I learned that I was getting cut by Team SoloMid by browsing reddit.
I know. It’s the saddest thing ever. In esports you have to get used to a certain amount of chaos and mismanagement. I mean, this industry is so young, and there are so many roster moves every single offseason — and everyone knows that you’re not supposed to take a roster reshuffling personally.
But still, you’d prefer not to learn that you were out of a job from the internet. I woke up, made my way to the League of Legends subreddit as I do almost every day, and there it was at the top of the page: “TSM looking to sign Zven and Mithy.”
Our loss at worlds this year was disappointing, but if I’m being honest, I was expecting us to run back the same roster next year. I immediately grabbed my phone and called Andy Dinh, the owner of TSM and someone I still count as a close friend. I asked, “Is this true?” He gave me the usual careful non-answer: “We’re just exploring our options! Nothing is set in stone yet.”
I saw right through that fluff. I knew that TSM didn’t just wake up one Sunday morning and decide that they were better off without me. This is clearly something they’ve been mulling over for a long time. I thanked Andy, and told him that I needed to figure out what my other options are. There was no way I was gonna go into the next League season without a team. He agreed, and suddenly I was a free agent again.
And before you start @ing me, listen, I get it. This is a business. If Team SoloMid felt like they were able to field a better AD Carry than me, that’s totally fine. I’ve got no hard feelings, and I mean that sincerely. What I will say is that I first signed with TSM back in 2015 — a lifetime ago in esports years — and I’ve given everything in my body and soul to that organization. Sure, I’ve appreciated the farewell tributes they’ve put together, but don’t get it twisted. I’m on the warpath next year, I’m more motivated than ever, and I don’t care if TSM gets in my way.
The Players' Tribune
This might sound obvious, but man, winning the Summoner’s Cup is hard.
First you have to qualify for worlds, then you have to make it through the group stage to get slotted into a bracket, which eventually boils down into a final four and a champion. SK Telecom, the same team that fields Faker, has won it in 2016, 2015, and 2013. You see how that works? It’s an uphill battle for everyone else in the scene, and that includes TSM.
Despite that, we felt pretty confident going into the 2017 championship. On paper, TSM was one of the best teams in the tournament, and we should’ve been able to compete with anyone. In fact, most experts were penciling us in as a heavy favorite to make the final four — which is a huge deal in a game that generally favors South Korea and China. But I totally understand why, just look at our roster! Bjergsen is responsible for some of the greatest highlights in League history, Svenskeren is a crafty jungler, Biofrost is an outstanding support who’s only in his second year as a pro, and Hauntzer does a great job of staying ice-cold in the top lane.
Then there’s me. I’m not saying that I’m the greatest League of Legends player in the world, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel like the greatest League of Legends player in the world when I’m on my game. Some people don’t like that, probably because I’m not exactly afraid to let my competition know when I’m feeling myself. Whatever though, I only speak the truth. My mouth has gotten me into trouble in the past, but I don’t really mind that. When I come out and say, “Everyone else is trash,” I expect to be challenged. I expect people to bring their best against me. And I expect to win. That’s part of the fun.
Of course, that means I probably have the most degenerate Twitter mentions out of anyone in esports. It’s just a constant bombardment of hate and foolishness. I used to think that was exclusive to me, that I somehow managed to annoy people in a way that nobody else could touch, but one day I went to LeBron James’ Instagram, and I saw that his comments section was full of the exact same sort of garbage that I was getting. It was just a sea of dudes who’d get laughed out of the YMCA, calling one of the greatest basketball players of all time a scrub. Once I saw that, I knew I was in good company. That’s the attitude I had with my TSM teammates in South Korea, after we had just finished an incredible week of practices before the championship in China. Keep hating, we’ll keep dunking.
Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how things went down. We didn’t even make it out of the group stages. Instead, TSM finished 3-3, dropping games to teams we absolutely should’ve beaten. If I’m being honest, I’m still not sure exactly what happened.
Obviously we weren’t playing well. There were little adjustments to strategy that we kept missing, and I feel like maybe we stuck to our game plan a little too faithfully. It was working so well in practice, and that made it hard to improvise on stage. Beyond any other failures, those little strategic questions are the ones keeping me up at night. “Should we switch up our pick and ban priority? Are we playing too passively early because we usually outscale?” League of Legends is about how all your split-second choices stack up over the course of a game. That’s what’s great about it but also what drives you crazy.
