The off-season in all sports is a turbulent time. League of Legends has come a long way in a few short years, and is breaking into the realm of being a legitimate sport. Organizations that own teams recognize this, and with Riot's current rules in place the off-season was always going to be a time of change.
Just as Riot will change the game in fairly significant ways (like the item overhaul from Season 2 to Season 3), teams will look to change their rosters to contend in the new environment. We've already seen major changes from teams like Curse in North America and the CJ Entus teams in Korea. Before we grab our pitchforks to vilify anyone or put them on our shoulders to praise them, we have to remember that first and foremost e-Sports is a business.
Seeing changes from the other side of things
Managers or whomever are in charge of running a team fall into tough positions. As fans, we grow to love the players who stream and interact with us and view management as the villains, but everyone wants to win at the end of the day. Management are the ones who have to make the tough and sometimes unpopular decisions with the team in mind. When the team doesn't perform, it's as much on them as it is on the players. That's not to say organizations are immune from making mistakes or taking criticism, but to point out that their are two sides to every story.
I got a chance to ask Curse's manager Steve 'Liquid112' Arhacet a few questions about all of Curse's recent changes and it helped shed some light on their weird situation. It's not everyday that a team announces a roster and has to change two members just days later, but figuring out the truth is always harder than picking up a pitchfork.
What was the reason for the major overhaul to Curse's lineup in the first place?
Liquid: After we came short at PAX to qualify for Worlds, the entire team was upset – we had practiced really hard and it just wasn't working to the level we all wanted and the degree that the fans expected of us. After thinking about how we wanted to structure the roster for the next split, we decided to focus on our self-discipline, dedication, communication and team synergy (I'm not sure if everyone saw Royals video showing the team singing and the apparent bond they had as a team) . I personally felt that we should adopt a more eastern managerial style which involves a very strict regimen to improve team performance. This means the members are a tight-knit unit, practicing together, adhering to a detailed workouts together, scrimming together, and breaking out time for solo queue to learn new champions and test strategies in more of a sandbox environment.
While this gives up some of the freedoms that players currently have, I think it’s a necessary sacrifice in order to overcome the wall that we've hit. I think the biggest realization is that the players needed to give up more control, and simply follow a prescribed program and stick to it. Unfortunately, with such a change, I realized that not all members would adhere well to the new structure. It sadly meant that we were going to need to make some changes to the roster to push Team Curse to the next level. As much as I love all of these players, I had a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I have to do what’s best for the team as a whole.
What kind of schedule and commitment from players are we talking about?
Liquid: I had the distinct pleasure of talking with a few managers and some of the international players while I was at Worlds, and I learned a lot. After a lot of time, long work days/nights and discussions with the team, I decided that we would recreate the Curse lineup and focus on building the best performing team possible from the ground up. The schedule that I crafted looked a little something like this:
- Workout every morning – This gives the team a chance to get out of the house and think about the game when they aren't behind the computer, possibly giving them a new perspective (because let’s face it, how many hours do we spend in front of the computer?)
- Grab some food and head into an analyst session to study Korean and Chinese teams and follow-up with a discussion about the team’s own replays via screenshots and video (here’s an example of our last analyst session so you have an idea of the type of work we are doing: http://i.imgur.com/gzT6XnZ.jpg) ,
- Followed by scrims, dinner and solo queue time until lights out
The plan would be to run a program like this for a majority of practice weeks – I believed we had started on the road with a recipe for success for team Curse. With that being said, I didn't really have the right timing to get it started.
What was the exact timeline for all these schedule and roster changes taking place?
Liquid: We weren't able to try out my new methodology until worlds was over because Voy was doing some shoutcasting with Riot Games at the Staples Center, the rest of the Team was also attending and working at the event (including myself). After worlds on October 5th, we started the NACL a few days after on the 9th of October, and so I had very little time to try and “recreate and test the new team Curse” in a way that would spell success for the team’s future. I did my best to put together the players that I felt were the best fit at the time and had them adhere to the schedule.
From a coaching perspective, things were going pretty well, but not perfect. Even though Pobelter and I worked together to set expectations’ with his school, We couldn't make the double commitment setup work with the team. It was clear in those few days between the 9th and 13th that it wasn't going as planned, and I was then faced with another extremely difficult decision. Knowing that I want to make Team Curse the best it could possibly be, we couldn't settle for a player whose schedule didn't align with the rigorous setup we established. I believe Pobelter is one of the best Mid players in NA, and I want the absolute best in his future LoL career. I hope he qualifies in the second LCS promotional tournament later this month, and of course continues on the track to keeping his nearly perfect GPA to ultimately get into the best college he can.
Can you elaborate more on the specifics of putting Cop back on the main roster and parting ways with Pobelter?
