Journey through the depths: How Zeyzal is trying to get back to the LCS

Photo: Oshin Tudayan for Riot Games


Despite Evil Geniuses' mixed results in the 2020 League of Legends Championship Series, one factor that was undeniable in the team's success was the immaculate consistency of support Tristan "Zeyzal" Stidham. Despite this, Zeyzal found himself without a starting position in the LCS come 2021, and has subsequently re-invested in the amateur scene to show his skills against players in the LCS Academy League while maintaining his freedom in terms of professional contracts. 


Zeyzal spoke to Inven Global's Nick Geracie about his 2020 season on Evil Geniuses, playing in the amateur scene with SolaFide Esports, and how his choices during the off-season best suit his primary goal of returning to the LCS. 



2020 was the first time you've played in the LCS without a Cloud9 jersey on your back. What was it like playing on Evil Geniuses last season?


My 2020 season was alright. We didn't do the best in general, but I felt like both splits there were times that Evil Geniuses' roster was strong. I felt like there was a time in spring that the roster was coming together. We were able to beat FlyQuest in the first round of the post-season, but it felt like whenever we got a good grasp on how to play together, we would lose it over time. We ended up in 3rd place. 


The summer was a bit more turbulent. We didn't have a good record in the 2020 LCS Spring Split, and we didn't have a good record in summer either, but there were times where we once again felt like we were coming together as a team. I'd say that happened a bit too late in the 2020 LCS Summer Split, whereas in spring it happened right around the beginning of the Spring Playoffs.


Overall, playing on EG was a good experience. I got to branch out and play with a new team and new players. I was pretty happy overall, not with our end results, but with the experience playing with my teammates on Evil Geniuses.



Did the increased turbulence in the summer split come from the roster moves of replacing Colin "Kumo" Zhao and Daniele "Jiizuke" Di Mauro with new signings Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon and Greyson "Goldenglue" Gilmer in the top lane and mid lane, respectively? Once the latter two started, we never saw Jiizuke and Kumo again.


That's a good question. In general, I think we were attempting to change from a less variable playstyle where we were playing a style that was live or die by Jiizuke. We started to shift that, and I'm not sure about all the factors going into the decision, but I do believe we were getting better by the end of spring, so it's hard to tell what our ceiling could have been with that roster. I do think a 7-man roster would have been a good idea. In the end, that's not what we ended up doing.


We weren't sharing time with Jiizuke once we got Goldenglue. I think there was an initial tryout period, but there was no point where we were splitting time between the available players on our roster in any form. At that point, we were starting Huni top and Goldenglue mid; there was no Kumo or Jiizuke as a sixth man. Neither of them were as part of the main team as much as they were before once we made those signings and swaps..



With all these external factors, it's difficult to evaluate oneself individually, especially on a team with high-variance results. Despite this, how do you feel you played in 2020?


To be quite honest, I think my play was rather mediocre.


I didn't really do anything flashy. There were a few games I'd say I won for my team, but it wasn't an extraordinary amount of games, to be clear. I would say I was mostly just playing consistently and I would say the end result of that was that I was pretty mediocre in 2020.

Based on your evaluation of your performance in 2020, did you expect to not have a starting spot in the 2021 LCS?


I was a bit down on my own play, but while not as clearly as I do now, I accepted that at the time that I hadn't had the best showing in my past few splits. In my last split on Cloud9 and my two splits on EG, I didn't think I was detrimental to our team's performance, but it was hard to accept that I also wasn't the one pushing us to wins. That's something that's really valuable, especially when you're playing on stage because a lot of players aren't willing to do that. 


I was surprised that — as far as I know — I received no LCS offers. I didn't expect that, but I'm currently playing in the amateur scene. *laughs* I could have played in the LCS Academy League. It was an option, but in my opinion, entering a multi-year contract for an academy team when you're already a veteran player is a very dangerous game. If I don't end up in the LCS rather soon, I think it will be a hard road for me to get back there.


I don't think the LCS Academy League poses as clear of a path to do so as it is to be in a state where a team can contact me any time for scrims or substitutions without conflict. I have a lot more freedom by not signing a multi-year academy contract.



So you chose amateur over academy to field more LCS offers?


Yep. It's probably going to be a headline, but I believe my chances of playing in LCS within the next six months will be higher by not signing a multi-year contract wiith an academy team. I'm still showcasing my play in amateur, and I will still have the opportunity to play the same players in the LCS Academy League due to the 2021 format.


The difference is that not being contracted to an academy team makes it much more favorable to allow me to move up to a LCS team. In addition, I can field multiple LCS offers instead of only having the option to be promoted to the LCS squad of my academy organization.



Would you have accepted any single-year offers to play in the 2021 LCS Academy League, or did you not receive any?


I did not have any single-year offers from academy teams, but I did have some academy offers where if I was not on the starting LCS roster of that organization in the second year of the contract, either party would be allowed to terminate the contract.


Still, that would require me to miss all of this LCS season, and I wouldn't be a free agent until after it was determined that I wouldn't be on the starting roster for the organization I was signed with. Because my contract would still exist at the beginning of free agency, it also may not be determined early whether I would be starting for the LCS squad of that organization. In order to make sure I'm available at the start of the next free agency window, I couldn't sign any deals like that.


Photo: Tina Jo for Riot Games


So you expect to be back in LCS within this season, hence your preference towards the freedom of amateur competition?


My goal is to be back in the LCS as soon as possible. This year I will play against the same exact teams that I would in the Academy League, and the same players, by extension. Because of this, any teams interested in seeing me play will know how I am playing. In addition, it leaves me more freedom overall to join any LCS team looking to replace its current support. 


Would you have still made this decision if the amateur scene and the LCS Academy League didn't partially integrate for 2021?


It's a hard choice. If amateur and academy teams couldn't play against each other this year it would be much harder for me to show that I am still a better option than all of these academy players.



People would look at my performance and despite us doing well in all of our tournaments my team is in, it would just be assumed as meaningless due to us just stomping amateur players. That's true; the reality is that stomping other amateur players doesn't mean anything. I think it would have been hard for me to prove I'm still a good player if amateur teams and academy teams didn't play each other this season. 


How has it been playing in the amateur scene?


It's been good so far. I get more tournament matches than I do in the LCS, so that's good *laughs* I've already played like 15 matches in a week, including four best-of-threes and one best-of-five. I actually like the schedule, but it's rather intense if you're scrimming in addition to the competitions. There are weeks in my schedule where I have four days of matches in a row, and right before I play my match, I scrim for five hours. It's pretty intense, but it's nice to get so many matches that actually matter.


What are your thoughts on the changes to the LCS format for 2021?


I think they are pretty good changes. A common complaint previously was that the LCS Spring Split didn't matter, and now, it does. You get more games overall as well, so that's a positive, and in general, viewers will get a higher stakes tournament earlier in the year instead of having to wait for something that matters until near the end of the year.


Thanks for the interview, Zeyzal. I hope we see you back in the LCS soon. Is there anything else you'd like to say?


I want to end by thanking all of my fans who have stuck with me through my journey. Hopefully, you are still sticking with me through what some might call my journey through the depths *laughs* I really appreciate all the fans, I just hope I don't get headline'd too hard now that I think about what I said. We'll see what happens.


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