In his first split as Head Coach, Gabriel "Invert" Zoltan-Johan led FlyQuest to a 4th place finish in the 2019 LCS Spring Split. FlyQuest defeated Golden Guardians in the 2019 LCS Spring Quarterfinals, its best placing since its LCS debut in the 2017 NA LCS Spring Split. Despite FlyQuest's swift Semifinal elimination at the hands of Team Liquid, FlyQuest's top 4 finish with the only non-import roster in the league is credit to the FlyQuest organization's best-in-class approach.
Armed with a strong dynamic between veteran Jungler Lucas "Santorin" Tao Kilmer Larsen, Mid Laner Eugene "Pobelter" Park, and Bot Laner Jason "WildTurtle" Tran and rookie Top Laner Omran "V1per" Shoura and budding talent Juan "JayJ" Guibert, Invert used his familiar hand and FlyQuest Academy experience to guide the team far beyond any of its spring expectations.
After Team Liquid swept FlyQuest out of playoffs, Invert joined InvenGlobal to reflect upon the series, the overall split, and his transition to the Head Coach position.
I'm joined by Invert after FlyQuest's elimination from the 2019 LCS Spring Semifinals at the hands of Team Liquid. FlyQuest's road has ended here; what are your thoughts on the spring?
This is definitely not the ending we wanted, but I think this split is a reasonable foundation moving forward into summer. I think this series showed a lot of our weaknesses that weren't necessarily exposed when playing series' against teams under the top three in the LCS or in best of one situations in general.
For me, it's about making sure that we understand what those weaknesses are, regroup, and focus our efforts towards a strong off-season and a stronger summer split. What this series and split showed me is that if we continue our trajectory, we may be able to jump into that top three conversation, and that's Worlds, right? I'm making sure that we keep this foundation and build upon it to match that trajectory and keep that possibility.
FlyQuest sits as the 4th best team in LCS without question. Most predicted a bottom three finish for the team, so looking back, what do you think you exceeded expectations on to have a strong finish?
Part of it is how eternally optimistic this team is in terms of attitude. Everyone is really good with working with each other and that allows people to propel themselves forward and motivate others to succeed. That work environment helps a lot, but I also think people sleep on our championship experience.
If you look at the FlyQuest LCS roster, we have three championship winning players in Wildturtle, Pobelter, and Santorin. They know how to win, they know what the winning mentality is, and they know what it takes from a personal work ethic standpoint to accomplish it.
In addition, they're very good at working with inexperienced players. You've seen the Riot content with Santorin working with V1per, and also Wildturtle working with JayJ to make sure our younger players can be lifted up to that same level of experience and reliability as the other three.
You've coached JayJ for quite some time, even way back on University of Toronto. Do you feel he's reached new heights individually this split as the team has continued to improve since he became a starter on the roster last year?
You can definitely see that there's improvements being made for everyone, even our more experienced players. There's still stuff for every single player on our team to work on, as well as myself. It's my first split as Head Coach of FlyQuest and I'm working with these guys to make sure they are accommodated.
Also, I'm working through the journey of being a coach in the LCS for the first time, so for me, it's also about improving myself as quickly as possible to set my players up for success. We have a coaching staff that is very robust and allows me to delegate for the less experienced players.
For example, we have a coach for V1per and a coach for the Bot Lane, so utilizing that dynamic to create a 1-on-1 learning environment that actually improve's people's abilities, but also their ability to learn and grasp new concepts a lot quicker. You have someone who's specifically focused on you as a player and your point of view of the game for the entire time, which I think can help a lot when it comes to rapidly improving the less experienced LCS players.
You've worked with FlyQuest for some time now, but this is your first split as Head Coach. Was that a large change of dynamic, or was it a relatively small adjustment due to your previous work with the team?
It is incredibly different in how I approach it. There are a lot more tools available to me on the LCS side of things that were not previously available to me when I was the Head Coach of FlyQuest Academy. For example, the academy team and the utilization of it to help the LCS team through many different ways was new to me. In addition, I have a more robust staff than FlyQuest Academy, where it was really only me and one other person helping both teams last spring.
In the NA Academy League, you're independent in that role as a Head Coach, whereas you have access to a lot more resources in LCS. Because of this, preparation for LCS is a lot more stringent and difficult than academy games, in my opinion. Teams are a lot more innovative in approach.
For example, you saw that TL today did a very good job in being more creative across the series than let on all split. That's something that obviously caught us by surprise, so props to them for that. That's a great example of how LCS can be much more difficult on the preparation side when compared to the NA Academy League.
Last time FlyQuest played Team Liquid in a best of one, your side won convincingly. How different is the preparation for a best of one when compared to a best of five series?
Aside from that, I think there's something to say about the way the playoff patch changed the game.
Feel free to comment on patch changes if you felt that was a factor.
Part of that is obviously preparation for the playoff patch and making sure you're playing everything that seems strong or seems the most correct to play. Honestly, for us, patch 9.5 was a way more comfortable patch than 9.6.
I think this was apparent in our LCS Week 9 results, as well as the Quarterfinals series against Golden Guardians. We got pushed into some uncomfortable positions. A lot of the strategies we had utilized in the previous patches either had counters in 9.6 or were individually reduced in value due to adjustments in the 9.6 patch.
