Blitz Esports sat down with Splyce Head Coach Peter Dun after the team's 3rd place finish in the EU LCS finals. We got to talk about Coaching in Brazil, How Splyce's coaching staff works, and Red side vs Blue side.
Renato, Blitz League Producer: Your first League of Legends team after working in China was INTZ in Brazil. Why Brazil, and why INTZ specifically over moving to NA or EU?
Peter Dun: To put it frankly, after Season 4 I basically retired from League of Legends. I didn't think I would coach again. I think it's worth remembering that Season 1 to Season 3, Season 4 was a time when League was not as professional. It wasn't something you could really do as a full-time career. Maybe in Season 4, but certainly not Seasons 1 to 3. And when we talk about sort of support staff, even the organizations which have more sophisticated structures didn't really employ full time analysts.
It was something you did one or two additional projects for; it was fun, it was interesting, but it wasn't what I was looking for from my career. So at the end of Season 4 I basically retired. I'd been in China for my masters, and I was working in China, working in government relations for a multinational company in Beijing. Come Season 5, I did a few YouTube videos and wrote an article or two on Reddit, but basically, my time was preoccupied with family concerns and with my career outside of League.
It was really at the start of Season 6 that I got involved again, and this was because Alexander Haibel, Abaxial, who was the coach of INTZ at the time, suggested that if I was looking for a new challenge, that I might be interested in coming to Brazil and coming to try to help improve the region. And this was something which was really appealing to me, because Brazil was a region at the time which had a lot of fans, but the level of play in Brazil was not very high.
So I thought that maybe I could make a lasting impact and help to improve the region as a whole, and this to me was more appealing, because there was a greater chance to maybe leave a legacy, leave a mark. I thought originally it was going to be a one-year project, ended up being two years, but it wasn't a thing that I'd anticipate doing for a decade. It was something which would maybe be short term, then I would return, maybe do an MBA or something, and then go back and fulfill my normal career in conventional work.
But I definitely enjoyed the experience in Brazil. I hope that I left a positive mark on Brazil. But at the end of two years, when I felt my time in Brazil was coming to an end, Splyce made me a very interesting offer. We had the option to build a new roster from scratch—a new, young roster. And the challenge of working in Europe—I'm British, so the opportunity to work in Europe was something which was very appealing to me.
Back in Season 2/Season 3, I applied to work with a few of the top EU teams at the time, but basically, never received any responses. I think I spoke to some of the players who played for those teams... the impression I got was that coaching was not really something people thought was necessary back in Season 2. So the chance to work in Europe again was really appealing to me, because I just wanted to see what it was like as a new environment.
Can you tell me about the set up you have on Splyce, and what the ideal coaching staff size or roles look like for you?
So basically, I think the big difference that separates Splyce from other teams, other sorts of western teams, is that we have a very distinct separation of responsibility. So my assistant coach is James 'Mac' MacCormack, and Duke is our strategic coach, but also fulfills an assistant coach's role. And within Splyce, each person has the ability to contribute a lot in post game discussion. So I will lead the discussion, but Duke and Mac are free to interrupt me, they're free to contradict me, and they're free to make points about how we should advance our play.
Every week we have a weekly meeting, we discuss what happens in the previous weeks. These are very frank discussions, there's a lot of criticism, lots of things working on what we can improve coming into the next week. And they're able to do this because they have a lot of individual coaching experience. Mac, he's a French regional league champion with Millenium. He coached in Challenger Series. He's coached in Russia. He's coached—well, working with a Brazilian team. Duke has extensive experience in leadership outside of League of Legends. He was with Paris Saint-Germain, but that was his first coaching role. I think he was adjusting a little bit to working in League of Legends. But he has a lot of experience in conventional works outside, in management positions. So I think working in Splyce, he's worked very hard to build up his strategic knowledge, and it makes a big contribution, especially on draft.
Honestly I think that, when we look back on this coaching squad, I'm sure in five years that we will maybe wonder how, in a region where people say that the coaching level is a little bit uneven, how Splyce managed to get such a strong coaching staff together, and I'm sure that come the end of this year, these are both people who may be assistant coaches now, but could easily become strong coaches in their own right at the end of this year. But basically, we have a more participatory approach in terms of coaching.
Players are invited and encouraged to take part in conversations. If people disagree with what we've said, they're free to discuss. We discuss in depth. But I think that, rather than going over every single individual incident within scrims, we tend to focus on three or four things as major talking points, and then we discuss and debate these sorts of issues as a team. Even in games where we've won in 20 minutes, we try to focus on, "Could we have done this five seconds faster? Could this rotation have happened earlier? Could we have traded this tower for nothing instead of trading it for damage on another tower?" or things like this. So I think that's what separates how we work from other teams.
Your late-season success coincided with patch 8.4. Was there anything in the patch that helped Splyce click? Or did adaptation just put you a cut above the rest?
So the 8.4 patch definitely did help Splyce. It's because it was the patch where banner minions were introduced, and it gave Odoamne a lot more ability to influence the game off his roams, especially when he was on tanks, because you could just set banner in a side wave and then you could rotate really quickly.
I think at the start of the season, I think it wasn't just mainly a case of 8.4. I think Splyce improved a lot as the season progressed, but that on 8.1 and 8.2 we were sort of finding our feet. We have five players from five different backgrounds in terms of different teams, five different players who had different ideas for how to play the game and about different priorities, and I think our level of strategic and macro knowledge was actually pretty weak amongst the team as a whole, and this is something that we worked very hard on improving in the first three or four weeks.
