In the months leading up to the start of the 2018 NA LCS, it’s hard to say that anyone was feeling comfortable. With the advent of franchising, teams and owners, new and old were on the edge of their seat waiting for the final confirmation that they had made it into the league and preparing to put their teams together if they did.
In the case of some owners that had been around the scene for the last several years, like Echo Fox’s Rick Fox or Team Liquid’s Steve Arhancet, finding out that their teams had made it into the NA LCS was like letting out a held breath. A brief sigh of relief before getting back to business as usual. For 100 Thieves’ owner Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, learning that his team made it into the NA LCS was like jumping out of an airplane.
“We were starting an organization from the ground up immediately as we joined the LCS. The bar was already up here, and we were down here. We wanted to set a precedent for when a new team joined the league... we didn’t want to join the league and be a sub-par team, it’s not good for the ecosystem,” Haag said during an owners interview in Miami with the Rift Herald. “We staffed up and hired in about a months time to make sure we were prepared for our first match in the LCS.”
Given such a short time to turn a plan into a fully functioning LCS team, it would be hard to blame 100 Thieves for a slow roll-out. It’s easy to imagine a world where with just 30 days to prepare, the team started off their LCS journey looking out of sorts and barely prepared. In fact, it’s something we have seen in the NA LCS before.
During that same interview, Rick Fox mentioned the difficulties he had faced when starting Echo Fox back in 2016. “Having a month to set up that’s tough. I think that’s almost what we had,” he added on.
“You had just 17 days from signing your team agreement to playing your first game,” Riot’s Chris “Chopper” Hopper, head of esports for North America, interjected.
“Yeah, and it still took us a year to catch up after that,” said Fox, referring to his team’s tumultuous first year in the league, finishing 7 and 10 in its first two splits.
But for Haag and 100 Thieves, that couldn’t have been further from the case. Instead, 100 Thieves put in one of the most impressive first splits ever in North America. While the strange and complicated alchemy of team building makes finding the exact reasons for a roster’s success difficult, Haag attributes much of the team’s early success with the experience and hard work of the people he helped hire. Staffing the team with veterans, according to Haag, had a huge hand in helping 100 Thieves start winning immediately.
With players like Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, William “Meteos” Hartman, and Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook anchoring 100 Thieves, the rosters sheer competitive experience is almost unmatched in North America. But the earliest addition to this team of veterans was likely one of the most crucial, coach Neil “Pr0lly” Hammad.
According to some of 100 Thieves earliest YouTube videos, from when most of the roster was still unannounced, Hammad was a vital part of shaping the team’s roster. “We are entrusting him with all our hopes and dreams,” Haag said in their first video together.
From the very earliest moments, it was clear that Haag and Hammad weren’t building a traditional North American team. Far from obsessing over which player might have the most individual, mechanical talent, 100 Thieves seemed build from the ground up as a group of players who could work together.
In the case of both Hartman and Yoo, two of the team’s earliest additions, success had been found with a few different teams, Cloud9 for Hartman and H2K for Yoo, but in the time since leaving those rosters, things had been far from stable jumping to new teams with results varying wildly. But both players were experienced veterans who made it clear that they could still play, they just needed the right team around them.
Meanwhile, ADC Cody Sun was anything but an experienced veteran. One of the brightest young players in the league, Sun’s future suddenly got a little less clear when Immortals, his former team, didn’t make it into the NA LCS franchising system. The same was true of top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, when his former team, Team Dignitas, met the same fate last year.
With so many players with different levels of experience and at different places in their career, the final piece of the 100 Thieves puzzle had to be one that could hold the group together, something Hammad and Haag found in Black, who had proven to be the binding for a variety of different Counter Logic Gaming rosters.
“I’m most excited about having somebody who has so much history in the LCS, with his experience, with his leadership ... He is going to be able to mold young talent with how much experience he has and how vocal he is, I think he is somebody who is irreplaceable on this team,” Haag said in the video announcement of Black joining the team.
In the end, Haag was right. The roster proved to be a nearly perfect combination of raw talent and veteran teamwork. In one of the closest regular seasons in NA LCS history, 100 Thieves battled through a tie-breaker on the final day of competition to take first place in the Spring Split’s group stage. Just a couple of weeks later, the team pushed through their semifinal opponents Clutch Gaming, to qualify for a spot in the NA LCS Spring Split Finals. Not a bad result for a team that had just a few weeks of practice ahead of the season.
While 100 Thieves ultimately fell short in the Finals, it’s hard to be disappointed for a team that achieved so much in their first split. In the history of the NA LCS, only one other team has even made it to Finals in their first split, and that was Cloud9 back in 2013, when the NA LCS was only on its second split.
When franchising was first announced, one of the few criticisms of the system from NA’s hardcore fans was whether or not a new organization, with no experience in the League of Legends scene, could really hope to compete with some of North America’s longest standing orgs. Not just on the Rift, but in ability to bring in fans and build a brand.
Even Team Liquid owner, Steve Arhancet expressed his own initial misgivings about the system. “I think from the Team Liquid perspective, one of the things we were worried about was the new teams coming into the league. Ya’ know, were they going to ante up and really contribute to the league?” said Arhancet. “That’s why we were really excited and happy that we have teams like 100 Thieves that are competing with us in the Championship Finals ... it feels great to have a partner like 100 Thieves instead of a partner like, well, I’ll leave that one blank.”
Now, just a few months after Haag was given 30 days to build a presence in the LCS scene from the ground up, all those questions have been answers. 100 Thieves has thousands of loyal fans, all clamoring to get their hands on the league’s most popular merchandie, one of the best teams in the NA LCS, and is well on its way to becoming the next giant in North American League of Legends.