Before the start of week 4 of the 2021 League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split, Matthew "Akaadian" Higginbotham was named the new starting jungler for Dignitas. Akaadian subbed in from DIG Academy following the benching of Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett after DIG's first game of week 3, and one week later, the organization announced it would be parting ways with Dardoch due to his behavior.
DIG was only able to secure one win in week 4, but the team looked much better with Akaadian having a chance to prepare and practice with the other four players, especially in the win against FlyQuest. After week 4 of the 2021 LCS Summer Split, Akaadian joined Inven Global to discuss taking over for Dardoch, integrating himself into Dignitas' starting roster, and how the organization has emboldened him to grow into a position of leadership.
How would you compare this week, where you got a chance to prepare and play all the games, compared to coming into the LCS roster in the middle of last week?
I think it's really troll to compare last week to this week because last week I was literally thrown in. I've been playing with Dignitas Academy for the entire year so far, and then I got a call at 8pm last Friday night and was asked if I could play in the next LCS match...I was like, "Sure." *laughs* When you have no practice and no idea what you want to pick, you kind of just have to YOLO it, which is what we did for all of last week.
I think we looked better this week. Some of our systems came together, but honestly, when we played FlyQuest yesterday, they kind of just played like trash and handed us the game. When we played 100 Thieves and EG, we just did not find the timers that we needed to fight. I'm a little sad about that and I think that's what we're going to be working on fixing moving forward to this week. It's fun to play. We have some pretty good players on our team, so things should be good.
So you had no preparation or practice at all with the LCS team previous to this, not even scrims?
Yeah, I hadn't played with them this whole year before I played in the LCS last weekend, so it was a little hard to be coordinated on what we're going to do and...*laughs* I don't know, that second game we played against CLG, my teammates were telling me things and communicating normal things, but I don't know exactly how what they're saying means in terms of what they actually want in the game, so I'm kind of just trying to guess.
It was not easy last week, especially that game. We had a pretty bad situation top where FakeGod lost his Flash at level 1, he got ganked again, and then his lane was pretty messed up. We didn't really know what to do. He didn't really know how to communicate to me how to help him and our game just fell apart pretty fast.
Has your previously established synergy with mid laner David "Yusui" Bloomquist from spring on DIG Academy carried over to the LCS roster at all?
I guess. My teammates are just easy to play with in general. I think it was more that, on an individual level, I hadn't played stuff against LCS players, and LCS players are better than Academy players in general. Teams are going to play more coordinated, so the games are going to run a little bit differently, which means your picks might be a bit different.
In games or scrims against Academy teams or amateur teams, one person starts getting ahead and when the game blows open, you can't always get a good read of champions. I think that's where a lot of the uncertainty came for me. I wasn't sure exactly what picks I wanted to play and what I was super dialed in on.
We played Gwen against 100 Thieves, and we saw that not go super well for me. I think that at the time, I didn't have a great read on that champion and which matchups I would want to play it into. I don't know, it hasn't been that hard to slot into the team, at least in practice.
I think we had some stage matches that we need to learn from this week. It was really hard to take away anything from last week other than individual stuff for me, but for team stuff, we definitely have some stuff to take home and work on this week.
You said in your post-game interview on broadcast after defeating FlyQuest like you felt like there are a handful of Academy junglers who are LCS-level players. Do you think that level of competition has helped you adjust to playing against junglers in the LCS?
It depends on which players we're comparing. There are definitely some players in the Academy League whom I feel are very easy to win and gain advantages against, and there are some players that I think are better. Even in the LCS, there are still players I think about and when I do, I know I'm going to play better than them nine out of 10 games. It's the same in Academy. There are players in both divisions that I know are good and that I have to be on my A game against in order to do well.
I don't think there's a huge jump in actual jungle skill. It's mostly how teams coordinate around Teleports, Flash timers, and team rotations. That's where I'd say the big jump is between LCS teams and Academy teams.
