Sitting at a record of 4-6 and tied for 8th place, Clutch Gaming decided it was time to make some changes. Ahead of the Houston Rockets affiliate’s match against 100Thieves in Week 6 of the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split, Jungler Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo and Bot Laners Apollo “Apollo” Price and Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent were benched in favor of their Clutch Gaming Academy counterparts.
Galen “Moon” Holgate joined Colin “Solo” Earnest and Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten on the top half of the map, while Philippe “Vulcan” LaFlamme made his debut in the Bot Lane with Chae “Piglet” Gwang-Jin. CG showed far more resiliency than the previous weekend, dancing on a knife’s edge with 100Thieves for 56 minutes before their nexus fell.
I sat down with Moon following his debut 2018 LCS appearance to discuss his experience in the North American Academy League. Moon last appeared in the NA LCS in the summer of 2017 as the Jungler for FlyQuest before signing with CG Academy before the start of spring.
Nick: I’m joined by Moon, the Jungler from Clutch Gaming. Welcome back to the NA LCS! How does it feel to be back?
Moon: It does not feel as good when you lose the first game, but overall, I feel pretty good. It’s nice for me to be able to scrim with the main team. Compared to scrimming within the academy scene, it’s been a lot more intense because of the skill level of junglers in NA LCS. I don’t feel outclassed, but in a single week I’ve already been challenged in ways I haven’t been challenged in all year long at the academy level.
Nick: It certainly helps that you’ve been here before. Has it been any different coming back to the LCS stage this time compared to your previous LCS experiences with NRG and FlyQuest?
Moon: I definitely feel really comfortable coming back. It feels right to be here. When you play in the NA Academy League, you play on the same PC and setup that you do all week long. It’s all online. You don’t really have a change of setting. You don’t go anywhere. You don’t get your makeup done. There’s people watching the games online, but it’s not the same as people being here and cheering for you. It’s a lot harder to feel the urgency and importance of the individual matches.
Coming back has been a very natural transition for me. I didn’t feel nervous at all going in, and I feel like part of that might have been that I haven’t been experiencing the struggles of the main roster on Clutch Gaming. They were 4-6 before I came in, so for me, it feels just like a 0-0 fresh start and I think that perspective can be beneficial for a struggling team.
Nick: Right, and that’s one of the advantages for Clutch Gaming bringing you in for LirA. What was your reaction when you found out you were going to be playing with the main roster this week?
Moon: It was brought up to me as a possibility, at first. Then we spent all week trying different combinations of the roster with the inclusion of our starting five, but also Piglet, Vulcan, and myself. We decided that this would be the best roster for facing 100Thieves. I’m super grateful to be given this opportunity because I couldn’t help but feel like I was getting lost in the sauce after a split and a half of being on Clutch Gaming Academy.
LirA and I are very different junglers, and Apollo and Hakuho have been performing very well on the main roster. So I honestly only thought my only chance was being brought up with Piglet if both the bottom lane and LirA were struggling at the same time.
Now that it’s happened, I’m very grateful for the opportunity because I had kind of written it off any chances of it happening this year. I thought that it maybe just wasn’t going to happen this year, so this week has been non-stop grind mode for me.
Nick: It’s got to be a different change of pace, not just being here on the weekends, but knowing you’re gearing up for those matches and the different stakes that come with them. Now, while today’s game against 100Thieves ended up not going your way, what was your team’s gameplan coming into the match? Did you have a specific focus on anything since this was your first game back in the NA LCS in almost a year?
Moon: This week has been mainly about me getting more comfortable with the various iterations of the roster. I’ve been learning how Colin and Febiven play, because CG Academy and Clutch Gaming have different styles, so I have to figure out how I can best contribute to Clutch Gaming at the starting level.
A lot of this week has been figuring out how to gel with the team, and in the coming weeks I can then focus on developing my own playstyle within the CG system. Maybe we’ll see some more niche picks like Evelynn, Ivern...you never know!
Nick: Bring. Back. The. Shaco!
Moon:*Laughs* The Shaco is not coming back.
Nick: In all seriousness, the off-meta stuff has always been attributed to you throughout your career. How will your individuality in playstyle help you succeed within Clutch Gaming, but also bring a new dimension to your team to put them back on the winning track?
