LCS play-by-play caster Phreak speaks about the LCS playoffs, drafting and his time as a color caster.
One of the most popular casters in esports and specifically League of Legends, David “Phreak” Turley has been with professional LoL since its inception. One of the very first memories people will have of League of Legends is watching Phreak cast the Season 1 World Championship. Esports.gg’s Piratechnics sat down for an exclusive interview.
Pira: So first off that was an insane series – what was your expectation going in…and don’t tell me you predicted a backdoor reverse sweep?
Phreak: No, of course, there’s no prediction for a backdoor reverse sweep. But my thoughts I will say that I was #mostlyright. I think we should use that hashtag more – mostly right? I called that 100 Thieves would win I said 3-1 so you know mostly right because you know, I didn’t get the second game they dropped but yeah. It was really weird with how much Team Liquid stomped game one and I know 100 Thieves are better than this – like surely we talked about on the cast, like ‘ay you know what if the last week and a half the scrims went really poorly! What if for some reason it’s not their weekend, they’re not playing well.
Abbdagge talked about it in his postgame interview – he’s like ‘yeah I inted my ass off the first two games it’s good to come back actually play well’. You know Closer was like ‘you know after Game Two – come on guys we aren’t even playing the game’ like that. They clearly were vacant, right? It happened to 100 Thieves several times throughout the season – this is what happened when they got 2-0’d by Dignitas in lock-in , and this was how they dropped about three or four their games in the regular season. They are occasionally vacant, just like not playing and it’s like they have the chance doing this once in a while where they’re just gonna be garbage for no reason.
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And we saw that in game one and a lot of game two and it’s like what’s going on? Why is still happening? But it was good to see them [100T] kind of come back and start playing well [after]. That said, I was really disappointed in Team Liquids drafting. I hate no engage comps. I think your ultimate goal when ending a draft is where the highest per cent chance of winning the game – because you can’t argue we’re gonna play you can’t know what kind of coin flip match is going to have. You can’t know like, what the jungle path is going to be. Your goal is the highest percentage chance of winning the game.
The highest per cent chance of winning the game is never the comp where on your 10th pick you draft – still, no engage. There is no draft where Lucian on ten is correct or graves on ten is correct. You have screwed up – that was the wrong choice. That is always the wrong choice. I think literally objectively wrong in all cases to ever draft a no engage comp, full stop.
Regardless, it was a very fun series, right? It was a lot of fun to watch. There were some really good moments. But yeah, it was weird to see what things were focused on.
Pira: It seemed like on one side for the first couple of games 100 thieves had a hard time actually executing – they were saying in the postgame they just kind of were asleep at the wheel. And then TL as you said, kind of inted the last couple of drafts. It felt like they tunnelled on a few lane matchups. Was that your read as well?
Phreak: Yeah, I think so. I’m going to surmise game three was okay – Lucian-Nami is scary so we’re going to take the Lucian early and then hold it as a flex, but it felt so obvious that Lucian was clearly almost always going top – like the very first ban 100 Thieves threw out was then Xayah. So, oh, oh it’s Lucian top we just know then like they ban Malphite and like, you’re [going for a] really hard solution top. Like, what are you doing here, you’re really going to give them [that’ kind of pick on five.
Why are you picking Lucian in this draft? They’ll just pick Ornn on four [or] Ornn on five and you’re inting! and [then] they’re playing Lucian into some tank up there and nothing happens is like wow who could have seen this coming?
That was so weird; like right like you can solve for that by just thinking a bit harder, I guess? Yeah, I don’t know why they like the Marksman up top lane so much. You know, Bwipo’s main champion throughout the season was Graves. And okay, he made some mistakes in that game, but like, I don’t mind him having privilege in top lane and bringing them down – but like, they need the tank somewhere else then. You’re not going to play Graves in a Braum comp, like, he’s not going to out tank an Ornn so you’re not winning frontline to frontline.
You can’t get picks because it’s Braum. So either Bjergsen 1v9’s or your draft sucks…which guess what is a bad draft. Yeah, they tunnelled on I don’t know, this cool, Lucian takeaway, which like, wasn’t important. And just like, yeah, they’re on the wrong side for that kind of stuff.
Pira: Finally, in game five we actually got a tank vs tank matchup. The meta in the top lane seems to have kind of seesawed a lot – do you think it’s just the teams in the LCS that have been this way? Or do you think that this is just because the state of top lane is odd this season?
Phreak: I think some of this was to be expected, right? So there was a really, really big systemic change, where you can’t TP to the bot lane reliably. Before 14 minutes, obviously, yes, there’s a third of the cases where defensive TP matters and you can, theoretically. But again, if you’re playing odds on the game at champ select, which is how you have to do this, it’s like oh, well 90% of the time a TP bot won’t do anything so I shouldn’t play for TP bot – I might want to play flash ghost or I might want to play a lane bully because teleporting to bot doesn’t matter you can’t facilitate a bad matchup by double killing bot lane you have to play the lane out for 14 minutes to play the lane until one-half items so that changes what kind of stuff gets played right?
