POTM: Tactical | Set the Mind to Automatic

January 27 2021
Day 4 of Lock-in, there’s a group match with an almost outsized importance. Due to a series of upsets, botched leads, and shaky early season gameplay, the loser of this match will have to play Cloud9 in a best of 3. The winner gets to play one of Immortals, FlyQuest, or Dignitas—a much less feared matchup.

Team Liquid will win the match against TSM in under 5 minutes.

In all honesty, it begins in the draft where TSM funnels into AP threats against a Galio and pulls a bizarre first-pick Lillia that becomes even more bizarre when you realize Nidalee was open. In turn, Team Liquid gets to lock in an insanely potent Camille-Galio duo and one of the meta’s top junglers.

At about 3:10, Santorin strolls into Spica’s jungle and casually spears away the gromp from him after he smites it. This is about 135 XP lost for Lillia, so a 270 XP swing in Santorin’s favor, and he has a smite advantage to clear even faster to widen that level gap. But the abysmal draft, the brutal spear snipe, these are not what win TL the game by 5 minutes.

Tactical and CoreJJ are.

Knowing where Santorin is now, TSM put their bot on the strong side of the map, Spica pathing to take the bot side scuttle crab. Lost and SwordArt can now push their wave into tower and create pressure. Except, they get a bit too cozy with their advantage.

CoreJJ dematerializes a minion and shoots a hook right as it vanishes, catching Lost off guard. This isn’t the first time the 2020 MVP has used his dematerializer to trick the enemy bot lane and it won’t be the last. While Core’s engage is clever, up next is the Tactical show.

Tactical immediately funnels in on Lost, flashing for the coup-de-grace, but is a hair shy of auto-range. Recognizing he’s overextended, that SwordArt has ignite, and that Kai’sa’s W is up, he doubles back and slides behind Core just in time to let his support body block the W. Now getting slapped within an inch of his life by Leona, he slides behind the minion line. Just in time, he gets right behind a low caster minion, casts double-up, and puts an extra chunk of damage.

If Tactical does any of these movements wrong, he will die. Depending on when he dies, this trade becomes a 1-for-1 or even a 2-for-0 that ultimately favors TSM. This is the modern meta of League of Legends. You have to play at the limit to play optimally.

SwordArt goes down right before he can land the death blow. CoreJJ flashes and kills Lost, who hovered too close to the fight. TSM didn’t just lose their bot lane, they lost their strong side. They lost the part of the map that gave them any leverage to make wider macro trades. The rest of the game will be a disaster for them. They’ll go on to lose 2-1 to C9 in the quarterfinals.

All of this starts with Tactical, but Tactical started all of this after he got knocked out of Worlds.

Welcome to the modern meta

“[Worlds] forced me to realize how much of an importance it is to focus on the small details - like small mechanics of laning,” Tactical says. “Playing at Worlds, you really get punished if you don’t play a fast game. Or like, [if you’re] trying to play not to lose rather than trying to play to punish the enemy.”

Tactical knew this well, being both on the giving and receiving ends. In Play-Ins and in the second week of Groups, he and the team forced open leads in the game, getting level 1 and bot side advantages, then carrying them far forward. In the first week of groups, he and the team drafted weak lanes and low pressure comps that their opponents could easily punish. (We’ve got a whole article about it).

The team’s 3rd 3-3 finish and 3rd near-exit from Groups was a bitter pill—but it was still medicinal.

“For the team, we generally shifted towards more fast a play style, more aggressive, more proactive, basically. We realized that we had to be more active if we really wanted to be in control of the games, not just spectating.”

Tactical bought into the shift to aggression very quickly. Here, youth may have been an advantage as Tactical entered the game’s competitive scene right as Riot upped the rewards for aggression. The walls of Warmogs-based tanks gradually fell away along with the late game hyper carries that teams needed to destroy them. Now, while the tanks and hypercarries still exist, the minute 40 HP-rejuvenation dance around Baron is all but dead.

It always took proactive play to crack a League game open but now that truth runs even more deeply. Tactical’s career so coincides with that sea change in League that he mirrors it, starting as a potent team fighter and gradually becoming a laning powerhouse.

“I was never that good of a lane player. I always did way batter out of lane. Before I didn’t really care about losing lane or winning lane but now I do. Now most of my focus is on laning phase because I think by now I already have teamfighting and other stuff down pretty well.”

