To Be The Best Player
August 01 2020
For most of us, TSM vs. Team Liquid was the first time we saw Edward “Tactical” Ra in action. Before the game, Tactical’s rise to the starting lineup seemed like just another bad omen for a struggling Team Liquid lineup. With Broxah’s visa coming through, the entire starting roster had finally reunited only to be torn apart by a random case of laryngitis that sidelined Doublelift.
Far from a bad omen, Tactical’s debut was a spectacular stroke of luck. With Tactical, the team picked up two dominant wins on both TSM and 100 Thieves, each a contender for playoff spots. They’d done so at a crucial moment, down 4-6 in the season they needed wins right away to stay in playoff contention.
“[He’s] definitely LCS level. I was really surprised how good he was,” Doublelift captured what a lot of us were thinking while talking to his stream. “I’d be really shocked if he didn’t get a bunch of offers to be starting on a bunch of teams because I think he’s definitely really good.”
CoreJJ agreed: It wasn’t a fluke that Tactical did so well.
“He has a really good ability, but he doesn’t know how strong he is,” CoreJJ said in episode 4 of SQUAD. “I’m really glad that I can potentially have two AD carries who can really play well in LCS. [...] He realized what is our team problem from the outside.”
Tactical is something of a rare breed. At just 19 years old, he’s a member of a new generation of League players that came up entirely through NA’s regional infrastructure - both Academy and amateur. He’s the kind of player that scouts, analysts, and players increasingly don’t seem to have faith in. He’s a genuine North American prodigy that’s gone all the way through League’s talent pipeline. And he might just be the next to rise in a long line of North American Marksmen talent.
NA’s Next Prodigy
Despite a solid 2-1 record in the LCS, it’s reasonable to wonder if Tactical really is that good - if he’s NA’s next prodigy or just NA’s next flash in the pan. League is a team game notorious for the quiet, hard to spot nuances in its map play. A poorly managed wave could cascade into a series of disadvantages that loses an objective. A bad trade could lead into a dive into turret plates into a cave in on one side of the map.
We should be careful of giving one single player all the blame or credit. We should also be wary of something adreN, our CS:GO team’s coach, calls “the honeymoon effect.” In CS:GO roster moves happen even more often than in League - and not necessarily in off seasons either.
When I spoke with adreN for another article on this website, he said that a team with a roster change often outperforms expectation. While we think they’d do worse because of a like of time to build chemistry, they can sometimes do better because of a lack of time to lose chemistry. Sometimes the first date goes well and the third date is the rude awakening.
There’s also a strategic edge to a new lineup. When a Doublelift or Faker is in play, the opposing team has a better idea of what will come next and how to counter it. They know which lane to shut down and even the shotcalling and macro tendencies of the team. A new face means a new, less predictable dynamic.
You could classify Tactical’s debut as a honeymoon. In some ways it probably was. A lot of fans, - and even some analysts - will write the player off or ignore him because of it. That ready assumption made Tactical a difficult player to research. Many analyst videos about Tactical’s success somehow weren’t about Tactical or his success.
They were about Doublelift and his mentality and failures in the early split. As a content writer in the hype driven world of esports, I understand the approach and its reason. The audience wants to hear about Doublelift and Team Liquid and not a relatively unknown ADC who hasn’t proven his longevity yet.
Even if that ADC went a combined 12/4/10 in his first three LCS games. Even if that ADC won in an amateur league. Even if that ADC got a mountain dragon trophy and a top 5 prospect award at scouting grounds, won the Academy league once and got semifinals during another year with a roster rotating its jungler. Even if that ADC constantly has adamant, over the moon praises from his teammates.
Even when the talent is clear, the hype chase can drown it out.
How to tell talent
A part of the problem comes from the fact that in the League community, we don’t define talent terribly well. Many times, we have to rely on results to determine it and we struggle with separating the team from the talent.
