by Darius Matuschak / @DariusExMachina
Photographs by: Michal Konkol / Riot Games
I’d be lying if I said that I expected such a performance from ROCCAT over the past few weeks. I’d like to think this applies to quite a lot of EU LCS fans. ROCCAT recently managed to get five consecutive wins in a row after going 0-7 beforehand - a negative record that was only underbid by Origen. They even managed to beat clear favourites such as Fnatic and Misfits, with a promising 2-0 victory over the latter, and now are competing for a playoffs spot. How did they come this far? How did they manage to turn everything around after losing seven games in a row? We talked to their team coach Grabbz, two of their players, Betsy and Hjarnan, and their performance coach about their recent games, what went wrong in the beginning of the split and about their expectations for the coming future.
Let’s start with the analysis of ROCCAT's failings during the start of the split. According to their coach, it came down to three major problems:
1) Lack of time to properly prepare for Spring Split
Even though the roster was decided upon earlier, the players only got to meet in person at the beginning of January - two weeks before the 2017 Spring Split started. Everyone except for Betsy was a new addition to the team, Hjarnan and Maxlore played on different EU LCS teams beforehand, Wadid being an import from Korea and Phaxi being an LCS Rookie. No one on the team knew each other personally, so there was a lot of work to be done. According to Grabbz, there were issues with the communication, it wasn’t clear from the start who the primary shotcaller was. Creating a functioning team synergy must’ve been an almost impossible task, considering the very short time frame as well.
2) A lack of strategy during the first weeks
This also led to problems with the general style of play that ROCCAT wanted to achieve: At the start, the team essentially tried to train and master every strategy available, which brought them close matches but no points at the end of the day. The early game was a huge issue for them, with ROCCAT oftentimes falling behind and the enemy team snowballing out of control. When ROCCAT did manage to grab a gold lead, even against the likes of G2, they often threw it due to bad calls.
3) A lack of confidence
This leads us to the third problem: A severe lack of morale amongst the players. When we asked Hjarnan about this issue, he replied that it was the natural result of losing games on- and off-stage: “When we lost so many games, we basically hit rock bottom. We didn’t have the mindset we needed in order to compete against good teams.” After losing the first two games of the split and not doing well in scrims, the mindset of the team got worse and worse. It was a snowball-effect. Luckily, this has changed since.
So, what brought the change? According to both the players and the coach, it again came down to three factors:
1) The performance coach coming in
Before the game against the Unicorns of Love, ROCCAT hired Urszula 'Xirreth' Klimczak, a performance coach with a Master in Psychology and Management, who had worked with ROCCAT back in 2015, when they were competing in playoffs. The first thing she did was to sit down all the players and staff and let them properly vent their built up emotions - Grabbz, Betsy and Hjarnan all confirmed that they had a lot of negative thoughts on their mind that they weren’t able or willing to tell anyone, because no one wanted to further worsen the team environment. This meeting led to a “very loud, very open talk” between the coaching staff and players in particular, after which both parties felt “very relieved” according to Grabbz. “We properly crashed with one another but afterwards everything went really well. We just properly needed to vent our emotions”.
Pictured in the middle: Urszula 'Xirreth' Klimczak
Since then, Xirreth has held one on one talks with each of the players on a weekly basis and is available to them at any time in case they need someone to talk to, which has greatly improved their mentality. According to Betsy, “her coming in was the turning point for ROCCAT”. And despite them losing the game against the Unicorns of Love, which is an understandable result given UoL’s strength at the moment, ROCCAT hasn’t lost a game since Xirreth came along.
2) A proper gameplan was formed
Not all of ROCCAT's issues were related to mentality though and their playstyle needed fixing. Grabbz knew this and has since changed the game plan for ROCCAT with promising success: With a more reactive style that focuses on objective control and baiting enemies into bad plays, ROCCAT even managed to 2-0 Misfits. Rather than trying to learn every tactic available, ROCCAT and its staff have developed a strategy that works for their team specifically - similarly to how Splyce managed to find their own tactic in the 2016 Summer Split. Although this might not work in the long run, it certainly can be a game changer for a struggling team. It was for ROCCAT.
3) A huge boost in confidence
“The win against Origen was the most essential piece in our comeback. If we would’ve lost that match, I don’t know where we’d stand right now. It was our turning point” this is what Grabbz had to say about the win against Origen, and most of the ROCCAT players would probably agree. The win against Origen revived ROCCAT, which seemed like a beaten team that would definitely end up in the relegation tournament. It instilled the hunger to win more, the confirmation that they were able to beat their opponents in a series. According to Hjarnan, it was this boost in confidence that brought ROCCAT back to life: “We already knew which calls were bad ones and which calls were good ones. But if you have no confidence and hesitate even for three seconds, a good call becomes a horrible one. This changed since the game against Origen”. Comparing ROCCAT's current, confident form to their angsty behaviour in the first weeks feels like looking at two completely different teams.
What does the future hold for ROCCAT?
Now that the split is almost over, ROCCAT is still fighting for the opportunity to get into playoffs. The chances of that happening are pretty dim however, despite their impressive recent performances. In order to get a spot in the playoffs tournament, Fnatic would need to lose both games against Misfits and G2 respectively and ROCCAT would need to win their series against G2. G2, The reigning champion of EU that hasn’t been beaten in an EU competition for over a year. If Roccat would manage to win against the likes of Trick and Perkz, it’d be the upset of the season.
But even if ROCCAT doesn’t manage to qualify for playoffs, people are hopeful about their future. They finally look like a cohesive team, rather than a squad that is destined to fight relegation. Xirreth would like to continue to work with the team. There’s work to be done, certainly, “having a chef and an analyst would be nice” says Grabbz. Maybe the organization is willing to listen. Maybe the players won’t look for better opportunities this time. Either way, ROCCAT have earned their respect for not giving up. A classic from zero to hero-story straight out of Hollywood? Maybe. But don’t we all like to hear these exact kinds of stories from time to time? I certainly do.
A huge thank you going out to Fabian “Grabbz” Lohmann, Urszula 'Xirreth' Klimczak, Betsy and Hjarnan for taking their time to talk to us. You can follow their twitter accounts by clicking their names.
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