Santorin’s True Calling Despite the Struggle
January 22 2021
It’s spring 2018 and Lucas “Santorin” Larsen is considering retirement - or, at very least, a break from the game.
He’s spent the last two years going in and out of NA’s academy circuit and when he does land on an LCS team, it’s not a great situation. Now he’s been benched from a tenth place H2K lineup for reasons that - even today - are baffling.
“In 2018, before joining Flyquest I had a really bad experience with H2K where we were losing every game and I got basically kicked off the team. It’s definitely not a great feeling, getting kicked off the tenth place team - not what you expect.”
In that moment, Santorin is five years a competitor. And in the League world, that’s basically a decade. The half-life on his career has hit radioactive, the narratives around him are not entirely pleasant, and the side of esports he’s seen hasn’t always been pleasant either. A fresh start elsewhere does not seem like a bad idea.
“After that I kinda approached Fortnite because it was a new FPS game and I’ve always been pretty good at those. I was definitely considering if I should try to go pro in this game instead.”
He continued: “But overall, it just felt really weird leaving behind so many years of playing League of Legends and having to start all over again. [...] So to me my competitive drive tells me, ‘this is not it. Lucas you cannot do this. You’re throwing away everything you’ve built up.’ And that’s why I continue with League of Legends.”
The world of competition is a struggle and - knowing this better than anyone - Santorin opts in.
Love This Struggle Openly
Serious as it all sounds, Santorin doesn’t take it that way. Throughout our conversation he is relaxed, open, and light in his tone. Between retelling these down moments, he mostly chuckles.
Santorin rolls easily with the punches in part because this isn’t the first time he’s been interviewed. It isn’t the first time he’s talked about H2K or even the first time that he’s talked about his dalliance with Fortnite. At only 23 years old, the Danish jungler is now a veteran of seven years and even the players who can match his tenure haven’t had a career like his.
It’s not only the ups and downs but the pace they came at - starting red hot in his rookie year for TSM at the time to scrapping it out in the challenger series and searching for a place to stay for longer than a split. In that space, Santorin has had time to see the ugly and cutthroat end of esports.
“People think it's not happening anymore but oh it’s happening,” Santorin says of mismanagement in esports. He adds a chuckle before going on, “That’s why I was happy with Flyquest, right? [...] I didn’t ever feel like I was in a position where they could take advantage of me. That’s something that I’ve had a lot of in the past, where you’re always afraid. I mean, I’m sure you remember the Huma drama…”
For quick reference, the European challenger series team Huma sold and dismantled its team against its players wishes, pushing Santorin out of a team that he felt confident and comfortable in. He’d go to the NACS where he joined Ember and then NRG. As he reflects on it, Santorin sounds more grateful than anything.
Not just grateful to be winning and to be with good orgs again but grateful for the game, the competition, and even the struggle. He doesn’t say it outright, but then again, you wouldn’t have to ask him.
Just from talking to him it is clear as day: He loves this struggle openly.
Nothing Quite Like Competing
“I’m super competitive by nature. Whether I win or lose, I just love competing. That’s why even though I went through so many hard times where I wouldn’t win for years, I still loved competing. It’s just - I don’t know - anything I do in life I wanna be the best at it, or at least as good as I possibly can [be].”
Santorin added: “I feel like League is my true calling. This is where I shine the most and that’s why I continue to do it.”
Though it’s now his calling, Santorin didn’t know it the first go around. His real start in competition was in soccer/football and Counter Strike, both games that he reached a fairly high level in.
“League - I hadn’t even considered playing it but my best friend was playing it. I remember playing a couple games and I’m like ‘God, this game sucks!’ Santorin gives another good-natured laugh. At the time, he much preferred Counter Strike. “I liked a lot of fast-paced stuff.”
The difference was, as Santorin kept playing League, he improved faster than he ever had with soccer or CS. “Within a couple weeks I was level 30 and then a couple months later I was basically rank 1 already in League.”
That rate of improvement is astonishing enough to be hard to believe but then this also is a player who joined his first team in 2013 - at 14 years old. Like with most things in Santorin’s career, this little blip has its own story too.
Joining the Danish team Intellectual Playground or IPG he played with a teenage Zven and a veteran NeeGodBro on what was a surprisingly strong regional squad. They took SK to game three at Dreamhack Winter 2013, which was impressive because in the following EU LCS Split that SK squad would finish second in the playoffs and first in the regular season. (An extra dash of nostalgia: this was the SK lineup that made Svenskeren famous.)
(The inklings of his style as a jungler appeared very early. He racked up 15 assists on Lee Sin in game 1 and helped get his teams first blood in games two and three. You can see the hyper-proficient ganking in the clip above.)
