This weekend, six League of Legends teams from across the world will compete at IEM Oakland. Among them will be reigning North American champions Team SoloMid, fresh off a disappointing group stage exit at Worlds after a 3-3 record.
IEM falls at a weird time in the League calendar, coming directly after Worlds and still using a patch from last season, while everyone else has been playing on the preseason patch for upwards of two weeks now. TSM was one of a few teams invited that declined to attend, but eventually decided to attend the tournament to try out former AD Carry Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, a potential candidate to replace Peter “Doublelift” Peng while he takes the Spring Split off.
The Rift Herald caught up with TSM coach Parth Naidu Thursday about the team’s preparation for IEM Oakland and LCS play.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
PV: When did TSM start actually prepping for IEM Oakland?
Parth Naidu: So, we were actually sort of split up. Everyone was either home or relaxing, doing their own thing. We just got back, maybe two days ago? And we started scrimming [Wednesday].
PV: What else goes into the team’s preparation besides scrimming?
PN: So, during the split, unlike a lot of other sports, we don’t have like a preseason, where you get to work with the team and train with them, in terms of like working on the fundamentals of the game. And then, Riot also changes the game drastically from year to year, and so the fundamentals of the game and how the game state is at the start of the year is extremely different compared to like the year before.
So, what it’s usually like in the Spring Split, you have to sort of train for two things. One, you still want the short-term success of doing well every week in the game, but also while you’re doing that you want to maintain and instill new fundamentals within the team. So a lot of the prep that goes into weekly training is on Sunday night, me and any of the analysts will have meetings, we’ll talk about the last week and say ‘these are the sort of champion pools we need to continue working on, these are the new things we need to pick up, and this is like a concept that we’re missing,’ say, something like controlling Baron. For the next week, we’ll come up with a weekly lesson plan, where we’ll find together clips of how to take Baron. And then we will put together a short presentation and present it to the team on Monday during our morning meeting.
Monday morning we’ll have a longish meeting, maybe an hour, hour-and-a-half, we’ll recap the last week with the team, we’ll talk about what we’re doing this week in terms of practice, and that starts at around 10:30 in the morning. At noon, we start scrims, and from 12-3 is the first scrim set, with an hour back. Then we train again from 4-7, and often times in the beginning of the year, for the Spring Split, we’ll also do a third set, just because we want to get as much practice in, just because it’s more about instilling teamwork rather than high-level strategy, because that’s something that comes on later in the year.
So the difference between training in the regular season and training in IEM is this is a very short tournament, and you’re playing against teams that you really don’t know how to play with. So you can’t really teach the team anything that they don’t really know in that short amount of time, so what we’re training to do, since we have WildTurtle, who is going to be stepping in for us, we’re looking to train a very small subset of champion pools that the team will be comfortable playing, and just very slightly refining it when we go into practice over the next few days, so I guess that’s the biggest difference between regular season and now.
PV: Is it a struggle to get your players to take this tournament seriously? And how do you approach playing a tournament that’s on a patch so vastly different than the one on the live server?
PN: It’s very difficult. I think the IEM tournament is kind of awkwardly placed, because it’s too close to Worlds, so a lot of the major teams who competed and went to Worlds, they’re either taking time off right now or they’re going through roster changes, like we are. So it’s sort of uncomfortable to participate in an international tournament and then not be able to take it very seriously, which is why you see a lot of the teams that are attending the tournament are not the ones who were originally invited.
The reason we’re doing it is we want to try out WildTurtle for one of our spots, and since Doublelift left the team, the biggest thing that we can learn from IEM is not necessarily to compete but to see, both in practice and on-stage, the elements that Doublelift brought to our team that we’re either missing or need to look for in either WildTurtle or any other AD Carry candidate that we’re going to try out. The tournament for us is slightly different than what most teams consider it.
PV: Is part of the emphasis for IEM figuring out how the in-game communication works for the team as well without Doublelift?
PN: Everyone on our team has a role in communication. Because each role is so drastically different, if one doesn’t communicate it becomes really hard for the other four players to play the game, because you always have to sort of get a sense of what the other players are doing.
The biggest thing that Peter brought to our team was some strategic elements, in terms of lane allocation, and he was extremely decisive with what to do late game as the biggest damage carry, so he knew what position he needed to be in for him to do a lot of damage, so he could direct the team on how to approach a lot of the teamwork abilities to focus around him and in some ways Bjergsen. That’s something we’re experimenting with.
