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Appreciating Mike 'MikeYeung' Yeung, NA’s newest rising star

Smell that? It’s the smell of fresh talent.

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There’s no perfect time to start a career as a professional League of Legends player. For Mike Yeung the time came back in June about a month after graduating High School.

Scouted by Phoenix1 and many other prominent organizations, for years, Mike Yeung’s talent always seemed to outpace his age — Yeung first hit challenger when he was 13 — putting a slow and immovable roadblock in front of him as he progressed towards an eventual LCS career.

Phoenix1 has always had a strange relationship with junglers, adding Rami “Inori” Charagh to their roster to help turn around their first split and avoid relegation, and swapping frequently between William “Meteos” Hartman and Charagh during the Spring of 2017 on their way to a third place finish in the LCS. But when Yueng joined on June 17, P1 was in a state of absolute turmoil. In the first two weeks of the Summer Split, P1 was 0-4 with no light at the end of the tunnel. However, in the three weeks since Yeung — and veteran support Alex “Xpecial” Chu — joined the team, they have gone 3-3 in the LCS.

But the real story of Yeung’s short time on Phoenix1, and what exactly he has meant for the team, starts at NA/EU Rift Rivals 2017.

To say that the expectations for Phoenix1 coming into Rift Rivals were low would be the understatement of the year. There were more than a few prognosticators attributing the mere possibility of a P1 victory to sheer luck. But that was before we had any idea just how strong NA would be at Rift Rivals, and just how bad Europe would look.

Far from winless, Phoenix1 came out of the first ever NA/EU Rift Rivals tournament with the second best record of any team, coming up just one game behind Team SoloMid, the tournament’s North American and overall champion. In other words, the Phoenix1 that showed up in Berlin was miles away from what anyone expected.

In the LCS, the team had been slow to start with rocky early game leading to mid-games that were all about digging themselves out of holes, so that they could enter late-game without too big a deficit. Even when the team looked pretty good, during their wins, it seemed like a far from sustainable strategy and one that relied far too heavily on the week to week mistakes that have plagued the NA LCS for years. Every win was a slog through the mud as P1 tried to outlast their opponent. The few times their early game succeeded it seemed to involve Yeung taking things into his own hands, though the team was rarely in a place to back him up.

At Rift Rivals, however, the team changed up their strategy completely. Rather than playing a slow and timid early game, the team put its full weight behind its rookie jungler — and boy, what a difference that made. With the support of the team behind him, Mike Yeung managed a phenomenal 50 percent first blood rate in P1’s games at Rift Rivals helping give the team leads that, based on their 4-2 record, most often resulted in wins for them.

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With Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook continuing his tried and true hard push style, Yueng was free to make moves in the top lane giving the always reliable, Derek “Zig” Shao a huge edge in lane that could be easily snowballed into objectives. Meanwhile in the bottom lane, the struggling AD carry No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, was suddenly awash in early game pressure, allowing him and Chu to much more freely farm their lane with little worry about ganks from the enemy. This mitigates some of Dong-hyeon’s safer laning tendencies and helped give him the early-game gold he needed to end the tournament with the highest KDA at a staggering 12.2 — a full two points higher than the next closest player.

And Yeung’s impact at the tournament didn’t go unnoticed. In just his fourth week as a Phoenix1 starter, and his first ever international event, Mike Yeung won the Rift Rivals Group Stage Most Valuable Player award.

The only question remaining for Yeung is whether he, and Phoenix1, can carry this success into back into the LCS. With such a strong Rift Rivals performance, it would be easy to see Yeung’s performance slide back as he relax or becomes complacent, but in his final Rift Rivals interview, he says that he isn’t concerned with that because he is driven and knows that he has to keep improving.

Interviews like this, and the many other he did at Rift Rivals, also help account for another of Mike Yeung’s early career successes in the LCS; he has become incredibly popular. And not just among P1 fans, the entire North American community loves Mike Yeung. From his determined attitude to his willingness to accept praise, Yeung has quickly become one of NA’s most interesting and adored players. While he may not quite be comfortable on camera, after all he is only 18, but it’s clear already that the kid has a winning personality that connects with his new legion of fans.