Shortly after Unicorns of Love lost to FlyQuest at the 2020 League of Legends World Championship earlier this week, the CIS team’s head coach Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant revealed his personal ethos: “Life is all about challenges you set for yourself, right?”
With Unicorns of Love sitting 0-3 in Group D at Worlds 2020, it’d at first appear as though the challenge of the biggest event of the year has been a little more than the team was equipped to handle. After making it out of the play-in stage as the CIS representatives for the first time since Albus Nox Luna in 2016, the Unicorns were immediately drafted into one of the most challenging groups of the tournament alongside Top Esports and DRX.
If there’s one thing the Unicorns have going for them, it’s these “cool and interesting” stories—becoming famous at Worlds 2020 for their creative drafting and use of flex picks. Their use of AP bot laners like Karthus, Ziggs, and Orianna has shaken up a bot lane meta that had been reduced to the stale trifecta of Jhin, Ashe, and Senna, with maybe an Ezreal thrown in here and there.
But in their loss against FlyQuest, in which the LCS gained its first victory of the main event group stage, the team looked remarkably different. Opting for a safer draft of Senna bot lane and Ornn top, the game came down to the wire with FlyQuest winning out after a successful teamfight at Baron. Despite Sheepy’s assertions that “if they expect you to draft unconventionally, and you draft conventionally, then that in itself is unconventional,” these “mind games” in the drafting phase weren’t enough for Unicorns to secure a crucial win in the first round robin.
Drafting is something that’s come under a massive amount of scrutiny in the past few years of competitive League. With the increase in educational content within the scene, the minutiae of drafting are becoming more and more accessible to audiences. But an increase in knowledge doesn’t always equate to an increase in understanding.
On the subject of draft criticism, Sheepy said “there’s a lot of social media backlash and a lot of people who just don’t understand what you’re doing”—and that this backlash in turn creates a loop of negative reinforcement for coaches willing to try new and creative strategies in their drafts. The hypothetical scenario of an owner or investor reading negative feedback from fans about a specific draft on social media and deciding they need a new coach is becoming all too real of a possibility.
Sheepy is confident that his creativity won’t be limited by the Reddit analysts, though. There are ”so many advantages that can be gained for free” in the picking of these unconventional champions, something that has been demonstrated numerous times throughout Worlds by the Unicorns and any team willing to open themselves to criticism for the sake of draft variations.