Tactical: The Rise of a Carry

October 23 2020
Coming into the first day of Groups, Team Liquid had misread the meta, drafted poorly, and got pretty thoroughly beaten by the LMS’s first seed, Machi. The game would be the difference between a three-way tiebreaker for first in a group where Team Liquid had beaten everyone and the third 3-3 in three years.

Yet, the mood around TL is anything but hopeless.

Team Liquid had done something very few North American teams do at Worlds: they adapted. Over the course of a few days, they revamped their draft strategy, refocused their macro, fit into the Worlds meta as best they could and went 2-1 in the second phase of Groups.

Surprisingly, TL got a lot of support from the North American community, many fans asking for the team to stay together. That level of hope is something you rarely see for a team that didn’t escape Groups. At the center of that hope is Edward “Tactical” Ra, the team’s rookie ADC.

~~

It starts against MAD Lions with a flash forward on Twitch — a squishy ADC with no gap closer and a poor early game. Tactical flashes over Kaiser’s Leona ultimate to kill Carzzy’s Ashe, setting up for a Herald play. The Herald play turns into plates but more importantly into pressure that forces Shadow ‘s Evelynn to show bot lane. This allows Impact to all in Orome in the top lane.


This is the way Tactical wants to play. Forward.

He said: “[NA] teams are more often than not trying to scale, basically. I realized this would not work in international events because you’ll just get ran over versus a very good team. [...] In my opinion the best way to play League of Legends is to pressure if you can, as much as you can and try to end cleanly. ”

In Play-ins, Team Liquid played more towards this style than prior, although the team still wasn’t quite where the other regions were.

“I’d say we could probably be more aggressive as a region and try to have more confidence in trying to snowball properly,” Tactical comments about NA as a whole. He highlights C9’s Spring form as a good example of what NA ought to be doing.

However, it’s difficult for NA teams to reach - and sustain - that level of intelligent aggression because the region’s laidback, farm-for-late style goes deep. It’s baked all the way into the solo queue.

“China’s solo queue is way better in terms of proactivity. I feel like everyone there is trying to fight and basically win and carry by themselves but I feel like in NA that’s not as often the case. That’s the biggest difference I’ve noticed between NA and other region’s solo queues.”

He added: “NA players are not as proactive.”


NA talent feels increasingly hard to find, making Tactical a rarity stacked on rarities: a homegrown NA talent - on top of a rookie who needed no more than a split before he looked like a veteran - on top of being in an NA team that actually adapted and changed styles mid-Worlds. There’s no question, Tactical is good. But he’d like to be better.

“I want to become a more dominant player. Rather than just being able to play against the best ADC’s and hold my own, I’d say I wanna become the better AD carry myself,” Tactical said.

He specifically means laning. Since he joined the LCS, laning has been Tactical’s comparative weak spot. Like he says, he doesn’t lose lane hard anymore. Gone are the days where one of the weaker LCS teams can dogpile him at level 1 and offset him for the game. However, winning lane is another story.

Even in his very successful Summer 2020 split, Tactical has been more a teamfight god than a laning god. Tactical had the 4th highest DPM and 2nd highest damage share of all players in the Summer 2020 LCS. Given TL had a pretty middling amount of overall kills and was less active, those numbers feel slightly more impressive in full context. In the playoffs, they got even better, with Tactical leading ADs in DPM and damage share and getting second overall behind PowerOfEvil.

But in Gold and CS at 10, Tactical was fairly middling in both the regular season and playoffs. He debuted on the LCS stage with a straight-up 2v2 kill but he doesn’t quite have the laning prowess of other world class ADs - something he admits to in the interview.

In our interview, Tactical points to his laning micro in particular. For him, the biggest difference between a regional botlaner and a world class one are the many small things they do incredibly right in lane. Small things like perfected auto-spacing* can push you from holding your own to winning in lane.

“I notice a lot of these good AD carries, their spacing will be very good in the laning phase. It’ll be much harder to get auto attack trades or free auto-attacks. That’s something I’m trying to improve on too,” he said.

Even with perfect micro and spacing, a carry can only control so much of their own laning phase. League is in particular a team game - and a draft game.

* Doublelift got crucified for trying to make auto-spacing a thing but this layer of micro should have its own term, whether that’s spacing or auto-spacing. League’s language is underdeveloped compared to other sports and needs more jargon, not less.

~~

The Play-Ins meta was not the Worlds meta. We all learned this the hard way when the team locked in Twitch-Rakan against Suning.

“If the Twitch-Rakan’s opposing team is able to form any kind of numbers advantage and try to move down to the bottom side, it can be pretty hard to Twtich-Rakan because they can’t actually do a lot by themselves. The only thing they can do in lane before they have level 6 is farm basically.” Tactical says Twitch-Rakan’s like of early priority basically makes it a waiting game that a good team could punish very hard.

“I think play-ins was just that either bot laners were not able to punish well enough v2 or coordinate well enough with the team to try to set up a plan where they could try to screw over the Twitch-Rakan.” Suning would have both the laning and communication to do what the play-in teams couldn’t.


