After a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Cloud9, General Manager PapaSmithy sat down with ESTNN for an exclusive interview.
100 Thieves may have started the season as one of the hottest teams in the league, but the team has been a shell of its past self since halfway through the split. While many fans still have hope, some feel that the team lost its path when they brought Ryoma into the team. ESTNN was able to sit down with 100T’s General Manager Christopher "PapaSmithy" Smith after the team’s 3-0 defeat to Cloud9 in the first round of the Mid-Season Showdown.
Feelings After A Tough Loss
Following a defeat, it's never easy but how's the team taking this? You guys still have a lower bracket to go to but how is the feeling around the camp?
The easy answer obviously is everyone is really disappointed. It's very raw still. The actual game ended maybe 15 or 20 minutes ago and a 3-0 loss against a team that we’re making every decision to compete with is very condemning. It's definitely the worst possible result so there are a lot of questions and some of the answers are easy to work out in the short term and some of the answers are obviously bigger questions that take longer to reflect on.
So it's rough. It's raw. It's definitely the worst part of the job, when [I] have to see the people I have so much confidence in and have seen much from hurting, it's really f***ing rough. But at the end of the day, the process for our next best-of-five starts here and we all know what decisions have been made and we’ve already had to make hard decisions this split or decisions were made when best-of-fives would go to Iceland, that's what we compete for. Only top one is acceptable. So, for that, there’s a lot of work to be done, clearly. All we can do is get back to work as soon as possible.
Reflections on the Spring Split
Thankfully you do have a week to prepare against your opponents, Dignitas. But going back to the beginning of the split, 100 Thieves came in and wowed people, everyone was saying this is a championship-caliber team. The meta has changed and the roster has changed… Do you think it's a meta read or maybe the rest of the league leveling up that has caused some of the slip-ups from 100 Thieves?
I guess I don’t really see recent slip-ups necessarily, I don’t really perceive it that way. I think we came in hot with a meta that was strong for us and players with synergy. And the results were clear, there was a lot to like about that. But any good team goes through multiple metas if they're going to lift the trophy. That’s the reality of it. I don’t think any one thing is an excuse, like “oh, it went against us” sort of thing. On every side, definitely the stage games at the start of the season when we were winning, but not winning convincingly, were symptoms of us trying to work out what our best selves looked like after patches come through.
Also forecasting to best-of-fives, I think we had the benefit of a hot start that allowed us to start working out how to deal with future problems we perceived. Which was a best-of-five performance and wanting to be the number one. I think we were in a position where we were comfortably able to beat teams below us, especially as the season went on. Our head-to-heads against the bottom teams definitely shows that. But the poor head-to-heads against the top teams is more of an important factor for us. Because it's not enough to be a strong fourth, you know? Or, “hurray, we made playoffs.” I don’t think that should be the floor for a team like this, that does have a lot of individual power.
High potential but a ways to go
So much focus was on the Golden Guardians’ core but pound-for-pound we have really, really strong players and if that all comes together in best-of-fives against TSM, Team Liquid and C9, that’s the only way we look back at the split and say it went to expectation. Given that, it's been a lot of shifting goalposts, but there needs to be. We need to be able to target wins there and while that introduced short-term volatility and obviously a short-term reset with Ryoma coming in towards the end there, I think if we’re making decisions to make sure we win best-of-ones in regular season, then we’re doing our whole setup here and all the great people on the Rift and off the Rift a great disservice.
But, at the end of the day, a result like this shows we haven’t got to where we want to get to yet. So the bar is again how we can work out how to get there.
Reactions to Roster Changes
Today, we saw Ryoma come in, and he really has proven himself in the eyes of the fans and maybe to the eyes of the community. As a GM, whenever you decide to make a position change with the coaching staff, it never is easy. Do you think maybe the fans come across as too harsh sometimes? Do you think its warranted? Or is it too difficult [for them] to understand what’s going on when you’re outside of the walls of the compound?
Look, honestly, as a person, I’m really not big on telling people how to feel or how to react. I was a school counselor before I was involved in esports and I was a caster. So I know what its like to use available information [and] make a pretty reasonable take on it. Sure, sometimes it's more rude or more negative. But all they can see is stage games. And we’re in a culture, at least around League of Legends, where its visible stats everyone knows, like kills, deaths, assists, KDA, wins, losses and then stage games. From there, it doesn’t make sense with what [they] can see. The hardest thing as a GM is going to those people, and I would go to these people and say I hear you, I see what you’re saying, and I agree based on the information you have, this is a tricky decision to understand.
But on the flip side, we have so many people behind the scenes and there’s so much information the fans don’t have. So, while fans will understand that and be like “oh I guess it must be scrims” or “I guess it must be this” or make some crazy assumptions where [they’re] just being silly. Then, unfortunately, all we can do at the end of that is go our separate ways and win. When we don’t win, it's fair for people to come and say “well, you had the info, why didn’t it bear out?”
Faith in the process
That’s the tricky part, even knowing everything and working on it wholeheartedly for many, many hours, doesn’t automatically mean it leads to a win. But all I can do as a GM is look at who we have, what we have, the process for making our decisions and then grade the process. Because the process and the results obviously are intrinsically linked right? But a good process doesn’t always lead to good results. And that's the part where the fans have to take a leap of faith. If they look at the outside and don’t have the faith there, who am I to say don’t trust me? I have to prove myself every day just like everybody does here.
So I fully understand the frustration and I hate the fact that we weren’t able to put out results today. But the process will continue to be checked in on actively and at the end of the season, whenever that may be, and all I can do right now is to use the available information and continue to make the sort of decisions that, after the fact, I can look at myself in the mirror and say this was a good decision, regardless of whether it works or not. And continue to reapply that, because that is the main role of my position and if I’m just making crowd-pleasing decisions, or easy decisions, or keeping it just because it worked, then, I mean, anyone can do that. I’ve got to make some tough decisions and I’ve also got to be held accountable for when the tough decisions don’t work.
PapaSmithy's role and expectations on him
I think being in this position is sometimes even harder for someone like you, potentially, that has been front-facing. You’ve been a caster and the fans know you, have built this level of trust from when you were over in the LCK. So fans might expect even more out of you…
It's not inherently a bad thing you know? And I always want to give more, as a caster or as a GM. I’m always trying to work out if there’s another angle where I can do more. This is my life. This is all I have. I give everything for this job and try to always find an angle to support, or improve and things like that. But hard work doesn’t necessarily always mean what matters the most. Which are the wins and the losses at the end.
I get benefits from being a forward-facing person, like when people talk about things I’ll be given a lot of benefit of the doubt and trust that maybe other orgs wouldn’t. The flip side of that is when it falls down, it falls down harder. It [makes me] an easy target. As a GM, when I came in to be a part of everything, I think it's fair for a fan to, if they see anything they don’t like about 100 Thieves, assume it was completely a PapaSmith decision to a fault.
Taking the responsibility head-on
There’s always going to be a lot of meetings, a lot of chats, there’s always so much that goes into it but again, I think it fair for fans to just put it all on my plate and, even though in no case is it always just a PapaSmithy decision, sometimes a decision comes across as “PapaSmithy was a big part of it” when maybe I was just a facilitator in it.
Given all those sorts of things, all I can do reasonably, based on available information, is eat the whole pile. I have to accept all of the negativity and flame and say yes I did have a role in this. I always will have a role in it. Its not fair for me or the process or the people working on it to try to distance [or say] that was only 20% me. I can’t be like that, you know? In my role, all I can do is accept the fact its going to be put in front of me first. I just have to work out where to go from there.
Looking towards the rest of the MSS
You do still have the lower bracket chances and you are up against Dignitas, who you hold a 2-0 record against. Is the team still confident that they can start working on the things that failed [against C9]... and make a push through the lower bracket for a Finals appearance?
For sure. Dignitas is a team we have a 2-0 head-to-head against and we know their players very well. It's been nice to cheer on the sidelines for the 100 Thieves Academy guys and of course Aphromoo as well, who’s performing really well on the team. Now they’re going to be our rivals and we’re definitely going to put all of our preparation into beating them. But our goal remains taking best-of-fives off the best teams in North America. At the end of the day, we still have a lot of work to do to get there, so that's our next focus and that’s what all eyes are on.
Do you have any last words for 100 Thieves fans?
I think a lot of our fans feel like they don’t have enough information to know how to feel and I really empathize with them. If there was a way to be fully transparent but fully respectful of everyone’s role in the process and everyone’s emotions, if there was a way to have your cake, eat it too, write a Yelp review of it and mail it off or a GrubHub order, then we would. I’m sorry that you have to take leaps and I’m sorry you have to feel guarded and not know how to feel. We’re trying to find ways to be better about that, trying to be a better team that you can be proud of at all points.
For anyone who feels that they can support the boys, the staff and everybody involved for our match against Dignitas, who still feels confident and trusts in us, I’m sure [the team] would appreciate that. There will be a lot of people out there making hasty comments about us. And for those that can’t, who really feel like this was a stroke too far, or no longer trust, all we can do is continue to work hard to be the sort of team that makes you second guess that first thought or makes you want to come back in. That’s what all our work goes into. So I’m sorry I don’t have more. It's hard to tweet after wins and losses equally, I’ll tell you that much because there’s only so much to say and only excuses for today.
You can catch 100 Thieves back on the rift as they face off against Dignitas on Sunday, March 28.