For example, most that call Doublelift the best AD in the west don’t present a reason beyond results. When there are discussions about true talent, it tends to be very vague and painted in broad strokes. During the years Forg1ven was on SK Gaming, Rekkles earned a reputation as “passive” - a criticism so vague that it could be (and was) interpreted to mean almost anything.
The language around talent is just as tough for pros. When I asked Tactical what he makes him a talented player, he wasn’t sure. In the end, I didn’t get an answer from him but I did find one from CoreJJ. In that same episode of SQUAD, CoreJJ says Tactical has a good foundation as a player, using teamfighting and movement as an example.
When Core and other pros talk about a good foundation, they’re talking about a level of skill that most of us will never come close to. Good movement means quick reactions, precise orb walking, and staying just outside of threat ranges. Good teamfighting means knowing just when and where to position, to drop an ult, to retreat, or to go in.
In Tactical’s first game against TSM, if you took the nameplate off of his Miss Fortune, you wouldn’t be able to guess he was a rookie (except for a few moments in the early lane where he missed CS). He plays the weak lane in the game as the other bot lane has a better ability to push and Broxah focuses on snowballing top and mid.
For most of the game, he manages the weak side of the map well. He doesn’t overextend, letting the wave push into him and not setting TSM up for an easy gank, dive, or fight. In the laning phase, he goes down 10 CS and keeps the lead about that close. He and Core don’t take a bad trade that results in a bad recall and a suboptimal buy either.
When pressure does come, he falls back and positions smartly. At about the 12:30 mark, he sees that most TSM members have disappeared and Kobbe has started to shove, so he instantly falls far back behind the tower. He lets Core stand by the tower and moves out of distance of any CC but in distance to cast his ultimate. Once he sees the dive disperse and Broxah arrive, he changes stance, pushes up, and threatens.
At about the 14 minute mark, he shows strong forward positioning. He reads that his team is coming to wrap around and moves up into Bjergsen’s range, but puts the tower directly in between him and the enemy. Then he casts a long ult that covers the whole wave and the enemy's direct retreat path. If they come in to blow him up, they’ll take too many turret shots and lose at least 2 for 1. If they fall back, they still take some turret shots and have to retreat into his team and his ultimate.
At the 25:30 mark, he gets a near perfect ult on TSM in combination with Impact’s Sett ult. Here, we can also see his reactions and game knowledge as he steps up as far as possible while Sett’s ult is in its animation. He quickly reads that now is the time to go on the front foot. Then he positions at the far corner of the fight where he can’t easily be interrupted and lays an ult down that forces Tahm Kench’s devour and grey health shield and splits Broken Blade and Dardoch off from the rest of their team.
In the 100 Thieves game, Tactical has a much longer highlight reel because he gets to be on the strong side of the map and gets off to a very strong start. The 100 Thieves bot lane think that Tactical and Core will come late to lane after giving a strong leash. Stunt detaches Yuumi from Ezreal, meaning he gets blown up and killed instantly.
What impressed me most was Tactical’s game knowledge during the comms, which you can hear in the SQUAD episode. In draft, Tactical tells the team that Kalista-Taric is a strong lane if bot plays aggressively. Then, right after Yuumi detaches and right as Core dials up the Taric stun, Tactical says, “Yuumi’s dead.” He knows the game plan well, knows how to execute it, and understands what happens when he executes it well. This is what a good foundation looks like in pro play.
Even good foundations can crack under enough stress, and Tactical does have a rough game against CLG, where the team targets him relentlessly early on. They ambush him as a five man group level 1, forcing him to blow both his summoners. Then they 4-man gank him at level 2, (where Tactical and Core still manages to trade a kill). Then Wiggily repeat ganks, where Tactical makes his biggest mistake by standing flash hook range of thresh and not quite behind CoreJJ.
Despite what can only be called a disaster start, Tactical claws the CS lead back down to in between 10 and 20. He has a mix of strong and weak teamfight plays: A strong one at 36:30 when he kills Ruin with ult and flashes in to duel and kill Wind. A weak one at about 48 minutes when he gets his ult interrupted by Syndra and basically forced out of the fight.
