Dignitas’ time in the LCS this year has been bittersweet. Like those 99.99% dark chocolate bars that temporarily exposed your taste buds to only sorrow and pain. After turning heads throughout the region with their impressive results with a no-imports team, they shriveled away to nothing as the Mid-Season Showdown (MSS) came. As Summer rolled in, Dignitas was hyped for having a battle-tested and well-bled lineup — possibly the most cohesive in the league. But soon after, a series of roster changes and internal problems rotted the team from the inside.
Though they haven’t reached the depths of other teams, it’s been a disappointing ride. After being so embittered though, it makes the sweetness of that dark chocolate stand out that much more. That’s what it’s been like watching Toàn "Neo" Trần — the shining future of Dignitas and in my mind the true Rookie of the Year.
In their best times, Neo was one of the main agents of Dignitas’ success, and in their worst, he still managed to sneak a few wins. Throughout it, he has made a better case for Rookie of the Year than any other player in the league, including the player that is most talked about: EG’s Kyle "Danny" Sakamaki.
Don’t get me wrong: Danny already looks like one of the future stars of the league and the race between him and Neo for Rookie of the Year is nail-bitingly close. But in my eyes, Neo beats Danny (and the rest) for a few reasons, number one being:
1. Spring Split does matter
Perhaps it’s my history in basketball, but the Rookie of the Year should be judged on what a player accomplished for the full period. Danny being unable to play in Spring doesn’t matter. Just as Ja Morant and Malcolm Brogdon have won Rookie of the Year in the NBA over Zion Williams and Joel Embiid, Neo has a stronger case over Danny by having an entire split advantage.
The Spring Split should especially be factored in because of how damn good Neo was. Because of Dignitas’ meltdown in MSS, most fans have seemed to forget that Neo was a top three AD carry in Spring. He not only made the 3rd LCS All-Pro Team but stuffed a stat sheet just as well as Danny did. Not only that, he did so with a weaker team and with adversaries like Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen not on the bench. Neo also pulled “a lot of bans on stage for us most of the time — at least two per team”, Dignitas support Aphromoo told Inven.
2. Bot lane was Dignitas’ one redeeming quality in Summer
Dignitas’ collapse in Summer compared to their Spring form put them far below EG as far as the recency bias is concerned, which does favor Danny in Rookie of the Year conversation. But even with how unstable and mediocre Dignitas could be, their bottom lane stood out. They dominated first blood percentages over any other duo in the league and were one of the strongest aggressive combos around. When Dignitas faltered, Neo did not.
“Neo is just very good at being able to react to what's on his screen,” head coach Jimmy Harrison told Inven. “Most people will recognize this mechanic, which I think is true. And with time when a lot of the game knowledge starts coming in, or the communication continues to improve, I think you can expect him to get better and better.”
3. Statistical excellence within a faltering team
Neo stats in Summer are very similar to those in Spring, despite an overall drop in the team’s form. There’s a huge jump in damage dealt and kill participation. In fact, Neo has the highest kill participation of any AD carry in the league, and one of the highest in the entire LCS. This shows not just his steady improvement, but also how much burden Dignitas has thrown on him. Whereas Danny can have an off-game and still rely on Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong or Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro to carry, Neo has had to go into every game with a carry-or-die situation.
“Despite all the back and forth with some of the roster moves that we've made, I think it's very clear that our bot lane has been a strong point for us. In the majority of our victories, it's because our bot lane is performing very well,” Harrison added.
More than that, Neo’s already shown strong versatility and willingness to adapt to the meta. While in Spring he seemed locked in on Kai’Sa and Kalista, he expanded his pool in Summer from 6 champions to 10 — a necessity, born out of teams’ tendencies to blind pick or ban Kalista to push Neo out of his comfort.
Neo is a young man that’s truly special. He has the playing time, the success, and the skill to win Rookie of the Year. He’s a monster in lane, a powerful team-fighting threat, and someone else eager and capable of carrying games. Unlike Ablazeolive, he wasn’t held back too much by his teammates, and we had a good look at how strong he was. Unlike Danny, he wasn’t held up by his teammates too much, and we got to see him succeed despite all the challenges his team faced.
All Dignitas members I talked to spoke of how Neo had a real killer instinct for the game. A fearlessness and work ethic to strive to be the best. “I absolutely agree when it comes down to killer instinct,” Jimmy said. “It shows in some of the champions he likes to play, whether that's Kalista or Draven as an example, and he's had some really good Kai'Sa performances as well. He has a very good understanding of how the lane should play out but more importantly, just what he is capable of. [...]
I definitely think the killer instinct is there. There are some AD carries that are going to play more passive, I would say. But when you watch him, he's never afraid to get in the middle of a team fight if it's the right play.
But regarding his strong will to succeed, Neo said it best himself: “I can be better, but I think I'm better than everyone else.”
For the rookies this year, I agree with him.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.