We get to see some Camille’s, we get to see the occasional Fiora or we see a lot Graves perma push. Because they’re locked in a lane against you. They have to play it – they can’t just escape. And it does seem like people slightly overcorrected. I’m always gonna be of the opinion that there’s always [something] more that’s valuable than what’s currently played.
But I mean this is gonna always be true, right? There’s no way you solve the metagame in two months – like it’s just not going to happen. And that’s understandable. That’s an undue burden. But yeah, people [are] like ‘Oh, tanks are good ‘like, you know, I remember when Summit got forced to play Malphite into a Jayce and it was the freest game of all time. And 100T played Malphite into Summit’s Jayce and it was the freest game of all time, like three times in a row. And yeah, turns out tanks [are] really good when every comp is triple attack damage, especially armored tanks, and so I think this is like, ‘Oh, wow, there’s all these undiscovered picks because these triple [attack damage] team comps – oh, we should really try some other tanks a bit more.’
We saw some Gragas I know, but that was mostly as a Tryndamere counterpick, right? People weren’t really clamouring for Gragas – But it’s fine at that. I think teams were under-prioritising tanks a bit. Teams have kind of caught up with that, and the ones who realize there is more in the arsenal. And like, practice that up and if everyone else is still on fighters, we get to practice on tanks versus fighters, right? As long as it’s viable and we call the shot – and the shot was correct, we’ve practiced a good comp in a normal meta game situation.
If you haven’t practiced tank yet, or your scrim partners haven’t practiced tank yet, you haven’t had those reps in that kind of situation.[Then] They’re ahead of you. So I think come MSI, we clearly know Ornn is very viable. I feel like [the] LEC has a ton of it. We had a ton of it – like Ornn is clearly out there. Malphite has clearly done quite well. Especially into things like Jayce – it’s okay into Gnar [as well]. As long as teams are getting that practice heading into MSI, this should look a lot better. I don’t think we are going to see, you know, [an] Ornn and Sion game, Gragas Ornn or whatever. Now that the teams are going to have a couple of more of those reps, they’ll play fighter against tank a bit better.
Pira: Moving away from the specific top lane matchups – right now in the LCS, it feels like it’s more competitive than it’s been in a while. We’ve had some of these longer series and a couple of unexpected sweeps in the playoffs. Does it seem to you as a longtime veteran of the LCS, that it’s a more competitive split in 2022?
Phreak: I think the only [split] that felt more competitive was the one where Golden guardians 3-0’d TSM and then got reverse swept the second time around in the lower bracket, which was Summer 19 maybe? That’s the only time I felt like oh, there’s actually a lot of threats. So the fact that TL and EG went to five games, the fact that Cloud9 probably isn’t actually a pumpkin means we have four teams who have a legitimate claim to the throne.
Now is EG a favorite? No, of course not. They haven’t shown us that they’re the favorite, but they look solid against FlyQuest I think they have a good shot against Cloud9 – the fact that they took TL to five means they could do it again and just like actually win game five that time. There’s a logical conclusion where you’re like ‘oh, yeah, EG could win the title’ right. So yeah, there are four teams with a really credible claim to the throne.
I think back to 100 Thieves for some of the finals in Miami, where there was like a four-way tie. At first we had this big tiebreaker at the end of the regular season. And then by the end, I was like ‘oh it’s just TL though’. Like, they just stomped everybody, right?
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But, yeah I think it is a good season, I think, you know, during the regular season, it took a while for teams to find their footing. You know, like, we 100 Thieves looking up for so long. On EG, I’m still not sure if they’re all the way there. So we kept having these like, weird back and forth, like, oh, maybe these teams are good. Maybe they’re not, I don’t know. And then, by this point, we are pretty confident we know, you know, the top teams are, you know, the ones looking good. I think, you know, the rest of the matches should be really competitive and we’ll see if anyone can kind of match up 100 Thieves.
Pira: I do want to give you a shout out for your bold predictions. At the start of the split, you did call these top four teams, though maybe not in the correct order. I know you predicted Evil Geniuses, and as you said, there’s a world they still win. But it sounds like you’re saying that 100 Thieves are absolutely the favorites. Do you think there’ll be the winners again this split?
Phreak: It’s close – yeah, I did just say I favor 100 Thieves because they are looking good here. I think right now Team Liquid look like the closest team to them. But TL isn’t guaranteed to win the lower bracket match, right? So even if I think TL is likely to win next time they meet, let’s say 60-40 It’s like…well, there’s a decent enough chance to TL don’t win in a lower bracket, the odds favor is actually still just 100 Thieves because I favor 100 Thieves a lot against the other two teams, right?
My initial call was Cloud9 sits in fourth. And then these top three, my winner might be incorrect. you know, EG are not the favorites I think, right. there. They still have to fight Cloud9 and TL and 100T. They still have to win three best-of-fives in a row […] I do hope they [EG] beat C9 because then my top three were accurate. And I even called TSM not in the playoffs – like I got a lot right in the preseason.
Pira: [Laughs] Did you get flamed for the TSM stuff?
