When 100 Thieves announced its decision to start 100 Thieves Academy mid laner Tommy "ry0ma" Le over Tanner "Damonte" Damonte in week 5 of the 2021 League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split, the community's reactions ranged from bewilderment to frustration. Damonte's previously established synergy with the majority of 100 Thieves' roster, as well as ry0ma's lackluster performances in the 2020 LCS led to the move being viewed as unfavorable by the vocal majority.
Despite 100 Thieves losing to Evil Geniuses, ry0ma not only held his own, but was easily the strongest performer on his squad. After the loss, 100 Thieves head coach Tony "Zikz" Gray talked about why the team decided to start ry0ma over Damonte, ry0ma's growth as a player since 2020, and the similarities and differences in his approach to the 2021 LCS as the 100 head coach compared to his first year with the squad last season.
How did you feel about ry0ma's individual performance today?
I think ry0ma did pretty well. I'll have to go back and watch the game again to get a bit more fully clear perspective on every single thing he did, but for the most part, what I came away with in terms of his ceiling was that he was performing pretty well today. He played pretty aggressively and I'd say he was pretty fearless. I think it's hard for a player to deal with that much community backlash and still have the balls to go on stage and play cockily, so I liked that a lot in terms of ry0ma's play today.
If you felt ry0ma played well today individually, what do you think led to 100 Thieves' loss?
This was a game where we had a very early lead as well as the opportunity to snowball. There were very basic ways we could have coordinated better to snowball the game. For example, our support Choi 'huhi' Jae-hyun was caught before it was 'our timer' for the second dragon.
On the third dragon spawn, we tried to 'full-send it' on a Dr. Mundo and we weren't able to kill him. That's one of those plays that is bad in hindsight, obviously. You look at it after and you say, 'Well, I guess he just doesn't die there and it became a really bad play.' Outside of those two mistakes, the game kind of got out of our hands and we didn't execute on smaller windows of opportunity we had later in the game to be able to start winning again. This is ultimately what led to us falling to EG.
What was the methodology for starting ry0ma over Damonte today?
Obviously, the community is going to have a certain view that they base their opinions of players off of, but they only see three games per week. We see much more than that — anywhere between 15 to 19 per week outside of LCS. This allows us to properly evaluate a player's performance, but the community can't really see it.
That being said, we thought that overall, Damonte's performance this week was at a level that was lower than expected of him. It was a hard choice, but with the meta the way it is currently, we felt like it was a choice we had to make to stay competitive. ry0ma has been doing very well on 100 Thieves Academy; he's considered one of the best academy mids at the moment, and when we tried him in LCS scrims, he was performing really well against all the best mid laners we scrimmed.
Given that ry0ma plays the meta mids like all of the control mages, but can also still be pretty decent at the roaming style since he was primarily on Galio last year, we just figured it made the most sense to make a change now. We have two weeks before the 2021 LCS Mid-Season Showdown to see everything going on and make a decision regarding the best version of our roster.
What specifically do you think ry0ma has improved on since playing in the 2020 LCS?
I think there's a lot of key things that have changed about ry0ma. His overall level of maturity seems much higher, and he was much more inconsistent before in terms of understanding the key fundamentals of how the game worked.
I think him starting in the 2021 LCS Academy League and getting a break from all of the community backlash that can easily affect a player that's targeted as much as he was last year gave him a really good mindset. He acknowledges it, understands it exists, but tries to work on those things anyway.
We also brought in Greyson "Goldenglue" Gilmer as our new head coach for 100 Thieves Academy, who is a former mid laner, which has been a really positive change for ry0ma. He consistently has another mid laner to talk to consistently, and recently, we've started doing 1v1s in practice between ry0ma and Damonte. There are a lot of different avenues of growth for ry0ma to move forward through that have been helping him improve at a high rate.
Was there a unique challenge in building synergy this year between franchise top laner Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho and an established core of four players new to the organization?