The difference between, again, regular season and IEM right now, is in between practice we do reviews. The way a scrim set usually works is from 4-7 we play a game for however long, maybe 20-40 minutes, then we usually take a 15-20 minute recess and review the game, and go over our mistakes or some of the things that we need to learn for the next game. [For IEM], we’re extending that period of time and doing longer reviews, and we’re talking more directly, the team and Turtle are talking to each other.
Turtle has a lot of information on what he brings to the team and what he did with Immortals, what we’re doing differently. We get to see some elements that we can bring in, and he’s learning from our system as well. We’ll usually crowd around one computer, we’ll have his Plays.tv view up, and we’ll get to see what he’s looking at on the map while he’s playing the game. In team fights, we get to see his perspective, which is really cool and interesting, and we get to understand how he plays the game, and it’s sort of helping us mesh together, getting a good idea of what he needs from us and what we need from him.
PV: What other tools does the team use outside of the client to practice and train?
PN: Plays.tv is a major one. During the season, we have dedicated position coaches. While I’m reviewing a game by myself for the entire team and doing a team review, after the 10-15 minute team review each player will break off and then they will talk to their own position coaches, and they’ll usually have their own Plays.tv up and they’ll go through the entire game just from their perspective and see what they individually could have changed with the way they play the game. Plays.tv is a pretty useful tool that our players use just to analyze their own gameplay for themselves, and it helps with the position coaches, because before this year there wasn’t really a good replay system from League, so it filled a really good niche.
PV: What can players at home do to best approximate a professional environment, without access to resources like coaches?
PN: I think if someone at home is really trying to improve their gameplay, a lot of people think a lot of improvement just comes from the time spent playing the game, but a lot of professional players take a lot of time analyzing the things they do when they play. For example, I know Bjergsen, even on stream, after he’s played a game, he will open up his plays and go through the entire game and watch all his team fights, watch the times he bases, when he comes back, and he’s able to see the mistakes that he’s making and visualizing how to do them each better for the next game. So I think that’s definitely an element that even players at home can use to improve.
PV: So you talked earlier about how with IEM it’s hard because you’re not all that familiar with some of the teams that you’re playing against, and some of them have slightly different rosters or you haven’t seem them before in international play. So is it right to assume that there’s not that much team-specific preparation going on and TSM is more focusing on just being a better TSM for the split?
PN: Yeah, for sure. So, again, with the off-season we, everyone’s going through their own roster changes. We’re internally going through coaching changes as well because a lot of the analysts that worked with us last split want to find sort of their own team to work with on staff, so they’re looking for their own opportunities right now so they’re also on break. Currently it’s only me and maybe one other analyst who’s working part-time.
We don’t really have the time or resources in the next like three or four days to scout all these teams, figure out their tendencies, and figure out very specific strategies to like target towards them this tournament. We’re looking at this very intrinsically, just improving our gameplay and our teamwork as much as possible and hopefully adapting as well as we can the next few days when we scrim them and hopefully that should be enough. But yeah, the goal of the IEM is more to develop our own teamwork and sort of, again, understand the elements we’ll be missing in Spring from what Doublelift brought. And then finding the best AD carry to fit that slot as well both in terms of communication and skill.
PV: Have you been able to scrim other IEM teams or are you mostly scrimming other teams from this region?
PN: Sadly, none of the IEM teams are here yet. I believe both Flash Wolves, Unicorns and Longzhu will be flying in [Thursday]. And we fly in [Thursday night]. Not only that, we’ll have to deal with the jetlag over the next two days. We’ll start scrimming IEM teams tomorrow. The only IEM team we’ve been able to scrim is the Chiefs, who have just been here this week. In terms of scrim prep for the last two days, we’ve scrimmed the Chiefs a few times and a few NA Challenger teams.
PV: Looking at the field of teams, is there any team that you would like to play against? Is there one team that sticks out as ‘this is the challenge we want from IEM’?
PN: I would personally love to play either Longzhu or Flash Wolves. Flash Wolves was one of our scrim partners at Worlds, so it would be really cool to see them and play them on stage. Longzhu, I think they’re the only team that hasn’t had some sort of roster changes, and they are the only Korean representative at this tournament, it would be really cool. And personally, I worked with Lustboy when he was on the TSM roster last year, and he’s now their coach, so it’d be really cool to play Longzhu in the finals.