One year ago, Evil Geniuses mid laner Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro was sitting on the bench. Despite a strong individual performance in the 2020 League Championship Series Spring Split, the team wanted to move away from Jiizuke's aggressive spontaneity, which resulted in Jiizuke riding the bench while EG's new roster did little to differ from the results of the previous iteration.
In 2021, Jiizuke has been supported by a coaching staff and roster that both enables and capitlizes off of his aggression. As a result, Jiizuke was awarded 1st All-Pro mid laner in the 2021 LCS Summer Split and is currently in the conversation for the Most Valuable Player award.
After winning his first series of the LCS Championship against Dignitas, Jiizuke spoke to Inven Global to break down the match, discuss community perception of his current form relative to other points in his career, and compare the approach of Evil Geniuses' current coaches to last year's staff.
In his post-game interview on the LCS broadcast, Contractz said he felt disappointed with EG's performance despite the series being a win. Did your team's performance today fall below your expectations as well?
We played worse than expected, for sure. It was our first time on stage in a while, and in that transition, we were playing some games well and some games we were playing nervous. We just had to balance it out after the second game; I just wanted to be clear-minded.
I was just having fun playing, honestly. I knew what I could do and I knew what the enemy could do, and I tried to push more forward throughout the series as well. I agree with Contractz, though, we could have done so many things better, but we just missed our timings.
In game 1, you chose Twisted Fate into Yasuo and Braum, which I thought was pretty bold. Can you talk about how you were able to execute this pick well in an objectively suboptimal situation?
I could have picked TF all four games in this series and we still would’ve won. [laughs] No one really punishes lanes in NA or understands map pressure well, so it's easy for me to play because I will always see an angle I really like for a teamfight on TF. I really like TF, and I picked it into Yasuo. I didn't really care about the matchup. I know how it goes by memory, I know my timings, and I knew my opponent's timings with his jungler, so I was not really scared.
If I wanted to be cocky, I would have picked TF in all of the games because DIG left it open, or I could have picked Ryze into his Yasuo. I just tried to pick what was optimal after that first game.
This was your first time playing a full best-of-5 series with Contractz in the jungle. Did that change your preparation at all?
I mean, we always practice with both of our junglers regardless, right? Both bring something different to the table and it's just about what we want on the day against the team we're playing.
To me, Contractz is really insane. He deserves this big time. I think it was really disgusting that he didn't get on an LCS team this year after what he did for 100 Thieves last summer. Contractz came in and 1v9'd so many games for them and then they made it to the Summer Playoffs. On EG, he's such a great player to play with; I think it'd just be unfair to him to not play him.
You're giving praise to your teammate, but let's talk about you being awarded 1st All-Pro mid laner this split. Do you feel you've silenced those who say you are a coinflip player with your performance this summer?
Haters will always be there. There will always be famous people who hate me and try to sabotage my name. It's always going to be like that every split. Earlier this year, even LS was against me. He was trying to sabotage me.
I'm not going to lie, it hurts to hear that people are just disrespecting your name like that. I always just do what I do, and as a pro player, you just move forward and do the best job possible for yourself and for your team. To me, that's always what I will do. I play in a way that entertains fans, and I'll always play the way I think is right. [laughs] There's proof of that since I got f*****g benched last year because of it.
However, the difference between last year and this year is I now have a team that backs me up. If I want to push for something, they will see how it goes and not give up after the first time. The biggest difference between last year and this year is that last year, I was forced to pick certain champions a handful of times, while this year, if I make calls, my team really trusts me. I feel free and trusted and that is why I am shining the most I have right now.
What role has the coaching staff of EG played in helping you shine this year, and how does it contrast to the coaching staff of last year?
It's very simple. Last year, we had Irean and Artemis, with Irean as the head coach. Korean coaches will always make you play their way. If you go outside of that, then you're basically going against the team. Last year, he would make my teammates think I was against them.
It's sad to say, but my team ended up hating me for what I was doing. The coach was reviewing everything and just saying openly that I was inting my team. He would say, "You should not do this, you should just play meta, you should just try to be good." One time, Irean even told me to give up my playstyle for a month to see if we improved as a team after that, and what happened was I got benched for following what my coach wanted. [laughs]
I already knew what was going to happen because I had this exact same experience in my first year as a pro player. I was on a team called Team Forge, and we had two Korean players and two Korean coaches — the exact same thing happened. I was a rookie and I was asking a lot about how to play macro and everything, and my intent was purely to learn. Instead, I was seen as a problematic player, and I got benched. I already knew what was going to happen last year.
This year… I'm not sure if I should say this… okay, I'll say it: Peter told me, "This year is yours. You will never get benched, so just be free to do whatever you want to do." When one of my coaches says something like that to me, I'm just going to do my best.
I know that he's trusting me and I know that I have the freedom to do whatever I want. It's paid off until now — we'll see about going forward. In talking to Peter before the year started and understanding what he wanted to do, I knew it was going to be fun to play. I knew I could get redemption for what happened last year.
All images by: Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games via ESPAT