China’s League of Legends Pro League earned its first World Championship this year on the back of Invictus Gaming’s efforts in South Korea. The LPL won everything this year, from the Mid-Season Invitational, to Rift Rivals, to eventually Worlds. As the largest and most exciting region, Western fans have stayed plugged in thanks to the efforts of the LPL English crew, who moved to cast the region in China this year. Among them is the sometimes enigmatic, always hilarious caster Barento “Razleplasm” Mohammed.
Razleplasm, or Raz, has been a staple in the League of Legends scene since his time on infamous podcast, “China Talk,” where he offered analytical opinions on Chinese League of Legends with a rag-tag group of League of Legends enthusiasts. After spending time with Chiefs Esports Club and Team Dignitas, as both an analyst and coach, Raz became an LPL English caster in 2016 when the initiative first launched in Australia.
We had the chance to chat with Raz at this year’s All-Star event about his transition to China, his love for Xiaolongbao, casting the LPL, and what exactly is so exciting about Chinese League of Legends.
You got your start casting the LPL from your room and eventually landed in Australia, but this was the first year you got to cast the league in China. What did it feel like to finally cast the LPL in the region that it takes place in?
It was…. Just when we started hearing about it in Australia, that we were going to be going to China to commentate, that was pretty surreal. It was pretty crazy. It felt like it wasn’t really real in a sense. You never knew how it was going to turn out and worried about a million other things. Through everything though, you’re just excited about what the ultimate turnout is going to be. I think the first day I casted, I was incredibly excited for it to happen. There is that bit of success that everything you worked for, for getting on that stage, came to what was the beginning of 2018, which was literally casting in China.
More on moving over to China, there was this fun series for LPL English called “Culture Shock,” where you guys visited places and learned about Chinese culture. What was that like and how have you found the experience of really getting into Chinese culture?
It’s insane! Man, I love it. I’m the type of person who really wants to learn something and experience something new. The first fun videos were like finding milk because of the different cartridges that came along, paying bills because there are different ways… a fun tidbit is that going into a convenience store is a way to pay your electric bills.
There are just fun, weird things that you learn, but ultimately, I just loved being able to engross myself into the food, Shanghainese food, the community feel that you get in a lot of the neighborhoods, a lot of the small things that you get when you just go out and explore the city. I really enjoyed that. Personally, I really loved it because you saw a completely different view of life compared to Australia, Canada, or America.
That being said, what’s been your favorite food in China?
For me it was dumplings, Xiaolongbao. I love those dumplings. It was immediately the best thing because a) snack size, you just eat as much as possible, b) It’s fairly cheap as well. That was something I really loved. I went to a nice seafood place, but it’s always difficult to find something that is uniquely Chinese because in Shanghai, there is so much variety in food. I just love Xiaolongbao, it was the easiest thing to cling onto.
Favorite food down, what was your least favorite?
Oh my. So, in one of our Culture Shock episodes, I went to Beijing and there was a dish and they basically said “Here, this is what people eat if they’re feeling ill or have a bad stomach.” It was white… actually kind of black-ish, gray-ish. I drank it and I was like “wow.” It was incredibly sour and it was just such a strong taste. That was definitely something that had medicine vibes that I didn’t really appreciate.
Something that is clear about Chinese League of Legends is that it’s massive. Along with that comes a different, huge fan culture. What is it like being surrounded by that?
I love it. You get so much appreciation out of it. There are fanclubs for a lot of these organizations. They’re very loving in the sense that you would come into a cast… let’s say it was Meiko’s birthday or FPX’s AD carry’s birthday, you would know about it because they would be giving you gifts for that birthday. There’s dedicated fanclubs for it. If you come in, you hear the audience. There’s this great mixture of all sorts of people, women and men, honestly not only celebrating the game, but the players. Being in the venue for Europe and North America, you can tell how large of a scale it is and how different the passion is.
Where’s your fanclub? Do you have a fanclub?
Do I have a fanclub? I don’t have a fanclub. I feel like… I know that fans started coming up when I started dancing so I think that it’s definitely brewing, but no fan support yet. Not a full-on club!
You’ll get there soon. Actually, you’re also known as a very charismatic, funny person. Tell me, where did that come from and what’s your background like?
I’ve always been a very excitable person. Friends of mine, no matter what it is. Growing up, I played a lot of games, specifically fighting games and League of Legends came in… shooters as well. I’ve always been someone that’s rode on emotions. So if I got headshots, you’d know about it. If I’m smashing somebody in Street Fighter, you know about it. I’ve always been super excited if I’m doing well for myself and so just watching League, watching great plays, that’s what I came in for. When I started watching League competitively, I clung to the LPL, to Chinese League of Legends, because you got to see real mechanics every game… seemingly every second with how many kills came through. I love the high octane nature.
Going more into the LPL, the region won literally everything this year. What changed for the region to take over and seemingly surpass Korea?
