If a survey were carried out among followers of League of Legends asking them to name a current European support, most would probably think of Alfonso 'Mithy' Aguirre first. The Canary Islander, who plays for G2 Esports, has participated in all the Europe League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) finals the team has competed in and was a winner with the outfit at last year's Summer Split.
But despite becoming a standard-setter not just in Spain but on a continental level, Mithy is keen not to get carried away. "I try not to focus too much on that, not to put pressure on myself which, at the end of the day, doesn't help; because, at least in my case, I play worse under pressure than when I'm in my world, not thinking about the expectations I've got to meet. I guess I probably am the Spanish and maybe the European reference point. If people are out to emulate me then that's an honour, but I try not to think about it because it affects my performance," he tells Diario AS in an exclusive interview.
It's little surprise that Mithy seeks to reduce the number of factors that can influence his games. Being a professional League of Legends player demands total and utter dedication if you want to be successful, and a poor run can spell the end of a career. Seasons are chock-a-block with leagues and tournaments that allow their stars scant time to rest, a state of affairs that can lead to burn-out and cause sudden retirements, but the Spaniard is dealing with this intense pace.
"In many sports, the athletes are pushed really hard and then, when you can see that they're on the verge of overload, the rhythm is slackened off so that they're always firing on all cylinders. I think that's what's lacking in League of Legends," he explains. "There's not much free time in our schedule but, like most of us, I've got used to the way it is. When the split finishes, you always have a week or so to switch off, unless you take part in the Mid-Season Invitational. Or before the World Championship, for example, when SK Telecom T1 took a trip to Hawaii. Those are the types of things you do to switch off, before getting back to the routine stronger and more on it."
To avoid that overload, many figures have advocated getting rid of the Spring Split. In its place, they propose a series of more spaced out international tournaments that allow the teams to have contact with metagaming in each area, gain experience in best-of-five series and then translate what they learn to their regional leagues. Fans are currently calling for more international events, but teams tend to prioritise Riot Games competitions and decline invitations to the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) circuit to avoid fatigue before the playoffs.
"I don't think it would be a bad idea [to scrap the Spring Split]. For example, we decided not to go to IEM Gyeonggi to be fresh going into the Spring Split and not be fatigued at the end. And if we go all the way in the split [and afterwards] we want to do a training camp in South Korea [before the Summer Split] and, of course, we started practising back in November, it's going to be pretty tough travelling out there and then coming into the Summer Split without any rest. We have to keep in mind that competition overload is a possibility, be careful and be aware that even if we want to give our all, we also need to know when to rest," he says.
But it's not all about the schedule. Optimising training is another of the major issues to be addressed in the coming years, because accumulating hours in front of the screen isn't always synonymous with improvement and the best use of the time available. To that end, G2 Esports have expanded their coaching team by appointing Alexey 'SharkZ' Taranda and Weldon Green as assistants to head coach Joey 'YoungBuck' Steltenpool.
"SharkZ and YoungBuck are bringing greater structure than last year and are sharing the workload to complement each other. One focuses on macrostrategy and the other focuses on the individual side of things, for example," Mithy reveals.
On a more general level, the coaching team makes day-to-day life easier. The players are all "disasters", says Mithy, so they're grateful that there's someone to take care of the cooking and establish basic ground rules. However, it's not always been sweetness and light.
"Our cook is YoungBuck and, well... It has to be said that to begin with he was pretty bad, but with time... He doesn't know how to do many dishes, maybe three or four, but he's got them down to a tee and now they taste really good," he says. Thankfully, YoungBuck's diners aren't picky with their food and, except at times at having to eat their greens, G2 Esports' players have no complaints.
However, the arrival of Green, who has assisted practically every North America LCS team - although particularly Team SoloMid - is the most eye-catching, as his profile differs from the typical hybrid of analyst and manager. He focuses on the psychological aspect of group dynamics within a high-performance environment. Among the many activities Mithy tells us about, for example, he has taught the G2 Esports players to control their reactions when dealing with certain plays and has held individual sessions between the team members, using a pre-prepared list of personal questions that allow them to connect more on a human level.
After several months together under the same roof, of course, that's not the first time that they've exchanged stories and points of view. Going through good times, like their victory at the Summer Split, and bad, such as their failure at the World Championship, has served to reinforce the togetherness among the team, nicknamed the 'samurais'. Mithy knows that his team-mates are there for each other through thick and thin, so he knows it doesn't matter if he or the others slip up, because the mutual trust that exists among the group members is strong.
"Up to now it's been surprisingly good. Having been together for a little while, we have got to know each other a bit better. It doesn't matter if someone gets angry, gets frustrated, is really happy or sad: you've got to know everyone's personality and you're not taken aback by an unexpected reaction. In general, we all understand each other better and that helps the rapport between the players," he explains.
Mithy himself is a player with a fiery character, something which in time he has learned to channel through significant experiences such as the suspension he received in 2014. Now, sport and meditation are two hugely important elements of the support's routine, in order to relax and be more productive both in training and in competition.
"Weldon wants to apply the meditation thing, but it's something that I came up with on my own a while ago. At the end of the Spring Split last year, I read that it helped elite sportspeople to reach a higher level of concentration and it helped me to control my impulses and concentrate a little bit better," he notes. Alongside physical exercise, it helps him to keep his emotions in check when he has to be critical, and not to lose it if something goes wrong during a game. "It might all just be a placebo effect, but I find it easier to focus on what's to come rather than dwelling on what's happened, what the fans will be thinking, etc. I try to focus more on the present," he says.
