C9 Max Waldo: "It feels like you’re always falling behind because [LCK & LPL] have better ways of accelerating themselves faster."

Image captured via Cloud9 Youtube

The 2021 LoL World Championships [Worlds] starts in less than 12 hours. This year, Riot decided to make a somewhat last minute return to Iceland, after circumstances surrounding COVID made it implausible for teams to travel to China, the country that was originally slated to host Worlds this year.


Cloud9, LCS’ 3rd seed team that will be playing in the play-in stages, returned to Iceland after their MSI run earlier this year. Inven Global had a chance to speak with one of the coaches for the team, Max Waldo, to talk about the team’s adventures in Iceland so far, and his thoughts on the tournament this year.

Why is it that when we sit down for an interview, you’re always sick [laughter]?


[Laughter] I’m not sure. I think it has more to do with you than me. I know why I got sick, because I rode on ATVs in the Icelandic wilderness, got lowered into a volcano, hiked 3 km to the volcano and back; it’s kind of obvious why I got sick on my end. For some reason, you always message me whenever I get sick. Whether or not that’s intentional; you’ll be the only one to know [laughter].


Tell me more about the team’s adventures in Iceland.


Have you watched the videoThere was a lot left out in the video, so let me tell you; I thought I wasn’t going to make it. Mithy and I were on an ATV, and I couldn’t record because I thought it was all over for me. I was like, “These are the last words that I’m going to say”; I wasn’t going to record them so that Cloud9 can put them in a fucking video [laughter].

Image captured via Cloud9 Youtube

We drove onto a rock, and we just fucking took flight. We were in the air, okay? We landed, but as I was in the air, all I could say was, “Woah…” I thought that was the last thing I ever said. Right after we landed, there was another 2-3 foot drop right afterwards. We fell so hard forward because we couldn’t slow down. I see the ground and I think, “We’re going to flip!”


By a miracle, the ATV just straightened out. This also happened with our managers, Vincent and Tran. They hit something, and they went… like… Zven told me that they were just looking at the ground from the ATV, and somehow they just flattened out.

Image captured via Cloud9 Youtube

Another time, when three of our ATVs were stuck in the quicksand, we had trouble getting back because we had to fit three people in each of the ATVs. And then, there was another scare because someone almost flipped again. If someone flips with people in the back, and I’m one of those people riding in one of the ATVs, I was clutching onto the bars for my life. There were bumps and shit; I was in the trunk of the ATV, hanging on to one of the bars. I ended up being fine, and I don’t know how everyone made it out.


The last time we chatted was after MSI. Since then, the team’s hit a few bumps during the Summer split. How has the team grown since then?


We could compare Summer to Spring to talk about the differences. During Spring, we were playing stuff like Sion top with Lillia & Lucian. Now, we’ve changed to playing a lot more carry top laners and become a more top side focus team. We’ve gained the ability to play a really wide range of champions from top side, something that we didn’t have during Spring. Tryndamere, for example, is available for mid and top lane. He’s a really cool champion that skilled solo laners are able to play and make look really strong.

Image via Cloud9

I do want to talk a little bit about Fudge because you mentioned that he’s the most improved player during MSI. Tell me about his growth during Summer.


I can talk about why he keeps improving; most of it is because we have a better way of coming to conclusions, compared to the people that we played against. At least that’s what it seems like. I’ve come to that conclusion because Fudge wasn’t able to beat these people before, and now he’s suddenly able to beat them comfortably.


So how does he go from not being able to beat someone consistently for a few months to now consistently beating them? He’s utilizing the information that he’s taking in more efficiently than those people; you’re coming to better conclusions more often than them. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to have this change; this shift.


The other possible outcome is that the people he’s playing against got worse. However, this isn’t just one person; these are different people from different regions. It’s hard for me to say that they all got worse. It’s more often that the common denominator is Fudge playing better. 

Image via Cloud9

We’re focusing on a lot of fundamental things; these things aren’t secrets. Like, we’re talking about, ‘How do we CS better?’ ‘Where do we stand in the lane?’ ‘How do we track the enemy jungler?’ Just basic things that everyone needs to improve on to climb in solo queue. It’s not a secret to everybody on how Fudge is improving; it’s just really hard to get really good at these things.


If I tell someone that they need to CS really well, they probably can’t do it like Fudge and players like Nemesis; he’s one of the players that we watch; I watch his stream to see how he farms, because he CS’s really well. Chovy’s another great example. We don’t quite understand how players CS really well, so we talk about CSing under turret, which is incredibly complicated. We had to talk about how turret aggro works, which minions we kill in which order, and practice it over and over.


It’s not an obvious thing that would be so important, but you can really tell the difference when you walk away from a really great laner. If that laner has 20 CS more, then that’s the difference between that player and you. Then the question becomes, “Can we make up that 20 CS difference?” You probably can.


