Why a Cloud9 player was the key to Dignitas’ offseason roster strategy

by Xander Torres

As teams like Cloud9 and TSM continue to succeed in the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), a couple of surprise teams have taken residence near the top of the standings — 100 Thieves and Dignitas. The current 100 Thieves roster is continuing the late-season success of the 2020 Golden Guardians, but Dignitas is succeeding with a brand new core of domestic talent.

In a year that has seen North American talent shine, Dignitas is at the forefront of developing a roster around both veteran and upcoming talent while remaining competitive at the top of the league.

Read more: 100 Thieves rise to top of LCS with cohesion, camaraderie

In 2020, Dignitas signed big names like European mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, longtime support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black and, at one point, even Korean top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon. Between those three names alone, Dignitas acquired years of experience and talent in hopes of challenging for an LCS title, but the results didn’t exactly follow. Dignitas finished seventh out of 10 teams in the 2020 LCS Spring Split and eighth place in the 2020 LCS Summer Split, signaling the need for a new approach and a fresh mindset.

Dignitas Director of Esports James “Bakery” Baker’s new approach was inspired in part by a rival LCS team.

“The scouting process involves a lot of shortlisting and comparing. We had a lot of names on our top lane and mid lane shortlist,” Baker said. “The thing that really pushed us to go for [Aaron] “FakeGod” [Lee] and [Max] “Soligo” [Soong] in particular is that we were watching Fudge. [We were thinking] ‘Cloud9 is going big this year and going for Fudge so let’s [look at] solo queue, scrims, LCS stage matches, and find who’s playing well against Fudge.’”

Given his experience in the Oceanic Professional League (OPL) with Mammoth and LCS Academy with Cloud9 Academy, Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami was one of the hottest prospects going into 2021. Cloud9’s top laner initially struggled in the 2021 LCS Lock In tournament, but he has since proven his talent as a rookie top laner in the LCS, winning teamfight after teamfight for the LCS’s first-place team. When a competitor is promoting a player like that, it’s no wonder that Dignitas decided to fervently search for his counter.

“We looked back at the last two seasons of Academy and the name that was just doing amazing and crushing Fudge and other matchups was FakeGod. That’s actually the story of how we first knew that this was the direction we wanted to go. Obviously, Soligo was already very high on our tier list, and we had FakeGod and Aphromoo, so he was the clear standout pick [for mid] from there.”

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While Dignitas were actively looking for an answer to a player as competent as Fudge, it’s still unique and commendable to build out a new player core from a less-experienced, but highly anticipated, talent like FakeGod who mostly split time between Academy and LCS in 2020. Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and Aphromoo ended up making the veteran core and returning to Dignitas in 2020, but new talent like FakeGod, Soligo and Toàn “Neo” Trần quickly became the augmentation that they needed to be competitive not only now, but for the foreseeable future.

“What happened [last year] is that we got a list of five names … and we thought ‘Wow! These guys are all great individually, they’re all popular. They’re all great players, nice guys and all that.’ It just didn’t work,” Baker said. “Our major focus coming into this season is that we need to build a team that makes sense. … Five players that work well together inside the server, outside the server and who are going to have a great time and support each other.”

Baker loved his old roster, but he recognized where team building went wrong. In 2021, Dignitas now have five players who work well together and regularly push the top LCS teams, owning a 7-5 record that’s good for fourth place overall. Veteran players — jungler Dardoch and Aphromoo — have synced up well with newer talents — FakeGod, Soligo and Neo — to form an aggressive style that isn’t confounding or perfect but emanates trust between the players on Summoner’s Rift.

As the main focus of Dignitas’ roster-building strategy, Baker is glad that so many people have noticed the synergy between the players both in and out of game. Fans also have been quick to point out that Dignitas is a team made up entirely of North American talent, but that was only a coincidence in the team’s long-term plan.

“In the end, we picked the players that fit our strategy the best. Our strategy is very focused on development, a real team, and players that are here for more than a season. This is the worst they’ll ever be, is the plan,” Baker chuckled. “They will only get better from here. It just so happens that the best players for that were from North America and more specifically, the USA.”

“We looked back at the last two seasons of Academy and the name that was just doing amazing and crushing Fudge and other matchups was FakeGod.” — Dignitas Director of Esports James “Bakery” Baker

It’s looking good for Dignitas in 2021, but they haven’t been without their flaws. Dignitas usually don’t have a problem finding the opening to take a lead, but can struggle to push that all the way home, as evidenced by mid- and late-game losses against 100 Thieves and Counter Logic Gaming last week. The macro strategy can look rough, but ultimately, it’s all about the base that has been set for Dignitas.

“Winning is secondary to the main goal, which is improving,” Baker said. “Having said that, we’re getting a lot of wins, and we could have even more wins. … The positives show that we’re getting in these positions consistently. That’s something I’m really proud of for the team.”

Even so, Dignitas remain competitive.

“The vibe in the team is that we are competitors,” Baker said.

This weekend, they’ll compete against TSM, Golden Guardians and Evil Geniuses, with two weekends remaining before the Mid-Season Showdown.

Lead image credit: Riot Games

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