For the first time since Cloud9 in 2015, a team has run the whole LCS Regional Finals “Gauntlet.” Clutch Gaming fought FlyQuest, CLG, and TSM back to back to back to qualify for Worlds as NA’s third representative. A large part of that can be attributed to Dignitas stepping in partway through the season and adding resources to the team. But credit must also go to the players and coaches who worked endlessly to make their dream happen.
After the series, Tanner “Damonte” Damonte sat down with InvenGlobal to relish in his victory, but also note how much work it took from all of them to get there. Damonte also gave a check in on his own performance relative to what he expects of himself and what it will take to get there.
Hey there everybody, it’s Parkes Ousley with InvenGlobal and I am joined by “Damonte,” who took down a bunch of mids this week. It’s his time, going to Worlds to represent North America for the first time. Right off the bat, what are you thinking after the weekend?
I actually can’t believe it happened. It’s pretty crazy, the storyline, just everything that we’ve gone through as Clutch this year. For it to all lead up to us going to Worlds it’s just surreal.
It is surreal. I mean this time last year you were on Echo Fox, so it’s a new team. This time 6 months ago you had finished a really tough Split. Then your org got sold. So what has it been like for you on such a mental roller coaster, it must be tough.
I’d definitely say I aged a lot in 2019. From when I got benched, from having a terrible split. Even this summer split we started off not too great. So I’m pretty grateful for everything that happened, even getting benched and us playing bad. It helped me grow as a player and a teammate, and even a person. Yeah, everyone who helped me along the road, even though at times I feel like I snapped back to people who were being harsh to me, thinking back on it now, I’m pretty appreciative of all that.
That’s good to hear, but speaking of snapping back, you also snapped back on a bunch of mid laners who were being harsh to you earlier in your career. Any gray hairs yet or are you still holding on to your youth a little bit?
No gray hairs, but the eye bags are coming in a little bit.
Yeah throughout the gauntlet I’ve been seeing the team get more and more tired. So you’re going to worlds, it’s your first time as well as the first for Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme and Nam "Lira" Tae-yoo. Is there any major conversation that the team is having, or are you mostly just excited?
We’ve been mostly focused on just getting there first. Obviously we will talk about it in the future, but honestly, for me and I’m sure all my teammates too, I’m just ready to get a couple days off and take a chill. Holy moly, it’s been a non-stop grind for three or four months. This is the most I’ve ever played League in my life.
When I played on Echo Fox, the culture was just not there. This winning culture. When I got home from scrims, I didn’t want to put all my effort into solo queue sometimes. Maybe sometimes I would just slack a little bit and I don’t feel like that at all this year. I get home from scrims and I just want to hop into solo queue and keep improving because I know that we can do it. And we just showed that we can do it.
And now, going to Worlds, I’m just going to take a couple of days to - honestly - just do nothing. I’m actually so tired, it’s hitting me in this interview even more. Yeah I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore. Just ready to take a chill and go to Europe in a couple days.
All good, and it’s good to hear that there’s been a mentality change. I know DIG stepping in seemed to do a lot for you guys, so what’s been the most helpful for you and the team as a whole?
Well the biggest immediate change was the new coach, I can’t give them enough credit. They just turned the team around completely. And then on top of that, our new CEO Michael Prindivill has been amazing. He is the person who I would credit a lot of the culture change to. He just came in and layed down the law. Like he just said, “We’re not a losing team. This is not Clutch Gaming.”
And everyone knew it all the time that all of our players are fucking talented you know. We are good players, and there’s no reason we should come in 9th - ever. And we did in Spring, and when he came in during Week 4/Week 5, we had a losing record and it looked like we might not make playoffs again. And now we are going to Worlds so it’s pretty crazy.
Congrats to you again! And moving from that, when I spoke with you before back in January, you said you wanted to be a top three mid laner in NA. So I want to check in now, do you feel like you’ve accomplished that?
Up to my own standards, I don’t think so. I don’t think I was a consistent enough factor in my team’s wins this split. I had a lot of shining moments but I had a lot of bad moments too. Over playoffs and Gauntlet I got a lot better, but even in our last Gauntlet series against TSM today, the first two losses can be accredited to me a lot. I didn’t play too well and I gave them a chance to win even though we are the better team.
This is a series to be happy about, but also a series to look back on and say, “If I had just adapted a game earlier or at the very beginning of the series, just how I adapted after game two, then we would’ve just 3-0ed this team.”
Well it’s good that you already figured that out and I’m sure over the weeks preparing for Worlds you’ll have a lot of time to look back on those two games.
Honestly I think I felt it after the second game, I was 0-5 to start the game on Irelia and it just became very apparent to me that all TSM does is camp for Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, go to Bjergsen in side lane, go to Bjergsen in the early game. And as soon as I stopped dying to their random roams, to their random overloads on the top lane, they had no game plan.
It was very obvious they had zero way to play the game unless Bjergsen was just getting random leads. And I failed at stopping it in the first two games, but the last three games I succeeded, so that’s why we won.
Yeah you did. So what then is your perception of the year? You’re going to Worlds for your first time, you say you didn’t meet the expectations for yourself, but you exceeded the predictions that many people had for you. Do you find comfort in that and what is your next step to make sure you reach your standards.
