Nymaera & Initialise share thoughts on DFM's Worlds 2021, LJL growth, and casting LJL as brothers
Japan’s DetonatioN FocusMe made Worlds history by qualifying as the #1 seed in their play—in group, edging out Cloud 9 in a tiebreaker for the first spot and dodging a Best of 5 series.
DetonatioN FocusMe hit the ground running on day 1 of groups with a tough loss to LCK titans T1 esports. After DFM's loss to T1, PiraTechnics sat down with the sibling duo LJL casters Alex "Nymaera" Hapgood and Samuel "Initialise" Hapgood to talk about their history, the region’s quirks, and the ascent of Japan’s super team.
Thanks for joining me today! First up, I’d like to ask: You two are brothers, and a casting duo, which is unique as far as I’m aware in any esports title. How did you both get started shoutcasting with each other?
Initialise: It started about 25 years ago, when Alex was born; a year or so after me—
I: No, but seriously. About the end of 2019, I was graduating with my Masters, Alex was moving to London to do some uni work. We had a mutual friend, MaskedSwan — and we all got together and started talking — and realized we all wanted to do some casting, and then started wondering ‘where do we even start?’ and it sort of went from there.
Nymaera: For me personally, gaming has always been a big social element. We grew up quite rural, which meant that it was harder to meet up with a lot of people. A lot of kids in our generation use games as a social outlet. That eventually branched into me talking about games with people, and I thought ‘heck, let’s put a microphone in front of myself and see how that sounds’.
Sam and I have this unique synergy, we’re close in age brothers — so it was a natural step for us to try out casting. So we went and sat down on a sofa and watched the 2019 LJL summer finals vods, and we recorded our practice over them — and they are very bad.
I: They are Atrocious
N: But the thing about casting is that you can improve at it. And that’s what we set out to do with Alex "MaskedSwan" Swan. We looked around at which regions didn’t have an English broadcast — Sam had lived in Japan and knew the league, so that seemed like a good fit. And that was the roadmap for us covering LJL and becoming casters.
I: And then the world went mad, right? This whole thing called Covid happened — and as a result, all the game dev stuff I was looking at for work started getting difficult to find jobs in, and we realized that casting [remotely] was an opportunity to really go hard in. We also had some decent microphones and audio interfaces, so it all formed together into something of a fortuitous circumstance to get into.
And you only need one mic, right?
N: For real, we could cast together in person, which was a huge thing remotely in 2020.
So talk to me about what really attracted you to the region as casters.
I: So it was kind of a few factors. When the three of us sat down in about January 2020, we decided we wanted to pick a region that didn’t have English coverage so we could carve out a niche and not step on any official broadcast toes. We looked at CIS — I really liked the old—school Gambit.
Eventually, we settled on the LJL. I had lived out in Japan from about 2017 — 2019. I’d come home from work and watch Rampage vs DFM on a regular basis, so I had that prior knowledge. MaskedSwan had also been; only Alex hasn’t been on Japanese soil, so I thought ‘let’s give it a go!’
N: For me, going back to 2015—2016 I watched just about every region, it was completely crazy, and that’s what I used to fuel my social interactions—
I: you mean ‘lack of’
N: —But effectively the LJL had skipped my net a bit. I’d watched a few games in IWCI, got interested in a few of the names, especially some of the names that had been around in other leagues — Blank, Pirean, for example. When I realized that this was where they had ended up, I was suddenly invested in a lot of the stories in the league.
So you both clearly have a lot of passion for the region. Who are some of your favorite players that casual fans may not know, and their stories?
I: The first one for me would be Fukuoka SoftBank HAWKS gaming support Ian "Corporal" Pearse. He’s an OCE player who speaks fluent Japanese, he plays for the SoftBank Hawks. We chat with him in discord all the time, and even his mum is active on Twitter and interacts with us all the time.