There was an amalgamation of things, but for me it was meeting in the middle with strong strategy, preparation, and the coaching staff. Bringing in strong coaching staff really did it for them. RNG, Invictus Gaming, and EDG all started to really bolster their coaching lineup. Two years ago, iG didn’t even really have a coach. I honestly didn’t believe that iG had a coach two years ago and you could say the same for RNG before. Now, the fact that they not only had a coach, but a full on staff working under them… Hell, at the year-end awards, they even give awards to analysts on teams. That’s insane to even think about. I think that extra piece of back work for what were already incredibly talented players really did a number because they’re still hyperactive players and there’s still a lot of fighting. It’s just that there’s a lot of thought processes that go into it now.
Now, I was surprised by our eventual World Champion. How probable did you think it was that Invictus Gaming would win the whole thing, going into the event?
When I was doing a tier list going into Worlds, I had them between number four and number five. Actually, I think I had them at number five because Fnatic were above them. Either way, I thought they were not better than RNG because they were losing to them consistently throughout the year, even in the finals. They were not better than KT… I even put Afreeca Freecs ahead of them, including Gen.G. I thought Invictus Gaming’s strengths were incredible. They were great laners and had fantastic pick and bans that complemented that, but teamfighting was a major issue so I didn’t see it.
I only saw it if the meta really favored them and if they themselves became better teamfighters. In that kind of world, I didn’t see it. Even when they went past the group stage and into the knockout stage, I thought Fnatic was going to take it. Throughout the tournament I was counting them out, I had that faith, but I was like “Fnatic was playing too well… they’ll get over there.” Invictus Gaming had to go through KT so I figured they were going to lose there. Now thankfully Invictus Gaming didn’t have to go on to face RNG. The moment I saw they were going up against G2, I thought they were going to the finals. It was getting better, but for a long time I was thinking… they’re not going to make it. They’re not going to be victors.
Yeah, funny that you say that about RNG. I always joked that if Flash Wolves got out of Group A, RNG would have won worlds.
It’s weird because with how RNG was drafting and how the meta was changing to be less about teamfighting and more about laning with solo laners, I thought if iG and RNG faced each other, Invictus Gaming would actually win based on RNG’s form. But, we will never know and that sucks. We’ll never know and I feel like that’s going to be one of the big selling points of 2019 LPL. iG, while World Champions, have been losing to RNG so consistently that they still have that chip on their shoulders. That’s something that they still have to nail down.
Invictus Gaming’s championship is obviously the first for the LPL. What has the impact been like? Will it make things even bigger?
100 percent. I remember when the World Championship final came through, everyone just started loading into the rift. It felt like I had thirty minute queues just to get onto League of Legends. It was so crazy that iG’s win not only sparked the dorms in China… for anyone that’s interested there’s multiple videos on that… but just getting people to pick up and play the game again. The fanbase was definitely fired up and Invictus Gaming, who actually had a weaker fanbase compared to EDG and RNG, are now right at the top as winners. I think that it’s actually such a big thing for the rivalries that the Invictus Gaming organization that didn’t win LPL finals won Worlds. Overall, it’s a big hit for LPL.
The LPL is also the first region in League of Legends to bring localization to its league, with teams representing specific Chinese cities. You got to visit a few of the venues, I believe. What was it like and what do you think about localization?
I didn’t get to travel during the whole regular season portion of it. I did go for “Culture Shock” to see the games actually being played in Chengdu, when OMG was there. And I got to see the games being played out of Beijing when RNG played a game. Now, JDG is going to be coming into Beijing in their own venue as well. That’s super cool. I think the biggest thing… remember, that even though OMG is a storied organization, they were a team that was losing consistently and they still had the name brand and recognition to actually fill a stadium. It really said a lot when teams like OMG and LGD, who were not performing well, could still plan for the next year and keep a strong fanbase. It isn’t just the top teams that are still selling out and that’s what’s really cool about localization. Now, if you’re an OMG fan in Chengdu, it doesn’t matter. You can go out and watch the games, celebrate your team, and hopefully trust the process. That’s what I love to see.
Now, a team challenger has risen up in Suning Gaming. They signed Flash Wolves’ players, Maple and SwordArT. SMLZ is also rumored. Some people are saying they’re going to be the next Rogue Warriors, what do you think?
I would even go further because when Rogue Warriors were formed, that organization was incredibly talented with DoinB and SMLZ, but my major worry coming into that, is that teams that had DoinB were great mechanically, but strategically were question marks. Suning Gaming, you don’t question strategy when it comes to SwordArT and Maple. They’re gonna be a team that already has the mechanics, now that they have Maple and XiaoAl in the top side of the map. Suning was already a strong, decent team, but they have the strategy to follow up now. I think they’re definitely going to be vying for a championship, in top three fighting with Invictus Gaming and RNG. It’s gonna be a lot of pressure for EDG.
Lastly, what are you most looking forward to in 2019 for the LPL?
Players coming up! I’m going to specifically nail down one player coming in from TOP… Knight. He’s a mid laner, but only came in for one split before some stuff happened. I had him as a Rookie of the Year prospect, but unfortunately it didn’t pan out that way because he couldn’t finish the year. Now he gets a second chance on a completely new lineup that is essentially going to be his team. That’s really exciting to see because there’s a lot hype around Knight and I think he can fulfill that.
Photo: Riot Games