Despite qualifying for the quarterfinals of the 2016 League of Legends World Championships, Royal Never Give Up had a tough week.
They went 1-2 in their final day of group matches, only punching their ticket to Chicago by way of a 2-0 head-to-head record against Team SoloMid. The immensely talented Chinese roster just barely made it out of groups.
For a team with two former World Champions and Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao on the roster, the 3-3 group stage finish was something of a disappointment. One of those former champs, support player Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong, was among his own biggest critics.
“I’m definitely not completely satisfied with my play right now,” he told Yahoo Esports. “We all need to work on being more active and taking initiative in practice or games. We need to work on communicating. I’m not really fluent in Chinese yet, so I could work on better communication because I’m in a position that requires a high communication level.”
That’s a stark contrast in comparison to his former team Samsung White’s Worlds run two years ago.
“Communication was so much more perfect back then, maybe the play level could have been reflected as better,” he said.
With two separate languages being spoken in RNG’s roster, that makes sense. Many of RNG’s issues in the group stage were a result of split calls and questionable map movements. When they won, they gained huge lane advantages and snowballed to victory, something that’s easy when you’re as mechanically gifted as they are.
But when they weren’t able to get those leads, their flaws shone through. Despite Mata’s famous game knowledge and warding prowess, his team faltered when it came to setting up plays and executing them precisely.
After losses to both Samsung Galaxy and Splyce earlier in the day, the legendary support knew that he’d have to get his team into a winning mindset.
“Obviously, the team was overall very down and low in mood, but we figured if we only beat TSM, we still have a good chance of getting out. I just told everyone that we have to work,” he said.
For a team full of strong personalities and emotional players, staying stable has always been an issue for RNG. Too often they seem argumentative, reacting to plays when they should be dictating them. Their inconsistency can lead to questions about their status as an elite team, and regularly costs them games.
Before their final face off with TSM, they needed to get on the same page.
“There was a lot of exchanging of opinions,” Mata said. “But the most important thing was just telling each other that we still have a chance. We reminded each other not to lose our mentality in game. We just needed to not throw the game out the window.”
Mata says that once they got into the game, it was all business. They didn’t blame each other for bad plays and they barely discussed it when they made good ones.
That triple kill Uzi picked up in the bot lane early on?
“I just gave him a verbal pat on the back and moved on,” Mata said.
When the game stalled out in the mid game and TSM looked like they might pull off the comeback?
“There wasn’t time to talk about the moment or get a grip over ourselves. I went on and talked about when to get the dragon or go back home or which items to buy. I just talked about in-game stuff.”
Eventually they held it together and punched their tickets to Chicago and the quarterfinals. There, they’ll be facing off against defending World Champions SK Telecom T1. Mata shakes off the idea that SKT is a particularly poor matchup for them. Or, at least, not after everything else that has happened at this tournament.
“There is no team in this tournament that can be neglected.”
Taylor Cocke has taken enormous pleasure seeing Mata back on the Worlds stage. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.