The Quiet Rise Of 100 Thieves, NA LCS’ First Place Team
The final days of the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split were chaotic. Going into Week 9 of play, six teams sat at the top of the leaderboard, all pushing and pulling for just a couple more wins to secure their high seed going into the playoffs.
Most of the talk surrounded the usual suspects. Team SoloMid, despite struggling for much of the split, was on a hot streak, seemingly gearing up for their traditional playoffs buff. Cloud9 had been strong all split, never dropping below 3rd place. Team Liquid, bolstered by the reunion of AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park, and jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, were consistently threatening top spots.
The only outlier in the conversation was the remarkable run of the new Echo Fox roster. Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, the mid laner previously heralded as the team’s franchise player, had taken a step back from competitive play. But after the acquisition of five new players, headed up by the triumphant return to the West of star top laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon, the team seemed revitalized. The new roster stormed through the NA LCS, holding tight to the first place spot for eight of the split’s nine weeks.
It all ended with a two-way tie for first, and then a four-way tie for second. Echo Fox, as expected, was up there in the top spot, while TSM, Team Liquid, Cloud9, and Clutch Gaming brawled it out for second. All five teams got significant coverage.
But there was one team regularly left out, despite strong showings: 100 Thieves.
Sure, people talked about how good the bottom lane of AD carry Cody "Cody Sun" Sun and support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, and for good reason. Cody Sun gets the highest percentage of gold on his team of any player in the NA LCS, and rewarded his team by killing more opponents than anyone else in the league. He’s had a monster season, not least of all because of his laning partner Aphromoo.
One of the few true playmaking supports among the top North American teams (Clutch Gaming’s Nickolas "Hakuho" Surgent and Andy "Smoothie" Ta being the others), Aphromoo consistently took risks to get his AD ahead. Towards the middle of the season, it wasn’t working. But lately, the pair have been crushing opponents.
So why hasn’t 100 Thieves been talked about as much? Sure, their games haven’t been as exciting or flashy as some other rosters. They aren’t a storied franchise with longtime rivals. They’re just a strong team with good fundamentals, and that’s not as exciting as it could be.
It’s curious, especially considering the pedigree of the team. Obviously, Aphromoo has long been one of the best supports in the West, if not the world. But they’ve also got a pair of outright legends from Korea in top laner Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho and mid laner Yoo "Ryu" Sang-wook. Capping it off is veteran jungler William “Meteos” Hartman.
To top it all off, Neil "pr0lly" Hammad took the reigns as head coach during the offseason. After his successful stint with the H2K organization over in Europe, it’s become hard to doubt pr0lly’s strategic mind.
But just like with any new team, it takes a while to gel. While the Thieves found success in the early split by way of their veteran lineup simply outclassing their opponents on skill alone, they also found struggles as other teams began to meld together. They couldn’t simply outplay teams in teamfights anymore, relying on outscaling to win games. They began to falter in the mid game, struggling to keep up with the post-Patch 8.2 world.
Something had to change. And around Week 6, it did. Whereas 100 Thieves had been relying on their bottom lane to get leads and carry the game late, they changed up the way they played to be much more jungle-focused. Ssumday was given the opportunity to play champions that pressured lanes, like Cho’Gath and in one famous instance, Darius. Ryu began to focus on shoving mid lane and opening up the map by looking for roams.
The result was jungler Meteos having free reign to do what he’s always done best: Hard farm and look for the easy ganks. pr0lly started giving Meteos one of his time-honored pocket picks in Zac, opening up his ability to sit in the jungle forever, farming until the perfect opportunity arose. Aphromoo started playing playmakers like Thresh, Blitzcrank, Rakan, and of course, his signature Alistar.
Meanwhile, Cody Sun and Ryu largely played scaling champions, allowing their top, jungle, and support trio to work their magic in the early game. Once they stabilized, they could once again rely on their teamfighting prowess to win late games. It certainly didn’t hurt that Ssumday’s expert Teleport flanks, when combined with Aphromoo and Meteos’ hard engage champions provided a way to start their already strong fighting.
It’s a fairly simple strategy, but one that pr0lly identified as the most optimal for the roster that 100 Thieves had put together. It wasn’t flashy, but it was relatively easy to execute. It was good, fundamental League of Legends.
And it worked. 100 Thieves went 9-1 in their last 10 games of the split, quietly pushing themselves to the top of the leaderboards. They brought down Echo Fox in the first place tiebreaker, both earning them a bye into the playoffs and an opportunity to lay the lowest seed in the semifinals.
The story of 100 Thieves’ final half isn’t as exciting as some other teams. It’s a tale of fundamentals, not massive risks. But it is one of success. Give the boys their props.
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