There are many reasons why LCK is loved by so many fans around the world. From jaw-dropping high level plays, next level production, and side content that brings laughs and giggles to the viewers at home, LCK is a core part of LoL Esports that plays a very important part in its infrastructure.
Another reason why LCK is loved by many lies with the commentators. From the ‘Rain Bros’, MonteCristo and DoA, laying out the foundations of the global LCK cast in the early days of the league, the current line-up consists of Nick “LS” De Cesare, Kim “Wadid” Bae-in, Brendan Valdes, and Max “Atlus” Anderson. While their job is to bring the viewers in-depth game analysis of the matches and the energy of iconic plays in the LCK, but at the end of the day, their goal is to just put on a good show for an entertaining viewership experience.
In part one of Inven’s conversation with the LCK global casters, we caught up with two of the four casters in the LCK, Brendan Valdes, and Max “Atlus” Anderson. With beginnings to their journeys, the current state of the LCK, and a peek into Worlds, a pleasant conversation took place over great food and lots of rain hitting the windows.
*The following interview was conducted on July 30th, 2020.
For the readers that perhaps either don’t follow the LCK or live under a rock, please introduce yourselves.
Valdes: Hi, my name is Brendan Valdes, aka Spicy Salmon, Dried Bananas, The Valdanalyst, Just Brendan, Charlie’s dad, Barden Bardes, and Keria Superfan. I’m 28 years old.
Atlus: Hi, my name is Max ‘Atlus’ Anderson, aka Slappy Baggins. I was actually asked by Riot Oceania to change my name because it sounded somehow inappropriate. Now, I just go by Atlus, which is much easier to say, and it’s only five letters.
I’m 32 and have been casting the LCK for three years now, and previous to my time in the LCK, I’ve started doing bedroom casting way back in the day. Since then, I’ve also commentated for the OPL and the LPL. Even before that, I started doing random stuff on my Twitch channel, and the VODs actually still exist on my Twitch channel.
Valdes: Unfortunately [laughter].
How did your journeys as casters begin for you?
Valdes: I started playing a lot of League of Legends when I was in university. This was when I was all the way back sometime between Season 1-2. I was browsing through Reddit, and I saw a raffle being held by Azubu. I somehow won that raffle, and the prize was a ticket to watch the finals of Season 1 OGN Champions.
I was here for a while and asked if they can give me a job, so I was streaming and writing articles for Azubu. Then, they needed a fill-in for OGN Champions season 2, and the only English-speaking person in Korea that the organizers knew about League of Legends was me, so they said, “Could you do it?” And I obviously said sure, because it was a big opportunity. That was back in 2012.
After that, I got into StarCraft 2, because that’s when MonteCristo and DoA came to Korea, since the organizers obviously wanted professional casters. I did StarCraft 2 for a while, until 2017 when I ended up switching to League of Legends full-time with SPOTV. I started casting for them around 2017 with LS, and have been casting LCK since.
Atlus: My LCK journey started at the end of 2016. I was still casting OPL and LPL then and had the chance to do a bunch of international events, such as Worlds and All-Stars. This was after PapaSmithy had been with LCK for a bit, and he asked me, “Hey man, we need another play-by-play for OGN”. I’ve never been to Korea, so I was a little bit apprehensive. There were few other offers on the table as well, but ultimately, I decided to come to Korea, and it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I was having a conversation with my mom, and told her, “You know what, mom? I’m going to stay in Korea for at least two years. I want to give it a good shot, and even if I end up hating it, I’m going to stay for at least two.” Now, it’s been three years, and I’m hoping it’ll be at least 10. My mom’s pretty upset about that, but I’m still okay with it [laughter].
I mean, she can come visit you here, right?
Well, not right now, because she’s in Australia, and it’s blocked off from the rest of the world.
Brendan, one of your nicknames is “The Valdanalyst”, which refers to you shifting between play-by-play and color casting this season. How did that come to be?
Valdes: Well, coronavirus [laughter]. We were going to have Bryce “EGym” Paule come to the LCK in Spring, but we couldn’t make that happen. LS was working five days a week, which turned out to be way too much. For the Summer, not only did Wadid come to join us for extra help, they asked me if I can shift between the two.
I’m not really an analyst, but both Atlus and I know a lot about the game, so we’re able to fill in the necessary blanks. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and hopefully, we can get EGym here for 2021. As much as I enjoy doing analysis on broadcast, EGym’s been doing analysis for around 5 years I think? He was a pro since the very beginnings of competitive LoL and has been casting for three years. A caster with professional League of Legends experience is much suited for the role, and when he hopefully escapes Australia next year, things will go back to normal.
What is your ironclad philosophy in casting?
