If Team Liquid's win over Invictus Gaming in the Semifinals of the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational is the most important international victory in North American League of Legends history, then Jack "Kayys" Kayser is its most important footnote. The TL analyst utilized his familiarity with both his team, as well as his experience against IG as the analyst for Fnatic in the 2018 World Championship, to craft a strategy to defeat the world champion in an utterly shocking upset.
Kayys joined InvenGlobal ahead of the 2019 LCS Summer Split to break down his responsibilities for Team Liquid, his analytical approach, and the methodology behind slaying Invictus Gaming.
Since this is your first interview with Inven Global, why don't you start by introducing yourself.
My name is Jack "Kayys" Kayser. I'm from Houston. I work for Team Liquid as the Head of Analysis & Scouting over the entire organization. I manage and structure analysis for all games, primarily League of Legends; Counter-Strike: Global Offensive; Rainbow Six Seige; PUBG; and Clash Royale. Most of my time is spent on League of Legends, but I work with the analysts of the other games to make sure we're on the same page.
How did you get into esports and become a professional League of Legends analyst?
I have a background in math and finance. I started with an organization in the Oceanic Pro League named Dire Wolves. Whenever you start off on something, you have to start at the lowest entry level point. I reached out to them, and after joining, went with them to the 2017 World Championship.
At Worlds, I got hooked up with Fnatic, and I was with them for about a year and a half. After our run to the 2018 World Championship Grand Finals, I wanted to come back home and work for a North American organization, and Team Liquid was my top choice in the off-season.
It's great to get a better idea of your journey, given all of your success. What does an analyst spend most of their time doing in the day-to-day context?
I watch about 75% of scrims. I still have to be with the League of Legends team; that's my main focus during the season. Other than that, I do all opposition scouting and player acquisition. For example, in CS:GO or Rainbow Six Seige, we will do player statistic projection models.
I do all of the international research for League of Legends, and I have a call with each of our analysts in each game every morning depending on the day of the week. The only exception is CS:GO, because we don't have any analysts outside of myself. We hope to find more analysts for CS:GO, but basically, we break down each game on a different day via an update call between the analysts for their respective games and myself.
Is there a difficulty in balancing all of those responsibilities?
Oh yeah. You have to break it down by game. Rainbow Six and CS:GO will have a lot more analytical similarities than League of Legends and DOTA 2.
Whenever you're looking at the analysis department, breaking things down by game is the first thing: FPS [first person shooter]; MOBA [multiplayer online battle arena]; a mobile game like Clash Royale is in its own separate category. Game breakdown is the initial breakdown of the whole department. Day-to-day, I wake up at 9am and focus on League for 5-10 hours. I will have meetings with the other analysts on our breaks, but I'm primarily focused on League during the season.
Before joining TL, you were with Fnatic for a year and a half when the team enjoyed great success, including a 2018 World Championship Finals appearance. What was your time like on Fnatic, and how do you feel that working with the organization prepared you for your current position in Team Liquid?
I learned the most in my career when I was with Fnatic, because I came in with only OPL experience. I learned a lot about the game when I was first starting off with Fnatic. I already had a pretty good understanding of the game already, but being around a team that good made me learn things a lot faster on a completely different level.
I perfected my own model during my time on Fnatic; I have my own way how I want to break down League of Legends analysis, so I got to test run whatever I thought was good. That gave me a rough idea, and with TL, I have more resources for us to optimize that approach.
I learned what worked and didn't work with Fnatic, and I also learned a lot from the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational on the personality and time management side of things. I didn't have to cram as much for this year's MSI because of that. I learned from failing on Fnatic at least MSI and also Worlds in regards to better allocating my international prep time. I figured what I need to do and prioritize so I'm not getting two hours of sleep during international events.
I'm better at analyzing the results of the tournament and adapting to it, and overall, I have better allocation of time now. This MSI was five times smoother than my last one. I knew exactly what I needed. In addition, international research is important because League of Legends is a global game. If you're not learning from other regions, that's not learning things from available data.
If we're not learning from teams that have strengths that are our weaknesses, you're just not approaching optimally. In addition, we refer to our own long term database models.
