After the long wait, the 2019 LCS Spring Split is finally coming… this weekend! The two teams that were the hottest commodities during 2018 were Team Liquid and Cloud9. Team Liquid won both domestic championships while Cloud9 reached the semifinals at Worlds.
Thinking this would be the best time to interview the masterminds behind the players, I was able to arrange an interview with Jang “Cain” Nu-ri. At Team Liquid’s Alienware Training Facility, Cain greeted me with a wide smile.
We had a pleasant conversation talking about Cain himself, the newcomers to the team, and about the season in general.
How have you been?
It was a long season. I was really occupied last year; after Spring, there was MSI, and after MSI came the Summer Split. During Summer, we had Rift Rivals, and after Summer, we were at Worlds. There was no time for a break, so during the offseason, I went home and met my parents, met some friends and drank a bit. I had some quality time off.
You transitioned from a pro support player to a coach. It was quite a while ago now; how did that happen?
I debuted as a player really late. When I was a player, there were very few players in Korea that had fulfilled their duties in the army, and I was one of them. There were many offers for a coaching position because of that. At that time, I didn’t really want to transition, but the scene's flow was just like that.
Back then, the teams preferred younger players, I don’t know how it is nowadays. It was a natural thing to transition at my age. I think if I chose to stay as a player, I would have been able to play for another year or two, but I thought I would eventually move on to being a coach, so I thought 'why not? I should start immediately so that I can gain more experience'.
At first, I regretted changing to a coach. This position is a lot more stressful than it looks and there were so many responsibilities that I didn’t have as a player. Meanwhile, the spotlight usually goes to the players and the reward is usually smaller than the players'. Most coaches probably think of this the same way. So when the young players ask us how coaching is, we answer ‘stay as a player as long as you can’.
Which suits you better, being a player or a coach?
(Thinks thoroughly) I think now is better. Actually, I’ve never thought of that. From time to time, I do miss the days I was a pro player. Players are the ones who actually play on the stage and there’s nothing I can do to help while they’re playing. There are times where I think that no matter how I try, nothing changes, or sometimes the things I advise [the players to do] don't happen on stage. That makes me doubt myself; it makes me think my coaching methods are wrong. That’s when I think being a player was easier. (Laughs)
On the other hand, when the players remember what we talk about and do the things that I emphasize well, and if we win because of that, that’s the moment where I feel so proud. It’s a priceless feeling and those moments are when I think that it’s a good thing that I started coaching.
You worked with Reapered before. How did he affect you or your coaching?
Back then, it was my first team in the NA. At first, it was a bit difficult getting used to the new environment, since everything is so different; the atmosphere, language, cultural differences, training methods, etc. But Reapered was already in the NA for a while, and he knew how things went. He helped me out a lot.
All the teams are different; the atmosphere is different and the coaching style varies from coach to coach. There is no absolute right answer when it comes to coaching, but I definitely learned a lot from him.
Reapered is a very confident guy. A head coach needs to be able to control the team and lead the team in any situation. There is no definite path in League of Legends. All players have different perspectives and they all play differently. Nevertheless, having the confidence to say ‘just trust me, if you follow me, we’ll win’ was something that was very impressive.
CoreJJ and Jensen joined during the offseason. Can you walk us through the process of signing them? Impact said that he recommended CoreJJ.
Did he? (Laughs) I don’t remember.
So about the bot lane; during last season, some people may know that there was a time in the middle of the season where our bot duo was a bit uncoordinated. Do you know? (Umm… Vladimir?) Yes. (Laughs) Anyways, we had kind of a struggle during that time and there were light arguments. The bot lane is an important lane and the balance between the two players is really important. They need to be coordinated.
Personally, I thought the Korean players were especially skilled as supports, so I wanted to sign a Korean support. When we were looking for a new support, the first player we met and talked to was CoreJJ. I thought he was the key player in Gen.G and he’s really good.
Also, he has experience in NA so I thought it would take less time for him to adapt to the environment and I saw that his English is already pretty good. The more and more we talked, I felt that he was the perfect fit for our team. His macro was very close to my style and his thoughts were similar to mine.
But above all, he was willing to play in NA. This was the most important point. He also mentioned that he would really like to play with Doublelift. So we signed CoreJJ; we didn’t even talk much to the other support candidates. CoreJJ was a World Champion; we knew he is at one of the highest levels.
As for Jensen, he was a player that delivered good performance consistently in NA. One of the problems we had as a team last year was that our performance on stage wasn’t as good as our actual prowess. The players tended to get too nervous or feel too pressured.
