North America has long been lambasted for its tendency to import the best players from other countries rather than finding fresh talent. Many long-standing LCS players like Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in have all been in North America for so long that they’re no longer affected by the four-year import rule. While a few NA players have grinded, proven themselves, and reached the top of the LCS, it’s more common to have teams made up of imported players at the top.
Evil Geniuses are the team that’s using imports in the best way. Rather than looking at training rookies as a long-term time investment, they put aspiring players in the LCS with the expectation that they can win. How is their method of training rookies better than any other organization in the LCS, and what keeps EG competitive without having to outsource all their talent?
Creating the right environment
Bootcamping is a common thing for NA players. South Korea is a super region so it only makes sense for players from the West to flock there in the off-season to get the best practice they can. Could they just stay in North America and bootcamp in solo queue? Sure. But teams put the effort into going to Korea because the best players should be practicing in the best environment.
That’s why it’s shocking that many NA orgs put together rosters made up almost solely of rookie players, rarely in a position to succeed. There's been not one or two low-ranking LCS teams filled with promising players that have no direction, and that’s a shame.
Golden Guardians' 2021 “roster” is a perfect example of how to create an environment where rookies are doomed from the start. Out of all the rookie players introduced onto Golden Guardians in 2021, across three iterations of their roster, only one is still playing in the LCS for 2022. And while Nicholas “Ablazeolive” Abbott is a great player, he’s considered good despite the poor performance shown by Golden Guardians as a whole.
Meanwhile, there’s someone like Jonathan “Chime” Pomponio (picture). He was a support player brought in from Academy to add some spice to the Golden Guardians roster going into Summer, and Chime did just that.
Chime had good game sense and he was usually in the right place at the right time. He had no problem keeping up with other supports in the LCS when it came to early rotations and making plays. The final version of Golden Guardians found some success, and it was the best iteration of the team by a mile. But something was off with Chime in some matches.
Golden Guardians won this game against Team Liquid, but it certainly wasn’t because of Chime. Missed hooks combined with scared positioning allowed Tactical to live when he really shouldn’t have in some cases. Chime was playing Nautilus as if he was playing a backline support like Thresh or Braum, and that gap between Chime’s natural playstyle and what he was actually picking was apparent. Hell, he’s named after Bard, and yet Chime has only picked Bard three times across his entire career.
It’s a good thing that an organization like Golden Guardians is investing in rookie talent, and I hope they have a more successful year than they did in 2021. But their approach is flawed in comparison to Evil Geniuses for a few key reasons.
In stark contrast to Chime, Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki was thrown onto Evil Geniuses with less than a year in Academy. The coaching staff at EG believed that his individual level of play was good enough to be in the upper echelon of NA ADCs; he just needed time to adjust to pro play and build synergy with the rest of EG’s roster.
Turns out it wouldn’t take long for Danny to dominate the role.
Danny’s playstyle is all about carrying late game. He stays stable in lane, farms up, rotates into teamfights, and dominates. Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun, EG’s support at the time, would often play to keep Danny alive. Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong would almost always pick champions that could frontline, and Daniele "Jiizuke" Mauro would almost always pick mid laner that had enough early pressure to get Danny through the early game.
The rest was up to Danny, and he consistently delivered. With a team of experienced players willing to draft in a way that benefitted Danny, he found his stride and became a respected player within months.
Danny’s mechanics are well above average, and he’s a special case when it comes to rookies. However, if he was stuck playing Ezreal and Ziggs with low priority on his lane, we wouldn’t have so many clips of Danny carrying games and making confident plays. EG’s experienced team seemed willing to give Danny space to grow and steal the spotlight, and he followed through.
Evil Geniuses are taking a similar approach this year.
By picking up Kacper “Inspired” Słoma, arguably one of the best junglers in the world, EG seem to be maintaining their trend of putting the best pros with fresh talent. Because, contrary to what most teams would do, EG decided not to renew Jiizuke’s contract this year. Instead, they’re pairing Inspired with LCS rookie mid laner Joseph “jojopyun” Joon Pyun and Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme, C9’s former support.
In most cases, replacing a seasoned veteran with a 17-year-old rookie would be PR suicide. Rather than keeping Jiizuke, EG are giving a player with limited pro experience a chance to play alongside one of the world’s best junglers and a top laner with almost a decade of experience. Yet no one questions EG’s decision-making. People believe in their ability to develop NA talent over any other organization.
To be honest, I do too. Even before I did some of my own research to learn about jojopyun’s playstyle, I didn’t question EG’s decision. They did it with Danny, right? If replacing Matthew "Deftly" Chen, a player that was around the pro scene for the better part of six years, was a vast improvement for EG, why can’t jojopyun be a better fit than Jiizuke?
Jiizuke wasn’t a flawless player, either. He’s known for his aggressive playstyle, but he would often commit way too hard at times he shouldn’t have. In some cases, Jiizuke would 1v5 and carry games. In others, he’d run it down. Repeatedly.
Was Jiizuke a good mid laner? By most accounts, yes. But Jiizuke has been around for a long time, and he’s always had a bombastic personality with inconsistent play. A fun player to watch, but one that’s inherently flawed because of the traits that definite him. EG seem to have left a good mid laner behind so they can train the next best mid laner.
A new look
The most interesting thing about jojopyun’s play is his success on passive mages. He’s got a strong record on Leblanc, but his ability to do well on utilitarian Champions like Lulu and Lissandra gives him a strong identity as an enabler rather than a carry. jojopyun’s history playing with Danny adds to the possible synergy here, and it makes EG’s next iteration of their roster exciting.
Lissandra is a counter matchup for Leblanc on paper, but playing the matchup well in pro play is another thing entirely. jojopyun effectively stalled the lane, kept Leblanc from rotating, and forced teamfights on EG Academy’s terms. He’s also great at sidelaning, and his overall macro play is pretty strong. He’s someone who has potential to grow as a player under the tutelage of an amazing jungler like Inspired.
Evil Geniuses’ 2022 roster is the definition of hype. While other top organizations have thrown their wallets around to get teams stacked with proven players, EG have put effort into creating the next generation of North American greats. The mix of experienced and proven pros alongside some of the most promising players NA has to offer makes EG the most exciting team to watch going into the Spring Split.
There’s a lot of sentiment that NA’s talent pool will never beat imported players. If you only look at organizations like FlyQuest and Golden Guardians, that sentiment is proven right. But there’s one organization that’s doing it right. Evil Geniuses are actively trying to prove that putting effort into fresh talent will pay off, and they’re putting their money where their mouth is in 2022.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.