The League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) is two weeks in and the top teams are beginning to settle in, but perhaps none better than 100 Thieves.
Other teams with rebuilt rosters are also beginning to rise up in the LCS, but 100 Thieves are built to succeed this year because of a roster that features four out of five members of the upstart 2020 Golden Guardians roster. Consistency is key for 100 Thieves, but so is friendship, and that’s been the real key to their success thus far as they continue to steal fans’ hearts with expressive camaraderie.
100 Thieves currently sit at 5-1, tied for first in the LCS with perennial North American contender, Cloud9, and are showing no signs of slowing down. Given 100 Thieves’ strong performance in the Lock In tournament and prior history as the core of last year’s Golden Guardians roster, it’s no surprise they’re sitting at the top of the league.
The 2020 Golden Guardians roster turned up the heat late last summer and challenged TSM in the playoffs, but ultimately ended up as a very strong footnote — a 9-9 team that finished fifth-sixth with obvious upside. Tanner “Damonte” Damonte, Can “Closer” Çelik, Ian “FBI” Huang and Choi “huhi” Jae-hyun believed in each other and joined superstar top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho to form the 100 Thieves we see today.
“Since we have four of the five members from Golden Guardians, we have a lot of pre-built synergy,” Damonte said. “Playing a whole split together definitely helps us pass a lot of the growing pains that some teams go through.”
Moving together to 100 Thieves showed a significant commitment between not only the players, but also the organization to their long-term development.
The majority of the 100 Thieves roster experienced their growing pains during a 2020 season when they finished .500 and narrowly missed playoff glory. It wasn’t always pretty, but the same can’t be said today. Now, the 100 Thieves core is more than just potential, they are realized talent taking the LCS by storm.
Closer leads the charge as an aggressive carry jungler, while huhi and FBI continually take control of the bottom lane. Damonte supports the team well with consistent mid pressure, and Ssumday is among the league’s best top laners and can take control of any game. At the core of all that, though, is a team that believes in each other, and huhi is loving every second of it.
“The thing that makes this team special is how friendly our team environment is. We joke around with each other a lot,” huhi said. “I don’t think you can joke around the way we do if you’re not truly close to each other. I feel like we’re all actual friends that will talk to each other after our careers end too. That aspect just makes it so that we can talk to each other freely and approach each other better, while understanding each other’s emotions.”
It’s a breath of fresh air for Huhi as he reflects on his past experiences with Counter Logic Gaming and other teams.
“I had a similar environment when I first played on CLG where it truly felt like everyone was playing with each other,” he said. “After that, I didn’t feel that way for a long time. It just felt that we were doing a job, like ‘I’m with you and not complaining.’”
Talent and strategy are at the forefront of LCS performance, but team cohesion and the ability to believe in your teammates are what truly set the foundation for a long-lasting team. 100 Thieves respect each other and have the same goal in mind. Huhi summed it up with this statement: “It’s like, I’m his true friend, we are going to work on these problems together.”
100 Thieves take over the Rift in-game and jostle each other and giggle out of game — it’s a beautiful sight to see for fans of the highest level of competition. One moment they’ll be as sharp and focused as ever, but once business is done, it’s just a bunch of guys playing video games like anybody else. Damonte boils it down to the fact that they “share one brain cell.”
“Everyone on our team are just goofballs,” he said. “I think everyone on our team just enjoys being dumb. We’re just having fun as we compete. We know that the fans really like that stuff so we’re not only doing it for ourselves, but also doing it for the fans.”
As they sit atop the LCS with silly antics to boot, it’s hard to imagine a world where 100 Thieves aren’t raking in fans to start the LCS season. Among that core of friendship from the Golden Guardians, though, there’s also fan-favorite Ssumday who has historically been among the best top laners in the LCS. He might be a brand new addition, but Damonte insists that he’s been nothing short of incredible.
“I think adding Ssumday … who I would consider one of the top top laners in the league … helps a lot because it feels like we just have a way stronger roster than last year,” Damonte said. “On top of that, having a new coaching staff just gives us a different perspective on the things we do well and the things that we do wrong.”
Damonte believes that Ssumday’s mindset has perfectly transferred to the rest of the team.
“I think Ssumday’s great. He doesn’t really force anyone to do anything, honestly,” he said. “There are a lot of players I’ve played with who demand a lot out of their teammates, and I think Ssumday is a guy who goes with the flow. When it’s his turn to pick up the pace and really turn it on, I would say that he really does command a lot, but he also understands that it’s not always his job. He’s really OK with taking a backseat on the game instead of making it all about him.”
As a new player on a team filled to the brim with synergy, Ssumday’s patience and willingness to slip into any role is invaluable. It also makes for the scariest dynamic to 100 Thieves — if all else fails, they have a veteran superstar ready to take over at any moment. The sky feels like the limit for 100 Thieves, but Damonte and the rest of the squad are taking it one game at a time.
“The mindset of the team is really just to focus on the day to day,” Damonte said. “It’s all in our heads that we want to win LCS and go to Worlds, but we all understand that it’s more important to improve everyday. The long term is on the horizon, but we’re just trying to focus on being the best selves we can be on a smaller scale.”
LCS is the smaller scale every North American team has to figure out. In most years, it’s rare that any team is able to challenge elite teams like Cloud9, TSM and Team Liquid. With friendship, talent and everything in between, 100 Thieves are looking to steal some glory for themselves this year.
Lead photo credit: 100 Thieves