Atlus: There are a few things that you always carry with you as a commentator, and I think everyone’s unique. For me, my general philosophy is that I’m going to put on a good show if I make the players and my co-commentators look good. I always assume that my co-commentators are going to do the same for me, so the broadcast is going to be much better. Active listening is a critical trait that you need as a commentator.
We get messages from these new aspiring commentators all the time, asking us for advice on how to get into casting. I always tell them, “Make sure you find the right person to work with first. Become good at that. It’ll take you to far places.” Apart from that, I do have things I stick by in terms of technique and whatnot, but that’s my main thing.
Valdes: It’s mostly the same as what Atlus just said, but for me, I tend to be more game-focused, because I’ve been playing the game for so long. It’s about finding new and entertaining things in the game, from the big plays that players make to even new item builds.
As a caster, what is the most memorable moment in the LCK?
Atlus: It’d definitely have to be the 2018 Summer finals. Watching Score win the championship made me cry. It was just beautiful. Plus, I loved my Turquoise suit [laughter].
Valdes: If I want to be selfish, I’d say 2012 Summer finals, where I cast the finals with Doublelift in the rain. However, Score winning in 2018 is objectively the best moment that we had, which was a culmination of so many narratives and history in the LCK.
Let’s talk about the Summer split so far. It looks as if the ‘Elite 4’ is set in stone.
Atlus: I know that the Korean casters have this narrative of ‘Elite 4’, but in reality, the LCK standings are currently divided into the top three, middle of the pack, and the bottom two teams. This split, T1’s performance hasn't been anywhere near the level of DWG, Gen.G, and DRX. Honestly, though, anything can happen. If T1 can pull themselves together, which they are most likely to, then we’ll probably have that ‘Elite 4’,
Historically, T1 has always struggled in the Summer split. What do you think they’re struggling with right now?
Valdes: The era of T1 showing absolute dominance in the regular season is over. It’s no longer T1 just absolutely destroying every other team. It’s been like that for at least a couple of years now; we had teams like Griffin in the past, and now, DWG, Gen.G and DRX. The competition has gotten a lot more fierce, and even though T1 is the most recognizable team in the league right now, performance-wise, they’re struggling.
It’s obvious that they have fantastic players, but in terms of their drafts, there were times when the players were forced into positions where they cannot perform to the fullest. If LS was here with us for this interview, he’d have not so many nice things to say about their draft [laughter]. I think that there’s also those factors of pressure coming into play, because they’re the biggest brand. If you look at DWG, you think, “Yeah, they’re a good team, but they underperformed in Spring, so who knows”.
We also have to talk about Faker, who’s the core member of the team. He’s not the powerhouse that he used to be. There’s no question that he’s really good, but whenever people list the top mid laners, he’s not on the top of that list. People rank ShowMaker, Chovy, and Bdd a lot higher than him. And that’s just in the LCK. If we’re talking about internationally, then he might fall even lower on the list. I realize that it’s a hard pill for T1 fans to swallow, but it’s true.
Atlus: I think it’s really difficult to talk about Faker correctly, because he is the greatest LoL player of all time. There’s no doubt about that. However, that doesn’t mean that he’s the best mid laner in the LCK. He’s like Michael Jordan. Near the end of Jordan’s career, he was losing games to better players; he wasn’t getting as many points as in his prime. However, there’s no debate that there’s no one that picked up a basketball that comes close to Jordan. Faker’s the same, but people just find it hard and say things like, “Well, how’s he the best player of all time if he’s only the fifth-best mid laner in the LCK? To that, I can say, “Well, he’s been playing professional League of Legends for seven whole years, and he’s still better than most of the other mid laners in the league.” I still think that Faker could be fantastic, but as Brendan mentioned, the team is just going through so many issues.
I think it goes beyond just that. I think mentality is extremely important in League of Legends. If you start losing as a team with the most expectations, it can really wreck your mentality. Look at SANDBOX for example. Yes, they were losing to the top teams, but if you just continue to lose, you forget how to win, and it was evident in the plays that the players were making. Then, YamatoCannon comes in to get the match win streaks on lower level teams, and their play changes, because they finally get some wins, and finally figure themselves out.
Even when T1 wins, if they don’t utterly crush their opponents, the fans still think it’s not good enough. In their match against HLE, even though they technically won, the fans think it’s a loss because they dropped a set against them and just didn’t look very good. There was something interesting that Coach Kim said in an interview with you guys, in which he said, “We’re not a very good team right now.” If you have that attitude, you’ve already lost. You go into a game, saying “Guys, we’re not very good”, then that’s the worst pep talk I’ve ever heard [laughter].
This is a team that just dominated the Spring split, and can trust them to deliver on an international stage, but the way they’re performing right now, it’s simply not good enough for a lot of people.
While the “Holy Trinity” of the LCK seems to have been set in stone and T1 still looking to clinch that 4th place spot in the standings, the battle for 5th place is quite fierce. Between KT, AF, SB and DYN, which team do you think will get the wildcard spot in the playoffs?
