In a tournament that has seen legends rise and fall, NRG Esports stood as the beacon of hope for Western fans. Their commendable performance during the Swiss Stage at the 2023 League of Legends World Championship, defeating teams such as MAD Lions and G2 Esports, ensured their qualification to the Knockout Stage. They did so not just as North America's sole representative, but as the only flag-bearer from the West.
However, in a bittersweet turn of events, the team recently faced a decisive 3-0 defeat at the hands of Weibo Gaming. Inven Global sat down with NRG's AD carry, Ian Victor "FBI" Huang, to delve deep into their journey so far, the aftermath of their loss, and the lessons they carry forward into the future of the LCS.
With G2 Esports’ win over Weibo, but losses to your team, why was it challenging to find success against Weibo?
In terms of Weibo, we had an idea about how they played, but our counter strategies weren't the best. They have a strong focus on playing around bot, investing heavily in their AD. And personally, I feel my game 2 performance wasn’t great.
What makes Weibo stand out?
The unique thing about Weibo is their focus on jungle, mid, bot, and support while TheShy usually operates on his own. He's a strong laner, so it's challenging playing against them.
Weiwei mentioned how he felt the team has improved a lot on their synergy throughout the event. Though it's difficult to say — did they seem at all more polished today?
It is difficult for me to say. In our first game against them, some unfortunate events occurred, making it hard to judge their team play and strength. They did manage to play the team fights well, and in both games, we found it hard, especially playing front to back.
Overall, how do you feel about NRG’s performance at Worlds? You guys went further than any Western team, a lot of NA fans see it as a victory — what do you think?
Right after that loss, it's hard to see the positives. But reflecting on our journey, especially from our struggles in the split, reaching this point is an achievement. But, of course, exiting the tournament the way we did is a hard pill to swallow.
How do you think this reflects on the LCS as a whole? Obviously, this went better than last year, but it was also more just that Europe performed worse, and NRG just seemed to be really good. Do you see any difference in NA as a whole, or what’s your perspective?
I think it's the same story every time. Back in NA, teams often don't play cohesively. We, as NRG, seemed to be one of the few that played as a unit, and that got us far. At international events, Asian teams display a synergy that's way ahead of our region, highlighting an area we need to address.
I spoke with Thinkcard a bit about your guys’ roster construction. He said they’ve laid out the blueprint for other LCS teams in how to construct a roster. You’ve been with championship rosters before though — would you say there’s been internally any differences you’ve found to be between those rosters and this?
My experience here feels akin to my time at 100 Thieves in 2021. The key is the team atmosphere and the bond between players and coaches. Having mutual trust and genuinely enjoying each other's company is crucial. Feeling supported by the person beside you in-game makes all the difference.
NRG has often talked a lot about their robust coaching staff. Would you say this is a lot different of an experience?
Certainly. I've never been on a team that had as many coaches as NRG does. Each coach, from the positional coaches to Thomas and Croissant, brings their own strengths to the table. Together, they've meshed really well and have been instrumental this split. Big shout out to all of them; they deserve as much appreciation for getting us this far as the players do.
Let’s talk a bit about scrims. With what happened with G2, there still seems to be a lot of confusion about the value of scrims. I know NRG didn’t have the best scrim results for a while — what’s your perspective?
Yeah, I have been on teams in the past that have, in NA at least, close to a 90% win-rating scrims. Even then, it didn't necessarily translate to real game success. For instance, with EG last split, we hardly lost any scrims, but on the main stage against the squad and Guardians, we faced a 3-0 defeat.
In earlier times, I placed a lot of weight on my scrim results. It would be deeply upsetting for me if we lost. But over the years, my perspective has shifted. I'm not saying scrims aren't important, but the results, to me, seem less relevant now. You don't really know what the other team is working on, or what they're aiming to test in the scrim. Our team, for instance, didn't have the best scrim record this World or even back in NA. Yet, it didn't deter our mental state. We had confidence in our team's ability to perform when it counted. In a way, we learned more from our scrim losses and our mistakes than during my time with EG where we won almost every scrim.
Why do you think that that still seems to be such a prevailing mindset — winning scrims being of value?
I think it varies by team. Some players excel in scrims but then don't show up on stage, and for others, it's the opposite. It really boils down to what the team and players get out of those scrims, more than any specific outcome.
How optimistic are you about the competitiveness of the LCS heading into next year?
After our Worlds run, I'm optimistic for the LCS. We've made significant progress as a team. My hope is that we can carry that momentum back to the region. Both NA and EU have improvements to make, but I'm eager to return to Worlds and aim for a deeper run next time.
What should be the main focus for NA going into next year?
For me, I think a lot of it comes down to team synergy and teamwork. Honestly speaking, the West, at least in terms of laning, I didn't really feel like I had too many struggles in this world tournament against Asian teams. However, it became clear in the mid-late game and especially in team fighting that their teamwork and synergy was on a higher level.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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