The process of getting good was a huge part of the draw - both in and out of matchmaking. “It was kind of easy for me to tell that I kept improving in League and I think that was really addicting to me, where you can just tell that you’re getting a lot better at things really quickly.
“As you get better, you start playing against better players and like that whole experience is really cool to me. That’s something that I didn’t have to the same degree in other games because there was not, like great matchmaking systems in other games back then.”
“Now almost, god how long has it been?” Santorin pauses to count the years. “Like almost 10 years later I’m still addicted to this ranking system.”
This is no joke. Santorin has long been a solo queue star. He’s even gotten some extra notoriety as HotGuy6Pack - a hilariously named secondary account he’s also leveled to top ranks. In recent years, he’s mostly outgrown the game’s built-in matchmaking in the way most pros do.
“Now, there are so many players that don’t really belong at the same table as you,” he notes this as the main drawback of solo queue practice, “but back then I remember the experience being so cool. I’m sure all the new players still think this experience is so cool and that’s why people get into it...”
From there the conversation rapidly derails to the pro servers in Counter Strike, inhouses, and watching pro Smash players dismantle people on matchmaking. These moments happen naturally - it takes very little from me to draw Santorin into any number of asides about esports. Rekkles on Copenhagen Wolves, the Team Liquid’s Grand Slam in Counter Strike, Nisqy on Fnatic - these are all topics Santorin discussed with great interest and surprising knowledge.
“I think that’s so exciting about competition in general,” he gushes. “You can just tell when a person’s better than the other.”
Santorin meets most competitive topics with eagerness and he’s thought about almost all of them well before I bring up any of them up. It’s something that goes beyond just “the love of the game.”
There’s saying that you love the things you do as a cliche or truism or simple truth. And then there’s radiating that enjoyment just from being adjacent to it. It’s something worth talking up because it is genuinely rare even amidst truly dedicated people.
I know this well from experience. I taught for two years and quit because I could read the genuine joy so many teachers had facing the class and I could read that I didn’t have it. (Children are irritating). Likewise, I can still read when someone doesn’t understand how much each word weighs when you set it down.
“I’m gonna dedicate my life to it,” Santorin says of League. “That being said, obviously I still care about my family. I still spend the time with my girlfriend and those things matter a ton to me. Probably more than League.” There’s a slim, half-second pause, then he corrects himself, “I mean, it definitely matters more than League!”
I chuckle at that pause, because I’ve had the same one. Does writing matter more to me than my family? No, absolutely not. But there’s a slim moment where I pause too.
Understanding Longevity (By Owning Decline)
All of these little details add up to longevity. This is why they matter and why I’m telling you about them.
After all, longevity is the part of Santorin’s career that should hook you. What should hook you is how Santorin managed to survive - and to ultimately own - his decline.
For those that weren’t around or those that don’t remember, Santorin had one hell of a rookie split. He entered the LCS by replacing Amazing on TSM and would win NA’s Outstanding Rookie award before also winning the split itself. He led the LCS’s junglers in terms of KDA, sat third in kill participation, and second in gold difference at 10.
In the playoffs, TSM and Santorin both shined even brighter. On cast Jatt called Spring 2015 “the best split they’ve ever had,” and with good reason. TSM won two best of 5’s in commanding 3-1 sets and defeated a longtime rival in Cloud9. Impressively, Santorin achieved a 15.2 KDA over those 8 games and earned some remarkable highlights, like a potentially game-winning 3 man Sejuani stun.
In/ 2015 Santorin may have been a rookie but he was also one of the leaders of the jungle meta. “I remember on TSM there would be people reaching out to me and saying, ‘oh I learned so much from watching your streams and stuff.’ Even other pro players.” He even notched a very rare (and equally bizarre) international win under his belt at the IEM Season 9 World Championship.
TSM left Spring 2015 with high expectations - expectations they would not meet for the rest of the year. 1-4 at MSI, getting swept in the Summer finals by CLG, 1-5 at Worlds - TSM looked lost and Santorin took a lot of the blame. In the span of a year, Santorin went from the usurper-king of the North American jungle to the second headstone in TSM’s “jungle graveyard.”
“Once we started losing a lot and it kinda sucked [...] then you realize, god, you had everything and now you have nothing. Everyone hates you online. It’s just miserable.”
It’s an experience that, to this day, feeds into Santorin’s desire to win.
“I cannot lose to a team that I’ve played on in the past! I still think, to this day, TSM - that’s the number 1. I have to beat TSM. Any time I lose it’s the most awful feeling ever. I think it’s gonna be a little different with FlyQuest - obviously I don’t wanna lose - but if I do lose I’d still be happy for them.”
