Tune in Mar. 30, for Part 2.
It was an odd feeling to sit across the table to interview a friend I knew for years. The last time I was in a professional setting with him was when we were both on a Challengers Korea team called bbq Olivers. Since then, we would hang out here and there, all the while we both tried to figure out what to do in life.
I was an observer on the sidelines, watching him go through the ups and downs of his journey. I’ve seen it all: His time as the LCK Global color caster, joining the most prestigious esports organization in the world, to all the various rough patches he had as a well-known personality in LoL Esports. I obviously knew how big of a personality he was in the scene, but as I sat across him in a meeting room at the T1 HQ and conversed about, well, pretty much everything, a wave of his superstar status dawned upon me.
Inven Global caught up with Nicholas "LS" de Cesare on a sunny Spring day for a conversation that went on for 70 minutes. For your sanity (and ours), we've split it into two parts. Part 1 covers his story leading up to becoming the content creator for T1, his thoughts on the LCK/LEC/LCS, and MSI. Part 2, coming Mar. 30, will cover various insights and topics about draft in a competitive setting, the current state of the meta, insight into his journey leading up to this point in time, and his future.
I know that you’re in the middle of moving to a new house, and that you’re struggling from no hot water and whatnot. How are things with you right now?
I ended up having a very short period of time to find a new apartment in Seoul, and given that I try to take care of a lot of bootcampers and the Korean players that live with me, it’s hard to find a house that was the right size for them. I ended up getting into a pretty bad spot, but eventually, I found a place. However, I can’t move in until the end of April/early May, so I’m currently staying at Scarlett’s [SC2 pro — Ed.] house because it’s team house size. Right now, there’s no heat, there wasn’t water until a few days ago, and there wasn’t even electricity at first, so it was rough.
The last time we spoke with you was around the time when you had just joined bbq Olivers. Since then, you’ve had many job titles in LoL Esports. Which do you identify with the most and why?
This is a weird question for me because I do so many different things. Obviously, I can go with a meme-y response and go with “The leader of the Church” [laughter]. Hmm… I don’t know what I’d actually be called. I know that a lot of people throw around a lot of terms to describe me, like analyst, coach, and streamer; there are just so many terms.
I think categorizing me as just one isn’t apt, because I sort of do everything. The term I identify with the term would be… innovator? I’m trying to think of the word that means, “Someone that progresses through educational means”. Is there a word for that? Educator? Teacher? No, those aren’t quite apt… There has to be a word for it, but I can’t think of it.
"It wasn’t slated for me to leave the desk; it’s just the way that the events unfolded."
Your time with bbq Olivers marked the first time a foreign coach worked with a professional Korean LoL team. If you can go back in time and change the past, what are some things that you would’ve liked to have done differently?
I think there are two answers to this. A lot of the friendships that I made during that time with the Korean players and the learning experience that I got from having to deal with such a stressful and turbulent time period were very valuable going forward with my life. However, if I can go back in time, I would have avoided the whole interaction and not joined the team at all.
Speaking of stressful and turbulent time periods, you had a tumultuous few months around the announcement of you joining T1. I know you don’t want to talk too much about this story, so I just want to ask: Is your life back to normal now? Have you mentally and physically recovered from those tough times?
I think there’s a psychological thing that I suffer from, where I get a lot more defensive, agitated, and irritable if someone’s accusing me of lying. It triggers like uh… I don’t even know what it exactly does, but I never used to feel this way against accusations, in the way that I do now. It definitely drives anxiety when it’s happening, in a very unhealthy way. That’s like the only side effect of that time period that still persists on. Obviously, I’m referring to November, when I was a complete ghost on social media and everything else.
In terms of everything else being back to normal, everything that I’m doing is at an all-time high. Twitch chat, Twitch viewership, my Youtube is exploding: Everything else is at an all-time high right now, so it’s better than normal.
In a recent interview, it was recently revealed that Faker voluntarily benched himself, due to feeling a decline in his own performance. While he himself revealed that age doesn’t affect performance, the sentiment of “old age = decline in performance” is something that many people have come to accept as a fact. What is your take on this sentiment?
