After their upset victory over Echo Fox, I spoke with Golden Guardians jungler Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia about his team’s rapid growth, asserting himself as a leader, and that Volibear pick.
Miles Yim: Congratulations on the win over Echo Fox. What was the preparation like going into this game?
Contractz: Well, we knew [Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett] would want to play something that would snowball around top, what he’s played this split like Sejuani or Zac. We wanted to ban out Sejuani to try to get a favorable matchup for me and make him play Zac, which he did. I think I got a pretty favorable matchup. Zac doesn’t really have too much pressure early game, so I can pick any jungler than can win the 1v1 or hard pressure early. I picked Volibear, and it worked out pretty well for us.
You could have picked a lot of junglers, but you went with Volibear. Why?
Well, the main reason is that he’s a tank. He can also pressure out mid early, and we had a Ryze, so our 2v2 versus Azir and Zac is pretty good early. Also, in the later stages of the game, I can always cancel Zac jump with my E, which I did a couple times—messed up a couple times too and let him get a free engage—but usually Volibear just wins 1v1 and can counteract pretty much everything Zac wants to do.
Do you expect we’ll see more Volibear, from you or anyone else, in NA LCS?
I don’t know for sure, but I definitely think he’ll be played a couple times here and there. I’m not sure if he’ll be super high priority or anything, but we’ll see him a couple more times.
I noticed you were wearing the golden Volibear skin (El Rayo Volibear).
[Laughs] So we actually had UC Berkley’s League Club come out, so I was using that skin for them too. Golden Bears, because their mascot’s the Bears, and we’re Golden Guardians. It just matches, right? We organized a meet-and-greet with their club, they bussed down today after like an eight-hour bus ride (which is pretty terrible), but they came out to support us, and we gave them gear and Golden Guardians stuff. It was nice meeting them.
That helps explain why the crowd was so vocal for you guys today. I know you couldn’t hear them through the headsets, but there were lot of enthusiastic “GGS!” chants, more than I’ve ever heard.
I think that’s the culmination of us getting more wins recently, and the UC Berkeley guys coming out and giving us their support. It’s really nice having some fans, you know, after a couple of rough weeks.
You did go 1-9 through the first round robin, but since then, you’re 3-1. What’s changed?
We have a lot more team synergy and cohesion now. Before we were struggling on certain aspects of our play, we didn’t really mesh together and were not on the same page. But coming into this second half, we’ve been playing a lot more together, talking and learning a lot. I just think it’s our hard work and practice showing on stage finally.
Is there something specific you can point to that you’re doing better now than at the start of the split?
Just taking the games at a slower pace. We would always try to make plays when we don’t need to, and everyone had different ideas of what we needed to do. But as we played more and discussed more, we kinda know how we want to play the game. We still have hiccups here and there, but I think we’re becoming a better team.
Not many people gave you a chance to beat the first-place team in the league. What does defeating a team like that—not to mention Team Liquid two weeks ago—say about Golden Guardians, in your mind?
I think it shows that we can beat these top teams, and if we put in the hard work and keep at it, I think we can be one of the best teams eventually. I don’t think we’ll get up there this split because I don’t think we actually can, but I think coming into next split, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Winning the regular season I think is out of the question, but your team isn’t mathematically eliminated from playoffs. There’s five games to go, and you’re only three games back.
Well, I knew there was a slight hope for playoffs, but I really wasn’t too sure of all the numbers. It just seemed really grim, being at the bottom. If there’s a chance…we’re always trying hard to have a chance at playoffs, we always want to win, and we’re going to do our best to do that. No one wants to go on the Rift and lose. We all want to go on the stage and show that we can win, we can play well and beat all these teams we’re against. We’ve had a rough split so far, everyone’s seen. But we just don’t want to be last place. No one wants to be last place. We’re hungry for wins, and we’ll improve to do that.
You had a head coaching change recently, with Tyler Perron replacing [Choi “Locodoco” Yoon-seop]. What has Tyler brought to the team, in your eyes? How does his compare stylistically with Loco?
I’d say Loco is more demanding as a coach. He likes to be the final say, and if he think’s something is good, then he’ll almost always do that. Tyler is a lot more laidback. He takes in opinions and what the player wants a lot more, but when it comes down to business in pick and ban, he’s really smart. I like him a lot as a coach, I think Tyler meshes with me easier, and I’m looking forward to continue working with him.
What has it been like to grow with a completely new roster? In what ways has your synergy together improved over the split?
