In 2010, a young French DOTA player stumbled on a newly released MOBA and decided to take a dive into the unknown. Loads of traveling ensued: Sweden, when he played in a modest DreamHack event; Cologne, where he lived for two years as the scene progressed; Berlin, where he currently resides; and many more, but that would be a story for another time.
Paul “sOAZ” Boyer has seen it all and, unlike many that emerged at his time, has thrived in Europe for eight years, only missing the League of Legends World Championship once. Memories of success are easy to come by, such as his two semifinal appearances (in 2013 as a member of Fnatic, and in 2015 on Origen). But the player is not one to dwell on the past too much.
It is easy to see why, as Fnatic is on track to claim one of the top seeds for the playoffs, and in a bid to potentially surpass its showing at the 2017 World Championship – a seemingly miraculous quarterfinal berth. Not as easy, however, was shaking off the offseason rust, transitioning from the calculative Jesse “Jesiz” Le to the more mechanically-proficient Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov at the support position. The hard part? Turning the page on last year’s difficulties and moving forward – especially on the team’s inability to build a macro-centric playstyle.
“Last year was rather complicated since there were many changes within the team, be it players with Broxah replacing Amazing, or coaching,” sOAZ said. “It was difficult to have a close-knit team, with a tight-knit coaching staff, and that a coach enforces their ideas, and that a player follows suit. I think that we knew how the game should flow, but it’s just when it comes to team play and macro, how to organize, who does what, and what calls to make. Macro is the basis of team play, but we never learned how to play as a team.”
With that in mind, sOAZ met with Fnatic’s front office and asked for a durable solution: an individual with authority to headline the squad’s development efforts on that standpoint. The organization already hired head coach Dylan Falco during the 2017 summer split, but it doubled down and hired G2’s former head coach, Joey “Youngbuck” Steltenpool, as the team’s director. To the player’s delight, Youngbuck proved to be the solution to the squad’s macro woes, at least on the short term, but there was more to it.
“When Youngbuck came in, he was able to enforce his ideas,” sOAZ said. “It’s a new year, so it’s easier for the players to accept new ideas when you have yet to hold a scrim, even though it’s roughly the same lineup. We hadn’t played together for two or three months, and the game had changed quite a bit. It’s easier to learn about the changes together and to set fundamentals. Had Youngbuck come three months after the season started, we may not have been able to do what we’re doing at the moment.”
And with a 7W-3L record at the mid-point of the Spring Split, it’s hard to argue; the team has ascended on a macro standpoint after a necessary ramp-up period to fine-tune its macro and the players’ micro. Fnatic was not alone in the slow-and-steady ramp-up, but they have emerged better than most. That sOAZ is at the forefront of it is a testament to his adaptability and durability, as he has been playing the game competitively for eight years and has teamed up with a number of rookies-turned-studs over the years, such as Team SoloMid’s Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and his current teammates, Rasmus “Caps” Winther and Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen.
Memories of a time long past are trickier to pry, as sOAZ has practically transitioned into adulthood while playing League of Legends. Yet, at 24 years of age, he still remembers playing a solo queue game at age 16 against an AD carry by the name of Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim, and his support, Jérôme “Kujaa” Negretti Following that game, the bot lane duo was so impressed, they gauged his interest in joining forces on a makeshift team. Days later, that team united under Against All Authority’s banner and reached the Season 1 World Championship Finals against Fnatic, after running through similarly shaped amalgamations.
Back then, the barrier of entry to professional League of Legends consisted in a player’s ability to reach the higher echelon of solo queue. There was no Challenger circuit, nor were there wildcard leagues to scout. Nor were there divisions and ranks in solo queue – so, no Challenger ranking, nor Diamond V, nor Bronze III.
“It was much simpler back then,” sOAZ reminisced. “Teams were taking shape, and there were only online tournaments. So, players that were good on the [solo queue] ladder were trying to organize themselves. Well, there was no ladder back then; there was just a website that showed which players had the highest Elo rating.”
There was no such thing as a ‘rookie’ as the game was still fresh. In such a context, the mere familiarity with MOBAs could constitute an edge. It was certainly the case for sOAZ, who had played DOTA at a decent level before installing League of Legends back when it had less than 40 champions, when ‘jungling’ was as risky as it was obscure, and when a player’s individual skill could single-handedly decide the fate of a game.
The game is much more different nowadays, and a conversation he recently had with former professional player and current FC Schalke 04 Esports head coach Mitch “Boris” Voorspoels comes to mind – this one in a less distant past, just one month.
“Boris told me: ‘Given how the game has evolved, if you’re a good player right now, you’re going to be good for a while unless the game changes drastically, to the point where you can 1v9.’ The game has been more team-play oriented in the last three or four years,” the top laner recalls. “As long as it stays that way, I think I won’t really have any issues on that regard to maintain my play at a high level.”
Eight years in, yet sOAZ is eyeing the future – as a professional player, no less. Over that timespan, many players emerged and disappeared, such as Victor “CitizenWayne” Toll, Evgeny “Genja” Andryushin, and Morten “Zorozero” Rosenquist. The list of could go on-and-on; in fact, a wiki search of retired League of Legends players would bring more clarity and more perspective.
“If people knew what was going to happen, a lot of people would not have stopped playing the game,” the top laner said. “There were several players that were good before that would not have stopped playing, even if it was for studying, unless it was because of parental pressure, etc.”
“It isn’t as if I thought that I had more willpower than those that stopped playing,” he said, before admitting: “I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t play the game. When you’re a player, you generally think on a day-to-day basis. You could ask yourself ‘what would I be doing if I weren’t playing?’ but there’s no answer, and it’s really useless to think about it.”
It is absolutely useless to think about, especially when, in sOAZ’s case, there is the potential for an even longer career. In fact, the longer his career, the more ludicrous the notion of a decay in skill seems. There is no “vintage” sOAZ, because he is still going strong; if one chooses to purposely ignore his performances at the LCS in 2018, one merely has to recall his performance against Royal Never Give Up at the World Championship and add to it.
And with franchising possibly on the horizon in Europe, he might not need to ask himself that question for a long time. Some teams may disappear, as was the case of Immortals in North America, but their players are likely sticking around for longer – and sOAZ intends to be there and to compete at the highest level.
About the Author :
Adel Chouadria is an esports writer by day, and a jack-of-all-trades by night. In the League of Legends scene, he has worked on projects ranging from live ticker updates to statistics gathering, but his calling has always been writing. Once a Counter-Strike fan, he has moved on to appreciate all types of games, including LoL, Rocket League and StarCraft II. Adel seeks to serve his audience by providing a different look into players, coaches and teams, as well as interacting in silly and personable ways on Twitter at @AdelChouadria.