Echo Fox has defeated Clutch Gaming in the first round of the 2018 NA Regional Gauntlet. It will face TSM tomorrow to decide who will play against Cloud9 for the 3rd NA LCS seed for the 2018 World Championship.
Echo Fox utterly destroyed Clutch Gaming and did not once look on the backfoot for the entirety of the 3-0 sweep. If able to triumph over TSM, Echo Fox could possess the combination of momentum and immense talent to best Cloud9 on Sunday.
I sat down with Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett following Echo Fox’s victory to discuss the uniqueness of the gauntlet format, reflect on his season, and look ahead to tomorrow’s match against TSM.
I am here with victorious jungler Dardoch following Echo Fox’s 3-0 sweep of Clutch Gaming. Did you expect the first round of the gauntlet to be this easy?
Yeah, pretty much. It was pretty obvious that Clutch was going to be the easiest of the teams in the gauntlet. Obviously, we don’t come into a game expecting a win, but we came in a certain amount of confidence knowing that we were against the easiest opponent on the first day.
I think after we won the first game it took a lot of weight off our shoulders and showcased how one-sided the match was going to be in a best of five context. After Game 1, it was just a matter of making sure we were calm and sticking to our plan and we knew there would be pretty much no way we would lose to them.
It did seem that Game 2 and 3 were cleaner rewrites of Game 1. You guys didn’t have to change up much, but do you feel like it was almost too easy? Would it have been better to have more of a challenge ahead of playing potentially two more best of 5 series’s this weekend?
Not necessarily. I think that a lot of the gauntlet is momentum based, especially for the earlier teams. I think the team at the end has the biggest advantage because they get to watch everyone play and they have genuine information to study from before their match.
If we were to win against TSM, I would say we would end up being favorable against C9. The gauntlet is really weird because it’s one best of five after another. There’s no practice in-between, so everyone just kind of stays at the same strength.
You can play up to fifteen games in three days. Is prepping for this format different from other events?
Honestly, the way to prepare for something that is momentum based is to ignore momentum in general. For the past three weeks, we have been straight up grinding. We had two off days right after our loss in Quarterfinals, but since then, we’ve had scrim blocks 6/7 days per week.
We’ve had really tilting scrims, and we’ve had a lot of really frustrating practice with each other. I don’t want to say we’re tilt proof now, but we understand very seriously that every game is new in a five-game series. Regardless of whether we’re up 1-0 or 2-0, we’re going to treat it the same as a new game. We have to take everything seriously, because TSM could happen again.
In our eyes, we should have 3-0’d TSM.
My next question was about playing against TSM tomorrow. What caused Echo Fox to fall short last time, and what have you improved about your game that will help you tomorrow and change the result?
I think we came into the Quarterfinals a bit overconfident. We knew that TSM was a stepping stone for us if we wanted to win the entire season. We were way too confident and it showed in our play. We had pretty monstrous gold leads in some of the early games and had definitive leads at points in every game, in my opinion.
We dictated the pace, but we fell short by throwing a lot. In the first game, we dove top lane tier 3 tower, died, and lost the game. Then we won two in a row, and in game 4, I had a huge lead on Trundle. We threw a random teamfight to Bjergsen’s Irelia, he gets a quadra, and just carries the game. Then in game 5, I really scuffed the top lane 3v3 and got outplayed by Bjergsen’s LeBlanc clone. I got juked, and it was the most embarrassing play of my life.
I scuffed it, and that was the series. It was bitter, but it was a wake-up call for us. It made it very apparent that we are on our last chance here in the gauntlet, and we need to play like it. We need to give 110% and stay focused the whole time.
In describing the series, you really put the onus on your execution or focus as a team. For you personally, what have you been focusing on?
As a jungler specifically, I’ve been constantly trying to re-iterate who I’m trying to enable. I play on a team with three aggressive laners who want to play through their lane at all times and win the game through their own role. That isn’t a bad thing, but it means that someone needs to tell them no when it’s not their job to carry the game due to the draft phase.
Just because we have Huni in the Top Lane doesn’t mean we’re going to play around Top Lane every single game. We’re planning to go to an international stage, and we can’t just expect to play the same style against every team. We can be a team who plays to a strength when given, though. A great example of this is our first game today when Huni’s Ornn had a favorable advantage against Solo’s Aatrox, despite not being the carry of our composition.