It's important to learn from other regions, but it's more important than ever for a team to be able to develop and hone its own style. How do you strike that balance?
I think a lot of it comes down to coaching philosophy. We can't play like Invictus Gaming; our skillset doesn't back up that type of playstyle. You can still learn set plays or set parts of the game that other teams do well, regardless of style. For example, you can learn a lot about a team in how it executes around Baron Nashor. However, in terms of total gameplay style, that comes down to roster creation. You still have to have your own defined way of playing.
The way G2 Esports break down inner turrets and how they move around the map in that context is different from other teams. You can still pick things up from G2 and add a few things to you game plan, but you don't have to adopt the full playstyle.
You mentioned Invictus Gaming, and TL's victory over IG is considered the greatest international triumph in the history of North American League of Legends. Was there anything you learned from facing IG in last year's Worlds Grand Finals with Fnatic that helped you in the series against IG for TL?
We came into this series with me having the most preparation against IG. On Fnatic, we played them in the group stage of the 2018 World Championship, as well as the Finals. We also scrimmed against them, and in addition, I have also watched them for about a year and a half. I knew how they played the game, what they wanted to do specifically, and the team's strengths.
IG is really good at fighting, but that's also one of their weaknesses because they will always take fights against their opponents. I had to take our team's strengths and what we do well into account, and then had to come up with a game plan that beats IG that we can actually execute. You can't just ignore your own team's identity.
LPL caster Barento "Raz" Mohammed said you have to focus around IG's solo lanes to beat them, but our roster's win condition and how we practiced all spring does not fit that style. Because of this, I had to come up with a game plan that fit our style.
In general, you learn how to scout faster and pick up other playstyles when going to international events. Fnatic's playstyle when we beat Invictus Gaming in the group stage last year was very similar to how Team Liquid beat them this year. There are some early game nuances that I picked up from the Finals match of Fnatic vs. IG that I was able to implement better for TL.
Without revealing too many secrets, were there any specific focuses for TL to defeat IG?
Yeah...there were focuses, correct...*laughs* I don't think the way to attack IG is to play through their strengths. People always say to play through Invictus Gaming's Top Laner, Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok, which I think is a viable option. However, there are very few select teams in the world that can consistently do that. You're way more likely to be able to win by contesting the Mid Lane.
If you contest the Mid Lane, the way IG plays the mid game falls apart. You need to be able to at least go even in the Mid/Jungle 2v2 to contest them, and then you can play the map however you want. That's probably the biggest takeaway I can give without going too in-depth.
How do you think TL's approach to analytics compares to other LCS teams?
I think each team has a different read on how they want to play. For example, Cloud9 has a fight-focused style, and TSM has a solo-lane focused style. I think we have better average talent level than most of the teams in the LCS by a good margin, so even if our style may not be the best, if we are good at it we can still win the region.
Heading into summer, we're going to work a lot on what we learned from MSI to actually improve. Our spring style is not the way to win internationally. We can still have that style, but if we can add another variation of style, that will be our focus going forward instead of continuing to play the same style that we used to win the 2019 LCS Spring Split.
Was there any specific takeaways for you from the MSI Finals against G2 Esports?
Not really. We played badly that series on an individual level, and I think our players would share that sentiment. Still, G2 is the better team and still deserved the win.
I think if we played G2 100 times, we might win 33 or 34 of those games. I don't think that 3-0 would happen again if we played them on one of our good days. The main takeaway from MSI is to work on our 1-3-1 more in practice. There's a ton of nuances that prevented us from doing that in spring that I think we're on the verge of solving, but we still have to work through it this summer.
Thank you so much for all of your insight, Kayys. It's great to get a better idea of who you are and what you do for Team Liquid. Is there anything else you'd like to say before the end of the interview?
Keep supporting Team Liquid this summer. We'll try to replicate our MSI performance and do just as well at Worlds. I think we have a pretty large advantage against other teams in terms of staff from the top down. We have two other analysts Jordi Plana and Kevin “TeeKhay” Bracken work under me in addition to our Head Coach Jang "Cain" Nu-ri and Kang "Dodo" Jun-hyeok.
I don't think there are many teams who have this well-rounded of a staff, which helps us a ton leading into tournaments.
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