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Splyce head coach YamatoCannon on his team's growth, the EU LCS and midseason changes

Yamato breaks down EU's summer roster moves, the new dragons and tells why his dream of someday coaching Real Madrid esports "doesn't seem too impossible anymore."

Riot Games

The European League Championship Series starts Thursday, with a highly-anticipated finals rematch between G2 and Origen. But that's not the only interesting matchup that day: Splyce will play Vitality in a series that could tell us a lot about where both teams have grown compared to last year.

Tuesday, I had the pleasure of talking to Splyce head coach Jakob "YamatoCannon" Mebdi, a former professional player who is now finishing his second full year as a head coach in Europe. After keeping ROCCAT safe from relegation last year, Yamato led a young and unproven Splyce team to the same result: eighth place in the regular season and survival in the promotion tournament.

With a year of experience under the roster's belt and a new support in the lineup, expectations become a little higher for this squad, but with literally every European team making at least one roster change, how will Splyce fare? We talked about Splyce's improvement as well as the other teams in the league (including all those transactions).

You can listen to the full interview below, or scroll down for a full transcript.

Timing:

0:00 Introduction, Splyce's growth

5:05 EU's move to best-of-two

8:33 Mid-season meta

11:11 Other EU LCS teams

18:24 Schalke purchase

20:17 Overwatch

The Rift Herald: Yamato, thank you very much for joining me today.

YamatoCannon: My pleasure.

TRH: It was a busy offseason all around Europe. Every single team made at least one change. I know you've talked before about how Splyce is a young and growing team, so how have you seen, over the off-season, how the players have progressed into their roles?

YC: We definitely, me and the players, we took a different approach. We know what to expect and everybody has been working very very hard throughout the off-season. I've paid attention to all the tournaments that have been going on. The players have played a bunch of solo-queue, which they didn't do last split because it was such a long break between the challenger series and the LCS.

They were kind-of not in top shape when the LCS started and in this case, everyone knew what to expect and everyone has been working very very hard. I feel like this time around, we're kind of clear in terms of like how we are mentally and we're better to compete?

TRH: One of the changes would be at the support position. I'd imagine you're feel better prepared because of the changes that you guys made there?

YC: Yes, well, my goal will always be to have five players who are willing to learn and improve fast and to show to me somehow that they are mechanically sound. In the previous split, a lot of people have questions why I didn't replace other players. As a team we didn't have the best split season ever, but from my perspective, we got everything we wanted from the previous split and that is experience and getting the basics down and setting expectations for what LCS is to us.

So, once again, in this case, I brought in Mikyx and the biggest reason was because of his mechanical prowess. I think for sure mechanically he can compete with the best supports in Europe and the only thing he needs is experience and now we have four players with experience, so it'll be very easy to fit him into the system that I've already created with the rest of the guys.

My goal will always be, regardless of which team I'm in and in Splyce, is to have five very mechanically-talented players that are willing to learn fast and have a good attitude towards the game.

TRH: How does that change the communication of the team, though? Because it was previously an all Danish squad and I'd imagine since you speak Swedish that you could communicate pretty easily in both languages. So, with a Slovenian player in the lineup, how could that change how the team communicates?

YC: Personally from my perspective, I knew some changes would come so I already prepared the players and already told them to talk English, kind-of halfway through the split. One of the other reasons why we did it was because we had some problems with communication and just from my perspective to know for sure 100 percent what was wrong. Sure, I could understand Danish to some degree. I understood when they talked. I wanted to know 100 percent everything and be able to completely understand messages they tried to convey in their talking.

So with that in mind, very early on, about halfway through the split, the players already started talking English. So, in terms of communication, it is the same thing.

A lot of people ask me, "Who's the shot-caller?" I don't believe in a dedicated shot-caller. I believe in a system where everyone is on the same page and someone just needs to say, "We're going to do this in one minute," and it just clicks. No one needs micromanaging. I believe that a team that is a top team [has] players that are very good mechanically and individually, they have very good decision making, so that is what I strive for.