The fact is, we should be able to play any style, but our strongest style can still be playing towards top. In my opinion, it was just a matter of time before we branched out from it.
You can still make plays around Huni when he is on tanks, but does it change the way you approach those pivotal early ganks in the Top Lane?
Yeah, it’s moreso just an open line of communication. I’ll be saying what I want to do in relation to what the enemy jungler is doing. Based on that, my laners will give me info to fill in what I’m missing to decide what the best play is. It’s just a mixture of us communicating better so I know what my teammates need.
In addition, we also need to be able to say “no” to each other and not step on each other’s toes. For example, if our Bot Lane is getting dove, I can’t necessarily go make a play somewhere else, even if the opportunity is there. Being able to say “no” to each other is a really big thing for us.
We need to understand that something that is good for isn’t always best for our team. Even if we can get a lead in the Top Lane, if it’s not our focus, and Bot Lane is the enemy team’s focus, we will lose that trade of advantages. For example, playing Ornn into Aatrox requires Huni to enable whatever else we pick in the draft. We don’t play off of Ornn in that matchup.
Even if we play well, if we aren’t playing to our win condition, and the enemy team is, they are going to win. So we have to make sure we’re reiterating the plan and keep going back to the same page. We’re a very kill focused team, so whenever we see an advantage in our individual role, we’re going to want to push it. That’s totally natural, but we just need more facilitation of how aggressive we can be in a given situation.
It’s really interesting to see how your team has grown throughout the year. One thing you guys did NOT say “no” to was Huni’s legacy Cassiopeia. Was this a prepped pick?
Oh, yeah. Huni’s been playing Cassio in scrims since the beginning of spring, but we’ve never had the opportunity to show it. It’s been a big success in scrims in the few opportunities we’ve had to play it.
We hadn’t prepped it, but Huni saw it in the EU Regional Qualifier. Splyce played Cassiopeia Mid into Urgot, so Huni thought it was good. It was on the spot, but he’s so comfortable and we’ve practiced it so much in the past that we trusted him.
Though Huni was given the player of the series, the difference in presence between you and LirA was enormous. Has he changed as a player compared to his time on Team NV?
In the past, especially when he was on NV, I remember being really frustrated playing against LirA, especially when I was on CLG. LirA was playing the style that I wanted to play. I would be forced to pick Gragas, and he would insta-lock Nidalee, and he would sh*t on me, because he had the confidence to do so.
At that time, I wasn’t the most confident. I was kind of riding my teammates’ abilities. It was CLG — Darshan, Stixxay, HuHi, Aphro — I don’t want to say I was willingly getting carried, but I definitely wasn’t in the same mode that I am now.
I load into every game understanding that my team is expecting me to have jungle difference and that I expect to make a difference in the jungle depending on what I’m picking. I hold myself way more accountable nowadays.
I do think LirA is still a very intelligent and mechanically proficient jungler. I don’t think there’s a difference in his play, I just think it’s a team thing. It could be a difference in communication, but I don’t think LirA has changed much individually. I just think NV played to enable him more efficiently.
We got a great reaction cam of you when he flubbed that flash on Camille, though…
That scenario was a wicked troll. He was obviously dead, and if he planned on flashing out, just let him flash out. Why use the Shen ultimate? When I saw the Shen ultimate come on top of a 20% HP Camille, I thought they were going to try and turn on Huni. And then he flashed into the wall and I couldn’t control my laughter there.
If you really want to use a flash and a Shen ult cooldown on someone who is already dead directly in front of a Cassiopeia...I mean, be my guest, sure. It was pretty funny.
Dardoch, I have one more question for you. About a year ago, you were in between teams with CLG and TL. Not only are you currently competing for a spot at Worlds, but you have solidified yourself as one of the top Junglers in North America. Is there anything you’d like to say to your longtime fans?
A genuine thank you to everyone who has followed me, especially those who have followed me through the TL/TLA days; the IMT/CLG drama, and all of the stigma and overall negativity that kind of haunts and follows me around.
Thanks for sticking around. I hope I am a figure and a jungler that you can be proud of supporting.
Nick Geracie is a freelance esports journalist currently located in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter here.