The weekend of the League of Legends Worlds 2016 Quarterfinals is over, and with that, we have said goodbye to four teams. Next weekend we, move into the semi-finals to determine which two teams will be facing of in Las Angeles for the Grand Finale.
Taking a break from the Analyst Desk and the Casting Desk, Chris “PapaSmithy” Smith sat down with The Rift Herald for a lengthy interview about Samsung Galaxy, TSM, and who his favorite Champion to cast is.
Ryan Gilliam: I wanted to ask you specifically, just to start out, what has shocked you about this Worlds so far?
Chris “PapaSmithy” Smith: Interesting question, shock value. TSM going out in groups I think was a surprise. I don’t know if it was a shock, but it was certainly a surprise. Korea having three teams as top seeds was a surprise. Once Samsung firmed as being a really strong team at the tournament. The quarterfinal results so far haven’t been a surprise so far, but just that Samsung came out week two [and] were so dominant in a very difficult group was probably the biggest single surprise I would say.
Ryan: Was there anything that has been a part of the meta here at worlds that you weren’t expecting coming into it?
PapaSmithy: We had a lot of, I mean, I think everyone has a lot of ideas coming into a tournament about what the meta will look like. Olaf priority is a little higher than expected, the fact that he has become, you know, first pick, first ban in some cases is really interesting. The support meta changed a lot of times before the event, couple weeks out, everyone was saying Tahm Kench first pick, first ban, and then literally a couple days into the tournament everyone was like, no, Nami is the thing, and now we are seeing Zyra out of nowhere right? So the support meta I think has evolved the most over the tournament.
Syndra definitely we knew about, Aurelion Sol if anything is being under-picked. I think Aurelion Sol is super strong. I guess the mid meta was a bit more stable. The top meta was very stable, everyone knew Kennen, Rumble, Jayce were gonna be the big picks, but, yeah, jungle and support have been the interesting ones.
Ryan: Every Worlds there seems to be that one pick that comes in, starts out in the group stages and then just grows more and more powerful, more prioritized as we go on. We saw that with Janna in years past.
Ryan: Now Zyra this year I think is the big new pick, as you said. What do you think makes that happen so consistently, year after year?
PapaSmithy: I think there is also another variable there, in that the other pick that came through in the second week of groups, and I think H2K was one of the most polished ones, was Caitlyn. Cause Caitlyn has dominated the AD carry pool here and then, with Zyra, its kind of one of those scenarios where if you can get Caitlyn, as a first pick lets say, then suddenly the enemy has to deal with the ability of Caitlyn to push, so you want the Karma, you want the Zyra.
You can take Jhin/Zyra, but then Caitlyn/Karma can push as well. So it feels like Caitlyn has kind of boxed the bot lane into interesting spots, and now you are getting pushing supports and pushing AD carries. Because the meta is so much about, obviously, it’s standard lanes, you are hardcore pushing in lane, you are trying to get pressure so your jungler can invade. It has just been kinda those lane bully, those mage supports, that have been kind of the big story so far in the bot lane.
Ryan: Yeah! By the end of it, they know whether they are going to run or whether they are going to initiate further. What is it about Jhin that, considering he is so immobile, what is it about him that allows him to be this flexible pick that different teams use him for so many different things?
PapaSmithy: So when Jhin was first in the meta, people looked at it and they were like “he doesn’t have an escape.” Especially Korean teams have been notorious. If you don’t have an escape, don’t even bother playing it, but I think PraY was the first one who caught on to the fact that, you are correct, he has initiation, and he has two forms of initiation. A lot of champions have long range damage, look at champions like Rek’Sai’s Q, the one he has borrowed. You know, the long range poke, but then Jhin launches the Deadly Flourish and it’s a root right? It’s an initiation. The thing about Jhin’s initiation is that pre-six he has his Deadly Flourish, the W, has that snare initiation, and post-six, he has the ability to do use the Curtain Call.
If he is closed in on, he is very immobile, he can be killed. He can also hide behind a wall, hide way behind his tank line, and initiate with no commitment. It is the no-committal initiation that made Ashe such a big pick, until the latest round of nerfs came in and you launch the Ashe arrow. If it’s sweet, you’re going in, if not, nothing ventured, nothing gained. With Jhin, because he has a W, and the ultimate that kind of both allow for non-committal initiation where he can be super safe and starting a fight, that’s why Jhin has been such a big pick. We saw it yesterday [Saturday], Peanut launches an Olaf axe, Deadly Flourish, kill. Happened twice, won them the game in game four for the ROX Tigers. Range is so important. If there is no counter-play if Jhin’s not on the screen and he is also starting a fight? Seems pretty good to me.