TFH: You say that there's no one true shot-caller on Splyce, but are there players that speak up more often than the others?

YC: Yeah, for sure. In our case, it varies depending on game, the role that specific player plays in that said composition. In most cases, it's Trashy and Wunder and Sencux takes the leg work. Mikyx's kind-of settling into his role and talking more and more as we proceed. But usually it's the three players that I mentioned.

Sure, you could say, "Why is Kobbe not talking?" but in actuality he's playing the most mechanically-intense role and I know, myself, when I play competitively, when I switch from top-lane to AD-carry, my awareness about the game just completely disappears and I just have to focus on the mechanical aspect. So I think it's natural that these three players are the ones who talk the most.

TRH: Right, and we saw last year with Fnatic some of the problems of an AD-carry who had to shoulder some of the shotcalling.

YC: [laughs] For sure, for sure.

TRH: There's been another big change in Europe, moving to best of twos. It's an entirely new format. How has this changed your preparations this off-season?

YC: When it comes to scrimming, we always review things right after we play the game, so jumping into best of twos is ever better for us because the way we adapt to a scrim set is exactly the same way I want to adapt in a best of two or a best of five in playoffs or whatever.

The adaptation from our side - we're just very excited because we are a team that at this point, can pick up things very very easily. Everyone is comfortable with the way I do things and my system, so everything is very very smooth and efficient. So I'm assuming and hoping and aiming that the same thing will apply in best of twos.

TRH: Do you think the move to series in the regular season will help some teams more than others, in terms of how they're organized?

YC: I don't know the workings of the other teams, but I can tell you my perspective on it. Usually, in the previous season, we lost a lot of games because of one small wrong decision, in a lane swap situation or pressuring the wrong side of the map. These things are very very easily fixed, with just one simple phrase or simply looking back at it and realizing, "Oh, what were we doing? We were just clowning around!"

So, from my perspective, best of twos, I think it brings more consistency in terms of the results of every team. Best of ones can end in so many different ways. Someone just misclicks flash and dies and there are so many random reasons to lose one specific game, so I feel like best of twos show clearly who's the better team because it shows who is the more consistent one. So I'm happy overall that the best of two system is arriving. I'd even prefer a best of three system.

TRH: I'm guessing too that it's going to better prepare teams for playoff series. Previously, after best of ones when teams would hit best of fives in one day, it would look like they were fatigued at the end of the series.

YC: Yeah, for sure, for sure. I think it's very positive in terms of the international tournaments as well, when it comes to the best ofs. The thing that worried me the most and kind-of showed in different regions was China, when you think about Worlds in season five, in best of ones. It makes sense that they were terrible in best of ones, because they play so many games in one week, so it makes sense that they come into a specific week with a set mindset and it doesn't change. They keep trying the same thing and then they don't put as much emphasis on every individual game. With that in mind, I think it's good that globally everyone is transitioning to these best of systems.

TRH: Sometimes for the Chinese teams it seems like the meta happens to perfectly form to what they're good at, like at MSI...

YC: [laughs] Yes, yes.

TRH: You talked earlier about lane-swapping mistakes, and that might be something you team has to worry about, after the mid-season changes. Around the world, we haven't seen too much of that in the new meta, so what do you expect out of 6.10?

YC: We've played a bunch of scrims and I really like the changes because dragons finally matter. You're willing to give up tempo to do a dragon because it just benefits you. Before it was like, we don't want to give up any tempo. We just want to go back to lanes, push them out and keep pushing, pushing, pushing, because it was never worth it to do drake.

Some of the drakes, sure, are useless. There are some games where cloud drake is just alive and lonely in the drake pit, and you're back in the old meta, but there are some games where you happen to have an infernal drake and things get interesting.

TRH: Yeah, I've heard that the only reason to kill the cloud drake is to make the next one spawn?

YC: Yeah, pretty much. I remember a specific game we played. We never did dragon, but we had this early game composition that had to kind-of take as much as possible in the early game and the idea was, as you said, to kill cloud drake to make sure we get another drake that is hopefully more useful than the cloud drake.

