After their win over Counter Logic Gaming this weekend, I caught up with Clutch Gaming support Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent to talk about reconstituting Team EnVyUs, his love of Morgana, and what role analytics have in League of Legends.
Miles Yim: Congratulations on your victory over CLG. What do you feel you guys did well to win?
Hakuho: I think overall we teamfought well. Our early game was kinda bad at first because they made a play top side and that was our weak side. But bot lane we always know, the 2v2 we had is really strong at fighting. So once we got to teamfights, Varus, Morgana are really strong. Azir got a lot of kills early, so Azir was super strong. And then we kept forcing it down mid and bot side, then eventually we got to top side. I think we played fights well, and that’s how we got ahead. Whereas their comp, if they fall behind they just lose because they picked Jayce, a super snowbally champ. You either win or lose in 15 minutes. I think the one thing we did kinda bad was the second Baron. We could’ve just forced it down earlier, we were scared to fight them in the jungle. So we danced around it for five minutes, and nothing really happened.
You mention top side being a weak side. Is there any specific strategy you take into the draft to help [Colin “Solo” Earnest]?
Solo’s actually really good. He’s a really skilled player, and we just drafted for the team comp. We took Gangplank just because it’s a champion that even if you fall behind or get ahead, generally it’s just good for your team comp. And if we’re blinding a champion, GP’s just a safer one. They counterpicked it, and they also picked a mid laner that had pressure, so they wanted to dive top really early, which is what they did. I think overall, we’re not drafting because of Solo, we’re drafting for the team comp. I know if we gave him a counterpick, he’d be able to do the same thing. Even though he died, he was still fine farming, and just letting mid and bot lane win, and then we would help him later.
Speaking of your bot lane, you and [Apollo “Apollo” Price] drafted a crowd-control heavy lane with Varus and Morgana. What are you looking for in lane when you draft a duo like that?
Well, I wanted them to pick Braum which is what they did, because I’m a Morgana player—that’s my favorite champion—and I can pretty much make him useless in teamfights. Especially Sejuani too, she never got her ulti off in any teamfight. The bot lane works, once we hit six, we hard win because we can just fight them and they’ll die. Which is what happened like twice I think, I just flashed on Ezreal and he can’t get away. Overall, the bot lane draft is good for us because we knew they wanted to take Braum, so we just left it open. We had the option to ban it, but I have good counterpicks for it, so we just let them have it. And then once we got the fights bot early, and mid was okay after 5-10 minutes when he got a kill on Jayce. We pretty much just snowballed off that since they couldn’t make any plays top after the first one.
You mentioned that Morgana is your favorite champion. Why?
Uh, I just like her. She’s one of the first few champs I played, and I played her a lot. I used to main her in Season 3 and 4. And I just like playing her a lot because she’s fun. I like skillshot champions like Thresh, Nautilus, anything with hooks, and Morgana’s the same kind where if you land the binding, you can pretty much kill them. You can outplay people really hard with it.
You’re in a new team, new organization, but it has a few familiar parts. [Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo] and Apollo are both former teammates from Team EnVyUs. What kind of synergy has continued between the three of you from last split, and what advantage do you feel that gives you, if any?
We have the core from EnVyUs, so the team was built around that idea. Overall the synergy between us has been really good. And with the two new players— [Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten] and Solo—our synergy has been good the past few weeks. It helps us with making game plans and what we want to do. Because we know what jungle style LirA wants to do, and generally the jungler controls the early game. So if you know what the jungler wants to do, the lanes can play accordingly. And I think that’s the proper way to play the game, the jungler should control where everyone goes.
I’m interested to get your take on CLG, who you spent most of this past week preparing to play. They’re 0-3 to start the split. From an outsider’s perspective, what’s your read on their struggles? How do you diagnose what’s going wrong?
I don’t know how the inner workings of their team work, but they lost who I thought was their main shotcaller in [Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black]. So I think right now, they have maybe some shotcalling issues. I think the top side of the map is still really strong, and they have a strong jungler. So mid, top and jungle are all strong players. Bot lane, I’m not sure about the duo yet. They picked a safe bot lane, so you can’t actually showcase your skill. And I saw that when they played Janna, it didn’t look that good, they didn’t really punish in lane. The bot lane has some issues with synergy right now, and they don’t have a clear shotcaller, so they aren’t making use of their advantages they get.
Widening the lens, Clutch Gaming is a new org backed by Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets. What interactions, if any, have you had with him and the NBA side?
