Daniele ‘Jiizuke’ di Mauro, the Italian stallion of League of Legends, isn’t ready for retirement. Instead, the 25-year-old believes his career is only just getting started with Evil Geniuses, and 2021 will be the launchpad for a huge future.
Age is somewhat of a stigma in League of Legends, and esports generally. Once you hit 22 or 23, it’s downhill for your career from there. Retirement rumors swell at 25. Very few pros make it to their late 20s, even fewer into their 30s.
Jiizuke doesn’t believe in that though. He’s broken all the rules: making his pro debut at 22, playing in the LEC at 23, and now, at 25, he’s looking at a career that runs for some years to come.
“To me, I’ve been playing games all my life; I got my first PC when I was eight. I have been born for this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I reached 30 years old as a pro,” he told Dexerto, after styling on TSM in LCS Spring 2021 on March 12.
With Evil Geniuses in 2021, Jiizuke is looking to break that stigma — that you can teach old dogs new tricks — and prove himself again on a world stage after a tumultuous two years.
From co-workers to teammates at Evil Geniuses
The first step for Jiizuke was surrounding himself with the right talent. Given Jiizuke was unceremoniously dumped from Vitality, things were looking murky heading into 2020, but Evil Geniuses were the light in the dark.
“Why I came to NA in the first place was because I had a bad year, I didn’t have any offers and Vitality because of their change of coach; I wasn’t really liked by the new coach. I didn’t have a place there, I didn’t have a place in EU,” he admitted.
“My choices were to go to a regional league and climb my way back [or not play]. It’s scary to climb back and do everything once again. I did it before, and it’s not exhausting; but you’re chasing something that never comes.”
“NA wasn’t even an option until EG called me. It was Bang, Svenskeren, and Zeyzal — I met them at 2018 Worlds, I knew what they were like, and I knew I wanted to play with them.”
Once over in NA though, it was harder than he originally thought. Instead of being teammates, the relationships at Evil Geniuses were more like being co-workers. It made it a lot harder.
“In a parallel world, we would have won so f**king easily and represented NA well at Worlds. [But] I don’t think Evil Geniuses last year could be called a team. We were co-workers working with each other, and I don’t think that can work in esports.
“You have to build a relationship inside and outside of the game, synergize well, and actually understand each other’s mindset and personality. You can’t just say ‘hey let’s go to work,’ work for five hours, then go home.”
So, heading into 2021, picking up the likes of Impact has made a huge difference in the team dynamic. Not only is the team better, but Evil Geniuses are more than workmates — they are friends.
“This year, even if we have weaknesses, we can sort them week by week. We talk them out and understand each other, so that part is good.”
“I’m not even close to…my mechanics being sh*t”
It’s this change that has ultimately led to a shift in public opinion surrounding Jiizuke. He’s had a much better 2021 in LCS, being a key difference maker for Evil Geniuses on his signature picks like Ekko, LeBlanc, and Ryze — even if they aren’t ‘meta.’
“The actual meta, you can really play anything, based on composition or based on what you like,” Jiizuke argues.
“I think a few weeks I went for the Orianna, few weeks with Syndra, Raze, LeBlanc, Twisted Fate — the infamous Lucian game, which I will get my redemption for; that’s what everyone remembers! This meta is really fun.”
Flexing around champions — even hinting at a potential Lillia mid pick down the line — proves that Jiizuke still has the mechanics to keep up with the young stars flooding the scene. He’s also got an experienced head on those weathered Italian shoulders, and a team to support him.
“I feel really fresh, even if I’m in my fourth year as a pro. I’m not even close to having my mental destroyed or my mechanics being sh*t. I’m in for the 30s.”
Given he had a late start to his career due to family issues, Jiizuke feels obliged to make up for lost time. So while others who started as teenagers would be burning out by now, the Italian stallion looks to push ahead, even if he wonders what things could have been like.
“I think that applies to people who started when they are 17, but for me, I started my career when I was 22. I reached LEC when I was 23. I don’t see the skill fading away, or my mental fading away.
“No one will know what the 17-year-old Jiizuke could have been like.”
Evil Geniuses’ path to MSI
Now, Evil Geniuses face a tough road to MSI. They still have to win one more game against either Liquid or CLG to lock in their own destiny. That’s only the start of the journey because playoffs lay ahead.
However, Jiizuke isn’t one to give up. Else he wouldn’t be in NA right now, or anywhere in League of Legends. He’s ready to fight to get another shot at international play come May.
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“I think everything is possible. People judge best-of-ones too much because it’s a very different game from a best-of-five. As long as you make playoffs, it doesn’t f**king matter if you win the best-of-ones or not; if you’re the best team in playoffs, you can make [MSI].
“It’s easy to climb to the top. Last year we got to the semifinals last year with not much effort. Also, NA has a history of reverse sweeps no? It’s just about mental and keeping on going game-by-game. That’s all there is to it.”
Evil Geniuses next play Liquid in LCS Spring 2021 Week 6 on March 13.