After the initial four weeks of EU LCS, one team that fans wouldn't pick as playoffs material was H2k-Gaming. The team punched one win in eight matches, before miraculously turning it around to finish with an 8-10 final record — a playoffs-worthy record.
How did this lightning-fast ascent happen? How did the team became top 6 in Europe, and was one win away from actually playing on the Copenhagen stage? Cybersport.com sat down with head coach Michael "Veteran" Archer and analyst Kelsey Moser for a lengthy recollection.
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You went from 1-7 to 8-10 and I'm thinking, "What the hell is up with this team?"
Veteran: I prefer to think of it as this specific iteration of the roster that is 7-3; this is a playoffs team, this is potentially a top 4 team if we just put it in there at the start of the Split, and there's no reason that we shouldn't. We've always been looking to qualify for playoffs the whole time.
Today, when we qualified, it felt right. We weren't stealing it, we weren't just in the nick of it. Maybe we weren't ready for the playoffs but this was definitely a playoffs team. We knew that at the start of the day, and we proved that by the end of it.
It's just really difficult for a support on a low-level team to end up advancing his career very quickly.
Kelsey: Yeah. More or less, that's exactly what happened. I was thinking today that we had a very difficult second half, and it felt really good that the final game decided everything. We didn't have to wait for someone else doing this or that. If we win this game, we make playoffs — that's it. That was very satisfying.
You earned it on your own anyway.
Veteran: The whole team by themselves — okay, with our help. Let's face it, we're amazing. [smirk] Everybody is just really, really happy right now, I am really proud of them. I'm really happy especially for Sprattel [Promisq], because that guy had never made playoffs before. He was the first guy that I went to afterward, and he's the guy I was happiest for the whole time. I've been really rooting for him the whole time.
This guy really tries; I've said many times in interviews that he's a really big voice in the team. Even if it is not coming to engages or something, he'll still try to keep morale high in the team. He's a really strong effective voice, and he has always been a playoffs-worthy support in my opinion. I'm really glad that he was able to show it, and I think he can do better. I really hope that this is a real motivational point for his career going forward.
This guy does not deserve the reputation he has. It's a reputation that even I helped propagate many a time. I believe that my exact quote about SpratteL was that he's literally the single most average person I've ever seen when it comes to playing, and I'm really glad that he's able to show it. I guess technically making the playoffs doesn't make you dead center of average anyway.
But I'm really glad that he has an opportunity to show that he is more than that, for sure. We definitely couldn't have done it with any other support.
He went through the whole 2017 season with Paris Saint-Germain. It'd be really easy to say, "He's been with YellOwStaR, YellOwStaR exchanged a lot of things with him" but maybe you have more context on the matter?
Kelsey: The way you start in the LCS often defines your career, and let's face it: the start of his career was so unimpressive and probably so awkward in terms of the community reaction that he changed his name from promisq because of the meme and everything else. If you start out on a bad team, then you are almost automatically going to end in the bottom bin unless you're in a very particular circumstance where you can look really good somehow: become a KDA player or something like this.
For supports, it's very difficult to get people to help you when you are in those particular circumstances because even analysis or statistics don’t really capture the impact that a support is having on a game. A lot of times, coaches or people around them don't even know how to help them. I think it's just really difficult for a support on a low-level team to end up advancing his career very quickly.
I've never seen this guy intimidated.
Promisq is someone who actually really does want to keep advancing. He really does want to get better. He really does want to be a top-level support. I think he can definitely make it there, and the dedication that he has already shown, [namely getting] to a point where he's making playoffs and where he's being looked at — he's getting player of the game [awards] — is very impressive. It's inspiring to me as well.
Speaking of dedication, he's not the only dedicated player on the team. I'm not just talking about SmittyJ, I'm also looking at the newcomer, Sheriff. [With promisq,] these three guys have been in all iterations of the roster in 2018, and as much as we talked about promisq, we haven't talked about those three as a package, evolving with all of those changes. What have you observed in terms of their evolution through the good and the bad?
Veteran: Smitty has been with me for a year and a half now. This is our third consecutive Split together. We've been through a lot of issues, and it hasn't always been easy for him or for me, but we've stuck together. There's an unspoken understanding almost at this point now between me and him: that we will have some shitty times, but we'll just persevere. Generally, the plot armor kicks in towards the end of the split, and we make it through anyway to whatever the fuck. And we stand there like, "I guess we did it again!"
When it comes to Sheriff, he's just literally sat there to do his job. This guy doesn't seem to be intimidated by constantly going up against these players. He's just going to play his game. He wants to know what champions he's going to play, what champions he should be practicing. And he wants to know how to improve in scrim vods, discussions and stuff. But I've never seen this guy intimidated. It's actually where, for a 17-year-old like that — and this is going to sound like an overdone comparison — he legitimately reminds me of FORG1VEN in his approach to a lot of this stuff.
FORG1VEN, in interviews and stuff, will obviously trash talk a lot. Behind the scenes, he legit just doesn't care. Sheriff doesn't care that he could be playing Rekkles the next day — if it's a Vayne game, it's a Vayne game. He didn't care today at the prospect of playing Jinx, a champion that is off-meta and isn't something that we've regularly practiced like a mainstay of ours. [...] This guy is confident that he can play anything into anything, and if I tell him, "We need to do this into this", he'll make it work. He won't be intimidated by it, ever. It's like a mental aspect there that is really impressive.
