With the exit of star players Marek "Humanoid" Brázda and Matyáš "Carzzy" Orság, many fans were worried if MAD Lions’ could continue their streak of success. Though they currently sit in 5th with a 4-3 record, James "Mac" MacCormack is very confident in the decisions his coaching staff made in this new era of the team. Inven Global had the chance to talk with Mac, to discuss MAD’s philosophy on roster construction, the changing role of his team’s players, and the gap between LCS and LEC.
When I spoke with you last year, you said you thought there was a shift in the LEC to prioritizing talent development. When you look at a lot of the hyped teams coming into this split — Fnatic and Vitality — they instead went for big-name veterans. Was this a surprise to you?
I wouldn't say so. Although I still do believe there has been a general shift when you look at the rest of the league towards talent development — rather than retaining veterans for the sake of veterans — there will always be teams who are willing to spend big in a certain year.
Usually teams budgets will kind of wax and wane over the course of several years. And there will be peaks and troughs in those budgets for the individual organizations. It also depends on the kind of status of the free agency market and this year happened to be a year where there was a lot of movement of top players. You had Hans sama, Bwipo, Inspired, Humanoid, Perkz, Alphari, Carzzy — you had so many players who were considered top players moving, that it was always going to be a year where I think certain teams would have to spend a lot in order to secure those players because the competition would be so fierce. So in that sense, I'm not super surprised, just because looking at the global contract database last year, you could tell that there was definitely gonna be some pretty fierce competition. But I do think the trend for rookie development has stayed pretty strong overall.
Did MAD consider doing the same, or do you think it's ingrained in your team's philosophy to invest more in development?
We considered all of our options. There are times to spend, and there are times not to spend. This year was a case where it was more in line with our own philosophy, and also what we felt was a long-term better strategic decision to go the talent development option. So I think there was a bunch of factors. It's not something that I'm historically a big fan of — going and spending huge amounts of money. But I think sometimes there are cases where it's necessary: if you need one player to complete your roster, and there's only one guy there who's perfect for your roster, then obviously sometimes you will spend for that player. And if it's a veteran, if it's a rookie, if it's whoever, then you go and get that guy, depending on the niche that you're looking to fill in your team.
But in general, our philosophy is much more rookie orientated and much more talent development orientated. I think also veteran players tend to have very strong ideas, very strong personalities. And we decided this year that we wanted to really focus on culture during our hiring process, and the players that we deemed would be the best culture fit. UNF0RGIVEN and Reeker are really exemplary in that regard. I think they've both been fantastic so far integrating into the team, and working with the coaching staff at giving and receiving feedback. They're really, really open-minded. And so I'm really happy about that.
While Reeker was considered a star prospect, UNF0RGIVEN wasn’t on many people’s radars, even for an ERL player. What did the process look like in selecting him?
I think it's a big mix of things. It's something that we're always putting more and more time into improving every single year. I've never really done a lot of work with data. And I've never really, until this last year, worked with someone who I thought gave me all of the data that I needed in exactly the way that I needed in a super concise and thought out way. Or someone with the technical skills to be able to do some of the projects that I thought would be interesting. This year we have Aagie, who's our analyst who did an amazing job in the offseason. He worked so hard. And so that was a big part of it — the data side of it. And that alerted us to the existence of UNF0RGIVEN. And then the rest of it was the good old eyeball test, which is usually my preferred method. And is historically always been the way that I've done things.
And yeah, I watched quite a lot of his games and the more I watched, the more I liked him, and it became a really easy choice, especially when we actually spoke to him. And our feeling was that while outside of the game he's quite a quiet person, in the game he's really, really confident. And that was something that we thought would be a great fit with the team.
Something unique about these roster changes was both players leaving being some of the veterans on the team. Carzzy was there for two years, Humanoid for three. How has this changed the team dynamic?
I think initially it definitely left a big hole in our communication, because Carzzy and Marek [Humanoid] were both quite big talkers in our official games. I think in scrims less so — they were usually a bit quieter in scrims than they were on stage — but I think it's left a lot of responsibilities for Elyoya to take up. Because he's definitely taken on the role of in-game leadership, which has its own stresses and pressure, and its own burden that weighs on a person. So there's a big factor there.
Because if you're the most experienced player on the team, everyone else looks to you to lead the other players. Or if you're just kind of the most vocal one — obviously Elyoya was only a rookie last year, right? So yeah, it's definitely fallen to him in that regard. So in-game-wise, it's meant a big shift in leadership. And it's also meant that Armut and Kaiser have both had more room to step up as well. So that's something that they've had to get used to, and that we've spent a lot of time working on with them. Which I think they've done a good job of so far.
I think you kind of just patch up things as you go. You play a few scrims and then you realize, "Hang on, our teamfight comms are not that good. What's missing here?" And then you talk to the team and you find out the missing link in terms of who's not saying what, and then you patch it up. You say, "In this situation, it's really important that you talk this, or you tell your teammates this or stuff like this", and it gradually kind of fixes itself. But yeah, it's a process.
In a past interview, you spoke of how Reeker and UNF0RGIVEN obviously haven’t found their identity yet in the LEC, it’s too soon to tell. With them though, how do you see it changing the identities of the rest of the team. How much change in identity do you see for Armut and Elyoya — with it being their second season in the LEC?
Elyoya's definitely will, for sure. I think his perspective will have to change to be much more global and much more big picture, because he is taking up the role of our primary shot-caller in-game. That will definitely change the way that he views the game and it's something that we've been working on a lot as well as staff: making sure that we have a balanced approach to the game. All players have their own separate philosophies and specialties, and niches, and their ideas on how to play the game.
And I think part of our job as a coaching staff is to challenge that and bring new ideas and say, "Okay, this team does it the way that you think, but this other team would play the exact same situation in a completely different way. What do you think? Here are the merits of it. What are the merits of it when you're playing Composition X? Is that more suitable when you're playing Composition Y?" Or whatever it happens to be. So definitely, his identity in that sense is changing.
I think Armut is a player that's actually very experienced, right? But he's also a player that's incredibly open-minded. I still feel that Armut has a lot of hunger to learn and improve. And that's one of the things that I really love about working with Armut, is that he's always open to someone telling him that he's wrong. He's really, really, really easy to work with in that way. And he has very little ego about it. So I think despite being probably the most experienced player in terms of like years playing on big stages, number of finals, things like that — I think I'm still developing a lot as a player.
Kaiser is quite a unique individual in that he's incredibly consistent. He's kind of a rock when it comes to the way that he plays the game, the way that he thinks about the game, the way that he communicates, etc. He's someone that doesn't budge much. And so I'd say that he's a player with a very consistent and very solid philosophy on how he wants to play the game.
He has very strong ideals and he's quite opinionated about that as well, which is a good thing. We welcome players being opinionated and having diverse opinions and having different opinions. So I think in that regard, I'm not sure how much Kaiser's opinion will change, because he's quite strong-minded. But yeah, I think his playstyle as an individual is very consistent.
Last year you criticized NA’s playstyle, and didn’t see it succeeding much internationally. What surprised you about Cloud9, in particular?
I think that Perkz and Fudge had an outstanding tournament. I think they both were really, really fantastic individually during that tournament. Perkz has had his ups and downs over the course of the year, but I think he showed that at Worlds, when it mattered the most he pulled through. Which is funny, because it seems to be a bit of a cycle as well. In the first week of the LEC things, things looked really, really dire for him. And then the next week, he kind of had a real standout, statement game. So I think he definitely had a couple of really good statement games. I think there was a lot of odd stuff in their group as well. I think getting out of that group was a pretty incredible achievement. But I also think that Rogue and FPX crumbled a bit at Worlds. And then yeah, I mean, both of us got 3-0'd in quarterfinals. So you know, it's not like the most insane year for either of us, to be honest with you.
When you look at the gap between LCS and LEC, do you see it closing at all? Or with this offseason, will LEC start to pull ahead more?
I think it's hard to say. I mean, I think NA is becoming more and more just populated by imports. Which I suppose will gradually improve the level. I mean, you would imagine so, but that hasn't necessarily been the case in the past. I think in the past, NA relied very heavily on Korean imports. And there are not that many Korean imports who have been long-term successful in NA. I think, for example, Impact and CoreJJ are outliers in that sense, who have been fantastic and who have integrated really well.
Perhaps it will be easier culturally speaking to integrate European players into North America. But there are still a lot of the same technical and logistical issues that NA has like the playerbase, the servers, the soloqueue — things like this. Which are issues.
Regarding the overall level, I think if you compare the lower end of the table teams in both regions, I don't think you'll find a huge amount of difference. I think the difference comes when you get to the top end. I think for the most part the top three teams in Europe will still be considerably better than the top three teams in North America. And I didn't see that much evidence at Worlds to say that wasn't the case.
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