All that separated Evil Geniuses and its coronation as the new kings of North America was 155 hit points on the Baron. In the biggest moment of the League Championship Series (LCS) finals weekend, Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki landed the final blow on a Baron steal against Team Liquid that would lead to a signature pentakill and rolling momentum that would not end until the playoffs were over.
The LCS finals were the Evil Geniuses’ playground. EG earned their first LCS championship and a trip to the Mid-Season Invitational after two blistering sweeps against superstar-laden teams in Team Liquid and 100 Thieves.
More importantly, the wins proved that their process and scouting worked. Behind EG’s aggressive team of veterans and young players is an ambitious and adventurous coach, Peter Dun. His fingerprints are all over the team’s identity, and he defines it as a style that relies on the player’s snap decisions and instincts.
“It’s a team that wants to go very aggressive and is willing to cheese you. We don’t care how we achieve it and we’re a team that wants to play with agency and on the front foot,” Dun said. “Both Joseph “jojopyun” Pyun and Danny are molded by the system, and they’re naturally aggressive players that like to flip. Our job as a coaching staff is to channel their ways and sometimes it will look awful, but they must continue to do that if they’re willing to make those plays and play that way.”
Photo credit: Marv Watson / Riot Games via ESPAT
The coaching staff draws inspiration and ideas from its players, but also from established teams that play fast -- teams like China’s Victory Five and FunPlus Phoenix. They analyze those teams’ good habits and either break down why those strategies fit the team’s identity or how to further improve the concepts. As Dun explains it, they try not to structure too much because there should not be a flowchart for the players; when it’s up to snap decisions, it should be up to the players to make the call.
Dun admitted that the team never reached its peak or a level of comfort during the spring split and cited the team’s impressive scrimmage results as one of the reasons for it. Because the team’s performance was excellent in scrimmages due to their individual aggressive tendencies, there was a lack of adaptability and information when the real games began. In practice, opponents would challenge and play up to the tempo of EG but then slow the games to a grind when the results counted. In addition, because the team plays with such abandon and relies on its fantastic individual talent and teamfighting abilities, the ship never steadied in terms of its overall record during the split.
“We’re too aggressive during some windows, but we’re very good in the early game, and our rotations are good. We’re sometimes weak when we pick our moments to be aggressive because we always want to play at the edge, and then we cheat or attack enemies’ tempo instead,” Dun said. “We want to limit as much of the risk as possible and recognize when to finish a game or when to hold back. International play will be good for the team because they need to break down teams that are trying to slow down momentum and they need to experience that.”
With speed comes danger, and Dun admitted that coaching such a volatile team with such explosive potential was difficult. It relies on a system that is large on trust, and behind the calming presence of Kacper “Inspired” Słoma and the play of Jeong “Impact” Eon-yeong, the team has leadership from all fronts.
“The problem with the system is that it’s easy to get downhearted, and it’s easier to throw games to teams that are lower placed,” Dun said. “This is also one of the hardest teams to coach that you can possibly imagine -- you have a mix of systems, veterans and two rookie players, and it’s difficult to merge everything together, but there is a way to blend everything together.”
EG might be a truly special team. There are proven veteran winners as well as young fearlessness in Danny and jojopyun. Whatever risks and encouragement to develop these next superstars the team takes may determine whether this team can truly fight with the monsters of international play in Korea at MSI or turn out to be another North American façade.
“The playoffs were valuable to the team and especially our rookies. The experience was not playing on stage because they do not have any issues playing on stage, but it was learning a bit of respect, and hopefully they will learn it in good time,” Dun said. “It’s good that they have such high self-belief, but there’s a thin line between that and disrespect.”
Lead photo credit: Tina Jo / Riot Games via ESPAT