At the end of the 2018 League of Legends World Championship it seemed a forgone conclusion that Fnatic would be one of the top teams in Europe throughout 2019. However, the off season wasn’t kind to Fnatic. Their coach, Dylan Falco, would leave the organisation to coach FC Schalke 04. Rasmus Borregaard "Caps" Winther went to G2 Esports and would be replaced with rookie Tim "Nemesis" Lipovšek.
At the start of the season, the Europeans saw their former kings in shambles. At the end of Week 3, the squad was 1-5.
The team would claw their way to a playoff berth and here at the start of the Summer Split, they are 6-0. But in between, a lot of the blame fell on Jungler Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen.
While at Rift Rivals, GINX Esports TV's Amanda Stevens spoke with the Fnatic Jungler about the squad’s fall from grace, having Dan in the wings competing for his spot, and how he handles the mental burden of being a pro player.
Last split, it worked itself out. It was a very rough start for Fnatic and I specifically remember during a stream you said that there was no way that a finalist at Worlds could be this bad and you were pretty emotional about it. What was it like to go from a pretty high point with your team in the finals of Worlds and then come back domestically and be one of the worst teams?
Well, obviously, we did get swept by IG in the World finals but I still believe that if we handled a few things a little bit differently it would have been different. For example, I think we burned out during the last week of Worlds because we have been on the grind for so long and have been practicing probably a little bit too hard for the tournament so we did not have a good week leading up to the final and then everything fell apart. We had a really bad play. We made it all the way to the final, which then made us become a little too overconfident.
All of a sudden, many of us faltered while we were one of the best players in our role or whatever it may be. But we had to get down from our high horses quickly because we had a really rough start to Spring Split and realised that we have to reset. We have to restart from the bottom again and just try to work as a team. In Spring Split, we were pretty good individually, we just lacked teamplay. It took a while for us to play well as a team, but we consistently started to gain wins as the Split went on. I am happy we managed to crawl back but it is no secret that Spring Split was a very tough one mentally.
A lot of people will look at the roster and view it as only losing Caps, but you lose a lot of behind the scenes infrastructure and even though Soaz and Bwipo have been splitting time, you still lost another rock in the top lane. How much of it do you think can be attributed to the overconfidence of being No.2 in the world and how much of it do you think is "we have to learn how to play a new game of League of Legends"? The meta had shifted, there was no longer this massive pressure point in the mid-lane that was Caps. Do you think adding Nemesis to the mix was the issue or did some of the magic disappear?
I feel like it is a mix of many things, losing Caps is one thing because Caps is a really good player. Then trying to change our style a little bit with Nemesis. He is still a really good player and he is starting to show that now with more experience, but when you swap a player you always have to change the team’s style a bit so we had to adapt to his style to make things work according to him. At the same time, by no means was mid-lane the problem necessarily. I think overconfidence was one, all of the changes with staff and Soaz. We were just trying to get used to changes and trying to make everything work as a team again. We lost Soaz, Caps, our analyst, coach. We still had most of our players, but with a lot of people leaving.
I think we were just a bit too confident going into the split which makes sense because we had a real high during Worlds 2018 and actually made the finals. We should not have been as confident as we were and we learned that the hard way.
What did it feel like to be humbled that heavily. It is not like you guys went 0-2 in the first week, you guys looked like a very bottom of the table team, going into the fourth or fifth week you guys did not look strong. It looked like you guys were mud fighting your way to win. Mentally, how did you battle your way back from that?
For me, even when I lost, I still believe that we can win. As I mentioned earlier, the thing we were lacking was teamplay. We did not have synergy as a team. We did not play properly as a team and individually it was still pretty clear to me that everybody was actually good enough to make this work. We were really fighting with time. I think the first two weeks were really rough, but then we started to snowball a little bit.
I remember there was a point where we were actually super close to missing the playoffs and that was a big turning point because there was still a lot of pressure in the way of reaching playoffs but at the same time, we all knew that we have to try and change something to make this work and actually play as a team or else we are not even making the playoffs. That was a pretty tough one because I still thought we were actually good, but we just did not have the teamplay. Around that time we brought in a sports psychologist which was huge for us because our mental areas were where we were lacking. He would come in and do exercise with each person individually but would also do team exercises.
Working on all of those mental areas really helped us a lot to bounce back.
When you say the word Fnatic, not just in League of Legends, you think winners, you think dominance. I want to know, in that atmosphere, do you ever feel the name becomes tough to live up to? It feels like you should never not be the winners. With SKT, they are 2-5 right now. Nobody expects that. Everybody expects to log onto a website and see SKT at the top. Do you think that weighs on you to have that legacy standing behind you and the expectation from your fans that you are supposed to be winning?
I feel like that was something I mainly struggled with in my first Split. Especially because I was just pulled into the main team unexpectedly. In my first Split, I struggled a lot with confidence and trying to deal with the pressure more than anything else. There was a lot of pressure coming from myself, but also from the organisation, my fans, my team and trying to deal with that was really rough at the time, but that is something I learned to deal with well along the way. One thing that has always been the case for me was that there might be a lot of expectation coming from the org and the fans but it will never outshine the expectations I have for myself. Even now, with this Split, I feel like I have performed pretty well.
