Before their win over Team Liquid on Sunday, I spoke to Golden Guardians’ top laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson on the team’s most recent loss to OpTic Gaming, keeping up team morale, and the state of the top lane meta.
Miles Yim: Golden Guardians and OpTic Gaming have been scrimming each other a lot recently. How did that familiarity influence what you decided to do on stage?
Lourlo: We ended up scrimming them the majority of last week. They’re our main scrim partner because we didn’t have that many options. Since we’re at the bottom of the standings, you don’t really get to pick, you just take what’s left. Scrimming them, we did pretty well. Usually it was 50-50 for the most part, I think two of the days we had a 70% winrate, others maybe 40%. Overall, we learned a lot about how they played, and we tried to use it today, but they surprised us a lot with a Draven pick and a few other things.
We hadn’t seen any Viktor or Draven in NA LCS until OpTic pulled them out today. How did those champions affect the game?
It put our mid and bot in pretty uncomfortable situations. I don’t think [Hai “Hai” Du Lam] has played that matchup much, and [Matthew “Deftly” Chen] probably hasn’t played against Draven too much recently. Every time a cheese pick comes out, it just feels different. Especially when you play on stage. In soloqueue, it’s fine, you’re in your own environment, but when the pressure’s high, and they’re pulling out a really different pick, it becomes super stressful. For both sides honestly, because if you don’t perform with your cheese pick, it’s kind of a waste and you get shit for it. But if you do, you look like a star.
What makes Draven just a cheese pick, something that keeps him outside the current AD carry meta?
Draven is a super snowball-y champion. He takes a lot of mechanical prowess on top of not dying to ganks, because he dies really easy. He has no escape, he’s pretty much just a full damage, squishy AD carry. If he doesn’t get a lead, he’s useless because his spikes are from his passive which gives him gold. He needs kills or he’s pretty useless, and he did get a lot of kills that game. Even though we did take first [bot] tower, he got a lot of kills around Baron and the game just blew up after that.
[Noh “Arrow” Dong-hyeon]’s Quadra Kill around Baron really turned the game in OpTic’s favor once you had stabilized in the mid game. Before those kills, your team had evened the kill score and drew close in farm.
Yeah, I think overall once mid lane falls behind, just generally in League of Legends, the control is with the other team. If the side lanes fall behind it’s usually okay, because the mid or jungler can help you. Mid pretty much controls the map, kind of like the point guard in League, so if that falls down then your team collapses, in a way. Once Hai got behind, the game slowly got out of our favor, but we did our best to try to stabilize and take favored fights. At that point, it’s hard to take a good fight, you take what you can get.
Last week Camille was drafted for [Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia], today she was picked for you. What does that champion offer for your team?
Camille is probably the best split pusher in the game (in this meta) right now. Once she gets two items, she can take over the game if the game doesn’t escalate. If it’s a really stable game, no one’s taking turrets fast, the gold is around 2-3k either side, Camille can take away the game. She can kill carries in an instant, gap close from two screens away. She’s a pretty insane champion, especially when you get ahead; when you get behind, she’s not as potent. But even then, she has a lot of potential because she can one-shot a carry.
I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see another Illaoi pick from you this week. That was a satisfying matchup to watch.
Yeah, the meta right now, it’s hard to get Illaoi in matchups because people don’t tend to blind tanks. If people were to blind tanks, you could pick Illaoi because those are your favored matchups, but really depends on the team you’re playing. A lot of people just go to Gangplank, Gnar, Camille, Vlad, those four as the main picks. It hard to get the matchup, but once you do, there’s pretty much nothing the tank can do. You just farm gold off them, usually hit your spike faster, and slowly get a big lead.
I want to get your read on the current top lane meta. There’s been a lot of complaining from certain people on Reddit, Riot’s tried to address those complaints, and we’re at this sort of standstill professionally with, as you said, basically four champions rotating against each other. As an LCS top laner, what are your thoughts on the meta?
It kinda sucks in a way, because the diversity is pretty low. It’s sticking to like four champions, they completely removed tanks in a way (besides Ornn). Even though tanks aren’t fun, the definitely give another aspect to the game, and if there’s that avenue you can go, it changes a lot how teams will draft and pick overall. But if you can’t even venture into that, the game becomes one-dimensional. I would like to see more buffs to tanks, but I would also like keeping the carries in a stable spot so you have either side to go to. Not just play mainly Gnar, GP, and Vlad, but pick a Sion, Poppy, or maybe even a Nautilus.
Do you personally have a preference either way, tank versus carry?
It depends game to game. I usually like carries, because I like to be in that spotlight, taking over the game, being on a mechanical champion because I know I have the capabilities to pull it off. But tanks are always fun too, especially playing tanks like Poppy. She’s mechanically-based as well, so playing her is kind of fun in terms of tanks.
You end the first round robin of Spring Split 1-8, last in NA LCS. I’d imagine this is not where you wanted to be at this point. What work needs to be done to improve in the second round robin?
It’s going to be a lot of work. I think for myself, I want to keep stepping into a leadership role. I think our team lacks that in certain areas, especially when Hai is either performing bad or the team’s morale is down. My goal going into the last four weeks it to try to keep the team morale up and get as many wins as we can. Even if the games are ridiculously hard, we’re locked in for the rest of the split, so we better make what we have of it.
It’s really hard on a losing team to rally everyone up and be on the same page because usually it’s just a bad feeling overall, a generally depressing feeling. The people that are strong enough in the team can scatter that and focus on what’s important, they usually can gather the team’s morale. It really is harder on a losing team. I think being a leader on a winning team is hard, but it doesn’t take as much effort. When you’re winning, things are going well, but when you’re losing, things are going worse and worse. And when you keep losing, there are going to be more problems, and you just have to tackle them one-on-one. It’s hard to sit here and portray all of the problems. Some things can’t get fixed, but we’ll do our best to fix as many problems as we can.
