Astralis’ lives in the LEC Winter Split hang by a thread. The team narrowly lost its first best-of-three against MAD Lions and now has to beat Team BDS to get a shot at redemption. But Astralis is familiar with this precarious position. The team lost its first five games in the Winter Split and was heading for a quick elimination, but managed to claw its way into the top eight by beating direct competitors Excel Esports and Fnatic.

Top laner Finn “Finn” Wiestål, who played for Excel last year but now wears the red star of Astralis, has seen a lot of progress in his squad. After he lost to MAD Lions, Finn spoke with Em Dash about the series and how they cooked up the unconventional Cassiopeia/Twitch bot lane. Finn also spoke candidly about being a leader on a team that many outsiders have low expectations for, and how they managed to overcome internal obstacles.

Losing to MAD Lions

Unfortunately, you lose today, Finn, but it was a hard-fought battle. You only had a few days between the best-of-one stage and the best-of-three, so how did Astralis go about preparing for today’s series?

I think, for us, it was just about reinforcing what we could reinforce. Maybe add one or two new things, but mostly improve our fundamentals, play what we were good at, and keep doing what has worked for us. Ok, we went 3-6, so there wasn’t a lot that worked for us. [Laughs] But we just kept trying to do what we could to win games.

I think we had a pretty good showing today, honestly. We could’ve won all three games. In the first game, we had a couple of good positions. In the second game, we stomped them. And in the third game, it was very back-and-forth. I think we would’ve won if we had played some fights a bit better.

“Considering how the split has gone for us, I can’t be too mad about today. It’s mostly about looking forward to the next series and trying to bounce back.”

Did you have any specific practice targeting MAD Lions?

Let me think… Well, we know that Elyoya is the heart of the team. At least in the draft phase, we try to make it a bit uncomfortable for him. But in general, we just focussed on playing our best game.

I would say that MAD Lions looked quite dominant after the early game in game one, but then you guys came back incredibly strongly in the second game. Was it easy to brush off the loss?

I would say so, yeah! I don’t think anyone felt too bad after the first game. I felt really good, at least. The boys did as well. We just said, “Well, we lost, let’s try again.” [Laughs] I think we felt the same in the third game. I think we didn’t play with too much pressure today, which is good. I really think we should have won game three, but considering how the split has gone for us, I can’t be too mad about today. It’s mostly about looking forward to the next series and trying to bounce back.

If we beat BDS or G2 next week—it’s gonna be BDS [interview conducted before the series between BDS/G2]—then we get a new chance against either G2 or MAD. I think, if we play them again, I see us having good chances. Today could’ve gone either way. The fact that we get a new chance is really nice. You can go back to the drawing board, reinforce what is good, and maybe add one or two new things.

Finn Astralis LEC 2023
Finn and 113 form Astralis’ new top side in the LEC. (Source: Wojciech Wandzel for Riot Games)

Astralis’ Cassiopeia/Twitch bot lane

I have to ask about the Twitch/Cassiopeia bot lane in the third game. It took a lot of guts to play such an uncommon pairing in the deciding game of a series. How did that one come to fruition?

The Twitch/Cassio bot lane was something we just theorycrafted. People had been playing Twitch support. Cassio, with the mage items Seraph’s [Embrace] and Rod of Ages has been increasing in popularity. It’s just something that made sense. Twitch has a lot of free time where he can influence the map. People might also not expect the prowess of the 2v2. The Twitch poison also amplifies Cassio’s [Twin Fang] damage, which heals her. So, in an all-out brawl, they’re actually quite strong.

We tried it, it worked in scrims, and we thought, “If we are not gonna try it now, when will we try it?” So, we picked it in game three. I like that we picked it. I think we should have won that game. But we can go back to the drawing board now. Maybe we’ll have something else. Perhaps suddenly there will be an Anivia bot. You never know!

“Maybe I didn’t always play well on stage, but in scrims, I’ve felt like I’ve been playing at a really high level. It was a bit frustrating for me that I couldn’t translate that perfectly in the first weeks.”

Well, in the top lane, the meta has been quite stale. K’Sante and Jax are everywhere, though you had some great games on Gangplank and Gnar. So, for you, the new patch is pretty much the same, right?

Yeah, I don’t think a lot of top changes were in action. It was mostly some itemization on bruisers. Death’s Dance and Maw [of Malmortius] got nerfed, and the [Black] Cleaver got buffed, so I thought a bit about that. You see a lot of people going Cleaver second on Jax. It’s a very valuable item.

I think you can play whatever you want in the top lane. There are strong picks, but you can be free. You can see it with Adam, right? He just plays his champions. [Laughs] In the LCK and LPL as well, they play a lot of champions. There is a big variety. Jax kind of dominates, but when he is out, a lot of things open up.

Finn Astralis LEC 2023
Finn is happy with his team’s efforts to improve. (Source: Wojciech Wandzel for Riot Games)

Finn stepping up as leader on Astralis

Talking about the season overall, it started quite slowly for Astralis and you had to sweat for a spot in the top eight this split. I think you also started showing up more in the later best-of-ones. Was this all because of the pentagram you drew with Gangplank? [Laughs]

Yeah, that was it! [Laughs] No, I think I’ve been playing really well in every game except for some K’Sante games. Those were pretty poor. Maybe I didn’t always play well on stage, but in scrims, I’ve felt like I’ve been playing at a really high level. It was a bit frustrating for me that I couldn’t translate that perfectly in the first weeks. Even today, I felt like we probably would’ve won if I had played a bit better. But yeah, I felt really good about my day-to-day performance. I think the top lane in Europe is pretty weak, right now, so I’m happy with my current position.

“We have days where we fight a lot, we have days where I think we’re gonna have a total breakdown. (…) But we bounced back and we fixed our shit.”

I’m happy to hear that because, if I look at last year, the Excel lineup you played for was forged with big dreams, and that failed. Going to Astralis, then, wouldn’t strike many as an upgrade for your career, but it feels like you are playing better and with a lot more confidence as well.

I think I have to take more of a leadership role in this team. Our bot lane is very, very strong, but Kobbe isn’t a big talker and JeongHoon’s English is not the best, and we have two young players in mid and jungle. So, the one that has to facilitate the communication is me, kind of. I realized it quite early and it’s a role I’m trying to work myself into. It will take more practice for me to keep my individual level high and my communication fluid and clear, but I’m happy for now. I feel like I get a lot of trust from the guys. We’re making strides.

Some days are very hard in scrims. We have days where we fight a lot, we have days where I think we’re gonna have a total breakdown. After the first five games, I thought the team could explode on any day. But we bounced back and we fixed our shit. I’m happy to see us face these obstacles and bounce back when the game starts. On the weekends, it’s always good.

Was there a lot of internal tension, at the start?

Hm, not really tension, just fights. That comes with the environment, right? It comes with stress. Being on Astralis, people don’t expect a lot of you. Sure, that could be nice, but you also want to prove people wrong. You want to show that you’re still here to play the same game as everyone else. Just because you’re not the best roster on paper, you should still aim to go all the way. I’ve been to Worlds. I want to win the league now. It doesn’t matter which team I’m on; I’ll try really hard until I do so.

I’m happy with everyone working so hard, playing Champions Queue every day. They’re just grinding it out. I think we see the results of our hard practice right now. It’s not enough yet, but I hope we can get a bit further and reach a bit closer to the top.

Finn Astralis LEC 2023
Though Astralis is the underdog, Finn sees a chance to upset the top teams. (Source: Wojciech Wandzel for Riot Games)

Eyes on the prize

The official title of ‘LEC champion’ won’t be awarded until the end of the year, of course, but what are the steps of progress, or milestones, you want to reach until then?

Everyone has their own individual goals, right? For me, it’s an open race for the title. I don’t see any of these teams standing out in particular. Nobody is giving a masterclass in League of Legends. When I look at G2, MAD, Vitality, and KOI, who on paper may be the top four, I still see a lot of flaws in all of their games. If we can just fix our shit, find something that works consistently, then I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to go all the way. Sure, it will be a legendary run from Astralis, going from the bottom to the top. [Laughs]

Maybe it’s not realistic to think that way, but in my mind it is. I still think we can go all the way if we fix our shit. The level is not that high right now. Maybe it will be different in the Summer Split, but right now it’s up for grabs.

Astralis plays its next series on Saturday, Feb. 18th, at 8 PM CET against Team BDS. You can watch the series live on the official LoL Esports site.