Valdes: Probably Afreeca. The thing about AF is that they get clapped by the top teams, but proceeds to just destroy the bottom teams. They’re the ones that set the record for the shortest time in an LCK match, at 16:54. I think it’s a testament to their inconsistency, but I think they’re ahead of KT, SB, and DYN. For the other three teams, they are slowly improving, but we’re almost halfway through round 2, so I think there simply isn’t enough time for them to turn things around.
Atlus: When it comes to Afreeca, the inconsistency that Brendan mentioned makes me nervous, so it’s making it hard to bet on them. So, my money’s on KT. I’m feeling the carry coming in from their bot laner, Aiming. Plus, I love TusiN. The potential of all the players on his team is definitely there. While Kuro hasn’t been as good as he was when he was with Bilibili Gaming in the LPL, he’s finding his old form back. SoHwan has also been performing a lot better than Smeb and has been playing a lot better, so I’m cautiously optimistic with them.
Why do you think that HLE and SP are underperforming this split?
Atlus: I’m really sad about HLE. Coming into the Summer split, their roster had the potential to be one of the top teams in the LCK. However, they’ve updated their roster several times throughout the year, and there’s been no synergy. If you look at the top three teams of the LCK, the mid laners have been paramount to the team’s success. For HLE, I don’t know what happened to Lava, because he played well in the past. Same goes for SP. I don’t know any other way to put this, but Mickey has just been awful. SP lacks a proper mid laner right now.
Valdes: They picked up Viper before the Summer split, which is supposed to be a direct upgrade. However, CuVee and Haru just stopped performing like the veterans they are, the rookies of the team are very inconsistent, and their mid lane just totally disappeared. Every split, players change, whether it’s better or for worse, so players like Lava, who we were expecting to come in strong, but totally falling off a cliff is part of the reason why HLE disappeared as a team. Same goes for SP’s mid lane, but other players on the team like Ikksu and HybriD seem like they just forgot how to win.
Since you've both emphasized the importance of mid laners, I’m going to ask you some questions that go, “_____ vs _____”. Your answer can be based on anything and doesn’t have to be based on their performance. Also, especially since Atlus also played competitive Pokemon, I’m also going to ask you to compare your choice to a Pokemon.
- Lava vs Mickey?
Atlus: I’ll go with Lava.
Valdes: Same here. I think the Pokemon he’d be Quilava [laughter].
- Kuzan vs FATE?
Atlus: Ooh, that’s actually very interesting.
Valdes: FATE. He’d be a Squirtle. He’s the new kid on the block, but he doesn’t talk much(?). I also just like Squirtle.
Atlus: I’m going with Kuzan. I’d compare him to Tropius, because Tropius is a big green flying Pokemon, and my favorite version of Kuzan was when he was on Jin Air [laughter].
- Fly vs Kuro?
Atlus: This one’s an easy answer…
Atlus: What? Really?
Valdes: Kuro’s really inconsistent.
Atlus: So is Fly!
Valdes: Yeah, but Fly’s better. He’s definitely a Meowth to me.
Atlus: For Kuro, I just need a Pokemon with a dimple on his chin [laughter]... I’ll actually go with Delibird. He’s all about delivering packages, and the recent package that Kuro delivered was quite excellent (on Corki).
- Bdd vs Faker?
Atlus: That’s also very interesting because the direct matchup between the two usually went in Faker’s favor...
Valdes: Although they’re both very good players, Bdd often chokes in big matches, and since I watch Faker’s stream a lot, I’ll vote for Faker. Faker would be a Charizard for sure.
Atlus: I’ll go with Bdd because he’s just better. Since he’s a great Azir player, I’d have to compare him to Pidgeot.
- ShowMaker vs Chovy?
Atlus: God, I love this one. I love it!
Atlus: Is your answer just based on that “I’m going to win the game on my Galio play”?
Atlus: I’d have to choose ShowMaker. He’s top 1 and 2 in solo queue, and at the same time, has been one of the best performing mid laners in the entire league. He’s just insane.
Valdes: ShowMaker has his ups and downs, but Chovy’s always been good from the beginning, so I’ll go with Chovy. If ShowMaker can keep performing well until next year, my answer then would be ShowMaker. I’d compare Chovy to Mewtwo.
Atlus: I hope we continue to see “scrim DAMWON”, not “stage DAMWON”. Everyone was terrified of DAMWON during scrims, so I hope to see them continue to do well. ShowMaker just buffs his team! His team’s just like, “Let’s just get on the ShowMaker bus!”
Valdes: 빠스좋다! [translates to “I like the bus!” — Ed.]
Atlus: I’d compare ShowMaker to Jirachi because he grants all the wishes of his team.