I think the way that age is used in esports is incorrect. There’s physical age, and there’s age spent in the game. A player who enters the pro scene at 19 years old, and then hitting 24 years old holds more meaning. That player is five years old in the competitive scene. I would say a 14-year-old, who reaches 19, the same age span, is equally weathered. The 19-year old, while still being very young, is probably very conditioned to pre-set beliefs, ideas, and a lot of their own takes on the game.
Just because they have the physical age of 19, their mental age and the experience inside of the game completely hardens them to new ideas. This is something I’ve noticed across multiple game titles. With regards to physical mechanics or things of this nature, I think it’s very interesting because we have fighting games with frame-perfect inputs. I don’t think there’s the decline that many perceive there is.
I think what ends up happening is factors like motivation, determination, and the amount of practice gradually starts to decline. When that starts happening, I think that you start to fall off, because you’re not trying as hard. This doesn’t mean that you lack the physiological ability to do it. In this regard, I would reference players like Daigo Umehara from Street Fighter, Knee from Tekken, all the top StarCraft players like Flash, or even the top Super Smash players; they’re all mechanical superstars that are very old.
Do I believe that physical age affects performance? No, but I do believe that there’s the “esports age”. I always get told that I’m relatively young in esports. However, I feel like a great grandfather, because I’ve been in the industry for 16 years at this level. Even when I talk to people that are similar age as I am about the ecosphere surrounding esports or things of this nature, I feel like they have so much less experience across so many different environments.
"I was told to calculate my yearly earnings on my Twitch, Patreon, and Youtube, my streaming contract, add all of it up, and I would also have something on top of all that as well. Those were the type of offers I was turning down."
CoreJJ recently told us that he thinks the level of play globally has decreased. Do you agree with his statement, especially when it comes to the LCK? Do you think LCK was stronger in 2020 than this season?
I think that the talent pool is better this year than it ever was in previous years, but I would agree with CoreJJ. The level of play has definitely gone down. From a quality standpoint, it’s a lot more difficult to watch games right now. I think that players make really big blunders very often, and draft mistakes are abhorrent. Despite Riot making itemization simpler, I think itemization nightmares are definitely real.
I don’t necessarily know what’s causing it. Is it burnout? Is it that… I don’t exactly know. There’s been a lot of retirements from big names, and there are looming retirements from big names that are coming as well. I think a lot of dynasties and eras are ending, so I wonder if this is dripping into the players as well, where they’re not as motivated as before.
The things that used to hold a lot of meaning don’t mean anything anymore. Getting rank 1 on the ladder doesn’t mean what it used to. Being a high-rank challenger doesn’t hold the same prestige as it used to because we have too many examples of people that aren’t high-rank challengers that would totally body people that are in a competitive game. A lot of things that used to be accomplishment-worthy and prestigious have been desensitized, and with all the problems that are plaguing solo queue in all the regions, it’s harder for people to enjoy playing the game as well, so I think the quality of practice is also going down.
"When it comes to esports teams, T1 is essentially heaven, so it’s not a “standard” team. I think there’s no bigger ceiling than this team."
Can you expand on some of the problems that are plaguing solo queue right now?
You’re not angry at the game; toxicity manifests itself through the game. So, if you’re having stress or problems in your real life, you’re going to take it out on the video game, because there’s no human element. You’re going to start attributing things that people are doing in-game to something that’s personal to you. If someone’s AFKing, you’re not mad that a champion’s idly AFK; you’re mad that some other person in your game is electing to waste your time. You connect a personal connection to that action, and that’s what makes you upset because you might see that reflected in your everyday life.
Segueing this into high MMR games, what I think is happening, is that people are aware that they have to succeed now. There’s a lot of arbitrary definition with questions such as, “Are you able to become a pro? Are you able to become an amateur player?” I think that these guidelines create extremely stressful environments; when people are experiencing failure or having rough patches, it makes them lash out really hard.
