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Under the Shell: WildTurtle
WildTurtle talks about his role on FlyQuest
Over the course of his career, WildTurtle has slowly reeled himself in like a turtle retreating into its shell — he’s learned when to snap and when to be patient.
Right before this split began, FlyQuest ADC Jason “WildTurtle” Tran told me he was going vegan. He heard it might help him focus better — it didn’t seem like he’d done much research beyond having just heard that, though. And so, like you may often see from him on the Rift, he followed a whim.
Two weeks later, he’d added fish back to his diet (sometimes). The vegan thing was never a moral decision, so he wasn’t necessarily tied down to it. And salmon was just too good (he’s not wrong). And then a couple weeks after that, I sent him a text asking him if he was at least still vegetarian — I was looking for a restaurant for us to meet at.
He said, “Yeah, I’m still vegetarian but don’t mind eating meat socially LOL.”
I asked him, “Man, what does that even mean?”
“I am a social meat eater… it is what it is LOL.” I pictured him flashing his trademark grin as he said this.
WildTurtle has had one of the longest careers in League of Legends esports — in North America, he’s second only to Darshan when it comes to total number of games played. In that span, he’s been embraced by TSM’s legion as a god and then scapegoated by the same fans. He was always too far forward — his neck overextended from his shell. All brawn and no brain. Fans loved it when he popped off but refused to accept the drawbacks.
So it’s a little ironic now that the biggest criticism levied against TSM these days is their lack of aggression. Turtle’s boom or bust style was always going to fall short of TSM’s measure for excellence from time to time. Eventually it was deemed that he busted too much.
After a bit of a resurgence on Immortals, Turtle returned to TSM to some muted fanfare for just one split. Again, he helped TSM capture an NA LCS Championship before being relegated to the bench. I’m not saying either of these benchings weren’t warranted — I’m generally in favor of teams making changes in hopes of elevating to the next level. Especially for a team like TSM that hits the exact same Worlds wall every single year. What always bothered me, though, was Turtle often performed well on the international stage. He seemed just as likely, if not more, to break through that wall than anyone else on those TSM teams.
His career isn’t exactly fading away, but he’s no longer mentioned in the same breath as some of the other top ADCs in NA. He’s missed the last two Worlds and he isn’t popping off in the same way he once did. In the past, he was even heralded for his prowess in solo queue. People called him a mechanical god even if he at times made questionable decisions. But these days he’s just another name in the league. And last summer, his first split with FlyQuest, was the first time in his career that he failed to even make the NA LCS Playoffs. He found himself at a crossroad in his career.
“I think that year for me was pretty much a growth year — I was just focusing on myself a lot more,” he said. “Overall I got to learn a lot about myself that whole year and whether or not I wanted to be more competitive. And I definitely love competing — I think I found that out about myself this year — I just love playing in the LCS. I love playing at the highest level of LoL and I still love the game a lot. I think struggling on FlyQuest really opened up my eyes.”
He continued, “I wasn’t really doubting that I loved the game, but I thought winning makes me love playing League of Legends. But even when I was losing, I was trying really hard. I think most players, when they start losing, they lose a lot of confidence and motivation. But for me, I was like, ‘Damn, I need to play this game a lot more.’ I don’t want to be bad at it.”
THIS ITERATION OF FLYQUEST is the first time WildTurtle has had a roster built around him. He’s otherwise always been the last piece added. Instead of telling Turtle to play safer or to be a backline ADC, why would you not try to leverage his strength? You don’t need his playstyle to be 100% effective. You only need it to be effective 60% of the time to secure a playoff seed and to win a Best of 5. He’s aggressive as hell — the type to flash forward to trade a kill instead of backwards to save his own life. What if you stuck someone even more aggressive on his team (like Huni)? Or a safer hyper-carry mid laner (like Bjergsen)? His long career means he’s had a lot of time to determine the kinds of players he works best with.
I think we often underestimate “fit” when it comes to evaluating players, though maybe that’s because we don’t have a good way to measure it. But take a Tryndamere-only top player, for example — ask any of them and they’ll be able to tell you what types of champions they like to have on their team. And what kind of players. I think we’d do well to start evaluating players based on their ideal playstyle.
So when FlyQuest was brought into the franchising era of the NA LCS, Turtle became their focal point. “I definitely had a lot of say in the players I wanted to play with,” he said. “Overall, I’m pretty happy with the players we got. Considering we got rookies as well — it’s more of a risk, but I think our rookies are really good.”
He’s grown a lot as a player over the years. “Overall, I’m more calculated and take less risks,” he said. “But I still love taking risks because that’s my whole personality and that’s how I learned how to play — I took a lot of risks. I pretty much took high risk and decent or low reward types of trades. As an older player, I’m able to step back and make low risk plays and just get more reward from subtle things.
“I pretty much play to get small advantages now instead of going for huge advantages by putting myself in risky situations. Overall, over the years, I’ve played more and more passive. And people have noticed I haven’t been making these crazy plays, because if I mess up then I could lose my team the game. I don’t want to be that type of player anymore. That’s why I’ve changed a lot. But I still want to make those plays if it’s a good opportunity for it.”
He was especially excited for the Stopwatch meta because it allowed ADCs to make some crazy plays. I think change is generally good for players — they know better than any of us what it takes to get better at the game. I wonder though how much community perception alters pro players. For Turtle, for example, I wonder if he became more passive and risk-averse because that was the inevitable step towards improving as a player or if it stemmed from community pressure.
