100 Thieves is solidifying its status as one of the top teams in the North American LCS. A disappointing 2018 World Championship overshadowed a successful year one for the Cleveland Cavaliers affiliate, with upgrades at all levels in the off-season, 100 Thieves is on its way to household name status amongst rampant criticism.
100 Thieves started the off-season by signing SK Telecom T1 AD Carry Bae “Bang” Jun-sik to a two-year contract. Bang is a two-time World Champion and will bring a veteran presence to Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black’s side for the first time in 3 years.
Bang, like SKT as a whole, had a mostly forgettable 2018, but quietly impressed in the 2018 LCK Summer Split and should come into the NA LCS competing as the best AD Carry in the region with Team Liquid’s Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Most importantly, however, Bang provides 100 Thieves with a reliable second carry alongside Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho — something sorely lacking down the stretch of 2018.
100 Thieves also made a change in the Mid Lane, signing longtime Counter Logic Gaming Mid Laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun. Huhi’s North American citizenship frees up an import slot for Bang, and his selfless play-style and affinity for side lane pressure is an incredible enabler for the monstrous carry potential of Ssumday and Bang.
Huhi also played with Aphromoo on Counter Logic Gaming for two years. His familiarity with both South Korean and North American culture will be an excellent stabilizer for 100 Thieves. The Huhi pickup may not be the most exciting, but it might be the sleeper pickup of the off-season.
Huhi becoming the starting Mid Laner means Yoo “Ryu Sang-wook will be moving to an Assistant Coaching role. Ryu has played under Head Coach Neil “pr0lly” Hammad for three of the past four seasons across two organizations. His familiarity with pr0lly’s coaching style and his year of experience within the 100 Thieves organization will bring a valuable second perspective to the staff.
Ryu’s experience in South Korea and Europe will also be valuable in helping Bang adjust to a new region and culture. Bang is joining a team with three other Koreans that have experience in North America, and that will make all the difference for the team’s cohesion between players and staff.
100 Thieves owner Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag is a former competitive gamer and has built the brand through a keen understanding of North American esports. He has managed to build an organization that values the right aspects of leadership from the endemic esports scene while simultaneously finalizing co-ownership on a major scale with Drake and Scooter Braun.
100 Thieves tailed off as the year progressed, but have returned to top team status with the aforementioned flurry of smart moves. Cloud9’s international performance eclipsed that of both Team Liquid and 100 Thieves, but the budding NA LCS rivalry is beginning to flourish. In an interview with ESPN Esports, Team Liquid’s new Support Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in compared 100 Thieves to an iconic adversary:
“In anime, there is the main character, and there is that rival who is strong against every other person but the main character. 100 Thieves will be Vegeta, and we will be Goku.”
100 Thieves, like any organization, is not immune to criticism from the esports community. The organization’s PR and performance have been far from perfect. However, the widespread decrying of its accomplishments with recency bias as the emotional catalyst is nothing short of ludicrous.
In 100 Thieves’ first NA LCS split, it finished in 1st place. Aphromoo was the Spring Split MVP and the All-NA Support. Cody Sun was the All-NA AD Carry. The team reached Finals in its first playoffs, represented North America as the host of Rift Rivals 2018 and finished in 3rd place in the Summer Playoffs.
Oh, and that “down” end to the year? It ended at the World Championship. 100 Thieves set the bar high with a successful introduction into the NA LCS and made improvements across the board at all levels of the organization in the off-season. In its second year, it will look to solidify its status as one of North America’s elite League of Legends teams.
Nick Geracie is a freelance esports journalist in Los Angeles, CA. You can follow him on twitter here.