Automatic mind: Teamfight

Tactical is right about that—he has the teamfight down. In 2020, most of Tactical’s notable highlights came from marco and micro outplays in teamfights. For those who watched the games closely, Team Liquid’s laning was simply what it needed to be: fine. The bot lane rarely hemorrhaged advantages and as a fresh face, Tactical had a surprisingly good sense of when to step back and play the weak side while Core roamed. (We’ve got a whole article on Tactical’s teamfighting too).

In teamfights, Tactical played incredibly well—either through self-peeling or through great map movements. Both these come from an automatic understanding. Built up like a reflex or muscle memory, the young carry began to intuit where his opportunities were.

From his account, the teamfight and the macro became automatic over 2020, leading up to Tactical’s big moment versus Suning (linked above). He not only roams where Huanfeng doesn’t, but he also nails all 4 shots and picks targets in the fight well. Nobody called those shots but Tactical.

Do you feel like you can read what the opponent is gonna do as well, based off of items and power spikes?
Yes, I do.

And this is all purely feel, do you feel like this is a muscle memory thing…
Well, I’d say [pauses] it’s not completely intuition but it’s just a habit from doing it over a long course of time. By now it’s really an automatic process. But at the start, I’d say my first time in the LCS, there was a lot of stuff I’d think about actively. It was kind of hard. But now since I’ve been doing it for almost a year by now, it’s just more automatic of a process.

Can you give some specifics there? What process or things you feel are more automatic for you now...
I’d say a big one would be macro. Before I’d struggle or have less confidence in what I think should happen on the map or times that I could do [something] on the map, or what we can do. Now it just seems like I’m a better player overall - kind of.

Another example would be laning phase. LCS has higher level play than academy so people are playing matchups to the more accurate representation. So like, let’s say I play a certain matchup in academy and I never got punished but I played in LCS and I got punished, I would actually learn that. Now since I’ve played at the higher level for a while, I just have these matchups memorized in my head and I kind of know how to play it without having to talk with Core.

I kinda wanna break this into specific examples. For the macro one, let’s take the fight against Suning where you’re on Jhin and you roam up to mid…
Yeah, yeah.

Is anybody on the comms, are they like, “Tactical, Tactical get up here!” Are you already going? Do you already know at that point?
It was more, I made the decision to go up.

Say, when you started that split or a few games into the split, do you feel like you would’ve had that confidence or was it something you gained up to that point?
I’d say it’s something I gained over time - to be able judge the situation myself and rely less on other people. So I guess it’s like I had a better idea of what I wanted to do in the game rather than in the beginning when I was just listening and asking people what to do.

This same logic applies to the micro of a fight - another thing Tactical excels at and has now largely switched to automatic. Much of Tactical’s teamfight prowess comes from quick, smart decisions about who to prioritize and where to move. Those decisions come out of a sense of what cooldowns are up and who can or cannot burst him.

In the teamfight above, he recognizes that the three FlyQuest players converging from the top of the tower all have immense kill threat and most abilities coming off cooldown. When he sees Diamond’s Janna try to pin him down with a tornado, he knows that’s the safest target to attack. When Licorice dumps his cooldowns into killing Santorin, Tactical knows he can reengage to take down Licorice, clawing two kills back from a bad fight.

Do you have an internal timer of the enemy team’s ults, summoners, key spells?
Yes. We also have a timer where Core, whenever we ping a summoner, he’ll time it in chat. Sometimes in League, there’s certain champions where it’s more important to keep track of their flash because of a flash-cc

Definitely I know what my threats are in fights and I’ll always ask if they have flash. I’ll always say I’m fine, I’m safe from this guy, I have flash or cleanse or galeforce. I have a general feeling of all the cooldowns in the game, so I like to keep track of those. For example, if Thresh hook is down in laning phase, it’ll be down for 20 seconds or something and I try to make the most out of it.

Is this like a “quick maths” or an intuition thing for you?
It’s like an intuition thing. I have like a general estimate of how long cooldowns are - and most of the time it’s correct. So, got that with me.

Was that something that was an easy thing for you as a player to develop? Like, when you were [still] hopping into solo queue and you were still at that Diamond level.

I’d say it’s something that most people don’t keep track of actively. Most people in Diamond, the’re still trying to polish up on their basics a lot. Even until competitive, or even up until 2020 LCS, I was not that good of keeping track of supports’ cooldowns in lane but this time around I feel way better or confident about myself. I feel more knowledgeable about the cooldowns.

How does that confidence affect you?
I’d say the biggest difference so far has been in laning phase. Before I would be scared, kind of like, “oh does he have this ability?” I’d constantly make myself worry so I wouldn’t play as aggressive. Now it’s like I have more precise or accurate information of what the cooldown might be so I’m able to abuse the timings by maybe two more seconds.