He ends the game 4/4/4 with 100% kill participation and a 27% damage share. It was by no means a stellar game, but given the start, it could have been much worse. If we take a close look at Tactical’s games, we get a better idea of just how much ability it takes to be “LCS ready.”
How talent grows: humble beginnings and individual skill
If Tactical is LCS ready, it’s worth asking how he got there. It’s one thing to know what talent looks like and how to see its different facets and another thing to see how it develops.
Unlike a lot of other players, Tactical didn’t spend his first year of competition in the Riot circuit. When he just started to go pro, he didn’t do it through NACS, or the Academy. He did it through one of LoL’s new minor leagues - the Upsurge Premier League or UPL.
More like most players, Tactical started off watching streams, playing with friends and fighting for parental approval. Like so many of us, Tactical got sucked into League by a friend who kept begging him to try the game out. Tactical eventually caved and after just one game, he was hooked.
“That’s how I started everything, basically, just one game,” Tactical told me. At that point, he was far from an AD carry god. He started off as a fill main, playing whatever was missing from the team.
“Since I had a pretty slow computer back then I could never really get my role. Because back then you needed to type whatever role wanted first, and then you’d get it. But I had a really slow laptop so I could never get my role!” Tactical’s struggle is a pretty familiar one for any of us who played solo queue before Riot ruled on pick vs call order and reworked the draft mode entirely.
But as Tactical improved, he found his true place in the game. “I’d say, when I reached around Gold or Plat, I chose AD Carry because at the time I watched a lot of Gosu. At the time, he played a lot of Vayne so I also played a lot of Vayne. And that eventually led to other AD carries.”
At that time, Tactical was still in middle school, watching WildTurtle destroy the competition on TSM. He cites WildTurtle as the first player he really looked up to, though he stopped idolizing other players until recently. Seeking to broaden his own style, he’s recently started watching Teddy, the legendary Korean AD that won many a late game on Jin Air first, then SKT.
As the years passed, Tactical spent more and more time on League. Not for aspirations of pro play but just because it was fun. “I think it was just that fun. I would remember the second I would come back home, I wouldn’t even like think or do anything else, I would just put my backpack down and queue up instantly.”
Much as many pros and streamers complain about many facets of League - balance, NA solo queue culture, teammates, the game itself - the fun of it keeps them going. Tactical enjoyed the game enough to want to build a life around it. The next step would be convincing his parents.
“When I was basically in the amateur scene, I told my parents I wanted to be a pro player. At first they didn’t think it was possible, like a reality, you know? Parents nowadays are not really as exposed to video games or don’t really realize how big they can be. I guess at first they thought I was joking by saying that. And eventually I kept insisting on it and they realized I was being serious.”
“They just weren’t supportive basically,” Tactical said. However, his parents understood he was serious about League. Balancing the idealism of chasing a dream and the realism of a rough-edged world, they gave him a chance to prove himself. “They gave me one year after graduating high school to make it onto a team.”
In that year, Tactical would make it onto team Super Nova, one of the best amateur teams in League of Legends. Tactical joined in late 2017 and stayed on until late 2018. In that time the team got 2nd at Dreamhack Montreal 2017 and never placed below 2nd in the UPL standings or playoffs.
This article is likely the first time you’re hearing of the UPL or of League’s amateur scene. As time grows on, you might see hear more of it as more players come out of it. Tactical’s own teammates Soligo and Jenkins both move from Super Nova onto academy teams (Jenkins being our academy top laner).
“I think the amateur scene is bigger nowadays,” Tactical notes. “There’s more tournaments and a bigger prize pool.” Tactical called the UPL something of a mini-LCS, a mostly online experience that would turn into a LAN one when all the players could spend the time and money to make the trip.
At that level, Tactical said the key was raw skill - simply being better than your opponent. “The most important thing would be individual skill - and then teamwork. In my opinion, in amateur if you’re just better than the enemies you’re just gonna win cause teamwork is really hard to build up when individuals are not at the highest level.”