What does your ‘All-LCK First team’ look like, based on Summer Split?
Atlus: It’d look a lot like DAMWON [laughter].
Valdes: Nuguri, Canyon... ShowMaker [laughter]... Nah, I’d actually have Chovy instead for mid lane.
Atlus: What about bot lane?
Valdes: Keria for support.
Atlus: For ADC, I think it’ll come down to the Ashe players!
Valdes: I’d have to choose Ruler or Deft. I actually can’t choose one.
Atlus: Mine would look similar. Nuguri and Canyon for top-jungle for sure. Nuguri isn’t even dying much these days! Obviously, I’d have ShowMaker in the mid lane, because stats don’t lie. I might even have BeryL because he’s been very consistent, and he adapted well to the meta. His Phase Rush Alistar reminded me of his incredible Alistar plays at last year’s Worlds. Although Deft’s my favorite ADC, I’ll have to go with the Ashe player, Ruler.
Franchising is coming up in 2021, so is there anything new/change implemented into the LCK?
Atlus: I think the implementation of a global cast in the academy league would be very interesting. It’d be super cool. Challengers Korea has been getting more recognition recently, with LS and yourself coaching bbq Olivers and my mate Soulstrikes from OCE coaching as well. We still don’t know how the academy league is going to run, and how the CK teams are going to be absorbed into the LCK teams. Are the academy teams going to absorb the players in CK? Or even vice-versa for that matter. Who knows?
Valdes: I just want to see an upgrade to everything. A global analyst desk, more casters, more analysts, more content, etc.
Atlus: If we get academy casters, they can get naturally absorbed into the LCK, right? It means that there are also enough people for an analyst desk, and even fill in for LS when he becomes ‘Little Sick’ (laughter).
What are your three choices of the LCK teams going to Worlds?
Atlus: Just based on the standings right now, it’d have to be DWG, DRX, and Gen.G, but something in the back of my head is telling me that T1 is gonna step up for playoffs and choke Gen.G out. Also, T1 has a lot of circuit points from the Spring split, so I think either one of those teams can make it.
Valdes: There are too many variables to really tell who will make it to Worlds. Both T1 and Gen.G have a lot of circuit points, so I think only time will tell. In terms of who I think SHOULD go to Worlds, it’d be the top three teams in the standings at the moment. T1 is really good at best-of-5s, so I don’t think we can count them out just yet.
What are some things that LCK teams need to change in order to perform better at Worlds?
Atlus: The LPL vs LCK comparison is really interesting. People say that LCK teams have this slow and methodical playstyle. I think that’s old news. The Mid-Season Cup was LCK’s wake up call, and DAMWON is the fastest team in the LCK. I don’t think this whole “reckless” playstyle is as good as people say, because it’s not working for a lot of the LCK teams. For DAMWON, it definitely is, because they haven’t really changed their playstyle.
Can you share some of your goals as casters?
Atlus: My goal is to cast for the rest of my life. I love my job, and I want to keep getting better at it. Every commentator’s goal is to cast the Worlds finals. You can talk to any aspiring caster, and I think their goals would be casting Worlds finals.
Valdes: I’ve thought a lot about it, and I don’t know if I only want to do commentary for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I love casting. However, I am ambitious to grow my own brand, and maybe even commentate some hockey as well, because I love hockey. In terms of casting League, it’d be casting Worlds.
Lastly, any special shoutout to friends, family, or fans?
Atlus: I’d like to give a shoutout to my girlfriend Cherry, who puts up with me working in very weird hours. My cats as well, Vivion and Dongcho for their companionship. Also, shoutout to Papasmithy for inviting me out to Korea in the first place. Without him, I wouldn’t even be doing this interview right now.
Valdes: I’d like to thank my family for being… Mostly supportive, after things started to work out. My girlfriend as well, for always being supportive and pushing me to not be too lazy. Also, my cat Charlie. She’s still a kitten, and she just got a surgery done, so I hope she recovers soon. Shoutouts to Wolf Schröder, because he helped me get a lot of part-time jobs with GOMTV when I was studying Korean at Yonsei University.
Other than that, I hope everyone stays safe and healthy. COVID’s still at large, so please wear masks, and try to stay home to watch a lot of esports.
Also, is there anything you’d like to say to the casters that are not here? (LS, Wadid, and EGym)?
Atlus: Sorry, LS, for not putting all my POG votes into Chovy. Wadid, I hope you’ll be with the English broadcast for a long time because we all love you. You’ll always have us. And Bryce, get your ass over here [laughter].
Valdes: I look forward to meeting you, EGym. Eventually. And hopefully soon. To LS… I hope you’re not ‘Literally Sleeping’, and that I don’t have to be a ‘Lone Solocaster’ anymore. And to Wadid, I hope you’ll be with us for a long time because you’re only going to get better.
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