Throughout the history of League of Legends esports, North America has been subject to criticism for a lack of talent development when compared to other major regions. To date, North America has imported more players than all other regions combined, but the influx of talented international players has overshadowed a growing pool of young North American talent in the recent years.
Whatever was left of the aforementioned notion was completely shattered by the debut of Eric "Licorice" Ritchie. The rookie top laner became the focal point of Cloud9 throughout the season and elevated himself into the upper echelon of NA LCS elite. Licorice was an integral part of the entirety of Cloud9's campaign, stabilizing the roster during a tumultuous start to summer and shining throughout its run to the 2018 Worlds Semifinals.
After a fantastic rookie season, Licorice was invited to All-Star 2018 to represent North America along with teammate Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi and Team Liquid AD Carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng. I sat down with Licorice to reflect on his 2018 season during day 1 of the All-Star event.
I'm with Cloud9 Top Laner Licorice at All-Star 2018. How have you been enjoying the event so far?
It's been a ton of fun, actually. I've been really enjoying myself; I really like the new format.
You just won the 5v5 NA vs. EU match. What was it like playing with streamers in a competitive setting? Was it more like a supercharged game of solo queue?
Honestly, it felt like playing like other competitive players for the most part. Nightblue3 and Imaqtpie both played their roles in a pretty straightforward fashion, communications were solid, and we just kind of played the game. It was pretty normal.
People were excited to see you get invited as the 3rd player representing NA. You've only been playing for a year, and you're already representing your region with two of its biggest stars in Doublelift and Sneaky. What was your reaction to your invitation?
I was just super excited. I was trying to go to All-Stars, so I posted about trying to win the fan vote. Unfortunately, that didn't work out for me, but I ended up finishing 3rd. I had about .1% more than Bjergsen, and Riot ended up selecting me to participate.
It's well-deserved after your 2018 performance with Cloud9, especially in the World Championship. What was it like playing internationally for the first time?
It's different from bootcamping in Korea, for sure. It was my third time there, but my first time playing in a tournament while being there. I did a bootcamp with EUnited when I was in NA Challenger, and I also did a bootcamp with GBM when he invited me and Deftly to come and stay with him to play solo queue.
It's not like a totally different world for me, because I knew what to expect going in since I had been to South Korea before. Towards the end, I was definitely getting a little bit homesick and missing Canada and America, but all-in-all, it was a great experience in and out of game.
Cloud9 really ramped up as the World Championship went on and you weren't guarded about how rough things started for you guys. Was there anyone specifically during your run to Semifinals that you played that really stood out?
I didn't play him on stage, but TheShy was really, really good. He was just a step above everyone else. I don't think anyone really came close.
Last time we talked to you, you had dazzled North America with your Hecarim pocket pick. Was there anything you were working on to be the "next Hecarim" for a new Worlds flavor?
As a player, I've always liked the cheese picks and innovative stuff. In general, I try a lot of stuff out, and Reapered as a coach also likes innovation. If I find something that works, he'll always let me try it out, at least.
You've been playing for a year at the LCS level, and you're already getting praise as not only the best North American Top Laner, but some are saying you are the best the region has ever produced. How would you evaluate yourself compared to your expectations of yourself at the beginning of the year?
*Laughs* That's a hard one. Coming into NA LCS, I just didn't want to play scared, but I definitely didn't think I would have as much success as I did throughout the year...I thought I would be C9 Maokai. I expected to be on Maokai every game and just Flash+W'ing people, and it was pretty much the exact opposite, so that was pretty crazy.
You played primarily carries for the entirety of the year, and the meta and vision changes are only catering more and more towards that style. Is there anything you're looking at working on for the 2019 season?
I think I'm going to be focusing a lot on my mechanics and making sure they're solid. I want to make sure that I make very few mistakes, if any, going forward.