Clutch Gaming finished ninth place at the end of the 2019 Spring Split, two wins adrift from a hope at LCS playoffs and stuck outside the logjam of teams who finished with seven and eight wins. It’s definitely not where Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme, or anyone on the Houston Rockets-backed organization, believed he would be at the end of the regular season.
After beginning their season with a stirring 2-0 weekend that included knocking over a revitalized Team SoloMid roster, hopes were high in the Clutch camp. The following three weeks were filled with six straight defeats, nearly sinking the squad’s season, forcing the star-studded team to turn inwards to examine their problems.
Vulcan, who has made the move up to LCS starting support for the organization, discussed in this interview Clutch Gaming’s struggles in Spring, and what he hopes they can change to improve in the future.
Vulcan: This season has been pretty disappointing, we had a lot of success in scrims and weren’t able to translate that success to on stage games. We lost a lot of games to weak teams, and that really hurt our chances at playoffs. We’re pretty disappointed that we haven’t shown our real skill level, and I feel like we’re one of the six stronger teams so if we did play at our level we’d have a place in playoffs right now. The fact we didn’t show up in a few of our games means we’re not there, and that’s disappointing.
Honestly there’s a bunch of elements, a few mistakes here and there. There’s been a few big mistakes that threw games away, but mainly it’s hard to pinpoint why we couldn’t show up on stage as much because it’s a lot of those smaller elements rather than anything massive.
With this roster we go into every game thinking we’re the better team, if we can show on stage what we show on scrims we can beat nearly everyone in NA. We have a few hard games this weekend against TSM and C9, but we can take games off them for sure. We just have to be in the right mindset, show up with what we’ve practiced in scrims and apply them.
I think we have to keep working on our mistakes, even in scrims we make mistakes for sure. We’re not some god-like scrim team that beats TL 6-0 every day. We have to keep working on our stuff because we’re basically a brand new team, and it’s taken a long time to gel because there’s a language barrier with three Koreans and two NA players. That’s why we’re not clicking as fast as some of the other teams. Once we have the break ahead of Summer I think we’ll get there and definitely be a top three contender in the next split.
The Koreans that are in NA like Seung “Huni” Heo and Gwang “Piglet” Chae have some great Korean, Damonte and I know some Korean words because Damonte asks for swear words off them, so I know a few of those. We’re not on the level yet where we could communicate in Korean though, we’re not that great.
Damonte and I aren’t along for the ride because of how the team is set up though, we also provide all the information that we should be providing. The ideal system in a competitive team is that everyone has a role, so as a support I will be talking about vision and objectives and that’s my job. We’ve all got a lot of roles to help the entire team.
One of the big problems for us in Spring has been that we haven’t been decisive. For me that was a big issue, which is why I started playing so much Alistair at the end of the six-game losing streak. Ali is really easy to lead the team in, where as if I’m something like Braum I don’t have the tools to start that fight.
We also had a lot of problem with making plans in game and then not communicating them properly, and that led to a bit of tension in the team. We were doing really well in scrims and then going on stage and losing, and with how the competition is no one likes losing, so people would get angry. It was never a personal level thing at all, but when you’re losing everything gets rougher and every mistakes feels that much worse.
We went 1-1 for a few weeks in a row, and winning feels good on stage, and makes it a bit better, but we feel like we’re better than that so it felt really bad to just be going 1-1, especially against weaker teams. We’re supposed to be better than this, and better than a lot of these teams and we weren’t showing it. There’s still a little tension because of that, we’re too low on the standings for where we think we should be, but it’s all being worked on.
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My first time that I decided that I wanted to go pro was that there was a local LAN at the college in my hometown and I went with my brother. I always played online tournaments with my brother back then so we were taking the next step. I was an AD Carry main back then actually, and I remember I got a penta kill in the semi finals and that really got me pumping.
The feeling of competition was awesome, and it was in that moment that I knew I wanted to do that for a living. After that I played with some French-Canadian teams until I was consistently in Challenger, and then OmarGod [Omar “OmarGod” Amin] - who has played with Counter Logic Gaming - asked me to be on a team with players like Auto [Osama “Auto” Alkhalaileh] and Fill [Hylo “Fill” Lee] and we won the biggest tournament in Quebec in Montreal and that’s how I started.
The rest of those guys went to Scouting Grounds in 2016 and they all got picked up with CLG. They told Zikz [Tony “Zikz” Gray] that I was pretty good, and they got me as a sub for CLG Black. I was a remote sub because I was still going to school, I wasn’t really part of the team but I was just there because they had to have a sub. I was just a name on a piece of paper at that point.
There was a point they flew me out to try my with them because the team wasn’t going that well and they wanted to test their options. I went pretty poorly, my communication was not good at all and my teamwork needed improvement. I was just a solo queue player and they told me that was what I had to work on.
I tried to work on it, but it’s hard in solo queue to work on communication so I just focused on shotcalling in these games. CLG were working with Aphromoo at that time, and Aphro’s like the big leader and so that was how they were talking about how the game was played. I wanted to play like that so I watched heaps of VODs, tried to learn the game and become a leader.
After that I went to Scouting Grounds and used that communication that I had been learning and that impressed a lot of teams, which led to me being drafted into Clutch Academy.
Clutch Gaming has been really nice with the amount of trust they have in me, from the get-go at Scouting Grounds they said to me, “You are our star player and we want to develop you with players around you.” They told me I’d be the franchise player in the LCS, and that was so nice because of the trust.
I’m pretty happy to begin to pay that back in LCS, I think I’m playing pretty decent, especially for my first split, and it feels good to step into that role and begin to pay them back.
The first week we did get a 2-0 and the second game was against TSM, and I used to be a massive Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg fan. I used to watch his stream all the time, and I played heaps of mid back then and tried to copy everything he did. To win a game against him on stage felt a bit insane, and a bit surreal. I used to watch him on Twitch and then I’m winning games against him.
Sometimes I feel like I’m a stranger in the LCS, and I ask “Why am I here, I’m not one of those guys,” but mainly it just feels normal if I’m walking along past Bjergsen or Peter “Doublelift” Peng and veteran players like that.
Everyone’s expectations haven’t changed now, we all know we’re taking time to develop and I’m pretty sure everyone still thinks we’re a contender team. We haven’t really discussed this as a team but I think we all know we’re a really good team if we can show up on stage. In Summer we want to make playoffs for sure, and we all think we can go further than that too.
We can finish above teams like 100 Thieves, CLG, Echo Fox, FlyQuest, Golden Guardians, and Optic Gaming. The only three teams that are clearly better than us right now are TSM, Cloud9 and Team Liquid. For sure I think we can beat the teams that I just listed, they’re weaker than us and if we play at the level that we should be we can beat them all.
To Clutch Gaming fans, and my fans, we should have been a lot higher this Spring Split, and we’re doing everything we can to improve and prepare for the future. Right now we’re just looking forward to our two games this weekend, the fate is in our hands for playoffs but if we can’t get there we’ll prepare for summer. I hope you guys can continue to support us as we grow throughout the year, and thank you.