Moon: Wow, that’s a hard question *laughs* I think the main difference between me and LirA is communication, especially in the early game. LirA is extremely smart about the game, and his mechanics are top notch, but I bring a lot more direction and planning in the early game.
Throughout my time in academy this year, I’ve become very good at making plans in game a minute or two in advance, and then executing on them. However, since I haven’t been playing in LCS, it’s going to take me some time to get to know my opponents and their champion pools. So it’s just a matter of getting that experience to make sure we have a plan and we execute it perfectly in the appropriate situation. Everyone plays very differently in the Academy League than they do the LCS, so I’m still trying to adapt to that as well.
Nick: What’s different about jungling in the NA Academy League when compared to the NA LCS, in your personal experience?
Moon: Honestly, I can do whatever the *** I want. The enemy jungler will just be AFK farming, and maybe they get a gank off because one of our laners is pushed up too far. But I’m never getting punished, or learning new paths, or being forced to change up my game plan.
When I scrim against NA LCS junglers, there will be constant adaptation to jungle pathing from both sides. I have to ward differently and route differently. It’s a whole layer of pressure not present in academy games. I actually have to think about what I’m doing, whereas on CG Academy, there’s not that pressure, so it’s just kind of going with the flow of the game.
Nick:Do you think that just comes from you having more LCS experience than the average academy jungler?
Moon: For sure, I think it comes down to that, and by extension, just the level of play in terms of what people can execute. Now, we have Meteos, MikeYeung, and Svenskeren playing on their organizations’ respective academy teams, but there aren’t a ton of amazing junglers at the academy level.
Nick: So then, if your opponents aren’t able to challenge you at the LCS level, how have you managed to keep your skills sharp and continue to grow as a professional player?
Moon: It’s all about finding ways to improve. I think my planning and shotcalling have improved because I’ve kind of been the voice to lead everybody. We have three rookies on CG Academy with Max, Sun, and Vulcan. I also learned a lot about leadership and shotcalling from Hai during my time on FlyQuest, so I’m trying to apply some of that as well
Also, I’ve been trying to divert from being the “niche” guy. I want to be able to play the off-meta champions and have some wacky pocket picks, but I don’t want that to be my identity. I want to be able to play the meta things and play the jungle conventionally in a strong fashion. I don’t mind being known for my flare, but I want to make sure my baseline and foundation is solid before I focus on those things.
Nick: That makes a ton of sense. So let’s draw up our hero’s timeline here: Moon on FlyQuest is a young jungler known for his surprising picks. Then, he is signed to Clutch Gaming and is forged in the fires of the NA Academy League as a master shot caller. Now, here you are, back in the LCS again. How do you want your identity as a player to be perceived by the community this time around in comparison to your time on FlyQuest?
Moon: I think this week I’m just going to be some average guy picking Trundle and Sejuani and doing what he needs to do for his team. But I hope in the coming weeks I can identify what I can uniquely bring to the table.
The best junglers are the creative ones. If I did the same five-camp recall jungle path at the beginning of every game, I would become way too easy to predict. If you can stay creative and find unique ways to pressure your opponent in the early game, you can gain an advantage more often than not. However, it’s pretty rare - in North America, at least - to find a jungler who is super creative and solid with macro and pathing that also has that dominant, hard-carry mechanical playstyle. In NA, we seem to have one or the other.
I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I think that once you get better at playing the macro game, you don’t have to rely on cheesy picks, creative routes, or any big risks. I think once junglers know how to play smarter, they’d often rather just take the smaller advantage from pathing better than their opponent than risk making a mistake.
If you’re confident that you’re more valuable than the other jungler at twenty, thirty, forty minutes at an even pace, then you don’t really have to focus as hard as getting that individual advantage in the early game.
Nick: Do you think your time in academy has made you a better player than you were previously? Has your experience helped you become a more complete player?
Moon: Not really. I think it’s hurt me in a lot of ways. It’s definitely helped me become a better leader, but I think I’ve lost a lot of my creativity simply because I’m not being challenged day in and day out. So that’s what I’m trying to work on right now.
When I was on FlyQuest, I’m super confident that I was a top 5 jungler in North America for the entirety of last year. I’m going to get back there, for sure.
Check out our interview with CG Piglet here!
Photo credit: LoL Esports Flickr
Nick Geracie is a freelance esports journalist currently located in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter here.