TRH: Well, it seems that most people have agreed that infernal drake is the number one priority of the dragons. What would you say about the second one, between I would guess, the mountain drake and the ocean drake?

YC: I personally think that the ocean drake is valued higher than the mountain drake. It actually gives you some solid statistics that can help you win the game. I feel the mountain drake is very scary and impressive in scenarios where you're already winning the game. I'd rather have a dragon that helps you push you to that level where you take control of the game and actually win the game.

In theory, mountain drake is good when you're hitting towers. You're in a winning position if you're hitting towers, in most cases. If you're getting baron or drake, you're usually in a winning position already. So with that in mind, I feel like ocean drake is better because it actually is some solid combat stats and mountain drake is kind-of a shiny crown when you're winning and it speeds up the process of winning.

Sure, there might be scenarios when let's say, you're racing elder dragon for baron, when mountain drake matters or if you're base racing - then mountain drake matters. I haven't seen any of those scenarios in, I don't know, the 100 games we've played so far.

TRH: Moving forward to the games you're about to play. The first weekend for Splyce, you're going to go up against Vitality, and your old team, Roccat. So what do you expect from a Vitality roster that signed two kind-of unknown Koreans in the off-season? And then again with Roccat as well?

YC: With Vitality, I know their players personally and I know their coach really well. I know for a fact they tend to get very creative when they have the option to. They play a bunch of new picks and they try to cut the meta in half and bring their kind-of own flair into it. I think the pick and ban will be very interesting to see what Vitality has to show.

When I think of the two new players, I don't know what to expect from them, but I know that MightyBear was a candidate to join QG [Chinese team, recently rebranded as Newbee] as their jungler, but he decides to join Vitality. That's just a rumor that I heard but I think that speaks for itself.

Police, I've seen him in North America. I'm not too impressed by him. Benched in Korea, I don't think he's anything spectacular, but I don't think that's going to be the defining point in our best of two. I don't think that because this guy is not some superstar that we will all of a sudden just focus on Police to win. I don't think it's going to be anything like that because they still have the core of what Vitality used to be.

From the jungle perspective, I felt that in previous splits, when it came to Vitality, their jungler was very inconsistent. He had good games. He had very, very horrible games that made them lose, pretty much. I think this is definitely a step forward in my opinion.

TRH: There were plenty other changes, obviously, around EU. Were there any other transactions that caught your eye, maybe besides the big ones? Like other than Sven and Mithy and Forgiven and Hybrid.

YC: Well, I think the two you mentioned are the big ones. I don't think anyone you could ask that has any clue about competitive League would say that G2 on paper is not the strongest team in the LCS. I think it's definitely a step-up. The best bot-lane in Europe on to the best team in Europe. The only reason Origen were in the finals was because of their bot-lane, and G2 just snapped that up, so I think G2 is clearly the best team on paper.

With Origen, it's definitely a downgrade if you just apply what I said earlier. Origen will definitely be interesting to follow, because you have all these strong personalities that get really heated and emotional. I think it will be very, very clear if Origen are doing good. It'll be interesting to see if something bad happens to Origen.

In terms of other changes, I don't think anything is too interesting. I definitely feel that the overall play-feel of teams is...I don't think that it's like, "Oh, this team is going to be 10th place for sure," or "These teams are going to be in the bottom four for sure." Sure, you can have some sort of idea. Based off of previous results, sure. I feel that the overall level of players and teams have definitely increased in Europe.

TRH: There are two other bottom lanes that are well, kind-of new in Fnatic and H2K that have been getting a bit of hype as well. What do you think of those two duo lanes?

YC: When it comes to Fnatic, I mean sure, when Yellowstar was on the team they had the most success, but I don't think Fnatic is ever going to reach their former glory with the current roster. Then again, if I compare the two splits, that the previous Fnatic roster had, they didn't look overwhelmingly powerful in the first split either. Reignover, people were laughing at him in some cases. People were saying he was weak to play on Fnatic and all of a sudden the second split comes in and he was completely dominating with Huni. If that happens again, okay, you can call me out, but I can't imagine it happening again in this point in time.

Yellowstar is definitely not the same player he used to be. Over in North America, it was almost sad seeing him. He was trying to play these champions that were more mechanically intense, like Bard, and it just wasn't there, you know? Yellowstar should play champions that get rewarded for his decisions, like an Alistar with good dives and good combos. With that in mind, the meta has transitioned. The meta is very different. There's a lot of Bard, a lot of Nami. There's a lot of things going on. With that in mind, I don't think Yellowstar is going to be the Holy Grail or the Jesus that's going to save Fnatic and make them first place.

To be honest, I'm saying it as if Fnatic was bad last split. They took third place and that's not bad at all. Fnatic still is and was a very, very strong team. When I look at Fnatic's splits as a whole, most of the issues they had was overall decisions. Things were just standing still, and the games that they won were just games that the enemy team happened to throw because they just didn't know how to finish. I just remembered that specific game against G2 where Fnatic held on for a very long time in 10k gold deficits and they won.

So I feel like if Yellowstar can impact the actual decision making of the team, it's a very good change. Looking at H2K, Forgiven is a very, very interesting player. Mechanically, very few come close to him, I think. The mechanical gap between him and other players is getting closer and closer. I don't necessarily think he's the best AD-carry anymore.

I think Freeze is definitely an upgrade based on the fact that I know the players personally on H2K. Based on their performance and how they play, I can see that something is negatively impacting them emotionally or in their surroundings. They didn't have the best playoff run, so it was obvious that there were some internal problems. I don't have any specifics, but that was just the vibe I got from them playing.

Freeze can definitely measure himself next to Forgiven and I think if can impact the atmosphere in a positive way, I think that will definitely be an upgrade, once again.

TRH: Well, back to Fnatic, you said Yellowstar won't be the savior, but maybe Spirit's Lulu in the jungle will be.

YC: [laughs] I've seen that, but I hope they play that against us. If we play them and they bring out the Lulu jungle, you will see a cheeky smile on stage.

TRH: You're feeling comfortable that you can handle that?

YC: [laughs] For sure, for sure, yes.

TRH: The other big thing in EU this year was a Bundesliga club coming in and buying one of the spots. Do you think that would be good for more big football clubs in Europe to invest in EU? Do you think that's something that helps with the scene, or is it fine as is?

YC: Let me give you a small story. When I saw the coaching - I had to take my ideas from somewhere. There were no coaches in the west and there was no established coaching that you could take ideas from to create something of your own. So I looked to traditional sports. I used to play soccer myself, so I follow the big coaches in the soccer world. In my case, it was José Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson. With that in mind, I used to joke with my friends like, "Someday, I'm going to coach Real Madrid esports." [laughs]

Suddenly, when Schalke comes in, that idea doesn't seem too impossible anymore. I think it's definitely a big step forward. Schalke is a big team. I think they're the fourth best team in the Bundesliga. I think that means a lot.

They have big plans for esports and it's simply massive, especially for Germany because we've had all these visa issues in the past, where esports wasn't a legitimate sport or job you could have in Germany. You couldn't get a visa for it. I think that for Germany and Europe overall, it's finally putting esports on the map. It's already on the map, but there's a difference now.

TRH: Right, absolutely. Maybe Schalke can convince Germany to change the visa laws.

YC: [laughs] I hope so, I hope so. I miss Diamondprox.

TRH: Don't we all? Last thing - have you been playing Overwatch, Yamato?

YC: I've been playing Overwatch! I've been enjoying dying a lot. I play only one champion - I should call it hero, probably - Soldier: 76, because he's so simple. Whenever I get too tilted from playing other things because I just do so bad, I pick myself up with a Soldier: 76 game.

I try to stay away from it as much as possible, because I can get really addicted to, like all the other Blizzard games in the past.

TRH: Alright, well, thank you very much, Yamato, and have a good week preparing for the games.

YC: Thank you very much.