It’s definitely been hard because we’d never played together before. Well, I played with [Hai “Hai” Du Lam], but I wasn’t really much of a player back then. I was really weak, and I didn’t have much of a say in what I wanted to do. I was really young and inexperienced, so I needed to work hard to improve that coming into Golden Guardians. It’s been hard meshing together so far, but everyone has an open mind to learn, to take on new ideas. We’ve just got to keep it up.
It’s true that you did play with Hai on Cloud9 Challenger in 2016. How has reestablishing that mid-jungle synergy gone so far?
It’s a little different actually, because I’m not the same player I used to be when I was on C9 Challenger. I’ve had a year of competitive experience, went to Worlds, went to [NA LCS] finals once, and just played two splits. I have a lot more experience and ideas about how I wanted to play the game, how it should be played from the jungle role. I’m enjoying it. Hai is a really good player, I respect him a lot.
I’ve asked everyone from your team this question, and you’re no exception: What was it like going to see the Golden State Warriors, your parent organization, in San Francisco last year?
It was a pretty surreal experience. I’ve been in front of big crowds or on stage before, but I’d never been on a basketball court in front of all the Warriors fans. I met a lot of really interesting people on the Warriors side, which surprised me a lot. You’d think that basketball fans wouldn’t know anything about League, or that the Warriors wouldn’t be this intrigued, this interested in growing esports. It was really nice to talking to everyone on the Warriors side, learning what they want from this, how much they actually wanted to be involved in our esports organization.
What were those interactions like, explaining League of Legends and esports to people who don’t really follow the scene or know much about it?
It’s definitely hard to explain what we do, because it’s hard to explain what League of Legends is, what esports is to someone who’s heard nothing about it. But they were all really open-minded and welcoming to us as a team…We all explained our roles [on the team] and how League of Legends is played to all the Warriors people. It definitely took some time, and we had to show them some video, but I think they eventually got a grasp of the basics of the game…They wanted to learn as much as they can from us. They’re really nice people and I’m excited to keep work with them.
Some people use a basketball analogy to compare the games. They’re both 5-on-5, heavily reliant on teamplay, and so on. Do you draw that same line between the two sports when explaining it?
For the most part, every team sport is kind of similar. You have a team environment, there’s players, and there has to be communication between the players. You can tie esports to sports easily in that regard, but the actual aspects of gameplay are a lot different. They’re kind of similar, but I think they’re two different things…I don’t know how to go about making it easier to understand. I think, like any other sport, you have to watch it and learn. When I was growing up, I had to watch football, and my stepdad would explain to me what the rules were and everything. I think it comes down to more people talking to other people about League and explaining what it is. I’m not entirely sure how you would go about it, maybe a certain segment on how to explain League to newer players, or how the LCS and other regions work.
Let’s talk about your move from Cloud9 to Golden Guardians in the offseason. Explaining that choice, you wrote about your desire to grow as a leader. Could you expand on that idea?
I want to have more of a stronger say in communication and our macro decisions. That’s not my strong suit at all, and I still need to improve on that even more. It’s been a rough transition; we haven’t done super well, I’ve been lacking in my play…My communication is still nowhere close to where I want it to be. I’m still really inconsistent with my calls. But as time goes on, it’s showing more that I’ve been playing better than I had at the beginning of the split. If I can keep working hard, I can get to where I want to be.
It’s interesting that you seem to have put personal growth before immediate team success. Staying on Cloud9 might have given you a better chance to win internationally, at least in the short term.
Yeah, I think next split we have a better chance at making playoffs, and potentially going to Worlds, depending on how fast we can improve. But this team is definitely more long-term, looking a year into the future, maybe two years, in order to be a top team. I think for personal growth, this is the best option for me, and everyone at the Guardians is behind what I want to do.
As a player, how does it feel when an organization prioritizes long-term growth over short-term success?
Well, it’s definitely different. On C9, we had these insanely strong players. We knew we were going to playoffs, and we knew we might go to Worlds. We were confident winning in NA or doing really well in the moment. But on this team, we’re still looking in the moment to do the best that we can. We need time to improve, and we’re all working hard and improving a lot since the beginning of the split. I’m surprised how fast we’ve improved so far. The first half of the split was hard, we all had a lot of things going on and weren’t doing so hot. But as we open up our mindsets more and keep improving on what we need to work on, I think we can meet some short-term goals for next split, or even this split…My teammates are committed to Golden Guardians. We all like the organization and how it runs, everyone on the staff and everyone involved. I think we’re all here to stay.
You play Cloud9 tomorrow, your old team. They got the better of you last time. What’s the rematch going to look like?
Hopefully it’s with us coming out on top. No one likes losing. It’d be nice to get a win, a revenge win, but I don’t really look at it that way too much. I just want to do the best I can out there, and hopefully put on a good showing.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.