Ryan: What teams at Worlds have impressed you the most so far?
PapaSmithy: I think definitely Samsung. We had a lot of queries about Samsung as a team coming into this tournament. I am the one who made the storyline about KT Rolster. KT Rolster not being here. Everyone now knows about the 0-19 record they turned around to make it to this tournament. Just the fact that they look as strong and polished given that, it’s a lot of younger players. A lot of players who have never been international. They have veterans from the Korean scene, but not necessarily for the Western scene.
We saw Samsung Ozone three years ago, struggle and go out on groups. Players like CuVee performing better than I think anyone could ever have realistically put him. There were signs that CuVee was a good player, top-10 Challenger for most of his career, but you wait for them to take the next step and that is something that CuVee has been able to do and Samsung, just so polished, it’s more than just Crown having a good game, it’s more than just Ambition having a good game. They are a strong five even though they have an NA AD carry, who became a Korean AD carry, who is now a Korean support, obviously being of Korean Nationality the whole time, but you follow what I’m saying, just recently changed to the role. They have a rookie AD carry who was playing in Challenger, didn’t even win the Challenger league, then got picked up and is now performing on the World stage.
It’s so important to have talent but also a mix of talent and experience. You know, ROX Tigers, four experience players and then Peanut coming out big on the Worlds stage. Samsung had so many unknown variables, and for them to be as good as they are is just shocking. Even as someone who saw all of their games in Summer and Spring.
Austen Goslin: So do you feel like that really happened right as they entered the Korean qualifiers? Like that was their moment? Because I know for CuVee especially, that was the moment that everybody kind of stopped and looked at him and said, “maybe he can compete with the rest of the world and the rest of the Korean top laners.”
PapaSmithy: It’s weird when there is a watershed moment that you don’t see coming, but I have to say yes. The big story was that Samsung on their first match of the season, might have been Day 1 or Day 2, they beat ROX 2-0, but ROX was completely in vacation hangover mode, they looked awful, mechanical mistakes-a-plenty. They won that 2-0. They did not take a single game off KT Rolster, SK Telecom, or ROX Tigers the whole season.
So, they went down 3-0 to KT in the actual playoffs, as expected, before the regionals. I thought, “OK, this is a team that can beat everyone below them but doesn’t have the tools to beat teams above them.” In sports you call them flat-track bullies, where you can beat the people that are a little worse than you, and that is kind of leveled at them. But credit to them. The one thing you can say is that these guys all have incredible work ethics, they worked super hard, they got their champion pools where they needed to, and they, you know, are killin’ it on the World stage. There is no other way to put it.
Ryan: So now that they are going up against either ANX or H2K, do you think they have a relatively easy path to the finals?
PapaSmithy: It’s an interesting one, because, it’s looking very likely it is going to be H2K. We are coming in, game one was very one-sided for H2K. Most analysts would say, H2k 3-0. H2K I think have a pretty good match-up against Samsung. Even though Samsung’s laning has been good, H2K’s strength is in laning. If they (H2K) can really snowball laning phase, if they can have FORG1VEN expose Ruler as a rookie, again, we are complimenting players for playing above expectation, but then if they play to expectations, which is to eventually show their rookie status, eventually fall down, then potentially there is a world in which H2K can do well.
Do I think H2K will win the series? No. I think Samsung will win, 3-1 or 3-2, it might actually be a five-game series, because in terms of map movement, in terms of, everyone says “macro” as a catch-all term, but basically their movement on the map, their communication is on a level above H2K, but it’s not a bad match-up for H2K and it is a fortunate side of the bracket for kind of both teams. Should be a really interesting semi-final.
Austen: Do you find that H2K has been hard to get an accurate read on this tournament? Because they haven’t really been challenged at all.
PapaSmithy: It is really weird to kind of get your head around H2K. Even you talk to the European analysts, and they are like, it is pretty much what we saw in the regular season. It is pretty much still “win lane, win game,” except they were just markedly better in Week 2. It’s so hard to read in a lot to the team. Obviously they had that big roster swap with FORG1VEN in the last week of the week of the season. It has brought them that skill that has allowed their bot lane to be a real place of power.
Credit to Prolly, he was on the Caitlyn train early. A lot of his meta decisions I think coming into this tournament have been very strong. If you said to me, “are H2K the strongest Western team in the world?” I’d say no, but they will be, most likely, the best performing Western team in the world. It is kind of weird to hold both of those ideas in your head at one time, but it’s a surprise that they have gotten this far. But they are almost certainly going to be a semi-final team at Worlds and they should be commended for that.