Salty as the quote sounds, it’s pretty clear from his tone that the rivalry is mostly a friendly one. Much as the TSM experience stung for him, Santorin takes a lot of ownership over what happened.
“I had pretty bad performances because the meta shifted and I was just not comfortable at all,” he admits. He argues that his own immaturity and complacency were even bigger factors.
“I was 17 years old, I had never really competed that much in my past and then you hit where you’re the best team in NA plus you won an international tournament, blah blah blah. That’s great but obviously you should always strive to become even better.”
“Sure, I wanted to be better,” Santorin mused on his complacent teenage attitude, “but there was also part of me where you felt already achieved and accomplished. You already felt like you had everything.”
“There’s also just maturity,” Santorin adds about being 17 and on NA’s best team. “How you approach a situation, how you take criticism, how you give criticism... All these kinds of things, they’re way off,” he chuckles, “so it’s a lot harder to improve the way you’re supposed to. Especially in a very competitive environment.”
It was hard not to relate with Santorin on the errors you make as an ego-driven teenager. “Something I think about the hormones when you’re a teenager, you just take everything personal,” I added. “Nothing is ever detached from you.”
“Yeah, and everything is like an attack instead of your teammates just wanting to help you and improve as a team. It’s like,” he says, puffing his voice out in faux-defensiveness, “‘oh these guys think I’m bad, I don’t like that!’”
“I feel I just came in too quickly. I feel like I would be a completely different person if I had a year or two more in the lower leagues before I came up and played in LCS. On the other hand, it also felt like me playing so early on the LCS team - sure there was a lot of things I could’ve done better - but it also made my skill level go up a lot quicker.”
“But obviously I’m gonna hit a peak where there’s something I’m just terrible at because I didn’t have enough time to develop.”
On top of a sheer love for competing, Santorin also has a level-headed ownership of his past - another thing helping his longevity as a player. This level-headed ownership is no easy thing to attain either.
When facing failure, it’s very easy to refuse ownership or to take on too much of it - internalization versus externalization. Some people will refuse to take any blame as their own and in turn, refuse to grow. Others will refuse to reckon with the cruel reality that some things are always beyond their control and so they take all things as their own fault and mentally collapse.
The proper way usually sits somewhere in between. Yes, there was more you could have done. But yes, there were also things beyond your control. In combing over his past, it felt as though Santorin understood both truths well and so he could walk lightly over the many heavy things he carried.
Understanding Longevity (By Watching Legends Die)
Hit by a sharp, difficult decline, Santorin slid back down into the Challenger Series. However, as his standing lowered, his motivation rose.“
The second TSM and I parted ways I got such a big boost of hunger, where I wanted to become better and I hated that people thought I was bad.”
More than a chance to prove himself, the lower league was a chance to grow. “I played through so many challenger series teams and I was fine with it because I felt I was actually improving.”
“There [were] still a bunch of things I could learn from it in terms of the way I communicate, the way I play with my teammates. Now, I’m kind of assumed to be the best player on my team because I come from TSM. [...] Now I’m put in the position where I’m supposed to carry.”
“Do you feel like you learned leadership going through Challenger?”
“Yeah, I would say so. It might sound dumb, but when I was in TSM I feel like I learned a lot but I wouldn’t really understand what I learned. Like I wouldn’t use it properly. When I came to challenger series I had many days of reflection - even weeks or months. ”
Santorin had known what he needed to improve on from his time on TSM but he didn’t know just how much those things mattered in-game until he was in Challenger, trying to lead and carry a team himself.
While Santorin was hungry, young, and improving, he was in a Challenger scene that was often anything but. Santorin played about 4 splits during the peak of the NA Retirement Home Era.
Back in 2016 and 2017, the ultimate goal of any team in the Challenger Series was to qualify for the LCS in a promotion tournament. Ideally, this structure would incentivize bottom of the barrel teams to improve and would keep opportunity open for new players. What really happened was that organizations would quickly form a team, buy struggling legendary talents from other regions, and try to brute force their way into the LCS.
The result was DanDy and Madlife playing out a slow, ugly swan song miles away from home.
“I was playing in [the] Challenger Series with Madlife and Fly and all those players! When people think of Madlife you don’t think of [the] NA Challenger Series right. You think of this great guy who made the term Madlife, you know? [...] It was surreal to me.”
Santorin is referencing his time on Gold Coin United where he not only played alongside MadLife and Fly but played against DanDy and GBM.
“To me it was kind of weird too because you don’t face the player at their peak level. When you see a guy like DanDy who has so much success and then suddenly disappears and then he comes to NA Challenger Series, you don’t really know what to expect. But you can still see all the great plays, and the first time you face him you’re always really nervous.”
However, the nervousness fades and what’s left in its place is a lesson.
“What really resonated with me was like, he might have been the best jungler at a certain time, but that doesn’t mean he is anymore, right? Then from playing him, you could tell he’s not as great as he used to be and suddenly I’m beating him.”
“That feeling - you can kind of reflect [on] and be like this is why you have to practice a lot and always be innovative and look for new ways to play the game. If you don’t then you’re probably gonna end up like DanDy, going downhill. That’s why I’ve always been a really, really hard worker.”
For the fans, analysts, and historians, you can put your whole throat behind the line that, “legends never die!” The players, they know better. They know that legends die all the time and when they do, any bit of dead weight falls on the other four players.
“I’ve always said the second I’ve hit my peak and I don’t feel like I’m getting better and I’m [only] getting worse - I’m gonna quit. I don’t wanna be the guy that’s gonna hold my team down. [...]”
“That’s something that I just don’t wanna deal with and don’t want my team to deal with because I’ve definitely had players like that on the Challenger Series teams - where it felt like their motivation is gone and they're trying to hold on without doing everything they can to get better.”
In this moment, the frustration - and the sorrow - of the past resonates more clearly.
“I’m gonna quit that second. I just don’t wanna do the same.”
Understanding Longevity (by knowing it isn’t pretty)
Longevity isn’t pretty because growing old isn’t pretty.
When my grandfather got into his eighties, he’d take a lot of effort to do a simple thing and then he’d look at me and say:
“Kid, don’t get old.”
I told him I’d try, though we both knew I wouldn’t. A long life or a long career - either way you’re looking at more struggles, more battles, more changes. In the world of League, it’s the changes that are the hardest.
“League is a very hard game to stay at the top just because the metas keep shifting, so many patch notes, this kind of thing. [...] I think League, you have to keep adapting and that’s something I’ve always enjoyed about it. That’s, I guess, why I’ve stayed with League but it can be rough in terms of how little time you have to do other things.”
Longevity in many things demands sacrifice. As a person, Santorin is keenly aware of the sacrifices pros make for League.
“When I’m playing League, I’m basically playing all day and [then] maybe gym and talk to my girlfriend for a couple hours a day - and that’s it. I’m not really having the friendships I had when I was back in Denmark, [and] like I feel like I lost a lot of friends. [...] That’s something I’ve had to give up.”
To put things in further clarity, Santorin brings up possibly the most famous moment of his career.
“Then [there was] also my grandparents passing away and I couldn't even go to my granddad’s funeral because I had league matches…”
However, this moment too is motivation for the resurgent jungler. “I feel like I’m sacrificing a lot of things and if I’m not giving it [my] all, why would I be doing it in the first place? Then I should just be nourishing those friendships - being at the things that also matter to me. So I feel like if I’m not giving everything I got, I just shouldn’t do it in the first place.”
Longevity is not pretty and, if you’ve seen someone age into the grave, you know this. Adding time onto one thing necessitates talking time from something else. In the realm of aging, adding years gradually (and sometimes sharply) takes away more and more activity and ability. In the realm of competition, it means living a different kind of life.
And all things considered, Santorin lives that life well. He’s in a happy relationship, keeping good health, and after seven years he’s a more complete and better player than he’s ever been. Finally cresting out of the Challenger Series, Flyquest would represent a huge success for him and the first real home he had in League.
However, getting there meant walking through a long path full of thorns.
“The worst part [about the emotional interview] was we didn’t even win anything, you know? But I was just happy to get a step further because I was stuck for so long and just seeing my work pay off - even if it’s not to the extent that I wanted to - that’s something that means the world to me.”
We are now back in 2018. Instead of going over to Fortnite, Santorin has decided to go over to NA and play for a newly franchised organization: Flyquest. There is no immediate transformation.
In 2018 and 2019 Flyquest will mostly be an awkward middle child. They will have a strong series here and there but they’ll usually sit somewhere in the middle of the pack. However, for Santorin this is all very meaningful because for the first time, he is at the core of the roster.
I think it’s really clear why you came to Team Liquid, right? [...] But I think it was [also] really clear that you had a strong bond with Flyquest.
Can you talk to me a bit about what Flyquest means to you as an organization and a team?
“Yeah for sure. [...] I’ve always been a kind of guy that when I’m under an organization I wanna do anything for them and if they also wanna do anything for me, that’s something I wanna keep. [...] Flyquest was an org where I loved working with them and they loved having me and that’s something I just hadn’t felt before.”
