combo you. Then xiaohu comes over with an ultimate. Then they continuously chase you. So I would say that they are a team that are very aggressive when ahead and will continue to chase.
Of the other regions heading to MSI, which teams do you think RNG matches up really well against?
I can’t wait to see them play Flash Wolves. I think LMS vs. LPL this MSI is going to be incredibly exciting. When you look at them, they have strengths in similar places — like Maple is the control mage, assassin player as well as xiaohu. That’s going to be an exciting matchup. You have two very underrated AD carries in NL and wuxxin going up against each other. Karsa vs. Mlxg — Karsa’s been around for quite a while now and is a great jungler. I am excited to see how he goes up against the spicy hot pot. That’s going to be very funny.
I also am kind of nervous about G2 vs LPL. I think that their players matchup very well. I think EU will once again give LPL a little bit of trouble because they are an aggressive EU team, but they play the strategic part of EU LCS as well, so they’re the perfect storm of the EU LCS. I think that’s why they won in the end because they had both sides of that coin, whereas other EU teams don’t have that kind of aggression.
I think that whoever wins LCK has to go into MSI as a favorite.
This is also the first time that the Oceanic crew, you and Atlus, were able come cast the LPL on-site. What was this experience like for you?
Amazing, honestly. I mean, we flew in on Wednesday, we had done some prep prior, but we had even more time to prep here. We left half the team for IWCI, so I’ll stay up late and watch that one. We were flown in here, we were treated very, very well. We were given someone to help with all the translations, and he was very, very helpful. They’re very hospitable.
Then we got to see such an amazing venue. ATP Masters used to play here. You walk down the corridor, Djokovic, Murray, all these famous tennis players on the wall, and then you get to see two powerhouses — a lot of people don't make the connection, but Royal, same team that went to Worlds two years in a row and came runners up, and EDG — pretty much the evolution of what was Team WE into their own organization with legacy players like clearlove on the lineup, and great Korean players like pawn and deft — to actually walk into that was awe-inspiring.
I hoped I casted well enough to show it was a terrific match. Honestly one of the best casting experiences of my life, and I’ve done big events, so to say that about the LPL final feels really, really good.
Does the team have plans that you can share with us to do something like this in the future?
You have to look at it and say that casting on site looks fantastic for finals and things like that, so no definitive plans yet, but we’ll go away, we’ll plan for Split 2, and hopefully continue to bring kickass content.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.