Obviously, I'm not using the patch as an excuse. It's on us to adapt and make sure we can approach the strengths of the new patch accordingly, but I think that did play some part in our results. We won about 75% of our scrims on patch 9.5, and we won about 30% of our scrims on 9.6 or something ridiculous like that. That type of jump can play a part. Obviously, playing against stronger teams as well as so many different factors come into play as well.
To go back to the original point about preparation, I would say best of five is a lot more difficult to prepare for than best of one. Not only due to the playoff patch, but also because players with much more experience have a wider champion pool to exploit a lack of flexibility from opponents and pull matchups in their favor. I learned a lot this split about playoff preparation and how to be more stringent in making sure the team is ready come playoff patch, as well.
Team Liquid executed the Sona/Taric bot lane well in game 1. Can you break down how this strategy works? Also, did you expect to play against it today?
We had inkling that they would bring it out. They've played it in solo queue, and every team has played it in scrims at least once at least to try it out. For us, we took the chance on them playing it. We felt that if they played it, we had a composition that would perform reasonably well into it if we played it properly. In some cases in game 1, we did play our composition properly, but in other cases, we clearly did not and overstepped.
I think the Sona/Taric bot lane is very strong and it's incredibly difficult to draft around if you're not prepared to face it immediately. There are a lot of different combinations with that bot lane that make for a good composition. You saw TL take Jayce and Olaf with the composition today; Cloud9 empowered Hecarim with it in yesterday's series; there are a lot of different AD champions that benefit.
It's an incredibly interesting bot lane because you actually don't control the wave at all. It's up to the enemy team to control the wave to how they want to play the lane. For example, we played Kai'Sa/Galio into it, which is more of a fighting bot lane where you want to skirmish frequently. You noticed that we pulled the lane in some occasions to put them in positions where they would have to overstep for ganking opportunities.
Other teams may play pushing lanes into Sona/Taric. I have never seen this in a scrim, so it's kind of a random example, but if a team were to play Heimerdinger/Fiddlesticks into Sona/Taric, that would be a lane that would shove constantly with no answer. That's a lane where you can put a lot of pressure as the pushing lane and get a lot of early dragons and control the bot side of the map. At that point, your win condition depends on what you draft for your solo lanes.
There are ways to play around Sona/Taric bot lane, but it kind of reminds me of the funnel strategy from last summer in that the ways to play around it are higher execution. It's on the team that doesn't have the Sona/Taric to execute properly more than it is for the team with the Sona/Taric to execute properly, and that's the most frustrating part of that bot lane duo.
Cloud9's Head Coach Reapered won 2019 LCS Spring Coach of the Split, but a lot of the community thinks you or TSM's Head Coach Tony "Zikz" Gray were robbed of the award. What is your own evaluation of yourself relative to the other Head Coaches in LCS?
First, I want to say I'm very flattered by the people who voted for me and my staff as well. From my perspective, Coach of the Split is a holistic award for the entire coaching staff of a team because it's not just one person running the show in that respect.
Still, I really appreciate all the people who voted for me and am very flattered. It's my first split in this position, and I really appreciate that our team has had their work recognized for that — that goes for myself, Assistant Coach David "Cop" Roberson, FlyQuest Academy Head Coach Anand "Curry" Agarwal, and all the other staff who have happened to work with us.
If I recall correctly, a large portion of Reapered's Coach of the Split votes were from players and coaches as opposed to the other voting parties. I voted Reapered for Coach of the Split. I know he's a little surprised, but how much he drives the NA meta. Especially when it comes to scrims; Reapered creates that innovation and sets the understanding of what can be played and what cannot be played. He expands everyone's horizons.
For me, honestly, drafting against Reapered is a nightmare. He's the worst coach to draft against, not because he is a bad drafter, but because he and Rapidstar are so incredibly creative and diverse in what they are able to utilize. What Reapered does in terms of innovation, how he preps his players, and his team's macro abilities, from my perspective, was very informative.
Scrimming against C9 definitely helped me understand the game a lot more than I would have if I hadn't played against C9 or Reapered.
It's great to get your insight, given that you were a fan favorite for the Coach of the Split Award.
That's just my perspective and my experience with Reapered in this context. Last split, he took at 10th place team to playoffs. His style and flamboyant, laissez-faire approach to the draft and the system he's implemented within Cloud9 allows for a lot of freedom and creativity, both in picks and in play.
The reason any of that system exists is expressly because Reapered has created such a good foundation for that team in terms of its fundamentals that they can just plug and play different champions who test different things out in game and still have that baseline quality in their gameplay. The same cannot be said for most other NA teams.
I really appreciate your insight on all of this, Invert. FlyQuest was a blast to watch this spring, and I'm looking forward to seeing you compete this summer. Is there anything you'd like to say to your players after this split?
What I said at the beginning of the interview is similar to what I said to my players:
"Today sucked. Obviously days like this are going to suck if things like this happen, but we need to take a step back, zoom out, and understand that we are this 3rd-4th team in NA. It's just about taking that next step forward, using that foundation we built for ourselves, and allowing that flexibility and creativity for ourselves so that we can catapult into the top three in LCS, and the conversation for the 2019 League of Legends World Championship."
That's what my eye is going to be on for summer.