The 2021 League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split has been one defined by roster swaps, with every team except for TSM making at least one change to their respective starting lineups in the past two months. Last week, FlyQuest made an abrupt mid-season transfer of top laner Eric "Licorice" Ritchie to Golden Guardians, and subsequently, started the entirety of the FLY Academy roster in week 6 of the LCS Summer Split.
The change ended up working out for both teams. With its full Academy squad, FlyQuest went 3-0 against Cloud9, Counter Logic Gaming, and Immortals.
FLY showcased a level of cohesion unattained by Licorice and the rest of the main squad in weeks past. Impressively, top laner Colin "Kumo" Zhao played for both FlyQuest and FLY Academy in week 6, going 7-0 across five days of competition.
Golden Guardians secured a pair of wins off of 100 Thieves and Team Liquid, and despite a loss to TSM for a 2-1 record in week 6, Licorice played so well that he earned Player of the Week honors despite both FLY and Evil Geniuses going 3-0.
In all three games, Licorice looked every bit the player he was on Cloud9, and former teammate and C9 support Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme attributes his return to form to a better team stylistically for Licorice in Golden Guardians.
"To me, it felt like FlyQuest wasn't that proactive, and maybe, they weren't confident enough to pull some of these plays out," Vulcan explained. "It definitely hurt Licorice to not feel comfortable to go for plays or not confident enough in the way that the rest of the team is then maybe not confident enough to go for certain plays.
It seemed to me like it was a rough environment for Licorice on FlyQuest, and I'm not surprised to see him, as of right now, play much better on Golden Guardians. They're a team that scraps a little bit more than the old FlyQuest roster. I think that's the biggest factor, from having played with Licorice. He's a typical C9 player, he likes fighting."
Vulcan's teammate and current Cloud9 top laner Ibrahim "Fudge" Allami, who took over for the starting LCS position after Licorice's transfer to FlyQuest following the 2020 season, also pointed towards potential environmental issues as a reason for the transfer due to a similarity in skill between Licorice and Kumo.
"I’m not too sure of the reasons, obviously, but do I think Kumo and Licorice are relatively similar in terms of skill," Fudge said. "I would say Licorice is probably slightly better, but there isn’t a massive difference in their skill."
Former teammates of Licorice weren't the only LCS players with thoughts on the transfer. Immortals top laner Mo "Revenge" Kaddoura also suspected that there was more to the transfer that was being led on by the organization, and similar to Fudge with Kumo, felt that Licorice had been performing at a similar level to Colin "Solo" Earnest, who started in the top lane for GG throughout the first five weeks of the Summer Split.
"Surely, there was something that had to have happened to persuade the organizations to make this decision. We don’t have the information they may have had to make this change so suddenly. There must have been some kind of reason for it," said Revenge. "In terms of overall performance between Licorice and Solo, I’d say they’ve been performing at relatively similar levels, so I don’t know how much we can judge this change."
Among others in the competitive League of Legends scene, Evil Geniuses jungler Juan "Contractz" Garcia expressed sympathy for Solo's situation in context of Licorice's transfer: "I think it worked out best for Licorice, but it kind of blows for Solo. I think he was performing at at least Licorice’s level; potentially, even better...As of right now, I’d say it’s a side grade, but they did win against 100 Thieves today, so it’s working out decently so far, at least."
Both FlyQuest and Golden Guardians look to have benefitted from Licorice's transfer thus far, but it has only been a single week of competition. While both teams may improve in the long-term from their changes, Counter Logic Gaming top laner Finn "Finn" Wiestål says that whether it will stick is still up in the air.
"It’s really hard for me to say from an outside perspective, but I think both these teams will have a honeymoon phase going," Finn said. "They’ve both switched things up and will have fresh perspectives from new players and try to improve off of that. We’ll see whether or not that will happen, but that’s what I think both teams are going for."
When asked about how the transfer of Licorice would affect both Golden Guardians and FlyQuest, TSM top laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon said that he would have to watch more of the FlyQuest Academy roster to evaluate them should those players remain as the organization's LCS starters Huni also stated that he felt Licorice would do well individually on his new team, and that it was the team's responsibility to properly integrate him.
"For Golden Guardians, I think it will be more of a challenge," Huni continued. "I don’t know exactly how it’s going to be, but they just got a new player. I thought Solo was playing fine, but Licorice was playing fine, too, so obviously, it won’t be bad for them.
How the changes affect FlyQuest and Golden Guardians in the long-term has yet to be seen, but the implications are large given the tight race for 8th place, which secures the final spot in the 2021 LCS Championship following the end of the summer split. With nine games left to play, FlyQuest currently holds 8th place with a record of 12-24. Golden Guardians is tied with CLG for last place at a record of 10-26.
While other top laners don't see the change drastically affecting either team because of a perceived similarity in skill between Licorice, Solo, and Kumo, Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho of 1st place 100 Thieves expects the change to be big given the addition of new players at the LCS level for both teams.
"I can’t say whether it will be good or bad because I don’t know how much the teams are doing, but I think it’s going to be really different. When someone new joins a team, they have an outside perspective that can help the team improve a lot," the Thieves top laner explained. "This is especially true if the new member is a player because of the importance of a player’s perspective."
If week 6 is any indication, Ssumday was correct about the changes being big for FlyQuest and Golden Guardians. However, like Finn said last weekend, whether the transfer of Licorice and its ripple effect of subsequent changes will continue to allow these teams opportunities to improve going forward will have to be seen in the remaining matches of the 2021 LCS Summer Split.
All images by: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT
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