Likewise, I think that a lot of people have played the game, but found no success. They acknowledge that others may have played the game shorter than them, or they’ve watched friends or other people surpass them. It causes them to probably reflect on the fact that they’re not succeeding, and it dawns on them. Rather than coming to terms with that, it probably makes them lash out in games and lose self-control. I think that Dr. K, the Harvard psychologist who’s also a Twitch streamer, talks about a lot of these things on his stream. Obviously, I’m not quoting him, nor am I saying that he said it verbatim, but these are a lot of my own experiences from coaching, as well as talking with so many people over the years.
Where do you think the LCK currently stands in the global rankings of regions?
I think the best NA teams would probably lose to the top 6 or 7 LCK teams. They’d probably have the ability to improve, but I think that if Cloud9 or Team Liquid competed against those LCK teams right now, there’s no way that they’d be favored against them. There’s definitely room for improvement, but it gets kind of weird because LCK teams like T1 and Hanwha Life Esports could improve as well. When you look at the present lineups, there’s nothing to suggest that even Team Liquid or Cloud9 should be able to improve more than these teams. I think western teams like G2 and Rogue have a lot more potential, and in that regard, I think MSI is going to be very interesting.
I don’t watch a lot of LPL: I’m going to watch the playoffs, and maybe even end up co-streaming them. However, I think that the LCK is still the best region. I think that a lot of people look at the LPL and don’t realize that the 8th-16th place teams are not always very good. At least that’s how it was historically, I’m not sure about this split.
In a scenario where T1 is able to win the split and head to MSI, what are the chances of them winning MSI and adding another international tournament victory to their legacy?
I am unsure if they take the tournament because of the LPL, and right now, I’m not sure of the tournament format, so I can’t say anything for certain just yet. T1 is extremely volatile in the standings because we don’t know what type of game they’re going to play: Sometimes they play extremely clean, and other times, they don’t. Then the question is, “Which roster is going to start for the team?” That’s a big question because I’m not sure how rosters work with MSI. In their current state, due to that volatility and the way they draft, they could lose to G2 or Rogue. It all depends on the draft edge.
They’re not going to lose to NA. That’s just not… Possible [laughter]. Honestly, Canna could lock in Teemo top lane and they’d still win [laughter]. After all, he’d be up against Fudge [laughter].
What about LCK as a whole? Do you think Korea is slated to take another win at MSI?
Hmm… My current thoughts are, if DWG KIA goes, DWG KIA wins. If T1 or HLE goes, then they could maybe lose.
Are there any matchups that you’d like to see at this year’s MSI?
They’d mostly involve G2/Rogue. I think seeing how Cloud9 will fare against them will be interesting because NA right now… is a wildcard region. It’s really weird right now.
Speaking of HLE, you had very high praise for their mid laner, Chovy. In your opinion, what separates him from the rest of the players in the LCK, and the rest of the world?
I think Chovy is currently the best mid laner in the world, in terms of things like the laning phase and whatnot. He’s scary at all points of the game. I always meme about how he always deserves the Player of the Game votes because he does this thing with CS’ing lately that you don’t see a lot of pros replicate. Regardless of the matchup, Chovy’s always ahead. He consistently violates the 10 CS per minute. It’s almost a given; if he has 10 CS per minute, the reality of the situation is that he’s most likely underperforming. He always seems to find CS, lane advantage states, and...just everything.
It’s interesting because it’s very VERY rare to find a star player like this in modern League of Legends. His mechanical control and discipline are really good as well. There are a lot of subtle things that go into answering why he’s that good.
There’s the ‘inSec [ward hop to kicking enemies on Lee Sin]’, ‘Flame Horizon [100 CS lead on enemy laner]’, and I feel that the term “Chovying” is going to be the new term to add in the iconic terms of League of Legends. I think that Chovy’s ability to CS in modern day League of Legends is so abnormal, that it deserves its own title.
