The road to the 2016 League of Legends World Championships wasn’t easy for Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi and his team, Splyce.
At the beginning of 2016, they had just qualified for the EU LCS and were considered by many to be one of weaker teams in the region. Through much of Spring Split 2016, Splyce didn’t do much to change that perception. They finished eighth in the region, were sent to the promotion series, and had to fight their way past GIANTS! Gaming to get back into the LCS. And yet, YamatoCannon remained committed to his team, only changing a single player on the starting roster by swapping support Nicolai “Nisbeth” Nisbeth for Mihael “Mikyx” Mehle.
Splyce came out swinging in Summer. They grew throughout the split, finishing second in the regular season and qualifying as a third seed for Worlds via the gauntlet. It’s one of the most impressive Cinderella runs League of Legends esports has seen since the early days of the ROX Tigers.
And YamatoCannon was instrumental to all of that.
A shaky start
When he joined Splyce, YamatoCannon knew what he was getting into, and wanted the team to know it, too.
“From the start, I was honest with the guys,” he told Yahoo Esports. “From the first scrim session I knew that, wow, we had a lot of work to do… It wasn’t impossible, but we had a long way to go.”
Splyce struggled heavily through their first split in the EU LCS. They went 5-13 and had to play through the promotion tournament to retain their spot.
But they were undeterred. They made a lone roster swap in the support role and continued on.
The decision, however, wasn’t a popular one.
“I remember reading a lot of the comments on social media from these keyboard warriors and Twitter analysts,” says Yamato. “They were saying that we had only replaced one player, and we were going to relegations once again.”
Yamato knew better.
“If only saw 18 games out of potentially 300 or whatever that I saw, it’s hard to see [why we didn’t change more],” he said. “In the end, it’s really important how we dealt with losses. The guys were very disciplined. They were very motivated, and they always, always worked hard. I like to think that hard work always pays off.”
That hard work came in the form of making sure that their (admittedly many) losses weren’t a waste of time. The team needed to come together and figure out how to improve.
“When you have a lot of losses, you need to make sure that something good comes out of it. It wasn’t easy. But [Splyce] were a group of friends. They could lift each other up whenever they had a loss… The guys were very ready to listen, ready to put in hard work. They were very willing to lose and learn. In the end, that’s what’s important. As long as your practice is efficient, you can reach a point where you catch up to the others.”
“The way I see it, the LCS or any competitive environment, it’s a race,” he says. “We started off a couple miles behind every other team, but as long as we kept running every single day, we knew we’d catch up eventually.”
Practice makes better
As Splyce progressed, YamatoCannon knew that they were getting better. As he told us, he knew at the beginning of the Summer Split that they could make a run at the top spots in the EU LCS.
“I had this feeling, but I didn’t tell the guys. I try not to set expectations in that way,” he says. “I just tell them that they need to take everything step-by-step. But without telling them, I was definitely expecting them to go into playoffs at least. At the bare minimum.”
But first, they had to execute. Without a singular mechanical god or star player on the team, they had to find ways to win as a team. According to Yamato, though, that worked to their advantage.
“My philosophy when it comes to the game is that there is always going to be a best way to play the game,” he says. “There are always going to be scenarios where you can’t play around top lane the way you want to, there are going to be scenarios where you can’t play around bot the way you want to, there’s going to be scenarios where you can’t play around mid, etc.”
“I try to strive for a situation where my team is very flexible. I don’t like this situation where you have to draft around a specific player. I want to draft what is the strongest.”
As Summer dragged on, they continuously found themselves in the top four, pushing out the likes of Fnatic, Origen, Unicorns of Love, and a newly revitalized GIANTS! Gaming. They fought their way into second place, earning a spot in the playoffs, where they eventually dropped to G2 in the finals. To cap off their run, they beat a streaking Unicorns of Love in the Regional Qualifiers to land their spot at the 2016 League of Legends World Championships..
For a team on the brink of demotion mere months earlier, it was an incredible achievement.
The trouble? Let’s just say that Splyce’s group at Worlds isn’t exactly ideal.
They’ve got North America’s finest in Team SoloMid, the ever-dangerous Chinese squad Royal Never Give Up, and Korea’s new hotness in Samsung Galaxy to deal with in Group D. Most analysts consider Splyce to be the clear-cut last place team in the group.
YamatoCannon isn’t so sure.
“Looking at our group, it’s almost certain that we will surprise,” he says. “There will be a lot of eyes on the group, but not a lot of eyes on us.”
He expects that teams dismissing Splyce and their European brethren will be a boon for the region’s chances at Worlds.
“Looking at Europe as a whole, I think we’re very underrated. I think Europe is going to be amazing this year…I don’t think it’s set in stone that we can get out of groups, but we definitely think we have a good chance.”
“Definitely, the group is hard,” he quickly elaborates. “Right now, you never know with RNG, if their boot camp kicked them into high gear. They have Uzi, Mata, Looper, who could all of a sudden be playing like monsters. Maybe TSM fall flat on their head or something [laughs]. If history repeats itself, then maybe we get first. But this is a group that will be very explosive, and to be honest, I can see it going many ways.”
YamatoCannon is hesitant to give a prediction in any situation, but when asked about his team’s chance on League of Legend’s biggest stage, a certain mischievous tone crept into his otherwise flat voice.
“We can definitely do some damage.”
After talking to YamatoCannon, Taylor Cocke wouldn’t be surprised to see Splyce make a run at this whole Worlds group stage thing. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.