Licorice on how Golden Guardians helped revive his career: “They still believed in me”
Following Golden Guardians’ qualification for the Bracket Stage at MSI 2023, Dexerto sat down with Licorice to ask about what it’s like catching so many target bans, his upcoming match against JDG, and why it was so important that Golden Guardians believed in him when they picked him up.
Saying that Eric ‘Licorice’ Ritchie has had a good 2023 so far is a bit of an understatement. Even longtime fans of the player are shocked at just how well he’s performing.
The stellar performance of the 2018 Cloud9 roster he was part of set a high bar, one that few other teams in North America has been able to stand up to. And, for Licorice, things got worse before they got better if we’re judging purely off of results.
Now, almost five years after the run that really put Licorice on the map, he’s beaten the notion that he’s a washed-up player and has gone toe-to-toe with Chen ‘Bin’ Ze-Bin at MSI 2023, one of the world’s best top laners. Dexerto sat down with him to try and get to the bottom of what has allowed him to have such a tremendous comeback.
Redefining the top lane meta
Something that’s easy to notice about Licorice from watching his recent matches is that he’s got some unique power picks under his belt. Even compared to what his champion pool was during the 2023 LCS Spring Finals, he’s evolved and made himself known for picks no one else is playing within just a few weeks of practice.
There are few teams that are getting targeted harder in top lane during the pick/ban phase than Golden Guardians, to the point where Licorice was worried about getting all available bans getting used on him in his set against PSG Talon.
“For me, I was worried I was gonna get completely banned out, like three-five bans put against me,” he told Dexerto. “On the previous days, I had had like two bans put against me, so I was like, ‘Oh man, if they use a couple more I might need a lot more picks.'”
Even Bin acknowledged Licorice’s skill after having played against him, saying that they had to target ban Rumble in his interview with Dexerto. We haven’t seen Licorice play Rumble on stage just yet, and, when asked, he simply said that Rumble was “buffed recently”.
You can’t blame him for not wanting to give his secrets away, but it’s clear Golden Guardians have a few tricks up their sleeve that they haven’t shown on stage yet. Licorice views this as a massive strength in his recent play.
“You have to find a balance as a player. If you never play the meta champs, like — There’s a reason people play them. Usually, you’re missing something if you don’t play them at all. But I do think that in League there’s a lot of room for – especially if you’re counterpicking – playing a lot more champions than everyone else plays.
“It’s really hard to play against something you’ve never played against before when the pressure’s really high and you’re trying to figure out, ‘Should I push this lane? Should I take this fight?’ It’s just really hard to make a plan, so I think that playing a lot of different picks is very strong.”
It’s been difficult for teams to figure out how to counter Licorice’s wide and diverse champion pool while also trying to take him off meta champs he’s equally strong on like K’Sante, giving Golden Guardians a massive draft advantage. And they’ll need every advantage they can to win against JDG, their next opponent.
David vs. Goliath
Being put up against the LPL first seed isn’t exactly the best scenario for Golden Guardians, especially considering that they just lost to BLG, the second-seed team from the region. For some, JDG are favored to win the entire tournament.
What’s more, Licorice and Bai ‘369’ Jia-Hao are both incredibly strong weakside players who have a fairly similar role on their teams. While he still thinks GG have a fighting chance, he also understands that he’s fighting an uphill battle.
“I don’t think it’s out of the question that I beat him at his own game. I dunno, it’s always so weird to answer these kinds of questions. I feel like the practice he’s getting in solo queue and in scrims all year is better, he’s sort of playing at a higher level. You can’t argue about that. But I dunno man, when you go on stage? It depends on what you ate that morning, how you slept that night, and how your practice went that week. I don’t think it’s out of the question that I can take him on.”
When asked about how he felt about a rematch against BLG and Bin’s remarks that he always feels like he’s the best when going up against any opponent, Licorice said: “Because it’s Bin and he’s really good, I can’t fault him for saying that. But I don’t think he was able to show it in my match against him.”
What’s more, it’s hard to say how any game would go on the day. Going by Licorice’s earlier description about how many factors are involved in whether or not a team can perform come game day, Golden Guardians seem to be eating their Wheaties and getting a full eight hours in. They come across as a team that gets a massive stage buff, a valuable trait to have in the matches that matter most.
Trevor ‘Stixxay’ Hayes spoke about how scrims against PSG Talon didn’t go very well in a post-game interview on the MSI broadcast. And though GG adapted by banning out bot laners and identifying where their opponents’ carry threat was, their 3-0 win on stage was incredibly convincing. Golden Guardians also displayed near-unshakeable mental fortitude in their win over BLG, a game where GG’s bot lane was incredibly far behind from minute one.
