While Cloud9 and Team Liquid dominated the headlines during the 2022 LCS offseason, there may not be a more hyped brand new addition to the LCS (sorry Bjergsen, you’re old news) than rookie sensation Joseph "jojopyun" Joon Pyun. Jojopyun has been receiving tons of praise from commentators who were wowed by his performance in the Academy league. Now, Evil Geniuses made the decision to elevate jojopyun to the main roster for the 2022 Spring Split.
This decision is not without risk. EG is moving on from their previous mid laner Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro. Not only is Jiizuke a proven veteran, but he was coming off one of his best splits as a pro in 2021, nearly helping to drive Evil Geniuses to a spot at the World Championships. Even if EG was ready to move on from Jiizuke, they also passed up on importing a mid laner (like Nisqy) or signing free agent Jensen. Clearly, EG believes that jojopyun is ready to make the next step into a major LCS role.
But jojopyun is not the first hyped-up rookie mid laner we have seen entering the LCS. Just one year earlier, fans and commentators were hyping up a young mid laner on Cloud9’s Academy roster, eager to see where he would end up playing in 2021. Cristian "Palafox" Palafox ultimately played his rookie season with FlyQuest, to fairly middling results, to the point that he left FlyQuest after just one year to join CLG.
Observers may argue that jojopyun is more talented at this point of his career than young mids like Palafox, but it’s difficult to evaluate talent considering all the other factors that can impact how a mid laner looks (playstyle, mid-jungle synergy, team performance, etc.). What we can, at least, evaluate is performance to get a sense of how jojopyun stacks with other hyped-up mid laners to see just how high expectations should be.
Per Oracle’s Elixir, below are the stat splits of six mid laners who played in the NA Academy system before going pro. Even though the Academy system’s structure has been changed in recent years (with the addition of Proving Grounds and other tournaments), the sample sizes for each are relatively similar, and thus can give some insight into how each was performing before they made the leap to LCS.
As we can see, when comparing jojopyun to these other five promising (at the time) mid laners, we start to see some question marks. For starters, at no point in his last split did jojopyun post a KDA above 4.0 during a split or tournament. Even more concerning, going back through his entire career, jojopyun has never ended a tournament or split with a KDA of 4.0 or better. That’s deeply concerning, because you would expect for a promising prospect to be able to dominate in the lower leagues before making the leap to the LCS.
Compare this to Palafox who, during his last year in Academy, combined to have a KDA of 6.10. Palafox was dominating in Academy, but quickly found himself to be a bit out of his depth in the LCS. He never posted a KDA over 3.0 during the LCS Lock-In tournament, Spring Split, or his 18 games in the LCS Summer Split. But beyond just Palafox, even mids like Soligo and Yusui showed that they were able to get the best of their Academy opponents before moving to the LCS.
Now, Insanity and Ablazeolive did not post such high KDAs before entering the LCS, but both did manage to eclipse the 4.0 marker at some point in their Academy careers. During Insanity’s first Academy split with Team Liquid, in summer 2018, he posted a 4.97 KDA in 18 games. For Ablazeolive, in the year before turning pro, he never had a KDA below 4.0 as a member of TSM Academy.
Now, yes, those players tended to be on better teams than jojopyun and KDA tends to correlate quite highly with winning percentages (being on a better team tends to lead to a better KDA). However, jojopyun has been on some teams that were in winning positions and was still not able to put up even decent KDA numbers. In addition, for a young player being hyped as one of the best mid lane prospects ever, you might hope to see jojopyun be able to rise above his circumstances somewhat.
Looking beyond KDA, though, there is plenty of evidence that jojopyun is not the slam-dunk prospect that many have billed him as. His laning stats (gold and experience differentials at 10 minutes) were not nearly comparable to what Palafox was able to do in his last Academy split, though they do stack up decently with mids like Soligo and Ablazeolive. He also quite comfortably outpaces Yusui in this regard.
In addition, his gold per minute (not shown in Oracle’s Elixir’s split breakdowns) were consistently in the 380-420 GPM. That’s not bad, but again if we compare to Palafox in his last regular season split, he averaged 429 GPM (and 460 in the playoffs), higher than what jojopyun was able to hit. Yusui has also hit far higher GPM numbers in his Academy career, but he these were not consistently replicated. In fairness, however, it should be noted that jojopyun’s gold per minute stats were either as good as or better than those of the other four noted mids in their last Academy splits before going pro, so jojopyun does stack up well in that category as well.
To sum up, jojopyun’s performance in the Academy ranks does not appear to be indicative of a superstar waiting to break out. His statistical output is comparable to that of players like Ablazeolive, Soligo, and Insanity and ahead of Yusui.
However, when comparing his Academy production to that of Palafox before he entered the LCS, it’s clear that Palafox was a more polished, proven commodity. The fact that Palafox went on to struggle mightily in his pro debut should be worrying for Evil Genius fans who are hoping that this young mid can propel the team to LCS championships.
This is not to say that jojopyun will be worse than Palafox was in his rookie year. He’s arguably in a far better situation for a young mid laner than any of the rising mids highlighted were. The care that Evil Geniuses have shown in developing their young talent like Danny, and their coaching staff, should help jojopyun improve immensely.
It would be silly to suggest that Academy performance is a direct indicator of future LCS performance. Players grow and improve at different rates, and past performance is no guarantee of future success.
Ultimately, jojopyun’s career could exceed all those other mids highlighted, despite the Academy performance. But for those hyping jojopyun up as the next great mid laner, who is set to take over the role in the LCS and lead the next wave of great native mids, calm down. Those expectations are unfair to put on any player. Thus far, jojopyun hasn’t shown he can be that level of player. Or, at least, he hasn’t shown it yet.
Diamond TFT Player & esports watcher.