There are more questions than just CSing under turret, of course. How do we choose between CS and trading? How do we choose between CS and warding? All these ideas become relevant because we’re now using gold and EXP as variables to determine how strong we are.


As it’s the second time for you returning to Iceland, how has the preparation process been different since the last time, during MSI?


Play-ins feel a little different; I think it’s because we have more time. I don’t know whether it’s because there’s more time for this event, or we specifically have more time from coming here so early. We were able to spend so much time looking at the other four teams that we’ll be playing in the play-ins pretty thoroughly, and I think that’s the consequence of having so much time. We’ve been here for four weeks already, so we’ve had a lot of time to play solo queue, scrims, and scout our opponents. Compared to MSI, we’ve definitely had more time to play more thoroughly.   


Talk to me about how scrims are going for the team. Which teams have surprised you, for better or for worse?


Hmm.. All the Eastern teams that we played against have definitely surprised us. Because they’re very good. They do things that we don’t even expect them to do, that we think they don’t know about. We don’t think they have total access to information such as efficiency ideas and even some picks, so it feels like they came to their own conclusions.


Can you give me some examples?


Hmm… Nah, I can’t say. You’ll see. You’ll see, Dan [laughter].


Can you at least expand a little bit on that topic so that our readers can understand?


Okay, what I’ll say about this is that the Eastern teams have a much better idea on what’s valuable in the game. I think that Western teams have an idea on what Eastern teams prioritize, but when you play against them, it’s very obvious.


They’re very efficient in terms of EXP and gold; that’s why they make the plays that they’re going for because they’re finding ways to be more efficient than you. It feels like you’re always falling behind because they have better ways of accelerating themselves faster, and it’s like we don’t have access to these methods that they have. They can see a play like a minute or two out; the game is slower to them.


They’re able to think more about what’s possible in the next minute or two, and because they can do that, the plays they make will be more efficient because they have more time to compress the information about what’s going to happen in the game. If you’re playing against them, and every second feels like the fastest second you’ve experienced, you can’t think about what’s going to happen in the future, because every second feels stressful.

Image provided via Cloud9

Which team’s the scrim gods this year?


I don’t know if we played against the scrim gods just yet; I think that all LPL teams look very strong, with LNG being the weakest of the bunch. LNG's still a very good team though.


Talk to me about some of the new champions that are most likely to be played at Worlds, because some of the new champions that became viable with the Worlds patches feels solo queue exclusive [ex. Assassin jungle].


Bot lanes such as Miss Fortune/Amumu and Lucian/Nami look strong. I think we’ll probably see assassin junglers at Worlds. I’m assuming you’re specifically talking about the Talons and Zeds in the jungle; we might see it early in the tournament, but I don’t know how it’ll be later in the tournament.


I think giving Gangplank five barrels was crazy, so we’ll definitely see him in the tournament. I think we’ll also see a lot of Jayce and Tryndamere in solo lanes… and maybe even Fiora. If top laners are confident in themselves, Fiora might get played as the last pick.


While I do believe that the other group of the play-in stages look tougher with both the LCK/LPL 4th seeds being part of it, I think that the opponents in your group are teams that shouldn’t be underestimated in their own right. What do you think the team’s going to do in the group?


I think we’ll definitely make it out of the group, and are capable of beating all the other teams in our group. I don’t think we’ll have problems in our group, but I won’t say that we’ll go 4-0, because the group is definitely not easy with Beyond Gaming and DetonatioN FocusMe, and the games are best-of-ones.


In the team’s current state, how does C9 fare against HLE and LNG?


I don’t know too much about LNG, and if we end up playing a best-of-five against them, we’ll definitely watch them closer. For Hanwha… I mean it’ll be fun. Let’s play against Hanwha, guys! You don’t want to watch Perkz vs Chovy? You don’t want to watch Fudge vs Morgan? Zven vs Deft? C9 vs HLE is great primetime entertainment [laughter].

HLE's superstar mid laner, Chovy

With many predicting HLE and LNG to make it into group stages, which four teams do you see making it past play-ins?


If I were to just pick the top four teams of the play-in stages, it’ll just be HLE, LNG, Beyond Gaming, and us. That might not be possible, because we might be playing against one of those teams. 


Is there a team that you're personally excited to face? If you can set up any dream match, which team would you play against?


Hmm… this is cool… Like I said, I think playing against HLE is very exciting. If I can choose any team out of the 22 teams in attendance, T1 would definitely be a candidate because of Faker. Out of the EU teams, we have MAD Lions, Rogue, and Fnatic… Kind of boring [laughter].


If C9 makes it past the play-in stages, you guys can only be seeded into group A or C. Who do you want to face in groups?


Oh god, group A has FPX and DWG KIA [laughter]. I think DWG KIA and T1 are the most exciting teams for NA to face. We beat DWG KIA at MSI once, so to play against them again will be exciting. T1 of course, because of Faker. 