Daryl actually came by last week, and he was pretty cool. We talked with him for a bit. Right now, the Houston Rockets actually sent out a media team here to videotape us and everything this week. So that’s pretty cool. Overall the orgs been great so far. We’ve got everything we’ve needed and we’ve got a really good support staff with us. Was this the first time you’d met Morey, and what was he like? Yeah, it was the first time I’d met him. He was really chill, talked to us and pepped us up, telling us to get in there and do our best.
Morey and Sebastian Park have said publicly that they wanted League of Legends to be the first esport they fielded a team in. I know Sebastian has been around the scene for a while, but does Morey strike you as someone who’s particularly interested in League of Legends on a gameplay level? Does he understand the game?
Daryl seems like he’s interested in competition in general. He sees how much competition there is, a lot of fiery personalities in League so, it’s like an interesting sport since this is the biggest esport right now. It’s something new. If you look at it compared to normal sports, it’s starting to get to that point. It’s still pretty far off, but there are signs of that happening with all of the investors coming in. I don’t think he actually plays it, but he knows enough to help us. Sebastian is really into League, he always tries to help us with scrims and stuff like that.
And what is Sebastian’s involvement on a day to day basis?
He actually comes around a lot. He helps with everything. He got us everything we needed, he watches our scrims for the most part, and he’ll help us if we’re struggling with something. In general, he handles whatever we need.
Clutch Gaming came into the scene with a background in data analytics, Moreyball, stuff that’s worked in the NBA. What of that approach have you seen in their League of Legends undertaking?
I personally haven’t looked at any data or anything like that, but I know we have people doing that for us…We have a really big support staff of people that specialize for that. I don’t really know what they do, but I assume it’s going to help us later in the split when they look at all of our past games.
So no one has come up to you set and shown you the numbers of, for instance, how many skillshots you missed, or something to that effect?
Yeah, not really. League is not really a game that’s super stat-based, so it’s kinda hard to do that. I think the idea that our team is built on analytics is overstated. For basketball, maybe, but for League it’s a different kind of game. Stats don’t really tell the whole story…It’s a team game, so the team that’s winning will have the best stats, pretty much. The top three team will probably always have the top stats just because of how the game works. If you just base everything off stats, you’re going to get an unclear picture. There could be a really good player on a lower ranked team, but the stats will say they’re sixth or seventh place or something.
It sounds like the only real way to assess a player’s skill is to watch the VODs.
Yeah. I mean, watching the game is the only way to see how good people actually are. If you know the game yourself, if you’re a high-ranked player, or an analyst, they’ll watch and see what people are doing compared to the top Korean players I would say, because there the best. So you compare how other people are to them. You see playstyles, how they might trade, skillshots, vision control. Especially junglers with jungle pathing. It’s a major part, where as stats won’t ever tell you about jungle pathing. You have to actually watch the game and study how people do certain things.
For me, it was disappointing to see Envy not make franchising because the team looked so good towards the end of last split. Now that you’re reconstituted as what is essentially an upgraded Envy, what goals do you have for the split as this new team?
This split, I want to get top four, at least as the new five. I want to go to Worlds this year, so I’ll wait and see how our team does. At least for this split, I’m working on the team communication, because that’s one of our flaws right now. And if we can fix that, I think we’ll be one of the top five teams at least.
On a personal level, were you disappointed that Envy missed the cut and that you might not have a chance to come back?
I wasn’t scared about me not coming back. The three of us…I was scared that we wouldn’t be able to play on a team together, but we looked for a new team together. Since there were a lot of new orgs coming in, it was actually easier for us to stay together as three because we could sell the fact that we were the core of that team. I think initially when it happened, I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t know what I’m going to do for next year. I know I’m going to play in the league, but I don’t know for what team or what ID I’m going to play with.’ Eventually, Apollo, LirA, and I tried to start finding a team together and it worked out. And we brought [Toby “Pyrex” Kwon], our old manager, with us.
How was negotiating as a trio? That’s a bit unusual in the scene, isn’t it?
It’s only unusual if the orgs weren’t so different. But since there were a lot of new orgs coming in, it was actually kind of easy to find teams that wanted us. Since it was franchising and there were four new orgs, it was easy to find teams that wanted a core roster to build off of.
Going into tomorrow’s match [versus Team Liquid], what’s one thing you’d like to improve upon that you didn’t do so well today?
I think for next match, we just want to be more decisive. The second Baron we were kind of slow with, so they cleared out or vision and then we couldn’t really start it that fast. We just fought them and killed them and we won off that. But it wasn’t really planned, so I just want us to be more decisive as a team.