Ryan: Do you have a team that you are most disappointed in at Worlds here? Maybe a Western team that you thought would make it a lot farther than they did?
PapaSmithy: I think TSM is the easy answer. They don’t need me to rain on their parade. I commend any team that goes as serious as they did. Giving up streaming income, especially for Bjergson, the number one League of Legends streamer, Doublelift, two to three, wherever you want to say, is a big ask, but they did it all for Worlds. And then for it to all fall apart the way it did is heartbreaking for a Western fan.
Everyone wants to see - I think people have a misconception when it comes to Korean analysts. We just want to see the best team in the world play. That has traditionally been Korea, but if it’s the Western teams then that’s great to see. It would be a great world where the Quarterfinals were the top four regions being represented. Obviously someone has to be the loser there, whether it’s LMS, EU, NA, Korea, or China, but four out of five is what you would want because it would say that there is high quality teams around the world. It is kind of a depressing world where 3 of the four teams are Korean.
But you know, it’s been a good tournament, the meta shifted before, it’s been hard to get a good read on a lot of things this tournament, even the teams. The meta has shaped quite a lot week to week right? Even the Zyra pick is very much Johnny-come-lately for most teams right? It had only been the Korean teams playing it in the second week of groups. I can’t even tell you for sure what the Grand Finale meta will be because it has just been evolving as we go.
Ryan: So then what would you say, what soothing words could you offer to a Western fan who has been waiting since Season 3 to see any team but a Korean team win the finals? Do you think that is just a poor way to look at League?
PapaSmithy: It’s an interesting one, I think the fans should just look at the improvement and the team. It’s hard to look at just results because the results don’t bore out they had a difficult group, there are a lot of excuses that you can level. I think TSM were taking it the right direction, maybe to too much of a degree. I think it is smarter to kind of juggle streaming and professional play so you are being responsible fiscally to yourself and also for your career aspirations for winning worlds.
But if we see more and more teams take down that path, I want to see a NA region with four teams like TSM. Four teams who are at that level, taking the game as seriously, with the same level of talent. Because TSM for sure was a stacked team, Immortals had a lot of talent, obviously CLG underperformed, and Cloud9 kind of got it together late. There will be roster swaps, there always is. You just want the ecosystem in every country to be competitive. That is what you really want. I am hoping teams still find inspiration in TSM, even if the results didn’t bore out to support that.
Ryan: For those fans, do you think that teams are moving in the right direction? We have seen Korea be so dominant since Season 3, but at least in Week 1, things seemed a lot more even between the regions than a lot of people would have expected before Korea kind of came out and exploded in Week 2.
PapaSmithy: So is “The Gap” closing?
Ryan: I am avoiding getting to that question specifically, but, yeah.
PapaSmithy: I mean, “The Gap” in Season 3 - Koreans were playing a different game to every other region. A gap isn’t right, it was a chasm, it was massive. It was totally different back in Season 3. Coming forward to Season 6, it’s very much the infastructure and other things catching up to other regions. That is three years to catch up and Korea just keeps moving ahead.
So, it’s not necessarily caught up yet, but it’s moving in the right direction for sure. Western fans should be heartened by just how many people now have full-time jobs, how many analysts, all the other stuff involved in esports because the money that’s flowing into esports is being spent, in most cases, wisely to develop the support structure for these players. I can’t give you a time-line for when a Western team will win Worlds, but - give it time. Give it a few more years because they are moving in the right direction.
Ryan: I have got two more questions for you.
Ryan: Do you have a favorite Champion to cast? Someone that you love to see get picked up?
PapaSmithy: I think Gnar is one of the most fun ones to cast, kinda fell away just at this tournament. I like champions that are very readable, that both teams can understand when they’re strong and when they’re weak. I like the fact that he has the exhausted period after Mega-Gnar.
Basically, whenever Gnar is on the map, both teams kind of have full information. Even his Gnar-bar, his Rage-bar is information to play around for both teams. Then teleport comes into the equation. I love communication being rewarded on both the pro and con side. Another one would be Orianna because I like all the mind games about moving the Ball, waiting for the ultimate, zoning people with the ability. Once you use Command: Attack, you might be threatening Shockwave, you might be threatening Dissonance, but when the balls just sitting there, it isn’t doing any damage. It might be providing vision, but it’s all the stuff where the information is kind of there for both teams, and then where it goes from there is where I draw the excitement.
Ryan: Finally, we have a Shoutcaster Draven skin already. If you had to pick, at the end of the season, if they were to add another shoutcaster skin, or an analyst skin, what would you choose and what would that look like?
Papa Smithy: Oh, the goofy question. Hmm. Thats a hard one. Papa Smithy Tahm Kench, let’s do it.