Cloud9’s 2018 League of Legends World Championship run was the finest international performance in North American history, but it also showed a glimpse of a bright future for the region’s talent.
Cloud9’s Top Laner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie had a phenomenal first year at the competitive level and set the bar for what type of talent North America has when properly developed. Jungler Robert “Blaber” Huang joined the main squad only a few months prior to worlds to be a spark plug of proactivity in a team marred by indecision.
Rounding out Cloud9’s trifecta of young native talent is Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidham. Zeyzal stepped in for Andy “Smoothie” Ta in the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split, playing 17 of 19 regular season games for Cloud9. Zeyzal’s experience in Challenger and Academy played an integral part in Cloud9’s mid-summer rebuild.
Zeyzal had an incredible first year of competitive play, but he’s far from satisfied. Cloud9’s Support has plenty of things left to accomplish.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Zeyzal. How have you been since you got back from Worlds?
I’ve been good. Since getting back from Worlds, I’ve mainly focused on resetting myself before our team’s Korea bootcamp to prepare for the upcoming season. That has consisted of a bit of streaming, and most recently, about a one week break from solo queue.
The last time you spoke with us, you had just narrowly defeated Gambit Gaming to escape the Play-Ins at the 2018 World Championship. Given the closeness of that series, did you ever expect you’d make a semis run at your very first Worlds?
I certainly didn’t expect to make semis. Honestly, I think with our group, we were surprised to have made it out. We knew there was a chance, but specifically, contesting the first place seed in our group was definitely not expected.
Was there a certain “click” or turning point for Cloud9 at the World Championship? You guys seemed to get stronger as the tournament went on.
I do think there was a day where we realized we had something wrong. It was a clear feeling, games were just being lost slowly by doing nothing and the atmosphere in-game was a bit depressing. We decided to revitalize ourselves and our gameplay a bit, play a lot more loose and aggressive to liven the atmosphere and it worked really well.
Going into the match against Afreeca Freecs, how were you feeling?
I was confident, I think we knew they were the best draw possible for us. They play a very slow early game, and we at the time were playing a very aggressive early game. The series was a lot of back and forth despite being a 3-0. The games pretty much were oriented around bot lane and mid lane, with Jensen getting a huge lead in game 1 and I think that helped the mentality going into the next games a lot.
It was a fun series, Sneaky took over game 2 despite our solos having a rough time, and Jensen and Licorice had that huge baron 2v5 outplay that ended up winning us the series. It really felt like the whole team came together to win that series.
Looking back on the match against Fnatic, did they surprise you or do you think you guys underperformed?
We underperformed, but they were good. We had no scrims leading into it since we were just not doing well in scrims and we were not able to win versus any team in scrims.
In hindsight, could you have done anything differently to change the outcome of the semifinals?
I’m not sure, I do wonder if perhaps I focused more on winning scrims if it could’ve helped, but I do feel I put all my effort into both scrims and the semifinals match. Maybe if I was able to play a playmaker and break the game open through bot lane, but that was not the plan for our team that series.
From your perspective, what is the primary difference between domestic competition and international competition?
The primary difference is how quickly the meta shifts once you combine all of the international competition’s own metas. In domestic competition, the meta is a very slow, steady shift towards something you can easily see coming. Internationally, it feels like something new could be discovered every day that can alter the meta or change how strong a team might be.
Out of all of the Bot Lanes you played against at Worlds, was there anyone who stood out to you?
RNG’s bot lane was very good. They controlled lane well and knew how to set up their jungler as well as solo lanes for successful plays through bot lane to break open the game.
Would you consider your performance at Worlds the best international performance in NA LCS history?
I think it was. We stood up against RNG, arguably still one of the strongest teams and put up a fight in groups against them. We managed to beat an LCK team in a best of 5, even if they weren’t looking the strongest. I think it’d be much more obvious had we done better versus Fnatic, but I still think we did well.
Are you satisfied with your first year as a professional player at the top level?
Satisfied for my first year, yes. Satisfied overall, not at all. I still want to achieve more, at least look more dominant and go into Worlds looking strong instead of adapting to be strong later.
Do you think you are the best support in North America? If not, who do you feel is above you on that list?
I haven’t faced any supports in North America for a while, but I’d like to think I’m around there now. It’s hard to tell until the season starts.
Jensen recently joined Team Liquid. Are you able to give us any insight into Cloud9’s Mid Lane situation?
We will have Nisqy and Goldenglue sharing the starting spot, competing for it just like Jensen and Goldenglue did. I think they’re both very good players, and I’m excited about potential new strategies we’ve opened up with our roster changes.
Do you have any goals set for the 2019 NA LCS Spring Split?
I’d like to win LCS. It’d be a shame to give my former teammate his first NA LCS split win against us after he left Cloud9, and my goal was already to win it all.
Thanks again for the interview, Zeyzal. Is there anyone you would like to thank or shout out?
I’d like to thank all of mine and Cloud9’s fans for sticking with us through everything, and all of the staff at Cloud9 for making it such a great team to be a part of.
Photo Credit: LoL Esports Flickr
Nick Geracie is a freelance esports journalist in Los Angeles, CA. You can follow him on twitter here.