Two teams will earn spots in the LCS, the biggest competition in League of Legends in this hemisphere, later today. The promotion and relegation series may not be the playoffs in glamorous Las Vegas, but in many ways they have great impact on the future of professional League of Legends.
One year ago, no one thought the best support in NA would become a Challenger Series champion. One year ago, no one thought hed be fighting his way back into the league he won in its inaugural season. But tonight, Alex Xpecial Chu will take the field for Apex Gaming, seeking to return to the biggest stage.
Three weeks ago, Apex won their way into a promotion bout by winning the Challenger Series title, dispatching Team Dragon Knights 3-1 in a convincing series. Chu showed that hes still a top-tier support player, dominating lane against a player lauded as perhaps the best mechanically at the marksman position in the world, Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min, who, despite picking aggressive lane bully champions, couldnt build a lead against Chus rookie lane partner, 17-year-old Korean import Park Police Hyeong-gi.
Thats set the stage for todays battle against Team Impulse, the match that could secure Chus return to the LCS.
Apex feature a standout one-two punch in the jungle, two Korean players who both played like the best jungler in Challenger, but with different styles. Lee Shrimp Byeong-hoon likes to play farm-heavy, protecting his lanes and slowly building a lead, while Seo Eve Jun-cheol likes to jump-start his lanes with heavy aggression. Cristian Cris Rosales gives Apex a steady veteran presence in the top lane, especially on tanks, and mid laner Lae-Young “Keane” Jang and his wide and creative champion pool gives coach Brandon Saintvicious Dimarco plenty of ways to keep his solo laners safe, especially in a metagame featuring many flex picks. But Apex Gamings overall success still comes down to Chu, who has stepped up to seize the mantle of leader for the team as shot caller and its most veteran player.
I talked to Chu after he scored his Challenger Series title, discussing the journey thats led him to tonights pivotal battle. Chu discussed how he ended up in the Challenger Series, what he learned playing there, and how hes become a better leader for Apex Gaming as he continues his quest to regain recognition as the best support in North America.
Challenger Series champs. How does it feel?
Actually, I feel whatever. I didnt come to the Challenger Series to be like hey, let’s win a championship! Im in here to get to the LCS, and winning this is just one step towards my goal.
I wanted 3-0. I think that would have sent a really strong message to all the teams that were about to play against in the promotion tournament. But 3-1 is still pretty good. Im content with that. Overall we played pretty well. First game was a little sloppy. Second game a little more sloppy. Third and fourth game went pretty well. Were doing well as a team. We have trust in each other. Sometimes we mess up, but, at least we won.
Everyone messes up sometimes.
How does playing in the Challenger Series compare to playing in the LCS for you?
Surprisingly, its been very difficult. I think the Challenger teams this split were a lot stronger than I had expected coming into the Challenger Series. I think there were a lot of teams that are pretty much low LCS caliber in the Challenger Series, and there are some that are even strong for LCS. Ohq for example. I think we did well. This was the result that I wanted and expected, and we managed to achieve it so Im happy about that.
Was playing in the Challenger Series difficult for you personally? You probably never expected to play there.
Yeah. I didnt expect to be in the Challenger Series, but I had to look at it from a goal perspective. I didnt want to be on a low tier LCS team and either get relegated, not make it to playoffs, not make it Worlds. These are things I had to consider and I felt that Apex had the highest chance of getting to worlds out of the teams that gave me offers.
I think people really underestimated my performance and I was very shocked to see this level of offers, but at the same time I dont mind the challenge. I like to challenge myself, to prove people wrong. Im really working on that, and I think Ive done really well this split.
So joining Apex, the goal is to get to Worlds, not just to be on a good team this season?
Going to Worlds requires a good team. So I felt that this was the best team with the best opportunity. Being in the Challenger Series also helps giving me more time to work on things I need to work on. For example: shot calling. Thats something I always struggled with not because I wasnt good at it, but because I didnt have the experience. I was never given a good opportunity to work on that. A lot of times Ive been whatever about it, I just let my team do it, if someone else wants to do it they do it. Here I said Im going to do it. Let me do it.
I messed up a lot, but its getting a lot better. The team is really good with helping with that. Overall were looking a lot better as a team.
In the offseason, you say you didnt get the offers you wanted. You say that people underestimated you, but is that in some ways a wake up call, that theres something missing in your game? How do you deal with that?
I think theres two big things. The first big thing was obviously the way the announcement came out, where it was leaked. You had Dom talking to his friend, it was very unfavorable. That set up a very negative tone right off the bat.
Before that, I had considered just retiring, stepping down, Im done, that sort of BS kind of PR thing, whatever Im done. But because of all the negative press I got, I was like hey, why are people saying Im bad? Why are people saying my team hates me, when in reality some players didnt think I was good enough? Obviously I was offended by that, I didnt like that, but I was down to you know, just be done. But because of that, I was like alright, Ill go back in. Which teams want me? Most teams didnt. I was like okay, all right. Ill just join this team, get them good, get into LCS, and beat some kids up.
Beat some kids up, eh?
So obviously youve been working on the shot calling a lot. What else have you learned from your journey through the Challenger Series?
The biggest thing Ive learned in the Challenger Series, is to play the game more macro, team-based map play. Whatever you want to call it. was really helpful with that. In the beginning we were coming in with a very lane-oriented slant. Win lane, win game. Easy. You dont need communication., You just stomp your lane, go to another lane, stomp that lane. Very easy.
But Saint laid it down for us. Hed give us bad picks, give us bad matchups. Hey, youve got to play the map game. Play two-v-one correctly. That was very helpful. Saint has surprising. With all the negative reputation he has had, hes been a really good coach. Ive learned a lot from him.
We dont get along all the time. Ive argued with him tons of times about picks, champions, how to to play the game. But overall I respect him a lot and he has taught me a lot and I think Ive taught him a lot too. As a team, we just all teach each other.
You and Saint have a bit of a reputation for having confrontational personalities, but that hasnt been a struggle at all?
I think Im way more confrontational than he is. Im very aggressive. I try to get my point across. Sometimes I can be pretty stubborn. Some of the passive aggression that people have quoted me on, I dont think it was 100 percent accurate then and its definitely not accurate now.
I guess Im a little too aggressive now. I maybe need to tone it down, but … over the years Ive just gotten more and more angry at League of Legends. Between solo queue and scrims its been a very, very I need some zen.
You said you considered retiring?
So why did you not make that decision to retire, and get a little zen?
Well, I mean, I wanted to play. I like playing! I just didnt know if I wanted to join another team and work my way up again. It felt like it was a really long path to come back. But because of so many people throwing me a challenge, being like hey, you suck, get out of here, Im going to be like no, I dont suck, Im going to get in here. Thats kind of the way I saw it. It made me want to work harder, gave me that fire to continue and get better and work on things I want to work on.
You think the day that people call you the best support in NA is going to come again?
Probably. I think its inevitable at this point.
Watch LCS. None of these supports are like, that great. I think supports actually have looked really weak this split.
I watch LCS and I see Adrian playing Soraka/Janna, and I see no one countering champions hes definitely going to play. Thats a sign that supports in LCS dont have the confidence or the skill or the champion pool. One of those are lacking, and for some reason theyre scared against a Janna or a Soraka. I have so many picks I want to play. I watch Immortals, Im like… Hello? Put me in. Ill play these champions, and shit on him. Thats my mentality. Thats why no one plays those champions in other regions. Theyre not scared!
Thats the big mystery, why no one is forcing Adrian to play something else.
Its not forcing him to play something else. You know what hes going to play. These are not strong laning champions. You shit on them with a strong laning champion. Why does nobody play Thresh, for example, against Janna or Soraka? These are champions that can do well. Soraka obviously is a really annoying champion. I hate her, but Janna is really easy to lane against. You can destroy that lane. I just watch LCS, and yeah Id pick some of these stronger champions over here. Instead of picking Braum and Alistair, that are obviously bad matchups into them.
Like I said people are scared, or something. I dont know.
Thats where you want to pressure, right? In the top lane theyve got Huni with Reignover.
I mean, I dont know whats going on in LCS, but when I see Immortals win streak, Im like, put me in coach.
So you think you can take Immortals, huh?
Well, I think that I know the answers to their bot lane, and their bot lane is probably the weakest aspect of their team. Reignover and Huni are really really good. Thats the reason why their team is winning a lot. But I see ways to beat them, and Im dumbfounded that teams arent doing the things Im thinking about. Just beat their bot lane.
So going back to your team, youre playing with a trio of young Korean players. Has that been difficult for you? How has that worked out?
These guys have actually played in professional matches before. They dont have as much experience and because of that I have to help them with macro. Thats something that Saints been helping me with as well. The only hard part is that they dont speak English. I cant explain things to them sometimes. They just have to trust in me, and that can be difficult sometimes.
There are plenty of scrims where Police didnt know what we were doing. We got on different pages, and that cost us the game. It happens. But on the stage, in the series, we were on the same page, and we performed well.
How does Police compare to other AD carries youve played with in your career?
Well, Im very cynical when it comes to players. I judge them very harshly. I think Police, hes good. He has his strong points. He has some flaws too. Overall hes fairly consistent. He does his job. Thats pretty much good enough for me. Thats all I care about. Because no matter how good you are at laning, or in team fights, youre going to make mistakes. Thats normal. My goal is to help my AD carry get through the early game. Then he can do his thing in team fights and we can win the game.
The thing is, you dont need your AD carry to carry. Its much different every single season now, its been getting less and less AD-carry focused.
Even after the AD carry patch? It just puts the AD carries in other lanes, huh?
Well, yeah. To be fair, the AD carry did help give strength back to the AD carry role, but still its much more about map play, team play, and much less about the AD carry one-v-fiving, which was season two.
You said earlier that the Challenger scene was more difficult than expected. A lot of people say that NA has no talent. Do you think thats unfair statement? Have you seen theres more talent than people think?
Okay, regarding talent . I wouldnt say individual skill, NA has that much talent in the Challenger Series. I think team play has come into a huge factor this season. In terms of team play, theres a lot of strong teams.
Ember, for example, was really strong in their team play. I dont know what happened to them in playoffs, but in scrims they were actually the only team out of all teams that actually had a winning record against us. Were talking about LCS teams, all the other Challenger teams. None of these teams were beating us consistently except for Ember. And that was through their macro play. I dont know whats changed, whats different between them on stage, but my respect for a team comes from the macro play and not their laning, and I was surprised by how strong Ember looked in those games.
Wasnt the playoffs with a different lineup? Because they had to switch junglers due to the age restriction?
Yes, but I dont think there was much of a difference. Theres just something they were doing that they werent doing in playoffs.
Is that improved macro play because theres better support staff, better coaching, for all these teams in Challenger?
I have no idea. I dont know their inner workings. We worked on our macro play, and Ember was better for a long time. Their macro play was better than LCS teams, which really surprised us.
Youre now one series away from the LCS. Are there any teams youre looking forward to playing or looking out for?
No. I think against any team we should probably win. We didnt come this far to be like were scared of this team. We can beat any team.
What do you think could stop you from winning?
Im not sure what our weaknesses are. I think the hardest thing about League of Legends is laning. Well, laning is the hardest part to improve in, because thats about mechanical skill, how you perform on that day. The mid and late game is something you will always have. Youve learned it.
As long as we dont lose our lane, and we come into the game with smart pick ban, and our mid game isnt terrible and we do the things weve practiced, we should win. I have no worries about that.
If we lose lane and theyre good enough at the mid game, were going to lose. But if we win early game and were able to keep the lead, were going to win, like the fourth game we had.
After today you said youre not that happy with the win, you still have a job to do. Are you going to be happy if you make LCS?
Honestly, as much as I want to be happy, Im happy, but Im not ecstatic. Im more content than I am happy. Its going to be the same thing getting into the LCS. Im not going to be like, Wow, we just beat Dignitas! Cant wait to go celebrate! I mean I am going to go celebrate. But in the end, my goal is much higher than getting into the LCS and placing tenth. Tenth, ninth, eighth, seventh, sixth. Any of that. I want first, which is going to be really hard. But thats my goal. I dont settle for second.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr (All rights reserved, used with permission)