But beyond that, we just weren’t right emotionally. I noticed it right after we dropped the first game. Our practice area backstage was unusually quiet. Like there was just this sense of dread almost like we could see the end coming long before it was here. I think this is something that affects a lot of North American teams in League of Legends. Like, obviously the rest of the world expects us to fall on our face, and yet we’re still carrying the hopes and dreams of an entire region that so desperately wants to finally feel legitimized. That scrutiny can be paralyzing, as we found out firsthand. It sucks to let your teammates down, it sucks even more to let an entire nation down. I remember trying to talk to Biofrost before our first set, and he kept responding with these anxious one-word answers. At that moment, I could tell that something was wrong.
Maybe someone should’ve spoken up, and maybe that person should’ve been me. But frankly, it’s not easy to find the right motivation in those moments. It almost comes off forced and unnatural to give a pep talk when nothing is going right. There was a cloud hanging over us, and it kept getting worse the more we lost. I’ll always remember the feeling after we dropped the game to officially eliminate us out of the group, which essentially wasted an entire year’s worth of hard work. I’ve never heard a practice area that quiet. It was just silent, save for a few people crying.
I found a home with Team Liquid shortly after learning TSM was letting me go. It was the place that made the most sense, and they were my first choice when I hit the market, especially considering how Liquid completely rebuilt their League roster. Pobelter is a guy I’ve been playing with since season one, when he was 15 and I was 18, and he’s legitimately one of the smartest people I know. Impact is a world champion, and that speaks for itself. Xmithie is rejuvenated after leading Immortals to Worlds this year, and he’s also super funny when he’s not on screen. Seriously, don’t let his camera shyness fool you, he’s one of the biggest trolls in League. And I just met Olleh, who seems like he’s from another planet. Dude is awesome, he’s Korean but speaks English and Portuguese, and studies Chinese literature from a textbook between scrims. It’s going to be so fun to lane with him.
But more importantly, this team can go head-to-head with TSM. Now, I’m not trying to disparage my former team. Those dudes are the best, and personally we’ve been through so much together than nothing — not even a roster shakeup — can come between us. In fact, as soon as I got released, Bjergsen messaged me telling me he hopes we can stay friends for life. I want that too, but let me be clear: When I say, “Everyone else is trash,” I mean everyone else. Now, that means TSM.
Riot Games, Inc.
Yeah, obviously I want to beat them because it’d be good for Team Liquid. This is my squad now, and I want to do everything I can to help them win. That’s my number one priority, and it always will be. But just between you and me, it’d be real sweet to take TSM down. It’s not that I’m salty or brooding every day about them cutting me. Like obviously it sucks, and I still think they made a mistake, but it’s totally fine that they got a new bot lane to build around Bjerg.
What I will say is that the reason I want to shit on TSM next season is so I can get even, and competitive, with some of my best friends. Those guys are the gold standard, and it’s a lot more fun to take down a giant than a small fry.
It’s a strange dynamic. Yes, I love all those guys. Yes, I want to beat them so bad that TSM becomes the national laughing stock in League of Legends. I’m an extremely competitive person, and I’ll use anything I can as motivation. Like I said, esports is a chaotic, unfair industry. Years of hard work can go down the drain in an instant, and any semblance of loyalty is flimsy. You have to stay focused on specific, deliberate goals, because they’re the only things you can control.
Honestly, right now I feel like how I did when I was first getting my feet wet in esports when I was playing with Counter Logic Gaming back in 2011. Season after season, we were shut out in the post-season. There was even a subreddit called “DoubleLiftsTrophyCase” where, when you went to it, it just said “there doesn’t seem to be anything here.” People believed I was the best player to never win anything, and that was extremely tilting. But then in 2015 we finally won the North America League Championship Series and proved everyone wrong. The following season I migrated to TSM, and I was off on a brand new adventure.
I’m ready to make that journey again.
A few weeks after the tournament, I pinned a tweet to my profile. It says, “I will work harder than anyone else this year to be the greatest of all time American player.” I mean it. I don’t ever want to feel like I did after worlds this year. I’ve been dealing with people saying I’ve fallen off since season three. I’m used to it. You can talk all you want, but I’m going to stay in competitive League until my last breath. You will have to force me out, because I’m not going anywhere.