Evil Geniuses' signing of top laner Jeong "Impact" Eon-young in the off-season was overshadowed by the signing of his replacement on Team Liquid Barney "Alphari" Morris, but throughout the 2021 League of Legends Championship Series Lock In, EG proved it knew exactly what it was doing in constructing its roster this off-season.
Impact, who spent the near-entirety of his three-year tenure on Team Liquid as a weak-side player, has been world-renowned for several years due to his ability to absorb pressure on an island in the top lane, oftentimes even outplaying his opponents during a gank to survive miraculously and/or trade a kill. However, on EG, Impact looks like a compeletely different player than on TL and has established himself as an aggressive carry force on a team that's all about aggression.
Let's take a look at Impact's performance in the LCS Lock In and contextualize it within EG's playstyle, success at the tournament, and Impact's identity within Team Liquid's playstyle for the previous three seasons.
Impact isn't just known for absorbing pressure in game, his flexibility in the draft phase often allows him to protect more easily exposable teammates by selecting top laners before other roles. Gnar, Ornn, Aatrox and Gragas are all champions that are easy to associate with Impact due to their resilient laning phases and well-roundedness, but Impact had an ace up his sleeve for the LCS Lock In: Renekton.
Renekton is the quintessential top lane early game champion. He is in an incredible lane bully who requires the player piloting the Butcher of the Sands to constantly press forward in the lane due to his need to snowball to continue being a threat as the game goes on. Impact has shown proficiency on Renekton in the past, but rarely on Team Liquid. Renekton is the type of pick a team should play around, and even when Impact was on carry champions like Jayce, TL rarely prioritized top lane.
Impact took his immaculate laning phase and turned it up to 11 on Renekton. In EG's first game of the LCS Lock In against Cloud9, Impact had four times the amount of CS as Ibrahim "Fudge" Allami's Ornn five minutes into the game. The game would go back and forth across the map between EG and C9, but Impact ended up being the difference maker that led to EG's win.
EG finished 1st in Group B of the Lock In with a 3-1 record, all three wins coming with the veteran top laner establishing himself as a critical force on Renekton against Dignitas and Immortals in addition to C9. The sole loss came when FlyQuest banned Renekton from Impact, and while Impact's Ornn was perfectly acceptable individually, it was no coincidence that the only time EG lost in its group was without Impact on the croc.
In the quarterfinals, Golden Guardians took a page out of FlyQuest's book after losing game 1 to EG, in large part due to Impact's Renekton, by banning it. Impact responded by playing his first Gragas game since 2017 immaculately, outclassing rookie top laner Aidan "Niles" Tidwell despite being at a range disadvantage against Jayce.
Impact not only was able to showcase aggression on picks he had played at a more controlled tempo on TL in past season, but essentially confirmed a permanent Renekton ban against Evil Geniuses for the forseeable future due to his monstrous performance on the Butcher of the Sands throughout the LCS Lock In as his new team's primary carry.
Impact's carry play has been great so far, especially on Renekton, but attribute all of this to him as an individual would be an oversight on how well Evil Geniuses is facilitating its new top laner. Jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen's penchant for ganking top lane is well-known, and he coordinated with mid laner Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro to capitalize on Impact's individual advantages in the top lane time and time again throughout the Lock-In.
Impact has coordinated excellently with Svenskeren and Jiizuke, and the latter's style of play far better this season than compared to last. Since Impact has already established his North American residency, he does not take up an import slot, which is what stopped top laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon and Jiizuke from starting at the same time on EG last year.
The way Evil Geniuses wanted to play last year was different from what I wanted," Jiizuke said in an interview with Inven Global. "The coaches at the time had a different view of the game than I did, and while they promised that we would go back to the way I wanted to play, we never did."
"It was sad because I think Huni and I playing together on the same roster would have been insane," Jiizuke continued. "It would have been like the way I played with Lucas "Cabochard" Simon-Meslet on Team Vitality. We would play aggressive and play towards diving the top lane, which is basically what we're doing right now on EG."
Evil Geniuses' aggressive, top-centric style of play under the 2021 coaching staff of head coach Peter Dun, Gabriel "Turtle" Piexoto, Connor "Artemis" Doyle and Brandon "Mash" Phan has been buoyed by the resiliency of AD carry Matthew "Deftly" Chen and support Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun. In addition to the duo's 2v2 synergy, Deftly's weak side improvement since his LCS debut in 2018 frees up IgNar to roam and make aggressive players with other members of the team.
Impact also benefits from this focus in the form of some of the greediest item builds of his career. Throughout the LCS Lock In, Impact built two, sometimes three damage items on Renekton knowing that he could push his advantage to its limit with the support from his teammates. Impact not only showed the ability to be Evil Geniuses primary carry after three years of weak side play on TL, but his team has also shown the ability to faciliate that style of play as individuals and as a unit.
Evil Geniuses certainly looks like a marked improvement when compared to the EG roster of the 2020 LCS Summer Split, but the team's inability to qualify for the LCS Lock In finals proves a current ceiling for the roster that is below the top of the league.
When EG matched up in the semifinals against Team Liquid, Alphari looked every bit of Impact's replacement in all three games. Alphari bested Impact twice with Jayce against Gnar before taking Gnar against Impact's Aatrox. TL won the series 3-0, banning Renekton in every game.
This isn't to say Renekton is Impact's only good champion, and TL jungler Lucas "Santorin" Larsen was at least one step ahead of Svenskeren for the majority of the series, but without the crocodile, EG simply wasn't able to threaten Team Liquid the way it was able to do to other teams in the LCS Lock In.
Due to Impact's reputation of stalwart resilience and proficiency at gracefully losing the weak side of the map, seeing a total of 17 deaths in three games from the former world champion is rather alarming at first glance. Upon further examination, these deaths are a combination of TL having intimate understanding of Impact as a player due to the last three seasons as well as the other edge of the proverbial sword of aggressive play. If you win fast, chances are you are going to lose fast, too.
Impact was instrumental in Evil Geniuses' top 4 finish in the LCS Lock In, but more importantly, he showed that he is stijll an incredibly versatile player nearly a decade into his career. His immaculate Renekton play paves way for EG to continue to cultivate an aggressive, top-centric playstyle.
Evil Geniuses has put together a staff and roster that suits one another's playstyles and compliments one another's talents in a way that no EG roster was able to in 2020, and while the free-swinging playstyle of the team may make for some bloody losses, this fast-and-loose tempo is the strongest EG has looked since its return to the LCS. The future looks promising for both player and team as Impact and Evil Geniuses kick off the 2021 LCS Spring Split against 100 Thieves on February 5.
Find full schedules, brackets, and more for your favorite esports on Juked.gg!
For more LoL Esports news and content, head over to our dedicated League of Legends section!