How talent grows: Academy League and Teamwork
After Tactical spent the year on Super Nova, he attended 2018 Scouting Grounds and showed the skill he had built. He got the 2nd prospect award, the Mountain Drake trophy, and got offers from there. He picked TSM’s offer to join the academy team and relocated to LA.
Fitting to the name, the Academy is where the deeper learning about the esport can begin. Discard the solo queue mentality, discard the idea that individual skill trumps all. Now is the time to improve to mentality and teamwork. At least, that was how it went for Tactical.
“When I first started playing on TSM academy I was actually really bad at taking criticism. I guess my mental wasn’t strong at all, but then it gradually improved over the year. Now I’m much better than I was last year - just mental and as a person.”
It helped that Tactical was joining a team of seasoned veterans like Grig. “It was a pretty big change,” Tactical admitted. “It went from me being more knowledgeable to being the least [knowledgeable]. It depends on the person, but it can be stressful sometimes when you’re trying to learn and everyone else is ahead of you. But the best you can do is just focus and try to catch up.”
Tactical ended up doing just that. In his first Academy split his team won the playoffs pretty convincingly. They only dropped one game throughout playoffs and did it all with a cardboard cut out teammate. Their support, Treatz, played remotely due to visa issues.
From there, Tactical would move onto our academy team and eventually sub in for Doublelift. In Team Liquid Academy, Tactical was no longer the young rookie taking direction.
“When we started scrimming on TLA, I realized I had to be a more independent player in a way where I bring more to the team. Since I was the rookie last year, I relied on others covering for what I couldn’t do. When I join a new team, everything’s different and I realize I have to change what I provide to my team.
For TLA, that was leadership and patience. “I stopped relying on others as much. I started trying to provide my own opinions. Stronger, more set opinions. I realized that I have to be patient with my teammates because last year my teammates were definitely patient with me. Try to like talk it out, never get unreasonably frustrated.”
In Academy, Tactical turned focus away from simple individual skill and towards team dynamics. He took time to learn team dynamics, absorb strategy, and form into a more complete player. All things that would go towards his LCS debut.
LCS and the next steps
While Tactical shined brighter in his debut than anyone could have expected, the light still burned him. The higher the level of competition, the higher the stakes and the stress.
In going to academy, Tactical saw the weaknesses that were holding him back at that level. He needed to unlearn his own pride and his own time in the amateur league where individual skill reigned supreme. In going to LCS, Tactical would uncover all new weaknesses and anxieties.
Is this the highest pressure moment of your career?
“Yeah I’d probably say so. I really dislike feeling anxious or nervous and i don’t think I felt this much previously.”
“Yeah I’d probably say so. I really dislike feeling anxious or nervous and i don’t think I felt this much previously.”
The LCS gave Tactical the greatest mental stress of his career. He told me it was like his moment moving up to Academy, only the mental gap was even larger. And now it wasn’t just about learning new skills but refining the old ones into something razor sharp.
“The knowledge gap wasn’t as big compared to amateur to academy but the, I guess, mental gap was [even bigger]. I just felt way more nervous than I’ve ever felt, or anxious. It’s not a pleasant feeling, feeling like that all the time. Basically going from academy to LCS just sharpened some of my game skills. [...] It basically just reinforced all my game knowledge rather than gaining new knowledge, I’d say.”
Those nerves showed on stage and in scrims. In the SQUAD series, CoreJJ and the coaching staff both pointed to Tactical’s confidence as his biggest area for improvement. Tactical himself alluded to the pressures around him. He’s competing for a spot against arguably the best AD player in an entire hemisphere on a team that needs every single win it can get.
He’s also at a level of competition where the game sense and limit testing is at its most intense.
“People know their limits more. It’s not just like, champion limits it’s like how much they could do on the map. How much can I push? Is this the last wave I can push before it’s too greedy? Can we do this objective on time before they get here? [...] It comes down to more calculated plays and risks and yeah, knowing your limits better.”
