Golden Guardians silenced all the doubters the moment they stamped their ticket to the 2023 Mid-Season Invitational. After being expected to finish near or at the bottom of the league prior to the start of the season, GG, with the contributions of head coach Samuel "Spookz" Broadley and his assistant Aaron "Chuz" Bland, found their form in the playoffs to finish second in the LCS to appear in the first-ever international event in organization history.
At MSI, GG continued to impress on the world stage as they took down Latin America’s Rainbow7, Vietnam’s GAM Esports, and had a close series against China’s Bilibili Gaming in the Play-In stage before eventually being eliminated from the competition at the hands of Cloud9 in the lower bracket. Though GG finished their MSI run well outside of the title picture, they’ll be viewed with a different lens as a team with the potential to qualify for Worlds later this season.
Following the series against C9, BLIX talked to Chuz about how he’ll look back at his experience at MSI, the difference between Eastern and Western teams in terms of fundamentals, what went wrong for GG in the LCS spring finals rematch and more.
Chuz reflecting on MSI 2023 experience
Pedro Romero, BLIX: Nobody likes doing exit interviews especially one’s team is eliminated from the competition so thanks for the interview. We’ll talk about the series a little later because I want to start by asking what was your biggest takeaway from being in MSI 2023? I say this since this marked the first time you appeared in an international event in around nine years, with the last time being the 2014 International Wild Card Tournament.
Aaron "Chuz" Bland: When I was a player, I never went to the big stage with Korea, China, and even Europe. Coming from OCE, you play against the play-in teams and you only get so far a lot of the time, so this whole experience has been really enlightening I suppose. We weren’t expected to come here. I think people predicted us to be in 8th place [in the LCS] so we went above that and we really saw this as an opportunity to learn and grow heading into Worlds.
We scrimmed [against] some really good teams, learned a lot, noticed how big the gap was between us and them, and overall for me, I’m just very grateful for the experience.
BLIX: Plenty of consideration has been taken on your colleague Spookz and how he has guided the team to this point in the season, but what’s the process like when it comes to adding your input to the team’s strategy and preparation?
Chuz: I have worked with Spookz for three years now. We were both scouted by Inero in 2020. I guess we were just head hunted because we had good success back in OCE. When OCE was at its peak, I think we were two of the top stars at the time and we naturally transitioned into coaching. Australian culture is really big on sports and mostly traditional sports, so a lot of the time, we spent a lot of our effort on the team environment.
We have three Koreans, a Canadian and an American and a lot of the time, we had to bridge the language barrier and get them to be focused on the same thing. A lot of my role, as an ex-player, there are certain things I’m passionate about such as team fighting and mid-lane obviously, but a lot of the time, we all watch the games and talk to each other. We know how to bounce off each other and we’ll look at our team performance and draw conclusions on what we need to do to win, so I think we have a good balance and I think Spookz has done a really good job this year for his first time as a head coach.
Facing C9 in an LCS finals rematch
BLIX: And we’ll now dive into that series. Many things will be said about how this series played out relative the one from the LCS spring finals, but from your perspective, what do you think was the biggest issues with this team this time around?
Chuz: It’s a tough question. Heading into C9 back in Raleigh, we were a lot more nervous naturally because that team did really well in measuring up against us mostly because they played to snowball early, and if they get that lead, it’s hard [for us] to recover. Heading into MSI though, we had a lot more practice in Play-Ins and we’ve had more scrims, so heading into today, I think we were quietly confident that this would be a better showing. But on the other side, it did feel like we were getting worn down.
We’ve been in the same practice room in the hotel since I think the 26th or 27th [of April], so we’ve been here the longest out of any team and the fatigue was definitely settling in particularly during the last three days from what I noticed. C9 understood how we played and how we succeed very well so their bans were really good and we did manage to get some early gold leads, but we really have been struggling in the mid-game recently. Even versus JDG, we did get some early gold leads and we’d get some early skirmishes but we always struggled in those mid to late-game moments and that’s just something Spookz and I need to focus on heading into the Summer Split.
Difference between Eastern and Western teams
BLIX: That kind of display shows a recurring theme among Western teams in terms of them doing well in the early-game and then not translating that to the latter stages of a match. It also drives the notion that they have yet to figure out their fundamentals and translate their early-game success to the mid and late-game stretch of matches. How do you view that difference in fundamentals between the Eastern and Western teams?
Chuz: I can tell you we’ve scrimmed against teams like T1 and I think the only team we didn’t scrim with was Gen.G. With the gold lead and the early-game between China, Korea, North America and Europe, our bot lane got 0-5’d against BLG, but outside of that game, it felt like we could hold our own and we did hold our own particularly against JDG, but when it did come over to those one to two-item teamfights, they obviously spent so much time neurolinking and understanding how each other want to move in those fights, knowing their best roles and how they can offer their team the most in every situation.
That thing is, as a coach, something you try to teach to your players. You go through each person’s role in a fight and you outline to them how they can offer the most in this moment. There’s so many variables [to consider] depending on who has the most kills, who’s the carry, what comp are we running, what comp are they running, and they just understand that whole picture [more] than we did. All we can do is pay attention to what people are prioritizing in different situations.
There was a game with JDG and Kanavi — and I think he showed that today too — was playing Sejuani and Ruler got engaged on, and everyone went after Ruler. Every single time, you’d see Kanavi always stopping Bin and someone else from getting on his carry and he just understood his role very well in every situation. I think that’s the biggest gap: they just have a better understanding on how they can offer the most to their team.
Looking ahead to summer
BLIX: What do you think is going to be the thing that the team will prioritize when it comes focusing on the Summer Split and making sure they qualify for Worlds?
Chuz: We have maybe two and a half weeks before the Summer Split starts, but we will probably take a week and a half off and I will go through the VODs and pay a lot of attention to what we did well on. We took a game off BLG and we obviously lost a lot of games to JDG, BLG, and C9, so we’re just going to review. I think the obvious weakness we had was our mid-game decisions particularly around team fighting. There were times where that felt like that was our strength. I think the meta might have not favored us in this tournament such as the Aphelios-Jinx trade and heavily playing around the ADC. We’re still in the discovery phase but I think team fighting and mid-game macros are the main things that I can answer with.
BLIX: What’s your favorite memory from your experience in MSI? It could either be from within the game or outside of it.
Chuz: I think [my favorite memory] was hearing a GG chant when we were playing against BLG. We were down — I think bot lane was down 0-5 and they were laughing just mega copium — and I think the rest of the team were holding their own and all of a sudden, we were presented with a couple of opportunities and then the crowd got behind it. We don’t hear GG chants often so it made me really happy hearing that.