Coming into the season we already knew that our team had a specific style, which was very helpful for us. We're a team that's going to mostly play push-and-move play-making mids and play towards the bottom side of the map, which is something we were definitely finding success with during the LCS Lock In.
When you have a team with five new players, like TSM, for example, you have a lot of **** to figure out. *Laughs* You have to figure out your identity and your style by asking questions like 'Should Tristan 'PowerOfEvil' Schrage be jailed to mages, or is it possible that he can play another style?' or whether to play teamfight or splitpush focused compositions and what side of the map will be the focus.
There are a lot of different ways you can look at the game to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Our strengths are pretty clear, and they were favored heavily in the early season meta, but the meta has moved away from those things. Key champions for us like Taliyah, which we had several compositions built around to abuse her power, have fallen out of the meta. Twisted Fate was another one that fell a bit out of relevance.
In general, champions in that style are falling out of the meta. Our team's identity became weaker in this meta, so it's something we've been trying to solve by either hard-forcing our identity with off-meta champions or making adjustments to try and work within the meta. These efforts are ultimately what led us to make the roster decisions we made for our game today.
Is it easier or tougher to integrate ry0ma because of Damonte's previously establishing synergy with Can "Closer" Çelik, Victor "FBI" Huang and huhi?
I definitely think that integrating ry0ma is not a super difficult challenge. I worked with him all of last year, and I teach the same concepts to my players this year. There are a lot of parallels for ry0ma to draw from last season, and there are only a few things to bring up that he doesn't already understand. Since he rooms with FBI and Closer, he's constantly around the LCS team and talking to them about the game.
The overall integration of ry0ma has been pretty seamless. He's also played with FBI before on Bombers, and we had pretty good scrim results immediately with him performing well individually. I'm pretty confident in the change itself being good, and I believe in ry0ma to continue to succeed in the future.
You've coached LCS teams for many years, what are your thoughts on the 2021 season format? Do you think it allows for more roster experimentation?
I'm not sure. I think if anything people almost feel more pressure to win right now because you come into summer with your spring record this season. It feels like every single game that you win is really important in the long run.
When it comes down to it, qualifying for the World Championship is pretty much every team's goal, and a team that finishes in 1st or 2nd in the regular season is going to have a very high chance of qualifying for Worlds 2021 because of how the LCS Summer Playoffs bracket is set up this year. In my perspective, teams will continue to want to experiment less and just try and optimize for as many wins as possible.
It's an ideal time for us to make a change like this and try to optimize and see if we can finish spring in 1st place and win a championship. That's our goal for spring, and we felt like this was the decision that was going to be the best choice for us to try and reach that goal.
So while the format is less forgiving in the ways you've described, do you think the changes are objectively healthier for the league?
I personally do not like playing three matches per week. Currently, LCS team scrim schedules are usually five games per day for a total of 15 games across three practice days. Before, we had four practice days, and therefore, 20 scrim games which gave teams 10 scrims to prepare for each LCS match that week. In this format, you essentially only have 5 scrims to prepare for each opponent.
Teams are experimenting with different ways of trying to add more scrims this season. Some teams are doing second blocks, some teams are scrimming on match days before or after their matchups, but overall, the changes feel a bit more in promotion of burnout than the previous format. If you're overloading certain days and then other days are taken easier there is a higher risk that people are going to burn out, or there won't be enough practice.
Also, it feels much more punishing for your team to play poorly on a certain patch. Let's say your team has a bad read, and before, you take a 0-2 on a weekend and while it sucks, you can now lose three games on a single bad read of the meta. There are less practice days per week and more match days per week in this format, so your reads and your preparation have to be perfect.
It's always a pleasure to speak with you and get your insights, Zikz. Is there anything else you'd like to say before we finish the interview?
We're definitely in a tough spot, but overall, our record is still good. Our overall improvement behind the scenes is a lot better than what we showed today against Evil Geniuses, and I think that with ry0ma currently in the starting roster, I'm confident that our future will be one of success.