After the first week of the 2021 LCS Summer Split, we got a chance to speak with 100 Thieves’ League of Legends General Manager, PapaSmithy. During the off-season, we saw 100 Thieves make changes to their League of Legends roster. Bringing in former Cloud9 head coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, replacing Anthony “Zikz” Gray.
During the off-season, we also saw 100 Thieves top-laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho got his NA residency, allowing 100 Thieves to add another import to the roster, to which we saw mid-laner Felix “Abbedagge” Braun come over from the LEC.
In the interview, PapaSmithy talks about his thoughts on the new LCS formatting rules, where spring standings now carry over to summer. How the atmosphere and mentality have changed since the arrival of Repeared and the process of the new arrival Abbe Karmadagge in the mid-lane.
Below is a full transcript of the interview with PapaSmithy. The questions asked are in a bold font, where PapaSmithy’s answers are in a standard font.
Congratluations on a very convincing win against Dignitas, how are you feeling after the first weekend of summer split?
I’m feeling really good about the win, unfortunately, it always becomes a results industry on the match day. During the week you’re focused on the process and getting the players in the right mindset to improve. W’s and L’s are very different when it comes to fallout. A 2-1 result isn’t perfect, but the manner in which the weekend went, opening up with a game where it left everybody in the room afterwards… well, shellshocked is a strong word, but everybody looked at it and listened back to it and it just didn’t represent what we were doing in practice.
That’s the sort of thing that, can go a lot of different ways, we really needed to see the extra data points on Saturday and Sunday to fully understand Friday. I chose that we don’t need to be overly concerned. The return to the stage, coming into the LCS studio, the new setup and white noise in the headset is obviously different, or new depending on the background of the player.
I’m happy to see that we backed it up with two games that more represent our practice and I think we come away relieved but also knowing that some of our good work has been finding results and also aggressively targeting things to improve because certainly, we’re not content with what we showed. We are relieved that Friday isn’t the full summary of 100 Thieves League of Legends start to the summer.
100 Thieves League of Legends has been through a lot this year. From a dominant performance during Lock-In to ups and downs during spring and a few roster changes. Let’s talk about the coaching staff, you’ve brought in Repeared. Has anything changed in the team’s approach or mentality since bringing him on?
I know this sounds like a sound bite, but I would say everything has changed. My reflection on spring and specifically our trajectory when you see a roster a change in spite of victories and losses, being 8-4 and making a roster change, I think it’s fair to say that’s there’s a collective of dissatisfaction on trajectory and what’s happening behind closed doors even more so than just a win or a loss on stage.
Even with the roster change in spring, while some of our practice stuff improved there were a couple of stage results we were happy with. I certainly, left the split very much focused on the fact that we weren’t on the trajectory we want. We’re not getting closer to worlds, we’re getting further away, so I knew changes needed to be made and what I can say about Repeared and Zikz is that they’re fundamentally different coaches. Anyone who’s ever interacted with the two individuals would know that. I think that if you set up a group and program around either of them, they can both be fantastic head coaches.
When I reflected on the spring split, I definitely was looking for someone who approached the group and approached coaching in a different mindset. Reapered he walks in and if you have a conversation with him, he always commands authority and respect in a very specific way, given his background and his successes, he approaches the players and the game in a very different way. I’m still getting my head around it because it’s so fundamentally different. I’ve only had one head coach since I’ve been general manager, working with Ziks the entire year and a half, but I felt that this group needed a change, and if I could find an accomplished coach to step in to provide that change, that was the match I was looking for and to me that represented Reapered, someone I’ve known for many years now to a T. So far so good.
When asking Ssumday what his thoughts were on Repeareds coaching style, he said that the coaches are trying to make everything as simple as possible, could you expand on that?
I think that in coaching there’s a propensity to make individual mistakes or the individual, a lower focus and focus on collective things like we made a mistake here, we haven’t sorted this out, we need to improve on this. I think Reapered at least in the early days focused a lot on the individuals we have. If you look at our spring split roster, we had a lot of individuals talent and I think you could argue that, especially as spring went on, we weren’t reaching the potential of the players we had. What we were putting out on stage vs what you see in FIFA, the out of the 100 scores, our players weren’t matching up.
I think we’re now approaching it the other way around now and basically looking at for example Closer, an aggressive mechanical jungler and trying to find the ways to min, max the things he’s strongest at, and approaching that for all five players. I think doing too much of either too far down the line is going to cause significant problems because it is a team game. I can say that we’re focusing on individual accountability, both to their ability to stay on top of the meta and play laning phases, but also how they contribute to the team or what is needed from them to contribute to the team. That has been a really big focus point, I think it was really needed based on our spring performance.
What’re your thoughts on spring standings carrying over to summer? Previously a lot of teams have used spring split as their playground, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, but now coming into summer split they’ll no longer have a clean slate. Will this new change hurt the run to worlds?
I think it’s a real nuisance question. The whole “spring split doesn’t matter” narrative that I’m sure informed the change, this is now a way to make spring split matter. Now you look back and if you couldn’t get your starters in like CLG or Golden Guardians, you went too far on the rookies or whatever their reflection on spring was, you are shackled to the results.
