Although Bilibili Gaming fields one of the younger rosters among the teams taking part in the 2023 Mid-Season Invitational, they have been performing like one of the most seasoned lineups around. That’s how they’ve been perceived, given their ongoing journey in the event, which has taken them from the Play-In stage to being within the world’s six best teams so far alongside Gen.G, T1, and JD Gaming.
At the helm of BLG is head coach Wong "Tabe" Pak Kan, who joined before the start of the spring playoffs — after winning two consecutive MSI titles with Royal Never Give Up from 2020 to February 2023. With Tabe added to the equation, BLG ran through the LPL playoff gauntlet to finish as runner-up and become China’s second-seeded team for MSI.
From that point, things have continued faring well for BLG and their head coach, defeating Rainbow7, Golden Guardians, and Cloud9. Even with BLG losing to JD Gaming in the upper bracket semifinals, which sets up a match with G2 Esports in the lower bracket, they continue building their credibility within the international level as a team with brimming potential later down the line.
Following BLG’s series against JDG, BLIX talked to Tabe about how the team performed in their LPL spring finals rematch, the difference between his time with RNG and his current stint with his new team, his observation of Western teams, and more.
Tabe on facing JDG
Pedro Romero, BLIX: Commiserations on the series against JDG. Obviously, it wasn’t the performance you wanted to see out of this team. That said, I want to know what your preparation was like for this series against JDG, given that you previously faced them in the LPL finals and how did those preparations play out?
Wong "Tabe" Pak Kan: Compared to the finals, we didn’t practice a lot because, at that moment, we didn’t have enough for us to scrim with. But because we’ve been in MSI for a long period of time already, we have scrimmed with a lot of champions. We tried a lot of different combinations of champions so we thought that we were fully prepared to fight against JDG today.
Although we lost, I think we still have a lot of improvements, including our early game. For most of the games, we fought back, such as in Games 2 and 3, because with our draft, in comparison to the enemy’s draft, we could come back. I think if we could adjust some mistakes and put more attention in the early game, I think we really could have had a match [with JDG].
BLIX: Although you highlighted the early game, it was the mid and late game where things went away for BLG. One of the players from JDG who contributed to the result is Ruler, who played a fantastic game in an individual sense. What made it difficult for BLG to translate that early-game initiative to the later stretches of each game in the series?
Tabe: I focused on the early game a lot because we picked Nidalee. She is a champion you don’t want to have a late game with. We picked her because we wanted to have early harassment to Kanavi and put him in uncomfortable situations, but he played well with Maokai and Sejuani in sort out that disadvantage by using the ulti and the Maokai E to let the team gap decrease.
Maybe in some games, you’ll see our team combo have around 3,000 to 4,000 economic advantage, but we still couldn’t have a match because the difference is not that large due to the enemy jungler grabbing kills in mid or bot lane. As I said before, we prepared a lot for this Bo5, but things didn’t go well. After this section with the press, I will have a conference with the players to talk about today’s games.
BLIX: Talk about how much of an obstacle it was to take down Ruler specifically throughout the series. It seemed as though whatever you guys threw at JDG, Ruler came through at the end and cleaned up with kills after initially starting on the backend in a given teamfight.
Tabe: I think Ruler really proved that he’s one of the world’s top three ADCs because every time he E’s in front of three or four champions, he will use his spells like Flash or Cleanse very accurately. And because the team composition (such as Sejuani, Maokai, and K’Sante) gives him a lot of space and protects him very well, not to mention his mechanics are very good, that’s why we had a huge problem in killing him.
We have Nautilus and Thresh, so we had two hooks, but we didn’t land them very well because knight and Ruler have good mechanics in their movement. I think, for this series, we may have lost against JDG, but I bet when other teams face our comp, they will lose.
Comparing BLG with RNG
BLIX: I want to dive into your career now since you joined BLG a few months ago and took the team to this point at MSI. What has been the biggest difference between you coaching this team this year and your time in Royal Never Give Up since you led the latter to consecutive MSI titles?
Tabe: I think those two teams are entirely different. The atmosphere and the roster has a lot of differences, too, because across the past two years (2021 and 2022), the roster has changed a lot. We also don’t have a solid caller in BLG because we are a young team. I guess we’re one of the youngest teams in MSI, so we don’t have a caller. That’s why, when you see our games, we have some mistakes, but we also had amazing team fights because we don’t have a solid call.
Some of our calls are immature too, but compared to RNG, we always had Ming as our solid caller, and he is a true commander that helps the rest of the team. Comparing that with RNG, I think BLG’s advantage is that their laning power is more aggressive than the former. Another crucial part of this team is that I need to teach all the players, including Yagao and Bin, who are more experienced. In RNG, I don’t need to spend a lot of time teaching Ming and Xiaohu. I have to do a lot more work with this BLG team, but I think everything has gone pretty great because we achieved really good results. That’s why we’re in MSI, but compared to JDG, or even the two LCK teams, we’re the youngest and the most inexperienced team, but I think every one of us, including our staff, wants to have a good result in this MSI [despite the fact].
Observing the Western teams
BLIX: I want your input on the Western teams since you took on a few of them throughout the event. When it comes to observing Western teams (be it NA or anywhere else), what’s been the biggest takeaway you’ve seen from them in terms of gameplay?
Tabe: I think the greatest difference between Asian teams and Western teams are the ban picks. For example, G2 loves to play Lissandra and Nautilus mid. We practiced a lot with them and learned a lot of strategies from them too. For example, C9 has some picks that are so similar to us like the Galio-Kindred.
I think the NA teams’ playstyle this year is very similar to LPL, but the Euro teams, especially G2, have their own style. They really emphasize their laning phase, and that’s why they have a lot of crazy drafts, so I enjoy playing them, and I enjoy watching their games.
BLIX: It is with that thought in mind that you will take on G2 in the lower bracket. About G2, what are your thoughts on facing them as your next opponent?
Tabe: To be honest, I have guts and I’m responsible for the whole of BLG. I think for me, it’s 100 percent we must win against G2. Although it’s hard, I already put myself in a tough situation as I said before. This is my thought.
BLIX: Final question: What are your expectations for this team at MSI? Do you think the team has the potential to win the title or come anywhere close to that?
Tabe: I think we are far from winning the title. We came to MSI basically to learn. We have to learn from the world’s top teams. You have to be abstract, observe the experience, and learn from it. I think we might not get the title. Of course, I want to win it, but I know for a fact that it’s hard. I hope we can reach the finals, though. It’s a really tough journey, but my first step is to beat G2 and then try our best to get into the finals.