As the teamfighting becomes an automatic process, Tactical shifts his mentality towards laning. This is something he’s been working towards ever since Worlds: move that automatic mind over to the lane. Read the seams in the opponent’s aggression, count the cooldowns, and hit opponents where they aren’t used to being hit.

Automatic mind: Laning

“So now I’m just focusing on laning,” Tactical says, “because I realize that if a gap is made big enough in laning phase, it can just provide so many free advantages - tools to winning. So me and Core are just trying our best to just smash lane.”

The focus has already paid off. Team Liquid’s bot lane has earned a straight up 2v2 kill in 5 of their last 7 games. These duo kills translate into very obvious statistical advantages too. Right now, Tactical leads the league in Gold Difference, CS difference, and XP difference at 10 minutes.

You can write some of these off for being against weaker bot lanes or bad positioning. Tactical is the first to admit to that.

“He just made a laning mistake,” Tactical points out for his kill on WildTurtle, “and we just capitalized on that. [...] Being too close to Leona, you should never really give Leona those kinda free E angles near tower. Stuff like that.”

However, two of the five 2v2s come from TSM and 100T’s bot lanes - each a potent duo. In 100T’s case, the kill came from a knowledge gap. Tactical and Core better understood the limits of a new champion and new matchup.

The play is pretty straightforward. Tactical and Core jump on FBI, who is positioned way too far forward because he doesn’t expect Samira-Leona to have a serious engage threat until level 2. One of the game’s casters, Azael, lays out the surprise factor, “Tactical did not go for the Q start which you almost always will see from the Samira.”

At first glance, and based on the commentary, the play almost seems cheesy—unorthodox for the purpose of tripping the enemy up. To Tactical, the E start is no surprise at all. If anything, it should be the orthodox option.

“I knew to level E because it’s just experience from playing the champion a lot in solo queue. I do think I picked up on the champion pretty well and pretty fast. So I was able to figure out limits like, Q start isn’t actually as insane as I think, E start’s actually pretty good because I get attack speed after I use it, I get to use my melee attacks which do slightly more damage. I could have Conqueror too.”

“It’s just all these small factors I’ve realized while playing the champion. I’m not sure how to explain it, it’s just something I learned naturally.”

This knowledge is a big part of why Team liquid is one of the only teams in the Lock In to pick Samira—and the only team to use her consistently and successfully. With his focus turned to laning, Tactical seeks these advantages out actively. To the point that now he’s begun to teach CoreJJ about certain matchups.

“At first Core didn’t know the angle, so it’s something I brought on in terms of knowledge to the lane. [...] Since Samira is a newer champion I did tell Core about the angles we’re learning, kind of. [...] I’ve already talked with Core before about what I think we can win, when we can win. That was definitely a thing where we talked about it beforehand - not just like ‘go go go!’”

As Tactical builds out his and Core’s lane knowledge, he also finds that the communication in lane becomes simpler and more intuitive. While Core has an obvious positive impact on any carry he lanes with, Tactical increasingly becomes an equal partner to the MVP-caliber support.

Do you feel like Core enables or encourages that kind of [aggressive] style in you?
I think so. I think Core’s a very good player and basically he just helps the AD carry focus on themselves the most. He rarely messes up his own role in the game. He always has a good idea in the game what he wants to do so I think it allows his teammates in general to focus on their own thing and not worry about what he’s doing. In terms of being aggressive and letting his carries play up front, I’m not sure if he’s the factor for that but I feel like he helps my growth.

Do you feel like Core gives you a historical knowledge of the game that helps out?
Yeah, I think if there weren't drastic changes with the champions themselves, we could use ideas in the past that had worked. Like the idea of playing X champion against Y - and it still works sometimes. Just like, knowing why people picked certain champions before is pretty helpful.

Does it feel kind of cool to reach that point where you’re teaching Core something about the matchup?
Yeah. I’ve always thought he was the better half of the duo where he always was the one kinda carrying me. But it does feel like now I have more confidence in myself and I’m able to provide more this year.

In the moment, is there Core saying, “Go go go!” or is it just like you’re both fairly quiet or you don’t necessarily need that - you know that this is the time to go?
Nowadays, we don’t really have that where we have to explain in detail what we’re both looking for. It’s fairly simple communication like, ‘I’m looking here.’ and I’ll get what he’s trying to do or what he wants.