Huanfeng and SwordArt picked Leona-Draven, a duo with a massively threatening all-in and generally better early game. They used this early game to gain pressure on the bot side, making it easier for Sofm to operate there. Suning cleverly used their strong bot side level one to push Broxah off his red buff, forcing him to jungle top side as well.

This meant that when SofM could farm Broxah’s bot side jungle and Leona-Draven could push freely. Once they pushed to the tower, Twitch and Rakan were in a 3v2 scenario against three much more potent early game champions. They had to leave the tower and retreat entirely because, barring a Sunin misplay, the other option wwas to get double-killed.

Broxah could come down to force Sofm off here, but this would be bad for him since he has nothing to farm in that jungle quadrant. Tactical and CoreJJ may have gotten less far behind but he would’ve gotten more far behind and the net result would be similar. He goes for a top gank that doesn’t quite work out, but even if it had, it likely wouldn’t have been an even trade.

Suning gains two tower plates for 300 gold — one kill right there. They also deny Tactical one Cannon (60 gold), five melee minions (105 gold), and roughly 9 caster minions (126 gold). That’s 291 gold total, nearly another kill. This isn’t mentioning experience totals either, which worsens the laning phase and weakens bot-side pressure further.

Even if Broxah gets a trade on top, Bin has teleport, Impact is low HP and Broxah is low level so a dive and similar plate and CS denial isn’t in the cards. The proactive picks get to make the first move. In the current meta the first move is often more important than the second one made in response. Very likely, the entire team realized this, but the two hard losses in a row made everyone fully buy into the realization

~~

“It was kind of hard to match up against other teams the way we were playing and the way they were playing. So we realized we have to change too for the highest chance of winning. It was also like we realized if we were actually a good team we wanna play the way the other teams were,” Tactical reflected.

The team’s new draft strategy came out of necessity. Down 1-2, it was play the early game champs, or perish.


Tactical said: “In scrims we had a hard time against these kinds of drafts, where they had a lot of pressure early but we couldn’t really match it as much - and we’d just lose too much, basically. And also even in solo queue, oftentimes what we’d naturally end up picking to wanna win solo queue would be like early pressure picks.”

In the following games, Team Liquid entered with a crucial Sett pick that could flex top, mid, or bot and have strong laning priority in any spot. In the following Suning game, Jensen took the Sett mid. Meanwhile, Tactical and CoreJJ took Jhin and Bard, a duo that retained the general utility of Twitch-Rakan while losing the very poor lane priority.


In their second game against Suning, the team starts off with a good level one, but SofM retaliates with strong pathing and pressure play. He ends up in Team Liquid’s red side, fighting for the control needed to protect and shadow Bin’s Jayce. WIth the new picks, Jensen can now push in mid lane and roam up to support Broxah. Meanwhile, Tactical and CoreJJ can push in their lane, keeping Huanfeng bot to catch farm while Tactical moves up with Core.

The end result is Tactical hitting a 4 for 4 Jhin ult, getting two kills to equal out his CS disadvantage, and the team getting a 3 for 1 to claw back into gold advantage. From there, the team would get rift herald, get to move their very roam-effective bot lane into mid, and begin funnelling CS into the rookie ADC. Tactical would end the game 10/2/8.

Suning made some very big draft mistakes to allow this to happen, but they were drafting to fight the Team Liquid that went 1-2 using much weaker early-game compositions. They might’ve (reasonably) assumed TL couldn’t change draft while preserving style and strategy. Impressively, TL had simply found draft changes that let them play their way - just now with much better early game priority.

The top lane was still the pressure absorber, the mid and jungle were still open to roam and pressure, and the bot lane could still dictate the map and make plays. That may have been vital to play into both Tactical and Core’s strengths. Playmaking supports like Sett, Pantheon, and Bard fit Core very well and utility and follow-up carries like Jhin, Kalista, and Senna fit Tactical very well.

In the ADC world, most people see just two molds: Uzi and Deft (Forg1ven and Rekkles or Doublelift and Sneaky if you only watch the West). The Uzi dominates lane, takes loads of resources, then dominates the bot side of the map through a mix of aggression and teamfight micro. The Deft holds even or slightly losing in lane, enables the jungle to pressure the rest of the map, still shows up big in teamfights but doesn’t dominate the bot side of the map.

As a carry, Tactical fits more into a third mold: Imp or PraY. These two carries played with potentially the two best supports in League history thus far - Mata and Gorilla.* Mata and Gorilla both liked to run the map - literally and figuratively. Their roaming applied pressure on the enemy team but on their own ADs as well, who had to learn how to play the weak side of the map, when to roam with the support, and also how to play the utility and follow-up champs (think Imp’s Twitch or PraY’s Ashe) that could further enable their supports.


All of this requires a certain game sense and outlook of both members in the duo. “I’d say, when he does roam, I know what he [CoreJJ] wants to do. So I’ll think sometimes when he roams, it’s the best option. [...] It’s probably just a common game sense thing - basically like a universal understanding of what the best option is in the game at that time and knowing what my job is. It’s basically not to die... and then we win.” Tactical ends with a chuckle.**

Tactical’s idea of the game comes in part from playing so much with Core, a Korean support who competed against and defeated Gorilla. “It might have came from playing a lot of solo queue with him during spring split, where I might’ve like, kind of helped [us] line up.”