N: Apart from Corporal who we can speak to regularly because of his English fluency, there’s also Ryohei "Cogcog" Matsuda from V3. He’s this top laner who has been playing for about as long as DFM top laner Shunsuke "Evi" Murase; as long as some of the real greats of the region, going back to Season 3 or so.
In 2021 Cogcog ended up on the V3 roster, which actually did pretty okay in that split. Coming into the games in that split, we realized he’s never beaten Evi in like 50 career games. And he came into a match against DFM, and then gapped Evi — he was playing some matchups into him that he wasn’t really confident with — something we’re not really used to — and they surprised us.
I: If nothing else, he was a madman! He was playing Ivern and Tristana top [laughs]
So the LJL meta is REALLY different it sounds like...
Both: CogCog’s meta is really different!
I: The LJL this year actually managed to get some really good bot laners this year, after losing a lot of our greats. One of them is Honey, who this year put up the biggest DPM numbers of any starting player in the world. Rascal Jester bot laner Seo "Ssol" Jin—sol was doing the same in spring — who was this LCK veteran who had washed out of the LCK and came to the LJL — and they were massive Jinx and Apehlios players.
Everything was hypercarry bots, and basically if you couldn’t play through bot, you had to find a way to nullify it, so nobody left lane. Supports weren’t roaming that much, and you see in the stats the bot lane proximity in the LJL was like 20% higher than any other region; supports just weren’t roaming. That’s probably the weirdest thing in the LJL meta this year.
So tell me about DFM a bit. We’ve seen this team on the International stage for years. What’s different about the squad this year?
N: There were a few points made at MSI I want to address. One, isn’t it a bad thing for the LJL to send the same team over and over? They’re just such a dominant team in their region, and have pretty much always sent Yutapon, Ceros, and since 2018, Evi and Steal to these international events. All these players kept reprising their roles. What changed this year though, was the Aria factor.
Going back to 2020, we have to talk about V3. They went to worlds, and it didn’t work. So back to the drawing board. Steal was getting residency soon, which opened up another import slot. Ceros is a fantastic player and one of the OGs of the LJL scene, but he only plays control mages, and that isn’t very fit for purpose in an ever—changing meta.
Whereas you’ve got this superstar rookie Aria who got picked up by Crest Gaming Act, and he just bodied the region throughout the year. The best midlaner in the region, maybe the second—best player in the region.
So he was the final piece to assemble DFM’s Exodia?
I: Exactly. You bring in Aria, and you’ve got: the best top laner in the region, the best midlaner in the region — unlocked now that he had a good jungler, and the whole team had a lot more flexibility.
N: However, Steal still hadn’t gotten his residency in spring, so one of the Korean players had to get subbed out, and that ended up being Gaeng. The team's coach Kazuta "Kazu" Suzuki came in, and boy was he "coin—flippy." So we were waiting with bated breath for the pieces to finally fall into place. And that’s what we finally got in summer, and eventually showed through, and they’re showing it here at Worlds.
DFM making it into the group stages is unprecedented for the league and region. How big was that moment when they beat C9 for you two?
I: I think my voice still hasn’t recovered from how loud I was screaming at the microphone. MaskedSwan was getting slightly teary—eyed, Al ran from the room to give me a hug —I think there’s a clip of us going slightly mental. After that first game with C9 where it went wrong, it was really frustrating, but we were expecting DFM to be able to battle through the best of 5. And then UOL took down C9, and the DFM beat BYG, and we were like alright then, it’s on.’
That game with C9 was bloody tense. DFM were teamfighting really well, but there was that second Herald play where Fudge got away with murder, and the infernal soul vs double poke, but then DFM get that massive teamfight, get the win, and it’s a high tension game to make it even more explosive when we do get the win, and history is made. Absolutely phenomenal.
N: We went mad at the time, and the Japanese casters went mad at the time, twitter was blowing up, every LJL player was tweeting out ‘omg we did it’ and things like that. It kept hitting me every few minutes, seeing the group stage graphics with DFM like ‘they’re there’ and DFM have done the great task which they needed to achieve — and it still hits me every now and again. They’re actually here, isn’t it crazy?
