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XL jungler Dan: “We wanted to bring in more experienced members with bigger voices and also more decisiveness”

Excel Esports have ended Week 1 of LEC with a 1-2 record after a grueling superweek. They look forward now to Week 2 where they will face MAD Lions and Fnatic.

Excel jungler Dan took time after the Astralis match to talk about the jungle meta in general and Excel’s off-season roller coaster.

First and foremost, thank you for accepting this interview. Let’s start it off nice and easy, your recent match against Astralis was a close game up until around 22 minutes. How was the game from your perspective and what do you think went wrong?

Dan: I think honestly the game was going pretty well for us, at least from the jungle where I felt significantly ahead. All we had to do was just push our advantage and continue to contest around objectives. Then obviously the game kind of just exploded in one teamfight where they double teleported behind us, and I felt like it kind of ended on the spot. The game was very much in our favor before then, so it was a bit unfortunate that we let this happen.

What preparations did you make going into this match against Zanzarah and what do you think of him as a jungler?

Dan: I did not prepare for Zanzarah specifically. Obviously, we do know that he has a hand injury right now, so he might be picking simple champions, which is why he’s picked Trundle into Rumble two days in a row where on paper, that’s not a very good matchup. So we did kind of know going into the game that they would be unlikely to pick Rumble, Nidalee or maybe even Lee Sin. We knew that anything too mechanically intensive was off the cards for him, since as we know from spring he tends to favour champions like Skarner as well.

Speaking of Trundle actually, it seems surprising that he has actually managed to make work and of course we saw you pick Xin Zhao too. We are seeing a variety of jungle picks at the moment, what are your thoughts on the current jungle meta? Do you think many junglers are viable now?

Dan: I think compared to spring, there’s a lot more diversity in the jungle now because the meta is not just punishing to just chain clear where if you fall behind, you stay out of the game because catch-up XP exists now. I feel any jungle champion that has any sort of gank threat or skirmishing abilities can definitely be picked now, whereas before you couldn’t really afford to pick Trundle for example, because he would just get out farmed by Graves or by Lillia and you’d be completely useless.

I think the jungle now is a bit more fight centric and a bit more ganking centric, outside of a few specific champions that can still clear super fast. Rumble for example, even though he is a good skirmisher, I feel like he’s picked more for the clear speed and for his damage type.

I think we might see some special picks coming through. There’s multiple champions that got buffed recently in terms of damage to monsters, like Diana, Mordekaiser and Darius, even Nautilus most recently. Some are better suited than others, but I would not be surprised to see someone randomly pick Nautilus jungle. So yeah, the parameters for what is considered a good jungler right now are a bit broader than they were last season. Though, I hope Udyr is gone. Hopefully.

I just want to ask about the difference between Rumble builds, because many play Rumble with Dark Harvest and the Hextech Protobelt-01 build but you played with Conqueror and Night Harvester. What’s the difference between them and why did you pick this build?

Dan: I would say I do my research a bit different to other players, but I do look very in-depth in solo-queue win rates and the like, and experiment with some different things. I think if you were to consider what Rumble does and compared to other jungle champs that have similar kinds of impact in things, Dark Harvest seems like a very logical solution. However, I think Conqueror is just significantly better because right now in the jungle meta, as I said before, everything is a fight.

If you have Dark Harvest and you meet Xin Zhao in the river who has Conqueror, you probably lose that 1v1 as Rumble. But if you pick Conqueror, I think that fight is contested and if you Overheat properly, I think you actually win it. In the game against Astralis, I’m going into a game against four melee champions and a Kai’Sa, who does not have the longest range, so my Conqueror should in theory give more value than Dark Harvest.

And in terms of itemization, I did try Protobelt but I didn’t find too many cases where I liked it. So that’s why I chose Night Harvester.

Moving away from the meta, I’d like to get your thoughts on the roleswaps that made headlines in Bwipo and Treatz going to the jungle. As an experienced jungler yourself, what do you make of these moves?

Dan: Hmmm… it makes sense that Bwipo roleswapped to jungle, because from what I know working with him in Fnatic, he is a very smart player and he wants to be extremely involved in the game. He’s a very vocal member on Fnatic as well. When I was in Fnatic, I mentioned before that his personality was more like a midlaner than a toplaner. Therefore I’m not surprised that he roleswapped to jungle. In terms of what I know of Bwipo, I think this is a good move for him and he definitely has the knowledge to become a top jungler.