But even moreso, it seems as though the two naturally agree on how the bot lane should play. “We’re really close and we’re very good working with each other. Since we’re easily able to work with each other, we’re able to put a lot of attention on basically just only improvement rather than having different ideals.”

Their natural synergy is also a big part of why Tactical improved so much and had such a great rookie year. “He’s probably helped me the most with development because we just talk throughout the game and we kind of agree most of the time and we just keep learning together.”

Core’s mentorship shows clearly on the rift, but even more bizarrely, it shows in the way Tactical talks. From just recently interviewing Core, I can’t help but notice that Tactical picked up some of Core’s speech patterns.

Some things are very small, like using “just” more often - the English filler word Core defaults to. Or using more of the simple, punchy Pronoun-verb-object sentences that second language English speakers tend to default to (“I don’t like games. I just like winning”). Or using more introductory clauses.

And some things are more noticeable. In my first interview with him, Tactical was quick to answer most things, putting the words down and revising as he went. Now, he’ll sit with a question and leave multiple seconds of silence in between if he needs. It’s something not a lot of people do (most people throw out conversational filler), but it is something that Core does, even in native language interviews.

Tactical is still every bit his own player with his own way of talking. If anything, the shared bits of language and mannerism remind me of the ways good friends take on pieces of one another without even thinking about it.

* PraY’s first longtime bot lane partner and mentor was our strategic coach, Cain.
** Core’s roams show in Tactical’s stats, where he had the 2nd highest XP difference at 10 of ADCs (LCS Summer/Playoffs), despite having more average gold differences.

~~

This story - despite the friendships, belief, and growth - has a bitter ending.

Those two brutal losses where we had misread the meta meant everything. We finished at 3-3, one win shy of forcing either a three-way tiebreaker and G2 coming one win shy of giving us a two-way tiebreaker. The growth and the potential still hung in the air at the end of the run.

The team had improved a ton not just in the draft but in communication and execution. “Throughout the split we got better at trying to play the same game, because it’s not always easy to line up 5 people’s vision into one. [...] We got better at trying to cover for each other, basically. I think our communication got much more clean and individually we started trying to recognize what everyone’s role.”

The improvement simply didn’t come in time. Tactical cites Team Liquid’s main weakness as not having a more consistent way of playing and a good read on the meta established earlier on. At the same time, there’s a reason why NA has so many near misses at Worlds.

“It’s a bit harder because the other regions are usually more on top of the meta and since they’re more on top of the meta they get to have the better practice because they’re trying these newer things. And eventually it becomes the Worlds meta. But then here it’s kinda just completely different because teams are more often than not trying to just scale.”

This isn’t to blame the near miss on NA as it is to say that the near miss is becoming NA’s identity. A team can separate from their region and far outperform where they came from, but it’s a harder path. Tactical, a homegrown talent, came up through the amateur upsurge league, got spotted for Scouting Grounds from there, and got into TSM Academy from there.

He said the talent pipeline helped him quite a bit, amateur league giving him the chance to learn team skills and TSM academy giving him a great coach in form of Peter Zhang. However, he felt that teams and young talent could both benefit from things like the trainee programs that the LCK and LPL have. Given the recent changes to the Australian League scene, import trainees might even help bolster NA’s solo queue and lower its brutal 30-minute long queue times at the challenger level.

On purely personal terms, the North American near miss colored the year in a very odd way for the rookie. He tells me that objectively it’s been a good rookie year, one where he improved just about every part of his game but the feeling is different. Being a game away from glory three times in a row makes sense of that feeling.

At the same time, the whole process made Tactical come away with a much clearer sense of the game, of himself, and of what to improve on.

As a player, he speaks much more confidently and knowingly than he did in the spring interview. There, he struggled exactly to say what determined skill gaps in League, how the game should be played, or how he could become a team’s main carry. Here, he’s found specific parts of micro in other ADCs that he wants to replicate. He’s identified styles and tactics he can trust to win regularly. He’s even been the main carry at points in the split, but he’s spotted ways to bring even more to the table.

In our first interview, he was a rookie struggling to sleep through the anxious nights in between stage games. In this interview, he felt that those nerves broke on the rocks that were play-ins. Now that he has the confidence to play on any stage, his focus is on finding the laning prowess players like Imp and PraY had, as finding a clear voice in the team.

“I’d say, there are aspects where I could work in terms of becoming a main carry - basically trying to express what I want exactly. I’m getting closer to knowing more often what I want and what I want to do. I’d say probably with some more time I could become a better carry.”

He’s cognizant of the work that he still needs to do, as well as the work that the team and the region needs to do. But he’s ready to do all that and more.


“How confident are you feeling about the next split and your future in the LCS?” I asked him.

“I’d say I have way more confidence now, after Worlds. I feel like not only am I gonna be less nervous, I’m gonna do way better this time around.”

“Who in NA are you looking to beat?”

“Everybody. I’m looking to beat everybody.”






Writer // Austin Ryan
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