He hasn't turned into a huge voice, [but] he has turned into a reliable player who will do his job on whatever pick I give him. That's really encouraging for everyone around him, [and] for me as a guy watching him build his career. He has all the tools he needs, and he has star potential.
Kelsey: I think a lot of that can be said about most of the team, though. Our pick-ban discussion goes, "How about this? Can we play this into this?", "Yeah, I'm down!" People are really flexible. They are willing to work with stuff if it seems to be good on paper.
People are very proactive about bringing solutions. There is never a situation where [they say], "We can't do that. That's bad. There is no way to play against that, there is no way to work around this." If there is a problem, that almost immediately comes with someone saying "Will we do this to fix it?" and that is part of what is helping these players look really strong.
I'm pretty sure that was not always the case, and I'm talking about the necessity of roster changes to activate all of it. Shook joined as jungler as Caedrel stepped down, but there is also the elephant in the room — Santorin. What's up with that? Why did it not work out with him?
Veteran: All the attributes that Kelsey just named weren't attributes that were [Caedrel's] highest priority. It was not necessarily that he was a bad jungler by any means. I think he is a good jungler, and I hope that he can still prove that he can work on other teams. But as a general fit for us, exploring other options was a lot better.
We were in a position where we needed an instinctual change. It's a change that worked out. Had we made it earlier, maybe Caedrel would still be with us. He lost a lot of motivation during that Split, and a lot of that is on me. I really, really want to keep rosters together for as long as I can. This split obviously doesn't look very good on my record like that, but it almost began with me trying to salvage the roster from the last Split that I had.
Players like Smitty are the type of players that I want to work with for the rest of my life.
Players like Smitty are the type of players that I want to work with for the rest of my life. I would work with this team for the rest of my life if I could. It never always works out that way, but yeah.
The Santorin change has been, obviously, a good one overall. I think everybody can agree on the results there. I don't really have much to say on that topic, to be honest, because I feel that if I had done my job better when putting together the roster initially, then the necessity of these changes wouldn't be so high.
I feel like when it comes to Caedrel, it really sucks. I legit do feel a lot of regrets there because that guy had a really good career incoming. I should have handled it better, and I need to handle that type of responsibility better. I learned a lot, and there's definitely no mistake that I've made that I would repeat again. There's no risk that I took there that I would feel the need to take again. When it comes to careers like that, you can't gamble, and I'm really sorry to Caedrel that it didn't work out. I really wish that he felt like he could've stuck with it for longer.
Kelsey: I just want to say that Caedrel is a very dedicated player. I talked to him quite a bit before coming in-house, and I think that if he comes up as a jungler in the coming years, it won't be surprising to me at all.
Veteran: Kelsey worked a lot with Caedrel actually, even though everybody knew that it was only going to be a week 1 thing. She did everything she could to try to make the situation work with Caedrel. We definitely didn't write him off for that week or anything like that. He's genuinely really serious about doing this role swap and he thinks it's the right fit for him. Power to him if he makes it work, and I think he can make it work. He's a very motivated guy.
That was not the only change, I'm looking at [Kelsey] who came in during the Split—
Veteran: No, she was actually there since the preseason. We were talking with her when we were building the roster. When was it announced?
Kelsey: It was announced in the first week.
Veteran: Okay. So Kelsey was with us for a lot longer than that. We weren't trying out any other analysts. She's been with us since the very start, so, yes, she failed along with us as well [laughs]. I knew I wanted to work with [her] this split, irrespective of what team I was going to be working with. So had I been on FC Schalke 04 Esports, I would have also reached out to her and offered her in. I've known her for years.
She's very smart about the game. She's one of the very few people that I can talk to about the game and actually have a really meaningful conversation with. A lot can be said in respect to analysis in Europe and the West — and not just the West, actually, from what I've heard and from what she's also told me. Kelsey has the respect of a lot of players already. She understands the game on a fundamental level, from an angle that is actually useful from a coaching perspective.
There seems to be this idea that if you're a former pro player, that gives you a really good insight into being a coach.
There are a lot of failed player-coaches as well. There seems to be this idea that if you're a former pro player, that gives you a really good insight into being a coach. That is true to an extent; Hiiva is doing it really well right now. But there is a certain way that you have to look at the game that adds to the team. There's a certain way to the outside perspective that adds to the team. I find that a lot of pro players tend to, when they do this transition, focus on their role, or on really small tidbits. "Did you know you could do this really neat thing on Bard?", for example, which is the type of thing that they were focused on when they were a player.
You need to apply from an outside perspective. PR0LLY taught me a lot about this as well, because [he] had this idea that he wanted to be the coach that he needed when he was a player, which is different to being a guy who could give you straight one-on-one advice about your role. There is a huge distinction there.
The way that Kelsey viewed the game was really beneficial from that perspective. She definitely adds something to the team for sure.
How did that come about?
Kelsey: We used to write for TheScore for some time. When I started covering Europe, he was the #EUphoria, Twitter, bird guy. He was the guy that I reached out to as an LPL person like, "Ah! I want to write this article about SK Gaming, can you give me some vods to watch for Fox?" Also, low-key, he tried to apply as a caster for the LPL, but we won't go into that because that was... probably best that we didn't record that. [laughs]
I've always respected how he views the game as well, so we had very good conversations and back-and-forths throughout the years, even when I was a journalist and he was an analyst.