Cloud9 has qualified for the 2018 World Championship. Gauntlet momentum played no factor in the 2018 NA Regional Qualifier, and TSM never had a chance. Cloud9 shut the door with a 3-0 sweep and is going to its sixth consecutive League of Legends World Championship.
Robert “Blaber” Huang continued his tightrope-act aggressive jungling, coming completely unhinged on the members of TSM with a triumvirate of carry junglers. Perhaps most importantly of all, however, was the addition of a new card to Cloud9’s deck - Flex Hecarim.
Hecarim has been a signature pick for Blaber since the start of playoffs and has been banned against Cloud9 for most of the post-season. Cheers erupted when Cloud9 locked in the Shadow of War. However, the previous fanfare paled in comparison to the shock and awe across both sides of the crowd just a few moments later. Blaber’s pony ended up in the hands of Eric “Licorice” Ritchie.
Licorice was pivotal in Cloud9’s victory, neutralizing Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell’s Aatrox on Hecarim and combining with Blaber and Jensen for lightning fast collapses. Dives in Game 2 became full-on blitzkriegs in Game 3, and the Swolebros never even had to get off the bench.
Licorice sat down with InvenGlobal following Cloud9’s victory and subsequent Worlds qualification to discuss the team’s preparation for TSM, look towards Worlds, and reflect on his first year of competitive play.
We’re here with Cloud9 Top Laner Licorice. You guys have qualified for Worlds after being in 10th place, and you have been the constant for the entire rollercoaster ride of roster changes. How are you feeling right now?
I feel pretty good, I’m not gonna lie. (laughs)
That’s great, man. You deserve it. The last time we saw you guys, Team Liquid looked really strong and had no problem dispatching you in the Finals. What did you guys change since then that made you so strong today?
Going into the match against TL, we kind of just followed the meta completely. And it wasn’t really working for us. We were losing a lot of scrims, and there were other factors that contributed to that as well, but it just wasn’t working out for our team.
We got swept in Finals, and we realized that we needed to do our own thing more and play our own style as opposed to just following the meta picks.
You guys have shown a multitude of new picks across the summer. What is it about your team that makes you so innovative?
I guess it’s just that we’re more open to that kind of thing. It kind of just fell into place, at first. Jensen is probably the best Zilean in North America, and then he was just like, “Yeah, Zilean’s probably strong right now. Let’s test out Zilean.”
Blaber loved Kindred before people were picking it up. Maybe it’s just that the players as individuals are more free to experiment and like to try new things? I’m not sure.
Were these specific picks prepared more for you guys in general, or for TSM specifically?
Apart from Top Lane, it was prepared throughout the week. We had decided what we wanted to play in the other four roles. For Top Lane, I watched the TSM vs. FOX series in the gauntlet yesterday where TSM was picking Aatrox super early all three games.
I was thinking Hecarim might be good into Aatrox, so I tried some 1v1s like last night around midnight or something (laughs) and I was like “Wow, this is actually pretty good!” Reapered was around, so I called him over and showed him that the matchup was pretty good for Hecarim.
What did Reapered say when you said that you wanted to play Hecarim top?
He was like, “Yeah, sure.” He was really open to it because it was something we had been talking about for a while because I was confident in it. Scrims weren’t going super well leading up to this, and I think Reapered was looking for something that his players were confident in. He knew that I was confident in the Hecarim pick, so he was more than happy to let me play it.
Blaber plays Hecarim too, so that’s yet another flex pick for you guys. What gave you the confidence to play a brand new champion in such a high-stakes situation?
I mean, I’ve been trying to make it work for a couple weeks, but the other matchups didn’t work out so well. The Aatrox was something new that was being blind-picked, so I tried it into that. I actually have a “Hecarim only” solo queue account that’s sitting around D5 right now!
That was a great flex, and very fun to watch. This is your first year of LCS play, and you’re going to the World Championship. You were the Rookie of the Split in spring and an MVP candidate in summer. Is this how you expected your first year to go? What have you learned since the start of the year?
Obviously, I can’t say I expected it to go this way, but I’m happy it did. I’ve just learned a lot about the game in general, and my focus has changed a lot throughout the year. At the start, I was very focused on individual play, and then I moved towards a team focus and looked a lot towards macro and stuff.
I think I’m just better if I focus on myself. If I worry less about what everyone else is doing, and just make sure I know what I’m doing and I’m communicating it really well, that seems to work way better for me.
There’s going to be a lot of Top Lane talent at Worlds. Is there anyone you are looking forward to facing?
If I was going to give a top 3, it would probably be: CuVee, TheShy, and Smeb. I’ve been to South Korea twice before to play solo queue. Once was with EUnited, and once I was on my own. I played against TheShy a lot in solo queue....he’s really good, so I’m excited to play against him.
Smeb and CuVee have always been Top Laners I’ve looked up to, so it will be interesting to see how I match up against them.
How high did you get on the Challenger ladder in South Korea?
The first time I went there with EUnited, I hit Challenger. I’m pretty sure I was in top 100. The second time, I was hanging out in Masters.
Was your second trip to South Korea before re-joining Cloud9 for the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split?
Yeah, it was the off-season before spring. When I was playing with GBM on EUnited, he offered to set up a Korean bootcamp to Deftly, Zeyzal, and myself during the off-season. Me and Deftly ended up going out and staying with GBM, and he set up everything — with some help from his mom, I think. We stayed with him and hung out for a couple months.
Do you think that time in Korea was significant to your smooth adjustment to the LCS stage?
The first Korean bootcamp with EUnited was around two years ago, and that one was actually huge for me as a player. I got so much confidence from hitting Challenger and doing really well in scrims, so when I came back to North America before the 2017 NA CS Spring Split, I was super confident in my play.
he last one wasn’t as big, but I think sometimes it just helps to go somewhere else. Sometimes playing somewhere other than your home just helps you focus more.
How important do you think the Korean bootcamp will be for Cloud9 relative to the other teams heading into Worlds?
I think a lot of it is just going to come down to being able to recognize that if someone plays something against us to be very flexible and open-minded. We need to make sure that we see if it’s good, and if it is good, we need to figure out how to play against it if we’re not going to play it. If anything seems like it could be good, we need to just try it and see how it goes.
That’s what bootcamps are all about. How do you think NA stacks up to the rest of the international competition?
I feel like NA should do pretty well at Worlds this year. I feel like that’s kind of the stand-by line that everyone gives but I think we have a pretty good chance at making it out of groups and getting to Quarters or Semis.
Cloud9 will go to Worlds with a 7-man roster, but you will only be able to play with 6. Due to your extensive experience with bootcamping in Korea, do you think it will be beneficial for even the 7th player who doesn’t get to play?
You’ll get to watch scrims against the best teams in the world. You’ll get to play what’s considered the best solo queue in the world. I think it will kind of be more of an assistant coach position. You will watch the games, and Reapered will still lead the coaching, but of course, there will be an opportunity to give input if someone sees something. Aside from that, you’ll have a lot of free time to play Korean solo queue.
Licorice, congratulations. I’m sure you have a lot of celebrating to do, so is there anything you’d like to say to the fans?
Thanks a lot for all of your support. See you guys at Worlds!
Nick Geracie is a freelance esports journalist currently located in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter here.