Many are saying that the LEC doesn’t look as strong as they were in previous years.  What is your prediction on how the LEC and the LCS will do this year? Where are they in comparison to the Eastern teams?


First, I agree that the LEC isn’t as strong as before.  However, in comparison to the Eastern teams, I don’t think they’re completely outclassed; I think they can take some games off them, but it depends on the Eastern team that they play against. Like we saw MAD Lions go five games against DWG KIA during MSI, so it’s definitely possible. Even with DWG KIA underperforming in that tournament, MAD deserves all credit for their performance.


I don’t think Fnatic is terrible, but they have a lot of problems. If these teams go up against EDG, I think they’ll have a lot of problems; I don’t think they’ll beat EDG, and I don’t know about FPX…


[For the next two minutes of the interview, Max talks about how he’s excited to see Rogue play in the play-in stages]

Image via Max Waldo


...But Rogue isn’t in the play-in stages though.


...What? Uh.... wait how? How does LEC not have a team in the play-in stages? Did I miss something? They don’t have four seeds, so how do they not have a team in the play-in stages?


[After searching it up on Leaguepedia] You’re right! How are they in group A? WHY? 


The seeding was based on the region’s MSI performance this year.


Okay, now I’m on the same page here. NA sucks, so Riot decided that NA will only get two teams starting from groups [laughter]. There’s no equality between Western teams.


This next question may top one of the most FAQs ever about NA: Why does NA keep faltering on the international stage?


I think NA teams do worse because we play against worse teams in our region. The LPL teams are better because they always play against LPL teams, and they’re just better on average. The question is, ‘Why is the bulk of LPL teams better than the bulk of LCS teams?’


The answer will all come back to the systematic problems that we listed out for years. You know, the things that people always say; ping is bad, player base is bad, solo queue isn’t competitive, limited opportunities for competitive players outside of academy and the LCS. The same problems that stuck with NA for so long will continue to be the reasons why NA won’t perform as well, as well as produce less talent when compared to the LCK and the LPL.


LEC has fixed some of their problems. Europe in general doesn’t have these ping issues, and the region somewhat solved the opportunity problem; we see a ton of LFL teams & players do really well, and that’s just from one region within EU. 


So where does LCS stand against the LPL and the LCK? Will they be okay this year?


Depends on what you mean by ‘okay’. Let’s measure our expectations here.


Top 4?


No. Actually, I’ll say, unlikely, because I don’t want to say no. It’ll depend on the group; if an NA team’s in group A, then they’ll never make it out [laughter]. Will 100 Thieves make it out of group B? Probably not. I think that Team Liquid can make it out of their groups though.


In terms of LPL vs LCK, many are saying that the LPL will dominate because LCK looks a lot weaker this year.


LCK’s not that weak. They’re fine. DWG KIA is still a very strong team, and T1 looked very good towards the end of the Summer split as well. HLE is weak, like people expect, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. At least right now, if you’re a Western team, LCK teams are difficult to beat. Maybe things will be different during group stages.


If I have to rank them, it’d be EDG at the top, followed by RNG and FPX to complete the top 3? Maybe this is a hot take, but my current thoughts on this means: LPL > LCK. I don’t think that DWG KIA is better than these teams…? I don’t know. Maybe we’ll see DWG KIA beating FPX in group A.


I recently saw the whole discussion of burnout on Reddit. I would imagine that you also suffered from burnout at one point in your tenure with Cloud9; how did you deal with it?


I haven’t felt burnt out this year [on Cloud9], but I’ve definitely suffered from burnout in the past, so I took a break from the game. That’s all I did. It wasn’t even where I didn’t want to play the game; I didn’t get new ideas about the game while playing. And that feels really bad. It feels dissatisfying.


I stopped playing, did something else totally disassociated with League of Legends, and try not to think about the game. This wasn’t like a one-day break; I took a couple weeks off. I didn’t want to go back and expect things to be different after one day of break. Then I come back, play the game a lot, try to get better really fast, and push myself to get ideas about the game.


Obviously, when you come back, you’re going to play poorly, and the game is going to feel a lot faster and harder to play. You have to play a lot to get that skill back. Every time I’ve done this, I’ve had new ideas about the game and saw new mistakes that I was making that I was able to fix. That feels really satisfying to do.


What’s the goal for this year’s Worlds?


Top 8, Dan! We’re making it out of groups! That’s our goal! After that, we beat some noobs in the quarterfinals to go to the semis, and then: Sky’s the limit.


Lastly, I want you to end the interview with a random hot take about Worlds this year.


Hmm… Is C9 making it out of groups a hot take? [laughter]. My hot take for this year’s Worlds is: Fnatic won’t make it out of groups.

Please get Max a new webcam, Jack!

Oh, one last question:

Image captured from Twitter

THE 1ST WAY OF COURSE! Lillia only has 2 legs? Wrong! She has four legs and two arms, so the pants go on the 4 legs.

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