The 2023 LEC Winter Split started phenomenally for MAD Lions. After nine best-of-ones, the team finished in shared first place with a 7-2 score, and head into the group stage as one of the favorites to win the split. It’s an impressive beginning of the year for a roster that fields three new players. MAD Lions support player Zdravets “Hylissang” Galabov is positively surprised by the results as well, since the team’s practice has yielded mixed results so far.
After MAD Lions beat Fnatic, Hylissang spoke to Em Dash about MAD Lions’ performance. He explained why he works so well together with bot laner Matyáš “Carzzy” Orság and why the team finds success on stage. Hylissang also weighed in on the struggles of his former team, Fnatic, and what the team did last year to fix a sinking ship.
Welcome, Hylissang, and congratulations on the victory and on making it to the top eight. I suppose you kind of expected to advance to the best-of-three stage, but still, it must be a relief when you actually have that security.
Yeah, for sure. I think, if we didn’t lock in top eight this week, it would’ve been a miracle. [Laughs] The chances of that were very low. So, it’s a relief, but we also expected it.
“It seems like the [Fnatic] players are not bonding together. They’re not a team. They’re just individuals playing the game, trying to solve things on their own.”
You lock in your top eight spot with a win over Fnatic, your old team, who hasn’t been doing too well. How did you feel about playing against them?
Fnatic is underperforming for sure. I think everyone expected them to do much better than how it’s going. Going into the weekend, playing against Fnatic felt different. They’re my old teammates and I have to win. Mainly for myself, to prove that I’m in the right place right now with MAD Lions. I’m very happy we managed to win.
Hylissang’s view on Fnatic’s struggles
I actually want to pick your brain about Fnatic a bit. You’ve played with four of the players on the current lineup and you know the organization well. If you look at them now, what seems to be off to you?
I think there are a lot of things that are going wrong. Even when I was there, it was hard to pinpoint what was not working out and how we should fix things. I feel that it’s even worse now. It’s hard to say what the issue is. It seems like the players are not bonding together. They’re not a team. They’re just individuals playing the game, trying to solve things on their own.
But it doesn’t work like this, especially in League of Legends where team environment and communication matter so much. You have to talk about these things openly. I feel like they haven’t done this. They haven’t gone to the step where you actually see how the other person thinks. I feel like there is no person in that team who is able to do that, currently. It feels like no one wants to talk about the issues.
“We did have the talk last year. We went over the things we could do with what we had, and how we could improve. It did get better.”
At various points last year, when you were at Fnatic, the roster also felt like it was just individuals playing the game. Did you have the same issue?
Oh yeah. As I said, it’s really hard to pinpoint what the exact issue behind it was, but something wasn’t working out. I feel like it’s even worse for them now. We did have the talk last year. We went over the things we could do with what we had, and how we could improve. It did get better. We did make it to the playoffs and we even went to Worlds. I think someone has to step up in that team. Maybe no one is, right now. If they don’t do it, they will not be the Fnatic that is used to being at the top.
MAD Lions’ strong start to the LEC year
Well, enough about Fnatic, and more about you. You really seem to have found your place at MAD Lions, teaming up with Carzzy in the bot lane. Many people, myself included, expected this bot lane to be extremely volatile, but it seems like you two play around the edges very well. How did you envision playing with Carzzy?
I think Carzzy and I are both very intuitive players. We like to play on our instincts. I think we often reach out too far, but we are working hard to learn the matchups as well as we can. We will go for many plays. Even today, we played Zeri/Lulu into Xayah/Yuumi, and we still flashed forward on level two to get a 2v2 kill. [Laughs] We are willing to go hard in matchups that scale. We know when it’s good and when it’s bad, of course. The plays we make are aggressive, but it’s more calculated. We don’t like to flip it. There is a lot of thought behind why we make the plays.
“When we’re playing on the stage, we feel empowered and we play way better than we do in practice. We trust each other and things just work out.”
On one hand, you say you’re intuitive, but on the other hand, these plays have a lot of thought behind them. [Laughs] You have to explain that a bit more.
Hm, in the lane, I think it’s more about knowledge and experience. In teamfights and stuff, it’s mainly intuition.
Talking about MAD Lions as a whole, it’s impressive how quickly the team has come together. Obviously, you’ve played with Nisqy before, and there is some familiarity from former MAD rosters too, but the roster ‘puzzle’ altogether is a new one. How do you explain the team’s performance so far?
On the player side, I think everyone likes each other and that’s why I think we’re doing very well. We’re the type of team that, when we go on stage, gets very excited. We’re pumped up to perform and show the world what we’re capable of. When we’re playing on the stage, we feel empowered and we play way better than we do in practice. We trust each other and things just work out.
But yeah, in practice, things are not as good as they look. I don’t know what the reason is. [Laughs] It’s not that we’re doing horribly in practice, but sometimes we’ll lose three or four games in a day. We’re not that sharp right now, but we’re learning a lot because we experiment a lot. I think we’re just stage players, in a way.
Hylissang’s voice in MAD Lions
I did an interview with Mac, just before the split started, and he told me you’ve stepped up quite a bit as a leader for the team, especially when doing game reviews et cetera. Can you tell me a bit about your role on the team?
I’m the type of person that is very timid and shy when it comes to real life. I would not approach somebody I don’t know. When it comes to League of Legends, I’m very opinionated. I like to share my experience since I’ve been around for a while. I feel that I can teach almost every player I play with about situations that I’m familiar with. I’m very confident when it comes to my knowledge of League of Legends.
When it comes to stage games, I don’t shotcall all the time, but when I call, I’m very certain about it. My teammates trust me and they follow me.
“When it comes to League of Legends, I’m very opinionated. I like to share my experience since I’ve been around for a while.”
It’s still very early, of course, but what is the long-term perspective you see for this MAD Lions roster?
I’m not cocky. I don’t think I should say anything too big because I would be lying to myself if I said anything with certainty. I’m very realistic when it comes to this. Right now, we’re doing very well, but our practice isn’t doing too hot, as I said. It’s very hard for me to rate us. If we keep playing as we do on stage, if we keep drafting well, and if we keep practicing the champions for it, we’ll be a very good team. But if we get cocky and our heads are high in the sky, we could be a very mediocre team.
Everyone is putting a lot of effort into practice. We’re playing solo queue, watching VODs of the enemies and we study their champions. If we keep doing that, we’ll be a great team.
MAD Lions plays its next LEC series on Sunday, Feb. 12th, at 8 PM CET against Astralis. You can watch the series live on the official LoL Esports site.