On Treatz, I do find it a bit more questionable because I felt that he had as good a season as possible on support, so I did not really see the need for him to role swap to go to the next level. I also did not feel that TynX was necessarily a huge problem, but obviously things happen internally that you don’t know about, but I don’t think it’s strategically as sound of a move as Bwipo’s roleswap.

That’s fair enough. We also saw Excel make some changes themselves in the off-season by bringing in Nukeduck and Denyk. How have these changes changed the team, and how has practice been with your new midlaner and support?

Dan: We chose to make some changes based on spring because essentially our roster lacked some experience, and I was somewhat the main leadership figure of the team. We wanted to bring in more experienced members with bigger voices and also more decisiveness, because in spring, a good example of this was our second game against SK Gaming. We got pretty far ahead and then we just failed to pull the trigger at a fight over drake. The game went from instantly won to instantly lost. We had a very good structure that we were playing with but it just felt like we kind of liked that decisiveness in-game.

We decided on a more experienced pairing and the trials went really well. Obviously since we picked people with bigger personalities and added some more leadership qualities, there’s now three schools of thoughts: Excel from last spring, Nukeduck with experiences from Astralis and Denyk with Misfits. Right now our main struggle as a team is combining all three of them and to all get on the same page. Sometimes we have different or conflicting calls in-game and I think it will just take a little while to work itself out.

But initially, things look pretty promising from the tryouts that we held in the off-season.

I also spoke to Orome quite recently on BT Excel’s closeness to the main team, and I believe Kieran mentioned recently that the main team are trying to scrim with your academy team at least once a week. How close are both teams? Do you scrim a lot and share info between teams regularly?

Dan: I would say we scrim them quite a lot. It’s fair to say we scrim them one block per week plus warmups on match days. On match weeks it’s probably closer to like 10 games a week, so I would say that we’re quite close. We’ve done some in-house mixed rosters as well.

I would say if you compare Excel’s academy to other LEC teams, we probably have a closer relationship between the two teams. I think we have one of the better academy teams around at the moment, so it makes a bit more sense that we’re on somewhat closer skill levels as opposed to perhaps MAD Lions or G2 Esports and their academies.

There’s definitely a competition for places and also good practice in-house because we can practice things without any chances of it being leaked, essentially.

I interviewed you before on this regarding Fnatic’s academy structure. Would you say that Excel’s academy and LEC team is closer than Fnatic and Fnatic Rising?

Dan: I would say it’s extremely similar. The reason that came about was because Youngbuck was the Head Coach of both LEC teams. His idea is to have some things hidden and kept in-house, so I would say it’s extremely similar except that Fnatic’s LEC team at the time was a top three team.

For you personally, spring wasn’t the easiest of seasons. What did you focus on in the off-season and how far do you think this new Excel lineup can go?

Dan: Firstly in the off-season, I actually took some time to chill. I knew I was joining Excel around October of last year, so I was really grinding hard, even the previous off-season to be in shape for LEC and to also just understand the environment that Excel has since there’s like additional out of game things that we do, such as sports, nutrition and sleep. In Fnatic, this stuff was not really monitored.

So for me this off-season, I took some time to relax and reset, to make sure I would be fully recharged and focused for summer. When I came back into it, the jungle was getting changed so my main focus was to kind of relearn the jungle again. It does feel like we’ve gone back to Season 9 summer when I was the sixth man in Fnatic’s LEC team, where jungle will slowly go back to junglers level two ganking bot lane every game, tower diving and the like.

Once the team gets on the same page and we understand each other fully, I think we have the potential to go far, but obviously it’s not something that happens overnight. It’s a process and hopefully it’s a quicker one this time around, so that we can start really performing well in the next few weeks.

Last question then. In the off-season, Excel’s changes were to say the least, not the most popular. Some fans were quite vocal about it. How have you dealt with social media pressure over the off-season? Was it something that affected you personally?

Dan: For me personally, I read what’s being said but I’m not affected by it. I just see what people are saying because I’m curious, but really for me, I don’t really get happy or annoyed otherwise. Obviously, roster decisions were made for specific reasons, and if the community doesn’t really understand that, I get it. But obviously Excel are not trying to lose.

The decisions were made for a reason and that reason is supposed to improve the team. I think we knew these changes would be somewhat controversial considering a rookie was benched, combined with the fact he has a large fanbase too, this was always going to be difficult. While I understand people are unhappy with what happened, it should not be seen as meaningless change and Excel are just trying to lose or something of the sort.

Thank you Dan!

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