For six straight splits, through a great deal of middling results, FlyQuest not only stands with Santorin but builds around him. This isn’t out of charity or friendliness either. After years in the academy circuit growing his leadership and diversifying his playstyle, Santorin is now a player that you can build around.
His leadership resonates in comments from former teammates. “I’m really glad Santorin was there to be like, ‘I went through this. I was getting blamed a lot. It’s fine. Like, it happens,’” former FlyQuest top laner Omran “Viper” Shoura said in Riot’s Drive feature on Santorin. “If no one was there to tell me their experience of their rookie splits I don’t think I’d be confident.”
His jungling resonates in the ganks, pathing, and map movements - all leading into one of the LCS most active styles. When FlyQuest pairs him with equally active players in PowerOfEvil and Ignar, things begin to click. These three move around the map fluidly and aggressively, transforming FlyQuest’s mid game into one of the League’s best.
“We had a lot of smart players on that team. Ignar was really good at setting up engages and we were really good at playing mid-jungle-support. I felt like we were always at the right place at the right time. ”
The results validate the feeling. FlyQuest earned back-to-back 2nd place finishes in the LCS and fought admirably at Worlds, going 3-3 in a brutal group. In the 2020 Summer Split, Santorin led the league’s junglers in first blood percentage (61%) and kill participation (80.3%). In Santorin’s eyes it wasn’t only an exceptional split, it was the one FlyQuest should have had in the bag.
“People knew what we were gonna do but we would still beat them because we were just really good at it. That was mainly me and Ignar playing through mid lane the whole game, helping PowerOfEvil get strong and carry with his control mages.”
Santorin goes on to tell how the team’s bottom lane grew into its own carry threat as 2020 wore on. “He got a lot of flak earlier but WildTurtle, he was playing so well [at the] end of Summer and at Worlds and that just made us that much more dangerous.”
However, there was a bitterness to coming that far but not quite making it. The salt in the wound was that the loss came at the hands of TSM.
“I felt really sad when we lost summer split because I felt like that was ours to lose. I felt like we had it in the bag. We basically lost to TSM who went 0-3 to Golden Guardians at one point. [...] It felt like a fluke, honestly and I think I’m always gonna be salty about that one.”
Looking back now, it’s not hard to understand Santorin’s frustration. It feels like a narrative denied that Santorin and FlyQuest couldn’t end their long journey together with a trophy.
More than just a narrative, the 2020 Summer Playoffs were genuinely odd. The change in format made momentum a factor - something Santorin admits that FlyQuest was not ready for. In a separate interview for Monster, Jensen goes so far as to call the Losers Bracket an advantage, given how little stage games LCS players get and how important every pro will tell you those stage games are.
TSM no doubt earned their win but Team Liquid and FlyQuest both looked off. The strengths and styles which both teams had seemed only half-apparent on the days that mattered. It’s a perspective that you could hear from the players and analysts not long after the dust settled.
But this is simply one more reality of competing and one of many lessons from Santorin’s career. Not all things go to plan and most stories do not end neatly. Santorin’s own story has plenty of chapters left.
Let a Long Career Bloom
“Team Liquid - just playing for that organization with that team is something you can’t just say no to without feeling regret. It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass on.”
It doesn’t take being a Team Liquid writer, staffer, player, or fan to see what Santorin means. The current Team Liquid roster is insanely stacked at every position and was basically a dream opportunity for Santorin. To work that hard, to overcome that many struggles, to stay motivated through all of it - Team Liquid almost feels like a divine reward for the journeyman jungler.
In reality, it’s just longevity’s payoff. Stick around long enough, fight your way back to the top, and the opportunities will open up. So it happened for Doublelift, so it happened for Damwon’s Ghost, so it still happens for many players. Love this struggle openly and let a long career bloom.
Now looking at year eight of his own career, Santorin sees not only the opportunity to reach upward but also the chance to lay down roots.
“I’m at the point where I would love for [Team Liquid] to be my last org.”
But he’s not jumping ahead.
“Take it a step at a time, let’s see how it goes first but obviously I am not trying to continue to swap teams. I would like to have a place to just stay. That said, it really comes down to everything that happens, right? But I do see Team Liquid being one of, if not the best organizations and so far I love being under them already.”
Hopeful and lighthearted, Santorin sees a great future for himself and TL. Practical and experienced, he also knows that most things in competition are earned. The competition this year is fiercer in NA than ever and the region still has a mountain of expectations to overcome when it steps up to the world stage.
But I get the sense that Santorin looks forward to all of that.
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