Jackson "Pabu" Pavone's path to his first international competition has been unlike any other. Originally gaining global acclaim in the League of Legends esports scene for solo killing Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok in the 1v1 Tournament of the 2018 All-Star Event, Pabu roleswapped to jungle during 2020 and has continued to compete in the OCE region even after the dissolution of the Oceanic Pro League.
Pabu's team Pentanet .GG qualified for the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational as the champions of the inaugural split of League of Legends Circuit Oceania, but the team has struggled to an 0-3 record in two losses to Chinese representative Royal Never Give Up and one to League of Legends Continental League champion Unicorns of Love. Despite the losses, the team has remained upbeat and has approached each game with a fresh perspective despite early results.
Pabu spoke to Inven Global after the second day of MSI 2021 to talk about his growth as a jungler in the past three competitive splits, Pentanet .GG's approach to its first few games at the tournament, and dealing with the external pressure and criticism that comes with international play.
This is your first competitive international event, and it's actually taking place after your roleswap from top lane to jungle. Can you describe the process that led to the roleswap and how you feel you've grown as a jungler since roleswapping last year?
I've always been super involved in the baseline strategy of my teams. I've always been super enthusiastic about what we are doing inside of the game and what direction it is that we're taking. I always wanted to a bigger part of that, but as a top laner, you're often kind of limited by your matchup.
The way you play your matchup as a top laner is often super defined by what you've picked, and you don't have much room to influence the map in every game. For a lot of the games, you do, but for another portion of them, you sort of get lost in what is going to happen.
I wanted to a bigger part of what was occurring on the map, so it was kind of natural for me to transition to the jungler role. It was already the person I was, it just wasn't the role I was playing. As a jungler, there are a lot of things I had to learn about the role specifically, but as a player in terms of how I functioned inside of the game, I was already pretty adept at the role.
This is your second season as a jungler, and the first since the dissolution of the Oceanic Pro League. What have been some of the differences you've noticed as a professional player competing in the LCO?
Yeah, it was a very spooky time. What was going to occur was super uncertain. We had heard 'soft' news that something was going to be happening, but we didn't know many of the details for a long time.
The offseason was pretty tumultuous for all of us, I'm pretty sure. I had to assess many options. I had some options in normal career paths and moving into a standard life, so it was definitely a pretty spooky time, but it all came together in the end. I got a deal that I am super happy with and I get to play the game that I love to play.
Did you feel there was a difference in competition in terms of level of play in the LCO when compared to the OPL of seasons past due to the LCO's lesser infrastructure?
Between the OPL and LCO itself, there's no change of level from that change. However, with the huge exodus of our top tier talent to North America, the quality of play has decreased, of course. The first split was pretty short, and that usually tends to lead to a lot of poor plays. It was definitely a rough split in terms of game quality, but at the top of LCO, it is still a challenge and by no means easy.
Did you field any offers to play in NA or other regions?
I didn't really receive any offers that piqued my interest. I had a few collegiate offers and those kinds of things, but I didn't have any quality and amateur teams or Academy teams coming my way, so it was a bit disappointing in that sense. I've always dreamed of the opportunity to continue as a player and grow in other regions, but for the moment, I haven't had that opportunity come my way yet.
What is the relationship between your team and Pentanet as the team's sponsor of sorts?
It's good. It's nice to have a real company behind you who can handle things much easier. They know the tricks of the trade and they're actual business people, so they have knowledge about a lot of things that a lot of esports teams lack. It's nice to have that kind of support behind you and it feels good knowing that if we need anything, it will be handled.
Pentanet .GG has come into MSI 2021 as an underdog, but despite struggling in the first few days of play, the team has seemed in decent spirits. Is the team's wealth of experience among the players on its roster what sets this tone for that type of culture?
I think that's just our team in general. It's a very light-spirited team; we all take digs at each other constantly but we also build each other up. It's a very friendly team environment; I'd say everyone is good friends with each other.
It's quite typical for there to be little cliques within a team, and having people who don't like each other or having one guy on a team who everyone hates is super common. However, here, we're all just trying our best to learn. Also, we didn't have that many scrims coming into MSI. We couldn't scrim in OCE because no one was scrimming and we couldn't scrim elsewhere, so the few days we had of scrims were very volatile, so we couldn't get a good read on anything here.
We're kind of taking these games as a bit of a learning experience so that we can be more prepared in our games that are later in the tournament. We weren't fully prepared coming in since we didn't get enough data from our scrims to really understand, so the stage games are as much of a chance to prove ourselves as they are a chance for us to learn and improve throughout the tournament.
That can be a tough way to start a tournament, but is there anything you've been able to learn in these first few games?
I think the quality of players is a lot higher, but also, you get punished for everything. Today we tried a Kog'maw/Lulu draft where we super-sacked the jungle pool with bans, but when we did that, the game was just kind of unplayable. The game was super hard to function within because in our jungle matchup we just couldn't play the game.
We didn't have enough priority to skirmish or do anything, really, and Royal Never Give Up took full advantage of that and made it impossible for us to play. That's what happens here if we make mistakes, but back in OCE, we would just scale up throughout the game, take a teamfight, and win. We have to learn to adapt and make sure we're putting our best foot forward early on to actually play the game.
There's obviously a different atmosphere at an event like this than your All-Star Event appearance earlier in your career. How have you been dealing with the pressure and criticism that comes with international competition?
I wasn't expecting the level of criticism that I got on my first performances. However, now that I've filtered it out, it doesn't bother me or occupy any space in my brain. Apart from that, playing on this stage is just really fun. Of course, you get a little bit nervous, and that's super normal, but it's just really fun and hype to play on stage. That kind of balances things out. It's hard to be worried when you're just enjoying it, you know?
Regardless of how these first games have gone, do you feel that the fact that Pentanet is here competing against these established regional leagues even after the dissolution of the OPL makes a statement for the OCE region. If so, does that put extra pressure on the shoulders of you and your teammates?
I mean, it is there, but it's not at the forefront of everyone's minds. Everyone is just trying to do the best for our team and for themselves. Of course, we are representatives of our region, but I don't think that's weighing us down or anything. We're just trying to do our best.
Thanks for the interview, Pabu. Is there anything you want to say to PGG fans or fans of yours around the globe?
I don't have much to say, but we will pull through. We are learning in every game, and we will get better. After every day, we will do better the next day.