Tanner” Damonte” Damonte of Clutch Gaming is one of the few players in the League Championship Series who can claim they are both a North American resident, and a starting mid laner. A player who was on multiple Challenger and Academy teams in his career, he has steadily risen through the ranks to become one of NA’s most promising homegrown League of Legends talents.
We were able to catch up with Damonte for a few moments at the 2019 LCS Spring Split Finals between team Liquid and Team SoloMid, and were able to highlight his experience as an NA mid laner, Clutch Gaming’s outlook for the Summer Split, and his experiences as an Academy player.
You’ve had an interesting path here to the NA LCS, and currently, you’re just one of the few North American mid-laners. Do you see that as a badge of honour to be a North American mid-laner or as a challenge?
Yeah, I think I see it more as a challenge. I think a lot of people assume mid lane is the import role for NA, and rightfully so. Not a lot of NA players have proven they’re good, even myself. I don’t think I’ve proven that I’m at the same caliber level as Jensen or Bjergsen that you see at Finals today. But, it’s for sure a challenge. You have a lot of NA like me and GoldenGlue specifically, really fighting to get a spot. I think it’s a good thing for us, and it’s a lot of motivation.
As an NA mid laner, there are obvious advantages such as speaking English. But there are also stereotypes that NA mid laners aren’t quite up to par. Do you think it’s an advantage or disadvantage being an NA mid laner?
In order to first get my job, it was not good for me because there’s a stigma behind the NA mid laners. Before I had a job as a starting mid laner, it was difficult. Now that I’m actually in the LCS and I’m able to talk to everyone and stuff like that, I think it’s a bit of an advantage. You see a player like Pobelter, Pobelter always ends up on really good rosters. A lot of that is because he doesn’t take up an import slot and everyone knows that he’s a solid player. That’s where I want to end up sooner or later. I want to be able to have a really solid, confirmed spot no matter what happens to me. I’m going to be valuable to a team no matter what.
Looking at Clutch Gaming’s split, it was kind of disappointing. There were some highs in the beginning and then lows as the season went on. Do you believe that moving forward you’re in a position for success? What were your big takeaways from the Spring Split?
There were definitely some regrets in the Spring Split for everyone. I don’t think our failure in the last Split came down to one player whatsoever. I do think it was kind of a fluke that we came in ninth, and that’s much lower than a lot of people expected us. If you watch our games, we really did not look like a ninth-place team. A lot of people hold that opinion, but at the end of the day we did come in ninth so next Split we have a lot to prove. If everyone thinks that we aren’t a ninth-place team, we have to show it. If we come into next Split and don’t make Playoffs again, it’s a huge failure and honestly we wasted all of 2019 because we have a roster that could very easily be at this stage in St Louis and playing Finals here. But people saying that and us saying that does not matter if we can’t actually do it.
Looking at your current organisation Clutch Gaming, what makes them unique in comparison to the other orgs you’ve been a part of?
Well, Clutch Gaming is owned by the Rockets so its sports-based, kind of top-down, which is a lot different than other teams. Other teams, I would say it all functions out of the team, if that makes sense. For a sports-based team, its much more top-down so everything has to go through all the leadership. I think there are advantages and disadvantages, because maybe a team like TSM who is run by Regi, and Regi is so close to the team, everything gets done really fast. But for sports-based teams, it has to go and trickle down all the people from the top down. Which sometimes takes longer, but things feel much more professional.
You’re a player who has experience in the Challenger scene, the Academy scene, and the LCS. With the current setup of the Academy scene, what do you think are some of the positives and negatives?
I think Academy, and tying Scouting Grounds into Academy is very good. You’re seeing a lot of new players rise up and get their chance, Viper and Vulcan are the two main ones this year. The players who are making it to Finals in Academy are really getting a lot of looks. You see players like Ablazeolive and Tactical on TSM Academy who won this year, people are like “wow, these players are really good”.
For Scouting Grounds as well, I think that’s a very valuable thing for players who aren’t on a team because as long as you get to Scouting Grounds you’re instantly able to network with everyone who’s in LA. That’s something that when I was coming up was a lot of luck because you just had to meet the right person and be able to get on these teams that actually were good enough. You could be a superstar that is obviously outclassing other roles, doesn’t matter.
So, I think the current system is pretty good. I don’t think there are that many negatives. I think they could put more publicity on the streaming of the games, but obviously I think they have their own reasons why they don’t do that. I think it’s a pretty good system overall.
Final question, going back to Academy. Do you think it truly prepares players to make that next step into the LCS?
I think if you make it into post-season in Academy then you’re getting prepared for the LCS. Just regular season alone does not prepare you, because you’re still playing at home, and you’re not really on a stage. Nothing feels the same as when you’re on an LCS stage. I think that’s in general, even if you’re going to go and play Academy Finals, that still doesn’t compare to if you’re going to go play on an actual stage.
For me, my first game at Challenger Series was still around and I didn’t have any experience I just kind of went on stage and was like “damn, this is scary”. Then I had to play on stage at Rift Rivals, and I’m like “Oh shit, this is pretty crazy”. So, I think if you’re making post-season in Academy it’s preparing you more than it was before, but if you’re not it’s pretty much the same as it was before.
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