I'm not going to lie to you: frankly, we were awful in the first three or four weeks. We were lucky to go 1-1 in half of those weeks. But we improved over time, and I think this is because the players worked extra hard. The players get a lot of one-to-one feedback at Splyce in addition to scrims, but it was often the case of players coming and saying, "We want more. Can you give me some more one-to-one feedback? Can you tell me a little more about where I'm late on my rotation?" and things like this. And I think that definitely helped the team progress, and this is one of the reasons why we got better.
I think 8.4 just gave us an additional boost, but I think the fundamentals were already being built into place. I don't think we would have looked as good on 8.3, but we definitely improved on 8.4. It's also worth saying that, on the early patches in the season, especially 8.1/8.2, Odoamne in particular looked extremely poor, like when he was playing Illaoi, I think that's one of the worst games of his career. It was against Unicorns. But I think that this was because Odoamne was having to do a lot of the micromanagement of other people within the team, and as the team got better, Odoamne was able to focus more on his own play and his own focus on the game. And this meant that he looked a lot better come the end of the season, but it was because he was helping to carry a little bit of our communication in the early part of the season.
A lot of teams just default to banning Swain on red side. So after first picking and winning with it, you guys decided to leave it open playing against G2, and they ended up flexing into top lane and counterpicked mid. So did you expect the flex, and leaving it up twice, did you have a strategy going into the game?
I think that it's telling that both us and G2 left up Swain at the start of the series. Swain is obviously a pick which is extremely powerful and has had lots of success on 8.5, and even nerfed on 8.6, he sees a lot of play. But it's interesting to remember that both us and G2 were scrimming against the same teams. I can't possibly comment about which teams those might have been, but we both came into the series with a similar perception on how strong Swain was.
Now this doesn't mean that we were right. I mean, against Vitality, we just banned Swain. And honestly, if we'd been on red side in Game 4 against G2, we would have banned Swain too, because simply put, I think Nisqy's Swain and Wunder's Swain were much stronger than the Swains that we played against in scrims. So we thought we were able to handle the pick, and we weren't, and I take full responsibility for that. But given the information that we had, we thought that we could handle it.
Swain mid is (pause).
... I was working out how long until we play another game; it's 10 weeks, it doesn't matter, I can talk all I want—
Swain mid is countered by a lot of picks such as Cassiopeia, such as Ryze. There's a lot of answer to it in the meta. Swain top is a champion which is a very strong lane bully, but your team can often lack other tools with him—engage tools, for instance. So you can compositionally look to counter the Swain, or you can look to isolate Swain in a 1v1 match up against a champion that can get pressure against it, such as Gnar, which is what we tried to do in Game 3. Without much success, but it's what we tried to do.
However, this only works if the Swain you are playing against is not as strong as Wunder, and Wunder really showed us that we made a misread on how strong Swain was. But given the data we'd had from scrims, and how we'd been performing against it, I think it was a reasonable assumption to make. But make no mistake, Game 4 we would have banned it. If it had gone to Game 5, we would have banned it, and we banned it in our third/fourth place match.
Why does Splyce prefer red side when so many other teams prefer blue?
I think the best way to answer this is in more general terms. Generally, blue side gives you more powerful individual champions, red side gives you more power, more flexibility in terms of how you're going to change your pick.
Basically, if you are blue side, your champion pick should on average be stronger than the enemy champions. It's only worthwhile picking red side if you have a wide champion pool in a particular position, which you want to try to benefit from in terms of draft.
So for us obviously, in the early weeks of the season, we counterpicked for support every single time. This didn't mean we just pick ranged supports, it just happened that ranged supports were picked more frequently than others.
So in a meta where the average level of champions is more even, this naturally benefits red side. In a meta where—not necessarily where there are more OPs, because you can just ban those if there's one or two, or you can trade them—but where the level is really uneven, then it tends to be more beneficial to go blue side, unless you can really benefit from the counterpick support.
Early on in the season, the level was extremely uneven. There were several A - tiers, several B-tiers, several C-tiers, but there was a clear hierarchy, and I think this is why most teams went blue. But we felt that we could gain enough from the counterpick, especially on support, to make red worth it.
In your third place match, you went up against Vitality, who also prefer red side. Why did you want to go red side against them, and why do you think they selected blue?
So for why they selected blue side, I honestly couldn't tell you. You'd have to ask Yamato. I think it may have been something to do with wanting to play more heavily toward bot lane. Generally you want red side if you're going to be a more solo lane focused team, although several solo lane focused teams in Europe do not do this. But I could not tell you why Vitality decided to switch it up.
Maybe it was to catch us off guard. We were certainly caught off guard. I hypothesize it's because they had good picks, blind picks that they were hoping to play in mid lane and top, and that they were therefore looking to play toward bot and didn't expect us to counterpick support into what they were hoping to blind for their support, probably Thresh something or like this. For us, it wasn't a difficult decision. We wanted red side because we knew that Vitality are generally a team that play through mid jungle, and we wanted to have a winning mid jungle matchup. And that's basically why we chose red side every single game.
Photos via lolesports
Disclosure: Riot Games, the publisher of League of Legends, is an investor in Blitz Esports.