Well I’m really grateful that this all happened, obviously. It’s really insane. I’m definitely not sitting here being a Debbie Downer that I’m some terrible player, like I definitely had my moments and I got so much better this year. There’s no doubt in my mind. Shoot, what else can I say? I’m always striving to be better, you know? That’s what a competitor is, they always want to be the best that they can be.
And even if you win, if you feel like you didn’t do your best and you feel like you didn’t do everything you could, you have to really think about that critically, and there’s no way I am going to keep getting better and I see a series like this and just think, “It’s okay, we won.” Sure, but if I go to Worlds and play like I did in the first two games, I’m going to get clapped, there’s no doubt in my mind. It’s time to just take it up two more notches.
That sounds like a good plan! Speaking of Worlds, is there anyone you’re excited to play against? We have Rasmus "Caps" Winther, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, Song "Rookie" Eui-jin, etc. Who would you call out?
Kinda like what you said I think Caps and Faker are the two mid laners I want to play against. Faker for his legacy, I started playing the game around season three. I was a Bronze player and I just watched a Faker Zed play and was like, “Bro! What!?” So yeah, he’s a big inspiration for me, I used to watch him all the time.
For my NA inspiration, it was Bjergsen, I watched this guy growing up. I watched him shit on everyone. But yeah, my worldwide inspiration, that’s Faker. That’s everyone’s worldwide inspiration. I want to play against Faker, but obviously I have to be as humble as possible. Who knows how that matchup is going to go, right? I have zero idea how I match up against the world mid laners right now.
I know that I am good enough to play with Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen, I know I’m good enough to play with Yasin "Nisqy" Dinçer - well, wait Nisqy never played at Worlds did he? I don’t think so - but yeah Jensen is a superstar mid laner, like this guy is so good. Obviously the best mid laner in NA by far, hands down. So I can hold my own against him, so I’m sure I’ll do well there too.
Nisqy’s the best mid laner or did you say Jensen?
No, no. Jensen. Nisqy is… alright. Hahaha.
And well you beat Bjergsen today!
Yeah, this is the second time.
There you go. And of course being in a group with SKT would be fun because of Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon as well. Is there anyone you’d hope to be in a group in to face them in Groups, and is there anyone you want to face specifically in a best of five?
I honestly feel like it’s SKT for both of those answers. Not gonna lie it’s… It’s for Huni obviously but like if I get to play against Faker in a best of five, there’s no way I play that series and come back to NA without being just 10 times better you know?
That’s a fair answer! Some may choose G2 though for the crazy stuff they like to pull out, but I respect SKT of course.
I think playing against G2 is a little bit of a coin toss, like who knows what the hell is going to happen.
Yeah just don’t get dragged into their game. So something else we spoke about earlier is that you’re always just some one trick player. It’s been said about Syndra, Zoe, Cassio, whomever, and I know you told us at InvenGlobal earlier this week that Qiyana was not a crutch for you but… I mean I don’t know is it not? Prove it to me, are you not just a one trick?
Okay in the series today, yes two of our wins were with me on Qiyana, but you know they just disrespected by not banning it, I’m not going to lie. Obviously we showed in the last two Gauntlet days we don’t need Qiyana. It went through the pick/ban.
But if I can come into Games 4 and 5 and a team is just going to disrespect me that bad, I’m just going to pick my best champion. Like, by no means am I a one trick, but by all means, I know I’m going to win the game if I pick Qiyana.
I can accept that answer. And you did get one other win one a different champion so I guess you can say you’re at least a two trick.
That’s my other one trick, Sylas.
Well but then there’s Irelia…
Well congrats again, and lastly, I know you mentioned a lot about doing it for your team, especially Huni. But you did have another call out on stage, so I wanted to ask you about that if you wanted to expand at all about doing it for Matthew "Akaadian" Higginbotham.
I mean, honestly, I don’t want to talk about that too much because it’s not really my place to talk about it. I feel on stage, it’s a fine question I got asked. I just don’t want to stir up drama. Just kind of in the moment I felt like I had to say it, but you know… Shit happens on teams, I got replaced by Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin for one week. Like you never know what’s happening on the inside of teams.
All I can say is to the fans, when you see stuff like that happening on teams, just double your support that you’re giving them when stuff like that happens. I can relate to whatever happened there. I don’t know the entire story, but it’s hard times to be a pro player and get replaced like that.
So just when stuff like that happens to players, go out of your way, shoot them a DM. I know a lot of pro players have open DMs, I personally have open DMs cause I love talking to people who support me. I should give back to those people you know. And if they don’t have open DMs, just give them a tweet, like, “Bro, I’m here for you. I watch you.” Stuff like that.
Yeah, just be supportive. You know just don’t shit talk people. I feel like there’s a lot of salty fans sometimes that say some pretty messed up stuff. I guess it’s chill if you want to do that, I laugh at it personally, but if someone is down, give them some support.
I like that. Do you want to say anything back to your fans then in addition to that before we go?
Just a shoutout to everyone who tweets at me, DMs me Tanner Time, everything. I don’t know, it’s absurd how many fans I’ve gained over the last two months. I’m forever grateful, it still feels like a dream to me.
Thanks again Damonte! Go get some rest, have a great dinner, and prepare for Worlds. And thanks to you fans, don’t forget to like and subscribe! Catch you next time.