I was with Jensen when I was in Cloud9; I thought he was a player that shined more when the stage is bigger. His performance on stage was a lot better than his scrims. His scrims actually make me worry. (Laughs) Jensen’s a good player; he’s good, but he concentrates even more on the stage and I thought he had more potential hidden. He has what it takes to compete in big stages like MSI or Worlds; that’s why we brought him in.
From what I know, Doublelift has a strong sense of pride. Does he get along well with CoreJJ?
Extremely well. Doublelift does have a strong sense of pride, a strong ego, and is very straightforward with his feedback. He really likes talking with his supports and enjoys duo queuing with them.
When we first put DoubleJJ together, I was actually surprised at how well they got along with each other. They have respect for each other; Doublelift has respect for the former World Champion, and CoreJJ really wanted to play with Doublelift. So the synergy generated by this combination was really good. There were many scrims we won because the bot lane got so far ahead.
I heard that Doublelift used to be one of the main shotcallers in his previous teams. He usually was the one to make calls when we had Olleh, although Olleh made calls as well. Nowadays, CoreJJ takes charge. I think Doublelift feels more comfortable now that he doesn’t need to worry too much about the macro.
Apart from the bot duo, even as a team CoreJJ calls for plays and the team does what he says. CoreJJ’s an experienced player and his shotcalls are really good as well. I think this change has had a very positive effect on our team.
This season, some teams other than C9 started to use a 6-7 man roster, but Team Liquid is sticking to a 5-man roster. Have you ever thought of having subs?
Having extra players on a team does have some strategic value. It’s meaningful to make the players compete with each other and to keep them on their toes. I know that, but personally, I prefer having the same 5 people play.
There are pros and cons obviously; the cons to having the same people is that it may make the team grow lazy. I think we might have had that issue because we won both splits last year, but there were changes in our roster this time. So I didn’t think getting a sub or rotation player was necessary. But, if it does become necessary, we have academy players, and I believe that they have what it takes to have a chance to compete at the LCS level.
After Worlds, the players have been away on vacation for a while. How are the scrim results going? Are they in good form?
Frankly, our scrim results are really good. Once, we just lost one game out of three days worht of games. But in my opinion, having really good results isn’t as good as it sounds. Personally, I think we should lose more for the players to improve… I’ll have to see how it goes a bit longer. They say that you learn more by losing.
From my experience, NA teams tend to struggle early in the season. We have longer breaks and the season starts later as well. Still, all the teams are bringing themselves together and I think we need to be ready.
As you said, the LCS is starting later than other regions. The LCK, LPL, and LEC have already started. I know there are differences depending on the region, but does it help follow the meta by watching them?
Of course. We have an analyst team for each region. Those teams give us very good analyses. I think the meta is similar, in a way, but there are little differences in each region. So I do refer to other regions, but I think playing to our strengths is more important. Playing champions we know well and the ones that we’re good at - the ones we like the most.
I guess you’re watching all the matches in other regions.
Yes, I watch nearly all of the games. Especially the LCK, LPL, and LEC. For one thing, the recent LEC meta is really interesting. G2 Esports is a team that attempts creative things, and they’re doing that right now. It’s really fun to watch.
The LCS starts this weekend. Is there a team or player that you’re watching out for?
I would say C9. Our first match is against them. They’re a team that has some unique strengths and they’re really good. I think they’re a solid team. I remember losing to them during the season so our players should have to prepare for the game well. Since it’s the first match after rebuilding the team, we don’t know yet what variables there are waiting for us. I guess the best way is simply doing our best preparing.
It seems that bringing in new players is because Steve wants better results in international stages. Do you think TL will do as well as last year domestically and go further in international stages?
Steve brought us Jensen and CoreJJ for a better international appearance; it's not just him. That's what we all want. That would be our goal. We had really good results domestically last year. All teams want better results this year, and they will want even better results next year. It’s the same with us. The standard gets higher and higher.
Still, I don’t think the LCS is an easy league to get through. The teams are actually pretty good. There are a few teams that have high expectations and there are several solid teams. Even if our goal is to get better results in international stages, I emphasize to the players about the fact that we have to do well in NA first.
I think we should never be careless; it won’t be easy.
Which player do you have the highest expectations for?
CoreJJ. All of my players are really good, but I think I should say CoreJJ here.
Thank you so much for the interview. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you for interviewing me.
And to the fans; there were moments that were regretful and disappointing in the international stages. I believe all of you were disappointed too. I’ll do my best to make improvements within the team, to deliver you a better team presence so that we can meet your expectations. Thank you!