It’s been a tough few years in Andrei ‘Xerxe’ Dragomir’s League of Legends career. But he’s breathed new life into it with his return to the LEC, where he aims to lead Astralis to their first-ever playoffs in the summer of 2022.
Every pro player has their dips. It’s impossible to stay at the top of your game all the time, especially in a competitive environment that’s constantly changing.
And nobody knows that better than Xerxe. Once one of the top performing junglers in Europe, he went through a rough patch that started with his move to Origen in 2020. A trip to North America to play with Immortals didn’t fix that poor performance either, and it almost seemed like he was entering the untimely twilight of his League of Legends career.
But he wasn’t ready to give up just yet, and for the 2022 Summer Split he made the decision to return to Europe as a jungler for Astralis. And after a 2-1 opening weekend, he’s confident he made the right choice – even if community sentiment was mixed when he announced he would be returning to Europe to play on one of the underperforming teams.
“Joining Astralis was a bit scary,” he told Dexerto, “because obviously I didn’t have the best individual results and the team didn’t have the best story. But in a way I wanted to see it as a challenge for myself.”
He explained that in a way, this run with Astralis was his last-ditch effort to prove to himself that he still had the ability to compete at the highest level. “I’ve been thinking that if I can’t compete at the highest level in Europe anymore, then maybe I’m just not good at the game anymore – and that maybe I should consider retiring if I can’t do it at the highest level.”
But he couldn’t think of retiring without giving professional sports another chance. “I can’t imagine retiring on a bad star,” he admitted.
“I would hate to retire knowing my last performance was absolutely horrible.”
There were moments during his slump when he felt his motivation for pro play slipping away – but since starting Astralis scrims, he’s been hit with a “motivational boost” that has completely reinvigorated his outlook on pro play.
“I feel like I’m playing the game for the first time. I feel like I’m just a rookie again and I’m really just trying to improve in every area I can find.”
Especially after such a tough time, that kind of motivation can be hard to find. But compared to his time in NA, he says the atmosphere at Astralis is much more “relaxed and easy-going.” “I don’t even think I realized how different it was in NA, but I just feel so relaxed here. I’m not even sure how to explain it and maybe it’s just a cultural thing, but I know I feel a lot better being here in the EU.”
Play with JeongHoon and simplify communication
Communication is a cornerstone of the competitive league – especially when you’re struggling with a language barrier. Alongside the signings of Xerxe and top laner Kiss ‘Vizicasci’ Tamás, Astralis looked to the LCK’s Challenger League to round out their summer roster by bringing in former Brion Challengers support Lee ‘JeongHoon’ Jeonghoon.
Adding a non-English speaking player to a fully English speaking squad will always be a challenge. In an interview with Inven Global’s Tom Matthiesen, he explained that JeongHoon was “still learning English” but was “very receptive” to joining in the team’s banter despite his limited language skills. And according to Xerxe, JeongHoon’s presence and his limited English actually improved the team’s communication in some ways.
“It kind of simplifies the amount of things you say in the game. Sometimes players can really say a lot of words in one sentence, especially when you’re on stage, and sometimes you can just end up saying a few things that nobody cares about or hears.”
“So this language barrier forces us as a team to use really simple, simple words to explain what we need on the map. And as soon as we have to express these things in simple terms, it feels like something clicks in our brain and we say, ‘okay, we know what to do’ and everyone knows where their position on the map needs to be .”
Of course, the situation is by no means perfect. Communication is still difficult, and Xerxe explains how it can still be difficult to express some of League’s more complex concepts in this simple language. But as Jeonghoon learns English every day, the team’s communication “only gets better,” and for now, this simplified way of shotcalling has reinvigorated the team’s understanding of the game.
The path so far and what is yet to come
It feels bizarre to say that a 22-year-old could be considered a veteran of his sport. But as he enters his sixth year of competition, Xerxe is one of Europe’s most celebrated players – even if he doesn’t always feel like it.
“I still consider myself a rookie – just a rookie with a lot of experience,” he laughs, “because I still enjoy the game and I still love to learn new things.”
But even with that youthful mindset, he still regrets it. Hindsight is 20/20 vision, and nowhere more so than in a career where many players make their debut while still in their teens. Many players are unable to understand and appreciate their role as a professional early in their careers and Xerxe still feels that now.
“My only regret is that I didn’t appreciate the early years of my career more. I remember my first split when I made it to the finals and lost to G2 – I was so damn angry and disappointed and I was just in my room after the finals and didn’t want to talk to anyone. It really impacted me on a deep level and I think that was just my beginner feelings at the time. I know how to manage my emotions much better now, but I wish I had appreciated those early years more.”
Also being back in the LEC studio with the fans is such a blessing that I will not take for granted.
I feel like a rookie trying to prove myself again and I’m looking forward to doing that this summer.
— Xerxe (@XerxeLoL) June 20, 2022
But now that he’s back in Europe, he explained how he feels like his rookie years are back again. A second try to appreciate the excitement and the endless possibilities of playing on the European stage.
“I think I’ve achieved a lot of things that I set out to do when I first started turning pro. I made it to the World Cup, which was one of my main goals. But in a way, I’m setting those rookie goals again right now, and I know I can achieve them with my attitude towards myself and the game.”
Astralis’ next big challenge, according to Xerxe, will come on June 26th in their match against Rogue. Their 2-1 start in the LEC bodes well for the future, but as he explains, “Obviously we were playing against the weaker teams so we shouldn’t get too cocky.”
“But I also think we shouldn’t be scared of going up against a team like Rogue.”
https://www.dexerto.com/league-of-legends/xerxes-found-his-rookie-passion-again-with-astralis-in-lec-i-feel-way-better-in-eu-1854603/ Xerxe’s found his rookie passion again with Astralis in LEC: ‘I feel way better in EU’