Phreak: Not really that I saw. I got flamed more for the Cloud9 side of it. I think it was always very, very difficult to incorporate a mixed language team. Of course, it can happen, Fnatic with Huni and Reignover was outstanding and Reignovers English got better way before Huni’s did. So you know, he wasn’t talking a lot. And that’s fine. But like this was clearly, you know, one of the most dominant teams produced – they made Worlds semifinals, absolutely outstanding team, they come over to North America, they still stomped for a while – you know, the Immortals 17-1 run –they were really good.
But [a mixed language team] it’s always going to be tough because your vod reviews are always worse. Your feedback sessions are always worse. It’s much harder to improve than for other teams. And that’s just going to be true because you’re not going to get fluent or even conversational language in three months, right? Like, we’ve heard some interviews from Winsom – their English isn’t bad, but it’s not conversational, right. Like they’re searching for words – And that’s okay. It’s gonna take you some time to get there. And that’s fine, but it means Spring Split is not your split.
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And again, you look at players like Ssumday, Huni, Impact and CoreJJ were people [who] can acclimate and then they’re going to be outstanding. You know, Ssumday is still absurdly good and Corejj [is]absurdly good. But yeah, the first split is gonna be tough when you’re integrating. But like, because it’s always there. If you’re going to place bets on a team. It’s like, well, C9 won’t improve as fast as other teams. So guess what, even though the players are amazing, and Berserker’s cracked, and Summit’s cracked, well, it’s a mixed language team and that’s gonna be really tough for you. So that’s probably not going to look too great.
The TSM side is the same one was like, Well, look, you’re doing basically a mixed language team, improvements going to be hard for you. And they weren’t even established great players, right? So they indeed got eighth. So yeah, there was some flame, but, I was right. Right for exactly those reasons.
Pira: I’d like to pivot a little bit here – you’ve had like two years of being offline, off-site remote and then back without fans, and now you’ve had fans coming in making a lot of noise, especially in today’s series. How is that energy as a play by play caster in a hype game five? You haven’t had that for a few years, so how does that feel to be back?
Phreak: It’s really fun. What’s funny is actually I noticed that more in downtime, than in hype moments, because I’m yelling my head off during the big team fights anyway. Like I legit don’t hear the audience during team fights. Because I’m too busy focusing on the game – I tune everything else out. I hear my co-casters and I see what’s going on in the game, I hear the game.
But it’s like, oh, we had the cheer at the beginning of every game, [when] we’re going into summoners rift we got the cheers going on. Like that’s when I know it’s the fans – that’s great. Filling that air feels really good. I get to talk to them, they respond back, it’s a lot of fun. You know, once in a while to laugh at the joke or whatever I’m making. Yeah, you know, you get half and half based on you know, how good the humor is. But, ya know, that’s really fun. I think I think the sort of, sort of consistent interaction is fun, the fans have been absolutely lovely. They’ve been really, you know, receptive and reactive. And that’s wonderful. So, yeah, it’s been really, really nice.
Pira: Excellent! Okay last question: As a play-by-play caster, you have a very unique style – you’re very analytical, you run with the numbers. I mean, even in this interview, you dropped so many stats on me that I don’t think I can actually keep them all in my head. Would you ever consider doing color casting?
Phreak: So I initially was a color caster way back when so the story goes like, okay, me and Riv were co casters right. And like, season one, season two. I was colour commentator in 2013 when we went to go staff up more casters. Kobe was the clearly best freelance caster out there. And so we hired Kobe. And that meant that we have Jatt and Kobe and Riv and me, so, okay, I’m gonna play by play now. Right? And made that call and went for it.
And it was a rough couple of years. Like, I was not, you know, like, I was really rough for a while, right. And I remember in 2013-2014 in the EU LCS, the best casters they could find were Joe Miller and Deman and Jason Kaplan and Quickshot. And so Quickshot became a color caster. And some of you already see where this is going. So the opportunity to say, Hey, if you guys both want to switch countries Phreak, if you want to go live in Germany, you can go be a color caster again, and we’ll bring Trevor over to US.
So around 2014 I spent most of the split in Europe. I was offered the ability to move to Germany and cast you know, the now LEC full time as color commentator and ultimately the decision was like I wanted to stay in America, and I would rather – I was given the chance to like get better and improve it I think I’m a pretty good caster now for play by play. It’s interesting because color casters have more assignments. Because you can generally pitch in on the analyst desk. So there are two to three spots there. In tri-cast, there tends to be one play-by-play and two-color casters.
So it’s interesting though – Azael and Kobe are so good. Like, to me, they are just going to default into getting every finals. Like, if I was a color caster, I would be third best at best, and I’m probably worse than Jatt. I’m probably worse than MarkZ, probably worse than Raz, right? Like, wow, there are a lot of spots, but the talent pool is really deep. So that one’s gonna be tough, but ultimately, no, I like screaming my head off. I like play by play. It’s fun. I guess kind of more ambivalent, I suppose. Like what people need They’ll do and I’ve been on the analyst desk a few times.
This interview was conducted before Cloud9 faced Evil Geniuses.
Featured image credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games via ESPAT