Liquid: One of the downsides about scouting players as a coach, is that it’s really difficult to see how well a player will fit into a team until they’re actually present and doing scrims/matches with the team. I felt like I did my due diligence in the scouting effort, I setup a test interview with screenshots and video to gauge their level of understanding of the game, watched VODs that they submitted of their play and put them on temporary test teams with players that were available and listened in during the matches. With all this being said, you honestly don't get a full preview of what to expect until the real scrims and full team is playing together. Aphromoo is a phenomenal ADC, but in the week that Cop was placed in charge of the Lolpro team I saw an immediate change. In almost no time at all, Cop displayed a reignited passion for competition, waking up early to play 15 hours a day, dedicating himself to his team and disciplining himself to improve as a player. I was impressed and excited. Cop has devoted two years of his life to Team Curse, and it just felt “right.” Sometimes as a coach, you have to go with your gut, and this undoubtedly felt “right.” Ultimately this decision is on me, and it’s hard to say whether or not this will be the right move…but I will ask the fans of Curse to support me in this decision and help us welcome Cop back warmly to the team with his reinvigorated mindset and focus. However, I wish in every way possible that this realization would have come sooner. It was hard to let Aphromoo go so soon, but as I've said, I have to try and do what is best for the team.
Letting Pobelter go was an even harder decision. It’s mind-blowingly hard to let go of a player who performs phenomenally. To be honest, I was a bit enamored with Pobelter. His plays often reminded me of SKT’s Faker (especially when he played Gragas), and I still consider him one of the best mid players in North America. I was convinced, that we would be able to make the dual commitments work for him, and I worked on preparing a schedule after worlds when the team returned. Despite our best efforts to plan, reality struck. It was apparent that there were still gaps in our schedules, and sadly we felt that either team synergy, solo performance, or his school commitments would suffer. In the end, I wish I had better foresight. We spent countless hours trying to devise variations to our schedule that would work. In the end, I tried too hard to force a team composition that had obvious flaws.
Looking back what do you wish had been handled differently?
Liquid: There’s no sugar coating this one. I wish I handled it differently. I did not make the right type of announcement about the roster changes prior to our tournament with NACL. In my mind, I knew we had a lot of changes to our roster with Jacky, Cop, new players, and not to mention Saint moving into a coaching role. In an effort to be transparent with the community and our fans I thought it would be best to make a formal announcement, rather than let there be speculation. Not only that, I was eager to tell the world about our re-creation of Team Curse. However, I jumped the gun and failed to mention that these roster changes were not finalized, and were still subject to further change if necessary.
As if this wasn't enough, I put together a team of people to help write up the bios, create the new graphics and organize the new player roster on the site and it was prematurely published accidentally. Minutes later, I received a Skype message from someone with a link to the Reddit thread. At that point, it was already out, and my team rushed to complete the page as quickly as possible so that the presentation didn't look sloppy. At that point, I should have immediately mentioned that the roster changes weren't final, and I regret not taking that course of action, This is not even remotely an excuse, I just want the community and the fans to understand the whole process from start to finish.
Going forward, what are the expectations for the new Team Curse?
Liquid: My heart is in eSports and don’t forget, I’m probably Team Curse’s biggest fan. Not only that, my job is on the line just like theirs is. I have to take this extremely seriously, and while I have made some mistakes, I’m looking forward to our bright future as a top team. Obviously though, our first goal is to re-qualify for the next split of LCS, that is the most important one. From there, continue to play well and hopefully be the new C9 of NA and SKT of Worlds.
Also if I can take a moment to thank all of our fans for sticking with us through all of the trials and tribulations, it hasn't been easy and I know that. As we try to re-qualify for LCS, we hope we can show you the same vigor and tenacity that you've come to expect from the pro team that some of you have grown to love. I know I can't please everyone but for Curse fans out there I hope this answers your questions.
Curse or Die!
Hindsight is always 20/20. The whole Curse situation had several things working against it which certainly could have been handled cleaner, but it's hard to argue these decisions were done for any other reason than to improve the team. Fans can't help but feel for the players involved. However, as League of Legends continues blossoming more organizations will have to part ways with the players we have to come to cheer and love. This sort of thing isn't always an end to their story, and Pobelter and Aphromoo both have the talent to compete at a professional level and even if it didn't work out with Curse. Hopefully they will get their shot somewhere else before the second ladder freeze on October 31st.
Curse won't be the only team making changes. We've already seen Dignitas announce its own search for a new top laner to replace Kiwikid, SK Gaming transferring Hyrqbot and Kevin to Ninjas in Pajamas, Edward announce he's joining a mystery EU team (possibly the rumored "super" team that includes Froggen, Freeze, and up-and-coming jungler Shook). If that super team comes to pass, fans of EG will certainly be sad to see Froggen go, but the possibilities of pairing that many terrific players together would make their EU LCS games appointment viewing.
Rumors also surround several other players and big name rosters like TSM, CLG and EG. Whispers of a possible TSM Bjergsen surfaced after Catrific posted this to twitter during worlds (https://twitter.com/catrific/
The bar was raised to staggering heights by SKT T1 at the World Championships. The entire landscape of competitive gaming has changed with the LCS seasons into a more professional environment. Organizations and players alike are scrambling to adapt to the first ever true off-season in typical sports fashion. Each team will retool and rebuild to be as competitive as possible heading into a new season full of possibilities. In many ways, this time of year is as exciting as when the teams are actually playing because fans of each and every team can find something to be hopeful about going into the new season.
One thing is sure. These aren't the last roster changes we will see in any region. Season 4 is just around the corner, and if Season 3 was any indication, we better hold onto our seats because we're in for a wild ride.
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