Handling that level of intensity generally requires experience. Most rookies and newer players will chafe under the long games, the hectic decision making, and the sheer pressure of the LCS. It takes time for these things to become normal in the mind, just as it took time for the Academy circuit to become normal.
For many viewers, all of this seems like simple mind over matter moments. We can all power through stress and pressure and perform our best. The reality is much different. Stress seeps into the body and disrupts the rhythms that we use to perform at our best.
This is what happened in Tactical’s second week of LCS. “I’d say I didn’t play as well. I couldn’t focus as much, was more tired in general, so that was the difference for me. [...] I think the anxiety and stress led to me getting worse sleep overall and I pretty much couldn’t get any good sleep after I started playing in LCS. SO it was like hard to just feel 100 percent and energized the whole day.
“That stress was definitely a big reason I felt tired,” he said, then paused for a moment. “I’d say that was the only reason actually.”
If you’re still skeptical, know that one study found not sleeping for 17 to 19 hours had a worse effect on reaction times than drinking (a BAC level of .05 to be specific). Lack of sleep also increases the production of stress hormones like cortisol and decreases production of pleasure and reward hormones like dopamine.
The mental game had become physical. Despite all the stress and the sleepless nights, more than anything Tactical seemed happy in our interview.
“I’m sure anyone’s dream scenario - that is playing in LCS - would be playing with world champions on their team and having very good teammates. So I had a really ideal scenario. It’s just nice playing with all these players, like they’re all really easy to work with.”
More than anything, he seemed excited to get to a new level of competition where the game itself becomes more abstract and personal but even easier to discuss.
“It’s really easy to communicate ideas because everyone has a lot of knowledge, so they’ll always know what I’m talking about. Or they’ll try to explain to me new concepts, I guess, or how they think of the game. So it’s just really interesting - all these different takes and how each person tries to be the best version of themselves in the game.”
“In LCS, everyone is way more proactive individually. Everyone is trying to do their own thing and trying to make plays on the map. In Academy people don’t have as much knowledge so it’s like harder for them to see these angles that these LCS players might have. It’s just… it feels a bit like a different game, playing with really good players. It’s really fun.”
Fun is important, too. As cheap and overused as the word can be, fun is what sustains these players as they endure demanding hours and practice times. Fun is what got Tactical started, what kept him playing, and it’s now what pushes him to climb higher.
That sense of passion makes him the kind of teammate that can seamlessly step into a roster like ours and perform. The passion makes him the kind of teammate that performed at several levels of play and described every stage of competition as another kind of fun. Tactical’s interview reminded me a lot of when I spoke with CoreJJ.
“This is a long marathon, CoreJJ said of the Worlds circuit, “a long journey, so we need fun!”
At the end of the interview, I returned to the topic of talent and asked Tactical what you need to be a great League player. The first traits that came to him were, “confidence, being open-minded, and being a good teammate.” At the end, after a bit of thinking, he added, “Obviously being skilled is a trait, I guess! Being very good at the game.”
If you make it to the top level, you’re going to be good at the game. It’s a given. The intangibles like mentality - confidence, teamwork, and flexibility - aren’t a given. While Tactical scrims and sits in with the main team, these are what he’s watching for. He’s watching for how to be one of the best.
“I want to be a carry that’s played through - for sure! But right now,” he admits, “I don’t think I have the current skillset. I’m still trying to find my ground, I guess. I’m trying to figure out how I can be the best player.”
Be the best player
In the clip below, you’ll find the teamfight that effectively won the game against Cloud 9 and put Team Liquid in a tie for first place. In it, there are two deciding moments. The first is obvious. CoreJJ hits a beautiful, max-range hook on Zven’s Sona. This pick starts the fight in Team Liquid’s favor.
