FlyQuest's transfer of top laner Eric "Licorice" Ritchie to Golden Guardians initially came as a shock, but so far, it couldn't have worked out better.
GG is 4-1 in its last five games of the 2021 League of Legends Championship Series — a 48% improvement on the team's win rate through its first 33 games — and aside from its most recent win, Licorice has been nothing short of stellar.
After defeating Dignitas, Licorice spoke to Inven Global about Golden Guardians debuting post-rework Tahm Kench in the LCS, the team's current power level relative to its competition, and how his experiences on FlyQuest are contributing to his recent success.
Now that you've had some time to play with your new team, what are your first impressions of Golden Guardians?
Things are good. I think I played a pretty terrible game today, at least in the laning phase. My team kind of carried my ass, and that doesn't feel super good because I want to do better than that in lane, obviously. However, at the same time, my team really had my back today. I think they've just been really solid. It just feels like a good team, straight up.
While you weren't happy with your individual performance today, it feels like you made up for it in advance with your Player of the Week performance last week. Do you feel that you've been able to play better on Golden Guardians in this short amount of time when compared to your time on FlyQuest?
Yeah, for sure. Last week felt really good. A lot of the things I was working on in practice really helped me out on stage. That's something I was never able to do on FlyQuest, for whatever reason. It's felt a lot better from my side, and hopefully, today is just an outlier and I'm back at it tomorrow being all good.
Today didn't feature your best performance individually, but as a team, Golden Guardians played well around the newly-reworked Tahm Kench. Since this is the first time we've seen Tahm Kench in the LCS since his rework, can you talk about this pick a bit in context of competitive play?
It's an interesting one. The champion is a bit weird because it doesn't offer a lot of waveclear, so against a lot of champions, you just kind of end up getting pushed into your tower in lane. That doesn't feel great, but at the same time, you're really tanky and strong in skirmishes early in the game.
There was an attempted solo kill DIG's mid laner David "Yusui" Bloomquist where he ended up just getting eaten and dying. *laughs* Tahm Kench just doesn't die sometimes, so it's a strong champion, but fairly situational. If you have a situation where you can pick it, it's really good.
Are there other LCS teams practicing Tahm Kench, and when it comes to new meta picks, is it like a game of chicken in terms of who is willing to play it on stage first?
Usually, it just comes down to the players. I can't think or speak for every team, but when a new champion comes out and I think it's really good, our head coach Nick "Inero" Smith is really good about allowing our players to pick champions that we feel confident playing. Today, he said he thought Tahm Kench mid looked really good, and since we played it in scrims, we had the option to play it on stage if we wanted.
Sometimes, you'll copy things from other teams, but sometimes, you're the person who thinks something is good. I think there's a lot of room on this team to play the picks we are confident playing.
It was expected that Tahm Kench would play other positions than support post-rework, but do you think the durability of the pick would make it viable in the top lane?
It's definitely a flex pick. We picked it fourth today. It could have gone mid or top depending on their picks. We decided to put it mid. It's just a solid pick.
It might see more play; it might not. I think it's always a little...random, but random isn't quite the right word. It's just that sometimes, you play a champion and everyone will pick it up, and sometimes, you'll play a champion and no one will pick it up. If they don't pick it up, they'll start banning it against you instead. For example, I haven't seen anyone else playing Trundle top after I played it, but it's been drawing bans in our games. Maybe we'll see more of it; maybe we won't.
Overall, Golden Guardians seems to possess a new, previously unattainable gear with you in the top lane. Do you think you've improved the team with something you've done outside of your individual performance, or has your individual play simply been enough for your teammates to showcase a more accurate level of what they can accomplish in game?
I would say I've actually done a lot of work this year on just being a good teammate, mainly outside of game. In game, it's pretty easy to be a good teammate — if you win the game for your team, then everyone likes you, so that's not the most complicated thing. *laughs* I've put a lot of effort into being a solid teammate outside of the game, so I feel like I have been able to bring some of that, which has felt really good.
However, at the same time, these are good players who all work together. They've been able to mesh really well with me. Maybe I'm bringing certain things to the table that were previously missing, but I can't really know that because I have no idea what it was like before I joined the team.
Records aside, where would you rank Golden Guardians in terms of current power level relative to the rest of the LCS teams?
Honestly, it's really hard to say, which is a big reason we want to secure a post-season spot. We want to have a chance to play best-of-five series' against these teams and see exactly where we match up because, in general, the LCS feels very confusing right now in terms of who the top teams are and who is actually good currently. I can't say an exact power ranking, but we feel good, so I would say in the top half, definitely.
Since joining Golden Guardians, your individual level of play has been excellent. Do you feel that GG has allowed you to return to your level of play on Cloud9, or do you think the player you are now is something you became through your experiences on FlyQuest this year?
I think it's the second one. Playing with FlyQuest was a huge learning experience for me. I was forced to work really hard on my gaps as a player. Every player has a lot of gaps, and when you're on a winning team, you don't necessarily have to work on them. For all of last year's Spring Split on Cloud9, we would just win all of our lanes and that was kind of it.
There wasn't any need to fix problems, but I honestly don't want to make it sound like we were lazy on Cloud9. I don't think that's accurate, either. It's just that it's really hard to ignore the problems when you see them in front of you, but sometimes, you don't see the problems. On FlyQuest, our problems were really apparent. There were a lot of things I could work on as a player that I spent a lot of time working on; it didn't pan out while I was there, but it seems to be working for me now.
I understand what you mean. It's not laziness, it's that it's difficult to see issues in your team play when winning all three of your lanes because an early game advantage that massive hides those mistakes, or at the very least, renders them irrelevant.
Yeah. On Cloud9, pretty much everything we did looked right because we were super far ahead and we would win every fight, so it's really f*****g hard to say what was wrong, if we knew anything was wrong, or if we needed to work on anything. I think being on FLY was a big learning experience for me.
It's good that you were able to take something from it that is benefitting you now. Is there anything you'd like to say to the Golden Guardians fans?
Thanks for the support. I'm here, doing my best, and hopefully, I'll be able to help bring us to playoffs and go for a deep run this year.
All images by: Oshin Tudayan/Riot Games via ESPAT