If you've watched any content of the 2019 League of Legends World Championship this month, you cannot have missed Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere. The queen of the LEC desk has been hosting each broadcast of the Group Stage, guiding the viewers through the storylines all while making sure her analysts stayed on topic.
We sat down with Sjokz during the second round robin of the Group Stage. She told us what it's like hosting the Group Stage desk, and how different it is from doing the Play-Ins. Furthermore, she shared her thoughts on the power of European League of Legends, whether or not G2's performance is a fluke, and predicted her dream finals.
How does it feel to be on the desk for this Worlds specifically?
It's awesome. Obviously, I've done desk work in EU for such a long time, but I haven't gotten the chance to do the main event Group Stage. I've done some Play-Ins in the last couple of years, so I'm really happy to get the opportunity this year. It's completely different. I would say that interview and desk host are the two roles where you have to be 'on' the whole day. Casters have a set: they cast three games. Together with the analysts we're there the entire time.
Plus, as a desk host, you have a hand in everything that happens. In the beginning you're there in the meetings with the producers and the other casters to pitch the segments, then you keep in contact with the producers all day... So it's one of the most intense roles, but I enjoy that.
"I think if you speak in terms of tournament favorites, the fact that you have an EU team as a tournament favorite is a huge step."
Is it a very different experience for you, casting the Group Stage instead of the Play-Ins?
I would say that I'm usually less informed about the Play-Ins teams, so I do a lot of studying. I think it's really important to pay a lot of attention to the hero building in those, for people that might not know the teams as well. For Groups, you have a lot of teams that you know quite well already, so then it's less about looking up new information and more about focussing on delivering on the desk.
The stress goes up as well I guess. There are more eyes on you, although in Play-Ins some of the regions, like Brazil and Turkey are super, super passionate. They hang on you every single word. So both things are stressful in their own way. As a desk host, or anyone on the broadcast, there's a fine line between your allegiances and the fact that you have to remain unbiased. There is a certain amount of leeway, because nobody can blame you for being enthusiastic for your region, but on the other hand you have to make sure that you don't cross that line.
I think the magnifying glass is much more on the desk as the host, because I think in interviews you get away with it a little bit easier because you're person to person. On the desk you have people from different regions, and you have to be aware of that line. That's something I'm constantly working on: have that excitement for an EU win, and making sure that you represent everything correctly.
This Worlds is very competitive. Some are even saying that it's the most competitive one ever. Do you agree?
It's a tough one. I would've definitely agreed with you beforehand. But now, when you look at the Groups, there's the possibility of three LPL teams getting out, there's the possibility of three LCK teams getting out. Before Splyce played there was... maybe one team from the West that was getting out? Team Liquid has a tough group, Clutch who wasn't doing that well so far, Splyce that was down, Fnatic who wasn't finding their groove... The jury's out. But I think if you speak in terms of tournament favorites, the fact that you have an EU team as a tournament favorite is a huge step. I don't think that's ever happened, besides maybe Moscow Five back in the day.
That was going to be my follow-up question, actually. This year EU has a world class team: do you think this is just a random power spike, or is the region there?
I mean, you think it has to be if you look at the fact that this year was the first year that EU won MSI. But then you look at Fnatic, who made the Worlds finals last year. I think in general, EU performs well at most World Championships. One where that was famously not the case was of course 2014, but then you look at 2015, 2016, and last year. But it's spiking now because of G2. The question that remains for me is: How much has the rest of the region really improved, behind G2? Before we thought that it must be a lot. Fnatic is so competitive with G2 in the Best of 5's. Splyce, the third seed, although kind of looked down on by a lot of people, were still competitive with the top half for a long part of the season as well.
I'd be sad if we get G2 to make a super deep run, and then our other two teams do nothing. And I have to say that Fnatic has disappointed me in the first Round Robin of the Group Stage. They were disappointed too of course. I'm not in the team, so I don't know for sure, but it felt like they were throwing in the towel against some teams that they perceived to be better than them with SKT and RNG. It's hard to judge though. They have coaching staff for a reason who know what they're doing. But that's what it looked like from the outside.
This year we saw the transition from the EU LCS to the LEC. Has that influenced the region in terms of growth and competitiveness?
I think it's difficult to track in terms of competitiveness. In one year you can't see the influence of franchising and permanent partnerships in terms of teams that can build up their rosters.In terms of the visibility of the European region, I think it has definitely helped. LEC is in people's minds, people are talking about it, it's buzzing. That coinciding with G2's success, a super team, really works. In the end you could say: that's LEC. But we've always had a system in which players can be developed successfully. G2 and Fnatic are great examples of that. It was a happy accident that both of them happened in the same year.
"G2 beat SKT, so for now they're still stronger. If they meet at a Best of 5 this Worlds, that may not be true anymore."
You mentioned earlier that EU has traditionally not underperformed at Worlds. Where do you see the region's power level now, compared to other regions?
It's hard to speak for an entire region. When you then look at the LPL teams for instance, that are looking pretty good here, it's like: Ok three teams in that region who consistently perform well. The same for LCK, who had an off year last year, how is that going to evolve? For me it's left to be seen. Many people are saying that it was just a fluke, and that 2018 was an LCK off year. And SKT is doing well this year, but the same question is kind of there for Griffin and DAMWON. I think after Worlds we can say whether 2018 was a fluke year for the LCK, if they're back, or if they're back but the other regions have caught up as well. That could bite me in the butt now, if DAMWON crush it this tournament.
You can't do, like, transitive property. That doesn't work. We saw that some analysts were getting a lot of backlash for saying things like that. I think you only have to look at the results. That's the safest way. G2 beat SKT, so for now they're still stronger. If they meet at a Best of 5 this Worlds, that may not be true anymore. It's probably a lot closer, and it already was very close. But I only believe in results.
The final question is actually a two-parter. First of all: Who do you hope will win Worlds? I have an inkling...
G2 Esports! That's what anyone would want from their region. I think my perfect final would be an SKT versus G2. On one side there would be the SKT story, the redemption story, the Faker story, which is just magnificent. Also the context of MSI would be cool, because it would be the revenge for SKT. Or it would be the proof for G2. I feel like a lot of people, after the MSI final, since it was so close, are still not convinced. I think that's fair. For me, G2 won MSI, but for international dominance you have to do more than that.
And who do you think is going to win Worlds?
Eh, SKT or G2! [Laughs] It's hard for me to say. Sometimes things completely turn around, right, but those feel like the strongest teams to me.
Images via Riot Games