The second deciding moment tends to get overshadowed by the first. After the pick, Zven manages to cast Crescendo right before dying. Blaber sees Tactical stunned and dives in. Blaber’s Hecarim is very fed and nearly kills Tactical outright. However, Blaber misses the stun window just slightly. Tactical has just enough step back, land one auto, then land a mystic shot.
This is vital. The mystic shot and auto give Tactical 3 stacks of Conqueror. He will need to reach twelve to get Conqueror’s vital 8% lifesteal buff. Blaber then knocks back and fears Tactical, setting up Vulcan to finish the AD with Lux’s ultimate. However, Vulcan’s timing is slightly of too and Tactical arcane shifts out of the way, lands another mystic shot, fully stacks conqueror, and narrowly heals enough to avoid dying to the fed Hecarim’s damage or to red buff after the play.
These are the execution-heavy, very tight timing windows that define season 10 League of Legends. It’s the kind of thing that makes aggression so rewarding and so risky in the current meta.
If Blaber or Vulcan kill Tactical then Blaber likely heals enough to survive. Even though Blaber didn’t take the Triumph - a rune that heals 12% of health after a takedown - Hecarim’s innate healing is still high and only Trundle and Blitzcrank are nearby. Without Tactical, Team Liquid likely doesn’t have the damage or presence to get baron and may even lose a reengaged fight.
Most viewers, fans, and even many analysts will give full credit for this fight - and the win against C9 - to CoreJJ’s hook. While the hook meant a lot, so did Tactical’s kiting and damage. Rewind to the hook and you can see Tactical cast Ezreal’s Essence Flux right as CoreJJ lands the hook, so that the flux will connect right as Zven is stunned.
When I first interviewed Tactical back in Spring 2020, I didn’t imagine him executing on that level as soon as one split later. To this day, I don’t think many analysts focus on his veteran-level teamfighting because they didn’t imagine it either. A part of me believes, had Treatz or Biofrost landed that hook and Doublelift done the kiting, the discussion would be more Doublelift.
For what it’s worth, he’s mostly outperformed Doublelift. According to stats taken from OraclesElixir.com, his K/D/A is the second highest in the League - 6.4 compared to Doubelift’s 4.2. His damage per minute (DPM) and his damage share are both higher than Doublelift as well. He has the second highest damage share after Bang and the third highest DPM. Tactical’s only mediocre stat is CS difference at 10 minutes, which makes full sense given CoreJJ’s propensity to roam and make plays.
In Spring 2020, Tactical said he was trying to be the best player. Summer 2020 is the showcase of those efforts. He isn’t quite there yet and it’d be disingenuous to pretend that, with Doubelift’s exit, Tactical is the new core of the team.
Jensen has very much risen to become the heart of the new Team Liquid, with CoreJJ being pacemaker. For Team Liquid, Mid lane is usually the lane to snowball and support is usually the role to control vision, set the pace, and break the map open. Jensen is the lane dominant arm of the team, with the best CSD at 10 and highest gold lead at 10 of any LCS mid laner. CoreJJ is the lens the team sees through, with the highest wards placed per minute and second highest wards cleared per minute of all LCS supports.
Tactical is not the best player or the carry that’s usually played through. At least, not yet.
But it’s not a stretch to believe he could get there. It’s not a stretch to think that he could be the primary carry that a team plays through. In the win against C9, he was that carry. C9 had buried Jensen under endless jungle pressure and repeated ganks and Tactical stepped up in his place. Jensen ended the game 3/4/3, Tactical ended 6/2/8 and nearly doubled the damage Jensen had done on Syndra.
Tactical can be that carry when the moment is right. It will be a question of if he can be that carry in the right moment, in the big games, the best-of-fives, in the matches where the enemy pressures him specifically. If he can do that, then he could be NA’s next prodigy ADC.
But until then, he’ll remain one of the most understated and most interesting parts of the team. The TL player that has grown the most and has higher heights to reach yet. The single rookie that somehow looks natural alongside a lineup of players who have already reached the peaks he dreams of.
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