The pros read the League of Legends subreddit and their social media mentions more than you might imagine. I think it’s easy to leave a comment on a whim and expect for it to be lost in the hundreds or thousands that eventually pile up. But a lot of it is actually read — even the comments buried at the bottom of threads.
“I think [the criticism] definitely affected me a lot more negatively in the past to the point where I wouldn’t use social media that often or stream as often,” he said. “Nowadays I don’t really think of it as negatively. I’ll probably read it and think maybe he has some truth to what he’s saying — maybe I am doing this or that. So I look over the game and see I’m not actually doing that — that guy’s an idiot! I just look at it as outside criticism and try to use it to better myself. I love haters even if they hate me as long as they’re my fans still.”
Learning to balance the criticism with the fandom is critical to a pro’s mental state. A rattled confidence might mean a pro perceives a 70/30 situation as a 50/50 situation. Whether you choose to take those moments or not can sometimes be the difference between winning or losing. Or between them being called good or bad.
“I think [the criticism] definitely affected me a lot more negatively in the past to the point where I wouldn’t use social media that often or stream as often."
The reset Turtle had with FlyQuest last year was good for him. I think that might be a tough thing to see if you just look at the results. But rediscovering his love and passion for the game just made him more antsy in the offseason.
He said, “The offseason was really long. It was a really long stretch. I think I spent most of my offseason contemplating what to do with my life. And I finally… I spent a month in Toronto around October and was like, alright, I gotta get away from this. It was really unproductive and I felt like I wasn’t doing anything.”
Maybe being a pro is some odd form of stockholm syndrome. Maybe playing League of Legends is that — something always pulls you back in. Now in his sixth year as a pro, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that he’ll stop. His skills are clearly still good enough — even through all the criticism, there wasn’t any major outcry for his retirement. As long as he cares for the game, I don’t see him being forced to step away.
AT 23 NOW, Turtle is a much wiser person and player than he was when he first started. One of the things I notice between new players and veterans is how much they interact with me. Turtle asked tons of questions about my life. He’s trying to bulk up a little these days. He takes care of his appearance. And he wants to move into an apartment soon — he thinks gaming houses are on their way out.
I thought it was interesting how quickly he was able to shift from topic to topic in conversation. He’d bring up Disneyland one second and then the next talk about how he is interested in some day stepping into a game design role. His philosophy for balancing League of Legends is to buff champions that counter the in-meta ones.
“I really like making the game challenging. I want to make a game that’s really challenging but not impossible,” he said. “I think Ocarina of Time is an example where it’s pretty challenging but not impossible. Like, easier than Dark Souls — that might be too hard.”
His penchant for seeking out challenges might explain some of his forward flashes on the Rift. Those are the plays that I love the most, though, and I think they’re the plays that his most die-hard fans will defend to the death. Of course it looks dumb when it fails, and it’s not black or white, but the very opposite end of the spectrum is doing nothing and slowly losing. That’s awful to watch as a spectator! There are plenty of teams that you’ll watch get choked to death, and you’ll scream for them to do anything even when you know they won’t. That’s far less likely to happen if Turtle is on the team.
These days, he’s the de facto leader for FlyQuest. His tenure in the NA LCS is longer than the other four combined — by at least four or five times. He encourages his teammates and tries to enable them to make plays.
He said, “I definitely want to set a tone for a lot of my players. I want to say the right things to them inside and outside of the game and act more mature. I am still pretty childish at times, but that’s just my personality. I am trying to take more responsibility in game, so if I make a call or if someone does something, I’ll take the blame if I can. I’ll use my experience to better the rookies overall because I do have a lot of experience — [especially] in what it takes to win games. I hope I can share that with the newer players.”
He continued, “After losses, I try to reiterate to my teammates that no one is pissed at you guys. I’m still here and I still believe in you guys and I still think you guys are really good. I wanted to reassure them that this is just a hiccup and we can still be the best.”
There are few players in the world who have as much experience as Turtle when it comes to shouldering the blame. When he first started, he became well known for his smile. The big grin flashed after a kill. Or a quick interview. A Baron steal on his stream. Hell, I even picture him smiling as he secures a cannon minion. Or misses it. WildTurtle is synonymous with loving League of Legends.
It’s something I really envy. The ability to immerse yourself into the game so much that you don’t even realize you’re there. In a lot of ways, Turtle’s career has been a series of whims — he just followed whatever seemed good at the time. When TSM came calling back in the 2013 Spring Split, he answered. And then he delivered with a pentakill in his first game ever.
“It was kind of random,” he said. “I didn’t even feel it at the time — I didn’t even care about getting kills or anything. I was just focused on playing the game and focused on what I was doing. I wouldn’t read double kill or triple kill. Nowadays, I’m like, ‘Yeah! I’m about to get a double kill.’ But back then I didn’t even give a fuck. It just kind of happened. I didn’t even know I got a pentakill until after the game was over, and people were like, ‘Yo, you got a pentakill.’ And I said, “What, when?” I was just a lot more tunnel-visioned back then.”
Since then, Turtle’s vision has, at times, widened. And greatly so. He has learned how to take the wins and the losses in stride. He takes the criticism for what it is — sometimes it is useful, and sometimes it’s a pile of crap. At times, though, it still narrows — he pinpoints a target and chases it. The lengthy career is exactly what you might expect from a turtle. It has been a slow evolution. What’s next is a team that grows around him — one that can provide enough space for the turtle to snap. One that feeds him whatever his diet demands.