Right. Is that a shift compared to when you started?
When I first started, I kinda just followed everyone around but now it seems like we’re splitting the responsibility way better - way more evenly. We both have our own ideas and it works out better. There’s more flexibility now, it seems.

Did it seem like the communication improved as you improved?
Yes, I think so. We would have less comms necessary to say stuff that I know now. I’d say a lot of stuff doesn’t have to be said nowadays.

Because it’s just a shared knowledge now - that you have with him…
Yeah, exactly.

How much do you and Core limit test in bot lane and generally talk about how to optimize a matchup?
Oh we talk about it every game. There’s always something we think we can do better.

For you is this a lot of lane talk now?
I’d say it’s mostly lane talk now.


As Tactical blooms into a multi-threat carry, he does so in the midst of Team Liquid’s own metamorphosis. This team, once a late-game juggernaut filled with veteran decision making, now leads the team in early game metrics.

TL has the top Early Game Rating with 82.4 (this is a homebrewed stat from Oracle’s Elixir).

TL has the top Gold Difference at 15 with a massive 2,707 gold lead.

TL has a staggering 100% first blood and dragon rate as well.

Forget what you heard or learned, early game is no longer the problem. Nor is aggression. Before anyone jumps the gun, we’ve only seen 7 games—many of them against incomplete rosters and unpracticed squads. However, the team identity clearly shifted in the offseason and over the course of Worlds.

As the team shifts towards forward play, it makes the jump easier for Tactical.

“I do think having a more aggressive feeling or environment is helpful. It just feels like our comms are more active. There’s more information available and it seems like if your teammates are backing up or they’re also looking at similar things that you are, there’s a higher chance what you’re looking at will work.”

More than just words, there are so many examples of what Tactical is saying in the recent Team Liquid games. When each player has eyes on the same opportunity, what could be a trade or pressure turns into an actual kill or advantage. In the gank above, CoreJJ and Santorin are in sync in their aggression, with Santorin flashing in to follow up on Leona’s CC and secure first blood.

That’s pretty impressive for a team that had less than a week of practice as one unit. This is where it really helps Team Liquid to have a bot lane that’s become incredibly synchronized - and to have a carry that executes on his own.

Tactical’s increasing independence as a player opens up brand new horizons for him as a carry. As he sets more of his mind and his gameplan to automatic, he frees more of himself up to create plays and expand on openings. This is where Tactical looks like a transformed player compared to his early days subbing in for a sick Doublelift.

You could find a more successful Tactical dive against CLG, but his dive against FlyQuest (above) is more impressive and important. Licorice lands a solid flash engage on him and Santorin but he dashes away before Josedeodo can follow up with an ult. He quickly autos Diamond to get his last stack of Style, letting him retaliate with a Samira ult.

Despite being an ADC, he basically drain-tanks for the team, doing the most damage in the fight (4,200) and buying time for TL to pincer FlyQuest. This turns what was FlyQuest’s catch and engage near baron into a 3-for-2 in favor of Team Liquid.

It took Tactical leaping in but it also took the team following up without question. CoreJJ reengages instead of running. Alphari teleports in to kill Johnsun and save CoreJJ. Jensen stays right in the clump, shielding Tactical and cleaning up.

The flipside of this automatic aggression is autopilot and greed. Tactical hands over an easy kill to FlyQuest and delays his team’s Baron simply due to taking a greedy path and not expecting Diamond to flash- engage on him from over a wall. Against a more practiced and cohesive team, this kind of thing is lethal.

So it was against 100T, where Team Liquid took their one loss of the Lock In. After gaining advantage in the bot, Tactical and Core would lose it by overstaying in lane and not respecting the enemy team’s dive. Gradually, 100T would come back into the game and win.

The downside of testing limits is that you will hit a critical limit sometimes.

However, this is the style that a carry needs to execute on if they want to survive Worlds - let alone win it. Tactical knows this well because he’s built towards it for years.

In our first interview, he said, “I want to be a carry that’s played through - for sure! But right now, 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.”

In our second interview, he said, “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.”

This third interview comes after he’s 2v2ed 5 different bot lanes. It comes with him leading the other carries in CS/D and coming in a very close second (behind FBI) in terms of damage per minute. He comes in much more confident but also much more intuitive. So many things that once were conscious are now automatic.

That space he frees up in external and internal communication, it opens out into a world of growth. Limit tests, heavy execution plays, snap decisions and dives—these are the things Tactical looks to grow into more and more. The hope, for him and for Team Liquid, is that he can sustain that growth—all the way until he becomes the carry he’s long dreamed of being.

Writer // Austin R. Ryan

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