I: And it’s some vindication that this is a team that is really good. They're in the international top 20. There’s a lot of talent on this roster, and it’s good to be able to say ‘look we can throw some punches and get the wins.’ We did get a little slapped by T1 in the early game today no priority lanes against one of the best early game teams in the world isn’t a great idea. But the point stands, this team can come up and put up a good fight, which is exciting.
We are interviewing after the first day of the group stages, so DFM are 0—1 at the time of writing. I know the Hopium stores are still high on DFM, but what are the chances of them making it out of Groups?
N: So the logic I’ve used when people ask this is this: So DFM have gotten crushed in individual games before in this tournament, but they haven’t been disheartened by that and have adapted in a way which LJL teams previously have been unable to do. It really shows that they have some mental fortitude. Now there's a double round robin — this is just game 1 of 6, and if you look at their player cams and how they are reacting, DFM look pretty upbeat.
I’m expecting this team can ruin someone’s day, and with the possibility of sniping some games against the likes of 100T, and a chance they can do it to EDG and T1 too. Depending on how the group shakes out, we could get an absolutely brutal brawl of tiebreakers and DFM pull off the classic wildcard, and how magical will that be
So on the record, are you calling a classic wildcard shenanigans brawl?
N: I am calling it. It’s going to be a three way tiebreaker in group B, and I don’t know who the 6—0 team is — let’s call it T1, EDG are gonna drop a game to 100T and DFM. You can meme me if it’s wrong, but if I’m right you’re gonna remember it for the rest of your lives.
This will stand as a testament to either your genius or your folly, and I’m excited to find out which. Initialise?
I: I’ve taken a nice healthy hit of copium before coming on here, so my predictions might not be sober, but DFM are coming second. I believe that the adaptations are good, and while T1 will be too good, with DFM’s warm—up in Play—ins and their ability to play through any lane is gonna be enough. It might take a tiebreaker, it might take a team not turning up, but GOD DAMN DFM have turned up.
Okay, so analytically, what are the things DFM will need to do to beat the teams in groups?
I: You need to get 2 pressure lanes. You can’t give up pressure against a team like T1 or EDG. However, DFM are really good at early game plans, if they get themselves on the right draft. If you can get Gaeng on something that can offer agency, he’s arguably the second best player in the region. If you get Aria on something self—sufficient, and pair him up with Steal to get dives top side.
They showed this at MSI, where they murdered DWG KIA top laner Kim "Khan" Dong—ha under his own tower. So long as this team is stable in the early game and they don’t siege too much, they can put a game plan together to take teams out that aren’t expecting their level of cohesion.
N: DFM are a very flexible team, but they aren’t like an Albus Nox Luna, where you see a ton of weird picks. If anyone is going to do anything odd, it’s probably Aria — he plays stuff like Ekko (which we don’t really see a lot of in the meta), Kassadin, Sylas is an all time great, and we’ve already talked about his LeBlanc. Maybe if an Irelia slips through he could get a pop off game on that. It’s less about the champions, and more about the early game plans.
A lot of those top lane dives is through Evi or Aria getting lane leads and running to different lanes to help. That’s the kind of set play I’m looking for DFM to play against teams who haven’t done their homework against this squad.
Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me! Is there anyone you’d like to shout out before we go?
Both: Absolutely MaskedSwan, our other LJL co—caster, everyone else who has come in and helped us on the project — too many to name. There have been so many people who have helped make the stream possible.
I: Some people who really deserve a shoutout are the Worlds casters who have reached out to us: Chronicler, Guldborg, Sjokz, etc. A lot of people have reached out to us to get info on the teams, and it’s great to see the casters doing a lot of legwork to reach out and get another opinion — not that they have to agree with us, but laying the groundwork in case of these teams making a miracle run.
All images by: Riot Games