One thing that is more and more important to Mithy is his relationship with the Spanish eSports community. For the player, the All-Star in Barcelona brought home to him how significant it was to stay in contact with Spanish-speakers and, above all, with his compatriots.
"In Barcelona I saw just how big the Spanish scene is. When I went to Gamergy too, with the people from the Spanish scene and players like Jorge 'Werlyb' Casanovas and Isaac 'PePiiNeRo' Flores, who I'd had contact with in the LCS," he comments.
He says that many individuals in the world of sport or show business make the mistake of drifting away from their origins and bring too international in their focus when they reach the elite. "I realised that I had to get closer to the fans on the Spanish scene, even if just a little bit. In League of Legends, where we have a very large community, we have to be close to them even if we live in different countries. Both Samuel 'Samux' Fernández and I, who are the only two Spaniards in the EU LCS, have to make sure we do well so that the fans feel represented," he states.
Although dedicating heart signs to his audience isn't his strong point, in part because - he laughed - he had never practised it in front of the mirror to see how it looked, his spectators do appear to have connected with him. The feeling is mutual, as Mithy feels much happier both in chats, and when he plays live and comments on it, when he's speaking in his own language.
"In general Spanish people are more... How can I explain it? You can be a bit more of a jackass, you can talk more 'nonsense' and people can talk it to you. There's a sort of game that for me, as a Spaniard and as a Canary Islander, is absolutely normal. I've grown up with it. People rib each other as part of a kind of game based on 'getting a rise out of each other'," he says. "In English, I feel like it's all more serious, that it can all be misinterpreted. If I horse about or say something silly in Spanish, it's taken as fun, not as seriously. In general, I feel more comfortable with the Spanish fans than the international ones. I feel like I can be myself without people judging me as negatively as they might internationally," he confesses.
That's exactly the kind of relationship he has with his lifelong friends, who he gets together with whenever he's back home during his short holiday time. Although he's fairly cut off and unable speak to them or his family day in, day out during the season, the friendships remain strong. "When we all meet up, it's like we'd never left off. What I do doesn't come into it, they see it as just another job. We get on really well," he says.
Someone he does have constant contact with is Jesper 'Zven' Svenningsen, his partner in the bot lane. Although he acknowledges that right now they're not quite in their groove and that he's making a lot of individual mistakes, something he believes he can solve as the spring season progresses, he says his working relationship with the shooter is excellent.
"We've always focused on playing for the team, on gaining advantages and being consistent. We're not concerned about metagaming because we don't focus on killing in two-on-twos but rather in solidity as a group and helping the team. On a personal level, I try to do the best I can and I know that if I reach the level I want to reach, I'll be the best. It's not the end of the world if I die online; I focus on winning as a team and being a key player. If that makes us better or is enough to win, then great. As long as we win, I don't care if I'm the best or the worst bot lane."
No interview with Mithy would be complete without asking him about his time at Origen. It's a delicate subject, which is left to the end and which he approaches with kid gloves. In a profile I did to mark the launch of the Diario AS eSports section, he had admitted that it had caused him problems and insecurities. However, on this occasion he offered a perspective that I had never previously heard him share.
"I had a tough time when I left Origen because of all the criticism and comments, but I also understood that the fans were finding it as a tough as me, or worse. People experienced a narrative in which we were all seen as friends, a family, the Spanish team, the team of Enrique 'xPeke' Cedeño... I understood that they were upset at us parting company and the only thing I felt I could do was take refuge in gaming, do it well and that's that," he declares.
His exit from Origen led many fans to brand him a traitor and call him Judas at the first opportunity, but people are unaware that Mithy turned down high-calibre offers after the 2015 World Championship, before the team atmosphere hit rock bottom.
"I had an offer from Team SoloMid in December and I decided to stay at the team for Origen and the fans, because of what we'd built, but then things didn't turn out as I thought they were going to, for this or that reason, and I decided that I had to trust in myself and what made me feel good. I decided to leave Origen and join G2 Esports and I'm very happy. They look after us really well and I don't regret it," he explains.
Currently, at least according to both Mithy and xPeke, there are no problems between them. Indeed, the man from Murcia is one of the many people in the eSports sector that the support admires.
"If you're smart, you don't just look at one role model, but take positive things from many different people. For example, xPeke is my main Spanish reference point, someone I admire for all that he has achieved and continues to achieve, just like Bora 'YellOwStaR' Kim or many others like Søren 'Bjergsen' Bjerg, Andy 'Reginald' Dinh... There are many people you can talk about," he says. However, his particular focus is on other supports who he considers better than him in certain areas, such as Zdravets 'Hylissang' Iliev Galabov and many others. "I try to look at other people because the easiest way to learn is by imitation."
Looking to the future, Mithy is open to working as a broadcast analyst or as a coach - although he has no plans to retire in the short or medium term. He acknowledges that there are already figures who explain gaming well to viewers, like Mitch 'Krepo' Voorspoels and Martin 'Deficio' Lynge, but he is enthusiastic about the possibility of teaching spectators things that they don't think of when they watch a game. At the same time, the chance to help less experienced players to improve or understand aspects he worked out by himself or with the aid of veterans like Paul 'sOAZ' Boyer means coaching appeals to him too.
But, for the moment, Mithy is focused on lifting another continental trophy. As he bids to do so, he simply asks his fans to keep on backing him and is thankful for any new support. "I'll try to keep on representing you the best I can," he concludes.