I think from our POV, we were two wins behind first so it doesn’t really affect anything for us. If it were in Europe, Team Vitality would hate it right? They’d be like holy crap we spent so much in the middle of the year to correct what we did in spring, but now we’re shackled to the spring result.
I think the only downside is if you were having COVID-19 financial problems before spring, but then you’re flushed with money for summer. You’d look at it and maybe you’d have to do a different worth assessment on whether it was worth it to ride it out or do we overspend? Obviously, between spring and summer, it’s harder to find talent. I think there are some mind games there. I think Riot has the fundamental “how do we make sense of spring split, how do we attribute value?” other than one team goes to MSI. I don’t know if this is the final solution or the most elegant one, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.
I look at things like LCS Academy only having 9 games in spring, but Proving Grounds being an awesome introduction, and then the quick iteration in summer to make LCS Academy a best-of-two. So I think Riot’s approach in 2021 has been “what sucks? how do we make it better? let’s not overly test it, let’s try something and improve on it as we go.”
In general, whether it’s as a general manager or a caster around esports leagues, I actually really champion that approach because then you don’t sit in the monotony of things being mediocre. I think they’re moving in the right direction, but there’s work to be done.
Now we’ve talked about Repeared coming in as head coach, but we haven’t talked about “Karmadagge”. During the off-season, we had other rumours of others joining instead, for example, Nisqy from Fnatic. If the rumours are true, what made 100 Thieves go with Abbedagge instead? Was it the prior experience with Freeze and Closer, or was it the only real option?
Off-season changed pretty instantly for us, we were eliminated by TSM, obviously disappointed and trying to work out where we can strengthen, because the appetite of the org has improved to where it’s “find a way to be better”. 100 Thieves definitely isn’t an org that’s to sit on their hands. The moment we got the notification from Ssumday that his NA residency came through and vetted that it was a thing that could be put into place, it obviously changes your mid-lane options from NA residence to the entire world. Now, in the middle of the year, not as ideal as the end of the year, but very much it was my job to go and hit everybody’s doors.
Some teams were a bit more obvious to approach than others. Schalke 04 had spoken publicly about their financial issues. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re interested in selling their mid-laner, but it made it an easier email chain to start. At the end of the day, we had a few options and we were confident that this player is a significant upgrade over what have.
I think both Damonte and ry0ma are top tier NA mid-laners, so when we were looking at an import, finding an iterative improvement on them wasn’t something I was interested in during the middle of the year. It needed to be someone who would significantly change our fortune. Abbedagge was the one where whether it was the scouting report, or speaking to him or the style he plays, you just looked at this guy and you’re like, transport him to NA, appreciate the fact that we’re going to be having an advantage setting him up here because as you said, he has those familiar faces he knows.
I did some pretty significant things to understand him as a person, and what he values. I wanted to make sure he’d be comfortable. It was very much fly him out as soon as possible out of nowhere. This isn’t a “my contract is expiring, I’m looking for a new team” this is very much a “hey, funny thing we’re having this conversation out of nowhere”. It was also we need to start the visa process now. We need you in NA as soon as possible. Get you through your travel quarantine so you can get in with the team. There’s a lot of stuff going on there and there was a lot of work from the entire organisation. Whether it’s the individuals like Closer, Freeze and myself speaking to him directly, or other people behind the scenes working to support him because it’s a lot to ask for someone to move to America for the first time, during a pandemic with all the red tape associated to it. Then when you get here, straight into long practice days.
So we were trying to set up everything around his life at the same time he’s being asked to focus on the game because we’re not looking for any excuses. We’re not going to put up our hands and say “Abbedagge just got here”, “Repeared just joined the team” or “it’s summer give us time” it’s much more of we know why we made these changes. We made them intentionally. We’re going to hit the ground running as much as we can and if those things end up holding us back, we did everything to control the obvious issues. There is no putting up your hands and being like “woah it’s me”, it’s very much we’ve seen it, we’ve anticipated it and we’re trying to be on top of it.
So we’re very happy to have him. He’s everything we could look for in an LCS mid-laner and we hope we have him for a long time to come.
100 Thieves has now been put into the top three for power rankings for the summer split. Does that pressure you or the team at all?
I don’t think the team thinks about things like power rankings. They’re very improvement based. I will say that they were 50/50 maybe even 60/40 at the start of the year that we were in the top three in power rankings. So, I don’t think that’s something we put on our minds too much. I think for us it’s we want to be the best. With being the best comes things like top three, worlds, title matches, big best-of-fives. If we model ourselves on what we want to be and keep closing the gap there, if the fans come along and want to watch our games behind it, of course, we invite them and we’ll release plenty of content to celebrate the team that we become.
Power rankings and those things, I think they exist for discussion for people who can’t see the day to day minutiae of individual scrims, player improvement day on day and things like that. So that’s out there for the community to digest as it’s a public thing, but we’re very very focused on our private stuff.
Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Gamezo. I sometimes write, but mainly get others to do it for me. I'm mainly interested in the world of esports business, but sometimes you'll catch me covering VALORANT or League of Legends.