Do you think he would have even better results if Chovy was mid-laning for another team that’s not so full of relatively unknown players?
I answered this question in one of my co-streams a while back, and what I said was that he’s one of the handful of players who can hop around teams and keep dominating. He’s almost undisputed, and right now, it’s between him and ShowMaker. He’s definitely an abnormality in the mid lane, and right now, Chovy’s definitely eclipsing his teammates. It’d be very interesting if he was surrounded by a line-up full of star players. The last time we actually got to see that, Chovy wasn’t as good as he is right now, and obviously, there’s some controversy regarding that lineup.
At this time, I want you to write down what your ideal All-pro teams would look like for the LCK, LEC, and the LCS, and explain the reasoning behind your choices.
Let me start with LCS. I think Alphari’s the best top laner in the league right now, and Fudge would closely follow at second. Alphari has a deeper champion pool than what he necessarily shows. Fudge only receives hate because of the narrative that surrounds him right now, but not because anyone can discern his gameplay without just using stats. He did have a pretty good performance this past weekend against the 100Sins [laughter]. I thought you excommunicated from the Church because of the Renekton pick [Laughter] He was.
I think I’d prefer to have Blaber over Santorin by a small margin. I just think that Blaber has higher upsides in general. Mid lane in NA is brutal, but Perkz has a lot of champions that he can play, and is a very defining mid laner that you can rely on at all stages of the game. He’s very clutch, and just outperforms other mid laners in NA. I think Zven’s the best bot laner in NA by a pretty wide margin. I know that when the LCS All-Pro team was announced, there were a lot of arguments regarding how FBI deserved that spot. The term “one-dimensional” is the best way that I can talk about him as a player, while Zven is very malleable in terms of how he can play and how he can go about doing things. Coupled with the players on the list, I think that there’s more upside from having Zven, and I think everyone agrees that CoreJJ is the best support right now.
For LEC, the whole roster is G2 minus Jankos. I talked about this when I was on the LEC, where it’s hard to know what Jankos’ role is on G2, without using conjecture, so there’s a chance that this All-Pro team roster would perform worse than actual G2, depending on what Jankos’ role actually is.
In terms of individual capability/prowess inside the jungle, Inspired just does it all. He can play champions that are utility, support, AP, and even AD carries inside the jungle, and regardless of what he’s playing, he plays as if he’s going to carry the game. His mechanics are stellar, his level of awareness is super insane; he’s like the Rekkles of the jungle in his own regard.
In terms of the LCK, I think Teddy and Keria are the best bot lane in the LCK. I think my second choice of bot laner would be Gumayusi, and my 2nd All-Pro choice for support would just be another mid laner or whatever. I know that sounds really weird…
Faker’s pretty well known for his support plays in solo queue, so would you put him in there?
Yeah. If there was a role to have him in, it would be either to follow ShowMaker in the mid lane, or follow Keria in the support role. I think a lot of people without good game understanding would look at that and be like, “You can’t do that!” No, not really. A lot of players can role swap relatively easily in the LCK, and it’s already happened a lot. They can play each other’s roles very well, especially in solo queue. They all have insane mechanics, and Faker’s probably one of, if not the best, player to have in the game, in terms of comprehensive game knowledge. I think sliding him into the support role is pretty insane, because of his champion ocean, mechanics, awareness, and just… everything.
For my mid lane choice, I put ShowMaker, and he’s a player that needs no introduction. I’m actually a little worried about ShowMaker because of his wrist injury. I didn’t read any of the follow-up news, but I hope he’s alright. Faker would be my 2nd choice after ShowMaker, because I moved Chovy to the top lane.
I don’t think putting Chovy in the top lane is a stretch. I think he once talked about how he wants to role swap to top lane in the past. He knows how to play all these tank champions well, and he has a champion ocean, insane mechanics and discipline. The way he goes about playing the game is actually insane for top lane. If you have a problem with putting Chovy in the top lane over some of the other top laners in the LCK, you’re out of your mind. And lastly, Canyon in the jungle should round things out.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports