Astralis had a disastrous time in the 2022 LEC Spring Split. With only three wins under their belt after 18 games, the organization finished dead last. Radical changes in the offseason between the Spring Split and Summer Split will change the tide, the team hopes. Three new players were brought in to turn the ship around: Kiss "Vizicsacsi" Tamás, Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir, and Lee "JeongHoon" Jeong-hoon.
For Xerxe, the return to Astralis (a rebrand of his 2020 team Origen) is also a return to European soil after spending one-and-a-half years in the LCS. Ahead of the 2022 LEC Summer Split, the Romanian spoke to Inven Global to reflect on his past, how being reunited with Vizicsacsi and Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup helped him get back on the horse, and what his goals are for the upcoming split.
Welcome back to the LEC, Xerxe! It's been quite a while since you last played in Europe — how does it feel to be back?
First of all, thank you! Since I've gotten back to Europe and I've been playing solo queue and scrims against the EU teams, I feel way better mentally and I feel really confident going into this split. I know we are at a disadvantage compared to other teams — the teams that didn't change any players have a split over us. So, we had and we still have a lot of catching up to do. Just personally, I am really excited. I feel really good being back in Europe again.
"I was always considered a top three, top four jungler and I'm aiming for that again."
The jungle landscape in EU has changed quite a bit ever since you left. Jankos is still there, Razork was a rookie when you were around, but there are many new names. From the outside, how do you evaluate the state of EU's jungle?
I don't want to say much because I haven't played on-stage against them. I don't want to draw many conclusions from scrim results either. The junglers in NA were actually pretty good and I feel like, based on scrims, it was roughly the same. But there is always a big difference in how people play in scrims versus on a stage, so that's why I really want to play against them on stage. Then I can say with certainty how it felt.
You mentioned feeling better mentally, and I do want to reflect on the past years. You finished 10th in the 2020 Summer Split with Origen, went to NA but didn't get high finishes either. Last split was another 10th-place finish, this time with Immortals. It has been a rough period in your career; how do you look back on it?
Obviously, there was a lot to take away from both teams. It's not a nice feeling. Prior to Origen, I had always been in Playoffs. You could not look at that Origen roster and ever think that it's a 10th-place roster, you know? So, there was a lot to take away from the team dynamics and how the players interact with each other, and the team atmosphere and culture. I don't really think of it anymore. I took whatever was useful for me at the time and now I just try to think of the present and what I'm doing at the moment.
How did you stay focused and motivated when the results were not there for you?
It was getting really rough. Last year was fine because I did find more success in the Summer Split. But this year's Spring Split was pretty rough.
Let's just say that there were lots of things that were going poorly behind the scenes, from every perspective you can think of.
In a way, the fact that I even got this chance of coming back to Europe and being with people that I've known before, that I've worked with, has helped me so much mentally. It has shifted a lot of my ideas. That's why I said that I feel really good coming into the Summer Split. I'm just happy to work with the people that I'm around. I'm happy to be back in Europe. It was so nostalgic to see the studio after such a long time. It brought back all my motivation. Well, I did have motivation, but I was in a very stressful atmosphere. Now I'm really excited to be here again.
How have you used the downtime between the Spring Split and the Summer Split?
We did start scrims pretty early here. We've been scrimming for a while now and the rest of my time I've used for solo queue. There is always this thing where, when you go to NA, everyone says that you get worse. So I just thought "Okay, I'm just gonna spam solo queue and see if I've actually gotten worse." So personally, I didn't have much downtime between the Splits.
"Honestly, it might be crazy to say this, but my feeling is that, if we keep improving, we can make it to the top three."
Talking more about the team, was it an instant "yes" for you when Astralis reached out?
Yes. [Laughs] You know it.
That was very determined! [Laughs] Was it the allure of the LEC, or did playing with Vizicsacsi and Kobbe push you over the edge?
It felt like it was such a good opportunity. Obviously, Astralis didn't have the results before, so coming here with these people felt like we had a chance to achieve something. We can show that the team can get better results.
It's been a while since you've last worked with Vizicsacsi and Kobbe. Have they changed at all? And you're also working with two new players, how has that been?
They haven't changed at all. [Laughs] They are still the same people I knew. The others are really fun too. Dajor is a really outgoing person, so from the first moment I started working with him, it felt like we'd already known each other for a long time. It was very easy to talk to him. The support, JeongHoon, is still learning English. I've been trying to integrate him into some of our memes and he's actually really receptive to that. [Laughs] He picks up really fast on the jokes we have, so I'm having fun with both of them.
You have quite a bit to prove now, coming into the LEC again. Some people will be skeptical, others might be hopeful that you'll live up to what you showed on Splyce back in the day. Obviously, you want to finish higher than 10th, but what is your personal goal to get out of this Split?
For me, it was about building my confidence back. I've been able to do that with scrims and solo queue. I know there will be people who look at my time in NA, where I didn't have the results, so they'll think I'm washed up. Some people will be happy to see me and cheer for me. In a way, I'm thankful to both. But for myself, when I was in Europe, I was always considered a top three, top four jungler and I'm aiming for that again. I want to prove that I can compete at the highest level in Europe.
On a team goal, I don't want to get too ahead of myself. I want to think about one game at a time. But I do have some goals. I feel like making it to Playoffs is the bare minimum, that should be a given. Honestly, it might be crazy to say this, but my feeling is that, if we keep improving, we can make it to the top three.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.