We just won against Cloud9 [at Rift Rivals] which is super nice, but at the same time, even though we are 7-0, I am still not happy about my play and even after that Cloud9 game, it was a pretty good game for the most part, I am still not entirely satisfied. The expectation from the outside will never be higher than my own.
There has been a lot of talk in gaming and esports about mental health. There was the YouTuber, Etika, that recently took his life. What do you do to sort of protect yourself mentally because it can be rough?
One of the things that has always been important to me has been being able to open up about it. This is something that a lot of the people in the scene really struggle with. One of the scariest things that you can do is to keep it to yourself and deal with it on your own because opening up about and talking to someone that is a good friend or a sports psychologist or even calling back home.
Opening up and talking about it to somebody that sees things from a different perspective than you really helps a lot. There were a lot of times last year where I have been really down. Even though it does not remove the frustrations, having somebody to talk to makes me feel a lot better about things.
At the start of the Split, you wrote that statement where Fnatic had announced that Dan was going to be sharing time with you. Since then, you have had a pretty monstrous split and your stats have been insane. How has having Dan affected you mentally. Has it driven you? Are there two sides of the coin for you? How has that been working out?
I think that there are definitely two sides to the coin for me and it seems like a lot of people from the outside will think Dan has made me the player I am and is why I have been so good, but I do not feel like it is the case actually. Obviously, it has motivated me and forced me to fight for my spot. I have to deal with things in a different way than I have in the past, but at the same time after Spring Split, I feel like I did everything I could to step up either way. It is a bit of a tricky situation for me.
I was in the same situation back when I first joined Fnatic and now I am the main jungler. Obviously, it is not the same, but I still have to fight for my spot. I now have to prove to my coaches and the fans my worth. That has caused frustration. I also admitted that I have not had an easy time accepting this decision but I am now learning to deal with it in the best way possible and try to use it to grow even more as a player and be the best player that I can be.
When you talk about frustration, obviously you talk about what is best for the team. I think that is a universal thing, you have to be selfless in that sense. Having somebody like Dan who is not as experienced, do you guys have a healthy relationship. How do you interact with him? This guy is fighting for your spot, but he needs to work on this part of his pathing so you're going to let him know? Or do you see those moments of weakness and view it as a way to show that you are better than him?
I feel like for the most part, we do have a pretty good relationship. We are really good at giving each other feedback and discussing picks alongside jungle things. Obviously, it feels a little weird because there is a voice in your head that is saying that this guy is not only here to help me, but he is here to fight for my spot. But for the most part, we help each other as much as we can. We have somewhat different playstyles so we do not agree on everything, but I think in general it has been really nice having someone from the outside tell us what he would like to see changed. When you play as a team, you end up being in your own bubble, so having somebody from the outside perspective or a new coach is a positive.
When you had the time during the offseason to reset, you said you were not happy with your play, so I would imagine that you played more solo queue. What else did you do to reset during the offseason? What were you doing to get back to the Broxah that got to the World Finals?
Something that was really hard and important to me was to actually have goals daily and having some time for my own. For example, when I went to Worlds, it was always really important for me to go to the gym every other day, just to think of something else really. When I think of something else, I get to gather my thoughts a little bit and try to figure out what I want to do. When I was at home, I tried to do that more and just gather my thoughts. At the same time, I would spend a lot of time with my girlfriend, family and friends.
As I discussed earlier, the worst thing that you can do is keep things to yourself. I try to take their advice and that is a pretty good way for me to deal with stuff.
Burnout is a very strong topic in esports. Do you think that the way the current ecosystem in esports, specifically League of Legends, leads to some mental health issues? With each Split, MSI, Rift Rivals, Worlds and All-Stars, there is a lot going on. After all that, you only have three weeks off during the seasons and maybe two or three months you have to do a bootcamp to go back and scrim. Do you think something might need to change in the League of Legends landscape to give players more time to take care of themselves?
I think the league infrastructure is one thing, but I also think that one of the main issues is that it's not like in traditional sports, where they have a lot of knowledge on how they can become the best player that they can be, how they deal with things in their personal life. But in esports, while staff is starting to come into the scene, there is still a lot left to be desired. For example, even looking at the previous month, I have rarely done anything other than playing League of Legends which is maybe okay for a short period of time, but I do not know how you can do that every single day for months on end. It is really unhealthy and it is important to eventually try to find a good balance between being a player and having a personal life.
Right now, you are just a player and if you want to be the best, you are just a player. As a result, the personal side is getting overshadowed. I do not think that is how it should be honestly. I think that if you can manage everything a little bit better, if teams and the leagues start getting larger and start pushing a direction where players can manage their regular day better, than maybe things can be different because I think that sometimes instead of just playing, players can go to the gym or talk to a friend or having a bit of time to separate themselves from League. That would really help you so much more than just randomly playing more solo queue. If there was a little more free time here and there, that would make the professional life healthier.
Broxah and Fnatic are in action next weekend. You can watch them play each week on the Riot Games Twitch channel.