When asked about whether or not this is the best split he’s ever had as a player, Licorice was sure that he’s never been stronger than he is now. In his opinion, this is the best he’s ever played in his career. But for him, the ability of the entire team to stay calm even when things look dire is just as important as any in-game strength he’s shown.
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Licorice gave some insight on his mental health journey in a prior interview with Dexerto, and he’s shown just how important being able to keep your cool and show up when it matters is to a team’s success.
“It definitely feels like growth for the team, I was thinking about that today. We’re playing at a level we never played at in North America. It’s all been up and up and up since our loss streak in the LCS.”
Licorice is the face of a brand new Golden Guardians
Golden Guardians have had the unfortunate reputation of being a “development team” for most of their tenure in the LCS. They always had budget rosters that centered largely around new North American talent, a strategy that never seemed to net them any kind of long-term success.
So, the organization instead banked on historically strong talent within the LCS in Choi ‘huhi’ Jae-hyun, Stixxay, and Licorice while grabbing a strong mid/jungle combo with import talent in Kim ‘Gori’ Tae-woo and Kim ‘River’ Dong-woo. They also went into the split with a new mentality and a bold approach to changing their identity.
Golden Guardians literally and figuratively gave the middle finger to their detractors, something they only compounded by giving away “F*** you” hats at the LCS Finals and really leaning into the narrative that they’re going to prove everyone wrong. This narrative was only strengthened by the fact that they actually pulled off a Playoffs run that took them far enough to represent NA on the international stage.
But it’s taken a while for Licorice to reappear internationally, and he’s a player who has caught a lot of flak over the past few years for not being able to replicate previous success.
“If I’m being totally honest, I’d say I mostly ignore a lot of what the fans say online. Letting what people say about you affect your performance is – I mean, it’s hard not to let it affect your performance, but you just ignore it as much as you can. I’d say I’m having a much more enjoyable experience this MSI so far than in my previous national events, personally.”
In a lot of ways, Golden Guardians are along for the ride. They’ve already defied the expectations that were set for them, and there isn’t really much to lose. This is an attitude they held on to during their meteoric rise through the LCS, and Licorice is convinced Golden Guardians still have a higher ceiling ahead of them.
“I think the international experience we’re getting right now isn’t something you can get anywhere else. It’s sort of invaluable in that way. So, of course, it’s making us better as a team and we’re doing well with the pressure and everything.
“But do I think everything would have crashed and burned if we lost to FlyQuest? No, that was still the best Golden Guardians had done in the history of the org. We would have been sad about it, flown home and been sad for a while, but I think we would have been totally ok.”
That resilience is a key part of what has allowed Golden Guardians to make it this far, and it’s something that’s personified by Licorice, who has received tremendous support from staff and teammates.
We brought up Golden Guardians’ GM Nick ‘Inero’ Smith shouting “I f***ing love you Eric! Eric Ritchie!” during their Finals set against FlyQuest and shared a laugh in the interview, but also had a conversation about just how important getting picked up by Golden Guardians was for Licorice’s development.
“They picked me up in the middle of Summer when I was playing on FlyQuest, and I was doing pretty terribly overall. I wasn’t feeling good about my play, wasn’t playing well on stage. I was kind of just struggling. They picked me up – bought me out, actually, because they still believed in me as a player.
“It meant so much to me at the time. Having that as a starting point already put them in my good books. I think that the way they run their organization is really focused on making sure the players are really happy and doing well. Everything is catered toward the players.”
“The staff on Golden Guardians are great, and I think it’s, in my opinion, the best org I’ve ever played for.”
Considering that Licorice has been in a fair few organizations over his lengthy career, this is high praise. And, while he clearly wasn’t going to throw the organization he’s with under the bus, it’s hard not to believe him when you look at Golden Guardians’ player cams and see them laughing in the face of adversity.
Licorice is also the longest-standing member on Golden Guardians, a remnant from their extremely rough start in 2022. Out of everyone that played for GG during one of their worst splits, management still believed Licorice was worth holding on to when they spent big on high-tier talent. And that investment has paid off.
No matter where Golden Guardians place on the podium, they’ll be smiling when they get there. That, ironically enough, may be the key to how they’ve managed to defy expectations and emerge as an organization that is, for the first time since it joined the LCS, truly worth rooting for.