Last split, a lot of DIG's success was predicated on the leadership of Dardoch and support Zaqueri "aphromoo" Black. You started some games with aphromoo in the 2020 LCS Summer Split, so what has it been like stepping back into that dynamic?
I mean, last summer was a completely different beast. I don't think we were really willing to play together last summer. It was definitely harder for me to lead in the sort of environment we had last year. This year, it's definitely easier.
People can say anything they want about Dardoch's attitude issues or the reasons he's not playing anymore. What people cannot do is take away from the pure fact that Dardoch is a leader. He can rally people around him, control games, and he's definitely talented. I don't think you can ever take that away. Regardless of what anyone can say about how he does it, he does do it.
It definitely feels a bit like there are shoes for me to fill. I don't think I'll be doing exactly what Dardoch did for the team, but I'm definitely doing what I can. I've had a lot of experience, but unfortunately, I've never been a leader on any of my previous teams. However, I've had the opportunity to work on that this year.
I was put in a situation on DIG Academy where my job was made clear to me by our general manager. I was going to be the veteran on the team, and he wanted me to help teach players who had what he considered poor past experiences. I think Yusui had pretty poor experiences with coaching and with teammates. He didn't really have people to help teach him the game and try and make him into a full-fledged player in the past.
My role was to be with the Academy team this year, take ownership, and learn all of that. I feel like I've been doing that this year for a while already. I've been kind of helping try to control how our practice goes, what we're doing in-game, and trying to make sure our systems are good. There are big shoes to fill, but I think I'm ready. It's felt easy to do and it's felt good.
I think the whole team is already used to having a strong voice in the jungle, which is definitely what I have as well, so we're just working on it.
It seems like Dignitas invests long-term in the players in the organization. Would you attribute your growth as a leader more to the organizational infrastructure or to your own personal progress?
I think both of those things play a role. I've been playing for a while and I have a lot of experience to go off of which gives me confidence, but it definitely feels really good to have the organization's support. I think OpTic Gaming was another team that tried to give me a leadership role, or at least the confidence to be a leader, but I just don't think I had the experience back then to do what they wanted me to do.
On DIG this year, I felt a lot of backup from the management. They told me, 'We trust you, we believe in you, go do your thing.' That part of it feels really good. I don't even know what people think about Dignitas as an organization, but regardless, it definitely feels a little bit like a family here. I've been here for almost two years and it definitely has that family vibe.
It's nice to feel that I'm backed up by management and my team. Everyone believes in me and believes in what I can do, so it makes it easy to step in.
While you may have been subbed into the 2020 LCS Summer Split roster for Dignitas, that was entirely online due to the COVID-19 lockdown. What's it been like to return to the stage?
I feel like I need to correct you. Last season, I was the starter in the spring, and for summer, there was a tryout. I was the starter at first, but then I was removed. I think that COVID was probably a hard time for everybody. You can say what you want, but there's no doubt about that.
These days, I try to look at COVID and just say it was a positive because I had so much more time with myself. I had a lot of time to slow down and really think about the kind of person I was, how my skills were developing, and what I wanted to do, so I try to look at it as a positive.
However, both my motivation and mental health kind of tanked when the LCS was just purely online. I think I realized that a lot of the reason I play League of Legends is that I really enjoy meeting fans and playing for people. I like seeing people excited about seeing me or the plays that I make. I think that hearing the cheers of the crowd is what a lot of pros play for. I know the crowd isn't in the studio right now, but it feels like they are.
We're on stage, we're back with the cameras and everything, and I can feel that people are watching. I can see what people are saying online after we play. It's not like that was necessarily not true before, but in the whole act of coming to the stage last week, my passion was re-invigorated.
Just coming into this vibe and feeling it again made me feel like, "Oh my god, wow, people actually care about what I'm doing." *laughs* Before, when you're in your office or your home to play your matches, especially in the Academy League, it's just like...*laughs* 'Alright, guys, there's a couple-hundred people watching us.' It just doesn't feel the same, and I don't think it's as motivating.
All images by: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT