Between Saigon Buffalo getting knocked out during Play-Ins and GAM’s rocky start to the Group Stage, Vietnam hasn’t had the best luck at Worlds 2022. We asked GAM Levi about the strength of his region and his first Worlds since 2019.
Vietnam is a region defined by their bold approach to both drafting and fighting in-game. They fight to the very end, and that spirit has carried through the tournament for both their representatives.
GAM were kind enough to let us interview Đỗ ‘Levi’ Duy Khánh during their “off days”. Sure, they weren’t competing, but all the players were still hard at work practicing. We’re grateful for the time he spent talking with us ahead of their remaining games in the Group Stage at Worlds 2022.
The opportunity to talk with GAM during a small break in their practice gave us a view of what most people don’t see: their practice room.
It was a hotel room, reserved and modified for the sole purpose of being a practice room for the players. Players and coaches were all in close proximity, working together to improve. Sticky notes were plastered to the walls and lampshades from constant notes made for and/or by each player.
Someone turned around in a chair that had a jacket draped over it, a jacket that read: Levi.
GAM Levi drops the training weights at Worlds
Between scrims and other obligations, GAM has a packed schedule during their time here. Levi chatted with us for a bit and went right back to his PC to continue practicing through the day. Even after talking to us and playing solo queue, they had a completely booked schedule until at least 10PM with scrims and team meetings.
And, though Levi is a beloved player by many for his excellent play through the years, he was adamant about the fact that everyone around him was hard at work to give GAM their absolute best chance at winning.
“As you know, for the team to be on the top of our region, we need a lot of elements. We need everyone on the team to pitch in and contribute, and I think my share is only a small contribution. We have support from the team manager, and people who work behind the scenes as well.”
Hard work is an absolute necessity for Vietnam to compete internationally. Every team has their own hill to climb, but Vietnam’s break from international competition puts them at a disadvantage in more ways than one. There’s a lot working against every Vietnamese team when it comes to international play.
Saigon Buffalo were knocked out earlier in Worlds, and GAM are the only VCS team remaining. Don’t let that confuse you into thinking Vietnam is a weak region, though.
Levi’s has been all the way to the top of Korean Challenger, something that’s a feat all its own. However, there’s more to it than that. Him and many of his teammates have consistently sat near Challenger on Korean servers, even with high ping restricting their ability to play.
“When we play in Korean solo queue, we get matched against the top players from Korea and China, that does increase our skill. But we also play in hard mode when we play on Korean servers.”
“In Korea, they have 8 ping or lower. We have 80. So we’re at a deficit already, and we have to try even harder to win.”
At international competition, Levi and the rest of GAM get to drop their training weights. They already play against the likes of Faker and Ruler in solo queue on 80 ping, and LAN events are an opportunity to level the playing field.
Once the jet lag passes, that is.
“I feel like, in the first 2-3 days we arrived, we had severe jet lag. After that, our performance in scrims became better, and I think we had decent results in scrims. But our results in practice haven’t translated to our performance on stage yet, and we have more to do.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, GAM has another obstacle to overcome: The meta.
Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates on Esports, Gaming and more.
Sticking to their guns
On the surface, meta read doesn’t seem like a big issue for Vietnam. Their topside is very well adjusted to supportive junglers and top laners that want to trade, and Kati is capable of playing a pretty wide pool of mid laners. The problem comes from the support meta.
In Vietnam, support players mostly stick to hard engage. They dictate the pace of the game and often start fights. While enchanters may seem “easier” on paper, changing the entire team dynamic overnight isn’t possible.
“Our draft may not be the most suitable to the meta. But it’s most suitable to our team, our strengths. It’s still playable, but we’ve definitely made some mistakes in-game.”
So, instead of changing the way they play and drafting for enchanters like Yuumi, they’re sticking to their strategy and striving to perfect it. An approach that has its fair share of benefits and downsides.
We asked Levi whether the VCS’ reputation for being an explosive league with constant fighting was a strength or a weakness.
“This is a double-edged sword in a way. Because of this playstyle where we fight a lot, the frequency of us having to make big decisions increases a lot as well. In all of these big decisions, if you mess up one, you throw the whole game.”
“If we are able to perfect our game and make better decisions in these key moments, this could become a big strength for our region.”
Vietnamese teams haven’t had the time to cut their teeth on teams from incredibly strong regions like the LPL and LCK. Solo queue is very different from scrims and stage games.
While GAM’s playstyle has a lot of potential, it also comes with a lot more risk than running an enchanter and stalling fights. One wrong move, and you lose. Something that’s happened to GAM multiple times at the tournament.
On paper, it looks like GAM got decimated in every game. In practice, they made one mistake in each game that put them incredibly far behind.
And, even from that position, the individual skill level of each player on GAM was so high that they made teamfights look close. GAM’s position is a tough one to be in, but they’re handling the pressure with grace.
Levi has played all around the world. From his time on 100 Thieves in North America, to a brief stint on JDG before coming back to GAM in Vietnam, his career has made him a globe-trotting professional with more experience than most pros.
Even then, he could still look at esports as a fan. What started as a dream has become reality, and Levi was happy that he’s been able to be a part of it for so long.
“As a fan of esports who went on to play professionally, I’m really happy and excited to see esports grow to this level. As a professional player, I feel even more proud. I am someone who’s made small contributions to develop esports into what it is today.”
GAM’s odds of making it out of the Group Stage aren’t great. Even if they win all three of their matches, they’ll have to force a tiebreaker to have a chance at moving on. But they aren’t going to make it easy for the other teams in their group.
Levi and the rest of GAM have fans around the world at their back, with “Captain Levi” getting spammed the moment he walks on stage. And, for those fans, Levi brushed off his English and gave a direct, untranslated message to those supporting him.
“I want to say to my fans around the world: Thank you guys for cheering for us, and I hope you guys will continue cheering for us this week.”