What are you looking to gain from this particular split? What’s your metric of success?
Going in, I always want to be in the playoffs, because my first two splits I made playoffs…I kind of miss going to playoffs. It’s been three splits now for me, and it sucks because I miss the high-pressure situations, having it all on the line, having a chance to compete with the best. I think for me, if you can’t go to playoffs—I guess we still can, but the chances are pretty low—making sure we keep our heads in the game, keep improving, that’s all we can really do.
In multiple conversations to the press, members of the Golden Guardians’ brass have articulated a central goal: Developing NA talent to win in the long term. As a player, what is like to be on a team with that kind of mentality, willing to sacrifice short-term success if that’s what it takes to build a long-term winner?
I think we are looking to build consistently for the long-term, but for me as a player, I always want to win. I always want to be the best top in North America, even if the reach isn’t there, if it’s hard in the situation I’m in, or if I’m not performing well. I always have that mindset going forward. Having the growth mindset is nice because the pressure is a little less. But for myself, if I don’t win I feel really sad. I want to just win. I want to show that I’m capable of being one of the best in the league. It does frustrate me a lot, because the past three splits I haven’t been able to show it. But I feel like I have a lot of talent sitting here that I just can’t show. It does suck, it’s frustrating because we can’t get the wins where I want them. Hopefully in the near future we can, and I can show what I’ve been holding for so long.
It’s fascinating that for the first time—because of the lack of relegation—teams can choose to focus on development, rather than placing winning in the short-term above everything else. It used to be win enough or you’re out of the league, so teams didn’t have a choice; they had to win now. But even as Golden Guardians take advantage of this new choice, it sounds like winning in the short-term still matters a lot to you. As a player, how have you adjusted to this new reality?
Winning still matters a lot to me, but obviously when I do have the growth mindset in mind, it lessens it. But I’m a super competitive person. Any game I play, I want to be the best, I want to beat the other person because I want to show that I’m way better than them. Even though this organization has the idea or goal to grow over time, I’ll follow that obviously, but I want to be the best team we can be with what we have. I’ll try to make sure that happens.
There’s been a counter-argument around Golden Guardian’s development-first mindset floating around. Say they do grow their players into stars. Couldn’t those players just leave for bigger organizations like a Cloud9 or Team SoloMid? For you, what ties you to Golden Guardians, what’s attractive about playing for the organization?
The atmosphere’s really nice, I think. It’s easy to fit in, there’s a lot of nice people to work with. Improving’s easy in a good environment. Especially for me, I think in the past three splits I’ve improved a lot, and I want to keep showing it. It’ll just take time. I think what drives me the most is that I have teammates I can trust, even though we are losing. Just making sure we can get the most out of each day, because I think a lot of teams struggle for that. Even though losing probably hinders our growth in terms of our mentality and how we’re working as five, if we just keep our heads strong then we’ll be fine.
You had to go through a coaching change recently. [Choi “Locodoco” Yoon-seop] is out, Tyler Perron is in. What are you learning from Tyler now, and how is he adjusting as the new head coach?
Tyler’s not as hands-on as Loco. He’s had a background approach, he takes a lot of input from the players and makes a decision, while Loco had a lot of opinions already to make his decision. Tyler’s a really easy person to talk to, so when you have a problem in the team, or you have something you need to address, he will try his best to fix it even if it’s not possible at the time. He’s a good outlet, a good head coach that’s more on the laidback side.
Tyler told me he was surprised that not many of the NBA-backed teams had shown the level of engagement or interest in their NA LCS team as the Golden State Warriors have. What have you personally seen of that interest? What resources from that side of the organization do you feel you have access to?
Everyone’s been really welcoming, even when we went on that trip. It’s been quite a bit, but when we did go there, everyone just wanted to learn what we were doing. They all asked questions, they were all approachable and really nice. It felt like you were part of the family without being there for over a week. It was pretty cool to have so many people with the same mindset, and appreciate even if it’s not something they’re comfortable with, knowing people are backing you even though they don’t really understand what you’re doing.
How did it feel to explain to them what you were doing?
Yeah, it’s kind of like explaining to a normal person how games work. I’ve done it a lot with my parents, my grandparents, my cousins, most of my family. I’ve always done my best to explain. It’s not that bad, it’s just hard to give them details, because League is a lot of specifics, and if you don’t know specifics, you can give them the general feel of how things play out, but it’s not the same if you played the game and know each champion and how they interact. You mentioned earlier that Hai is kind of like the point guard. Have you been using the basketball analogy a lot? Yeah, I definitely go to that because I guess it’s more realistic in their head. Basketball’s been around for over 100 years, and it’s easier to explain something that’s been around for a long time than something that’s close to 10 years old.
Do you envision a world where people won’t need esports explained to them?
Maybe, once I’m an older guy probably. In 20 years, I could see it be more mainstream. It might still need more time, but we’ll definitely see it develop. It’s going to be weird for me, because in 20 years I’ll be watching, I’m not going to be playing at 40 [Laughs]. It’ll be cool for me to see how much the world changes around esports in 20 years.
Back in the present, you’ve got your old team next, Team Liquid. They look pretty good this year. What’ll it take to get the victory against them?
TL is probably one of the better teams in terms of macro, playing around objectives and understanding what they want to do next. As long as we are fast on our plays, and stick to our game, I think we can compete with them. It’s just making sure we don’t fall behind early in lane phase like we did today, keep it stable enough to make proactive plays without the game taking a toll super early. Just stay stable, make our own plays, and play our game.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.