After a three year stretch as the Top Laner of TSM, Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell is turning the page to a new chapter in his career. Hauntzer will be playing Top Lane for Golden Guardians, the LCS franchise of NBA juggernaut Golden State Warriors.
In 2018, TSM failed to qualify for the League of Legends World Championship for the first time in the organization's history, and changes were made across the board in the off-season. In addition to a new support staff, as well as a new Support in Andy "Smoothie" Ta, TSM chose Turkish import Sergen "Broken Blade" Çelik over Hauntzer in the starting Top Lane position.
Hauntzer has not been shy about his feelings towards TSM's roster moves, but with Golden Guardians looking like an upper-table team in the 2019 LCS Spring Split, the here and now is his main focus. I sat down with Hauntzer to discuss joining Golden Guardians, his new team environment, and the importance of mentality.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Hauntzer. How has the start of the year been for you
Pretty good. We've just started scrimming a few days ago and I'm feeling good about this split. The whole environment at GGS is very competitive. Everyone has a good mindset coming into the team, I'm looking forward to the start of LCS.
Have you guys had a chance to form a team identity or direction at all yet?
After just a couple of days of scrimming and playing with GGS, I can tell our mindset going into the game is to always take the initiative.
This is the first time that you did not attend a World Championship since 2015. Did you enjoy the extended break, or did you find yourself itching to play?
The break is too long in my opinion. It gets to the point where you have too much time on your hands with no clear goal in sight. A lot of people try to learn new hobbies or build new habits with the time they have, I've been training in kickboxing to keep my mindset competitive.
Many fans were surprised to see you move teams with TSM signing Broken Blade in the Top Lane. Have you ever had a chance to play against him before?
Nope. I had never even heard about him until recently.
You came under criticism for your performance in 2018, specifically when compared to your level of play in the previous two seasons. If you agree, what have you been working on to improve? If you disagree, where do you think people are getting mistaken or confused?
2018 was a rough year for TSM as a whole. Compared to the previous years, I definitely underperformed. There are many things to work on individually and with the team.
Golden Guardians finished in 10th place in its first two splits, but made a flurry of improvements this off-season on all fronts. How does the GGS of now compare to your perceptions of GGS from last year?
I think GGS has become a truly respectable org. After talking with Hunter and Danan, they really wanted to step everything up in terms of team infrastructure and management. They want to make sure that there's have a winning mentality everywhere.
Last year, it felt like GGS was too ambitious and focused too much on the long term. Things are going in the right direction now.
The start of righting the ship was signing Nick "Inero" Smith as Head Coach. How does his coaching style compare to previous coaches that you have played for?
Inero is someone who I never talked to before we were on the same team, so I didn't know what to expect out of him. Working with him the past few weeks has been really great though. He has good knowledge and understanding of how the game should be played in general. He takes feedback from the players really well going into drafts. I've only worked with him a few weeks but I feel he is very competent.
A lot of people have GGS penned into the playoff picture based on the roster and improved supporting staff. Where do you think you will end up at the end of the 2019 LCS Spring Split?
Playoffs is a given. I'm confident in our ability to be top 3 in spring.
I like to hear the confidence in your new team, Hauntzer, but where do you think you currently stand individually as a Top Laner in North America?
I feel like I can take on anyone.
Do you have any personal goals in 2019?
I think the main thing I want to focus on is my mentality. No matter the situation, I want to focus on solving the problem, work through it, and just do whatever I can to improve what is in my control. I think mentality is really underrated in competitive League of Legends. It's something a lot of professional players could work on.
At the highest competitive level of any game, your mentality is going to make the difference. Everyone is going to have really good mechanics, so if you can't strategize and maintain your emotions, there's no way you'll do well internationally.
Outside of mentality, I'm going to continue improving on my individual play. Also, I know Olleh wants to get redemption from last year, so I want to win LCS and go to MSI.
Thanks so much for the interview, Hauntzer, I really appreciate your time. Is there anything that you'd like to say to the Golden Guardians fans ahead of a big second year for your new organization?
I hope there's more of you, because it doesn't seem like there were that many last year!
laughs We have new personalities on the team and everyone is really cool and fun to work with. There should be a lot more content and merchandise this year so look forward to that!