Armao and the undying dream of the LCS
Have you ever had a dream where you’re running and running, but no matter how fast and far you go, you never seem to reach your destination? But you have to run; you have no choice. And then, just as the finish line comes into view—you wake up.
Imagine it isn’t a dream. Or rather, imagine it’s the other kind of dream: the goal you’re investing everything into achieving. And imagine that the further and further you run, the more and more joy you find in the effort itself. And with every step forward, whether or not you arrive, your destination is right there in front of you, nearly in reach, promising glory.
Team Liquid Academy Jungler Jonathan “Armao” Armao remembers reaching what he describes as “pro player Elo” on the LoL ranked ladder when he was 13 or 14 (maining top lane, interestingly enough). He climbed up to Diamond 1, 99 LP, and that’s when he first started to think about the possibility of going pro. But even though he kept grinding and winning games, he couldn’t manage to break through the D1 99 LP barrier and into Challenger.
At the time, the LoL ladder didn’t provide players with direct feedback about their rank in between the D1 99 LP point and Challenger itself. The system assigned Challenger to the top 50 players, but it didn’t display LP numbers above 99, so the players never knew how close they were to overcoming whoever was in rank 50 and joining the elite.
That early experience on the ladder established a common theme for Armao’s long, admirable, and continuing career in League of Legends esports, a career that has seen him come within a single game of winning an LCS title and within a single series of representing North America at the World Championships.
Every “almost” in Armao’s career has been part of an ongoing cycle of setback and opportunity. Every opportunity has produced its measure of success, earned through perseverance, dedication, and grind.
First Steps on a Long Journey
It’s evening when I get into a Discord call with Armao. It’s been a few hours since Team Liquid Academy dropped an 0-2 series to Cloud9 Academy—not the ideal circumstances for borrowing a pro player’s valuable time, generally speaking, especially with Champions Queue open for the night, where Armao is currently maintaining a top-30 ranking on the official ladder—but Armao is taking both the loss and the interview request in stride. We chat briefly about the challenges of facing a jungler like C9 Academy’s Malice, who plays such a different champion pool than anyone else, but we don’t dwell on it; Armao seems to have some ideas about what TL Academy can do differently next time, and I don’t want to pry. But Armao’s preference for looking ahead at opportunities and solutions, rather than back at what’s already come and gone, shows through often in our conversation over the next hour.
As much as Armao’s mind is set on the future, I’m here to pull him into the past for a little while. I want to understand the journey his career has taken him on up to this point, the rises and falls of a player who has had LCS stints with four separate orgs over six years, reaching all the way back to 2016, but who can still see the goal in front of him as clearly as ever: an LCS starting spot for 2023.
The LCS has been Armao’s goal for almost 10 years—whether he’s been trying to break into North America’s highest professional League of Legends league, fighting to retain possession of his starting spot, or working on himself to make sure he’s ready for his next shot.
As with any player, it all started on the solo queue ladder. Armao’s D1 99 LP accomplishment led to opportunities in the amateur circuit as a 15-year-old, where he started or subbed for teams like Cloud9 Tempest, an early iteration of Team Liquid Academy, and, mostly, COGnitive Gaming. COG is where he cut his teeth on organized play, but due to age restrictions, he and his teammates weren’t able to compete in the qualifiers to enter the North American Challenger Series (NACS).
Prior to the launch of franchising in 2018, the NACS was the circuit below the LCS where teams competed to enter the promotion/relegation tournament and try to earn a spot in the LCS. It was a fiercely competitive environment. NACS teams were playing for massive stakes: promotion into the LCS meant potentially a multi-million dollar payday for the team owners, with buyers lining up to purchase a slot in the LCS and get in on the esports gold rush. As the league began preparing to launch its “permanent partnerships” model for 2018, the value of promoting an NACS team into the LCS skyrocketed even further.
As Armao recalls, he wasn’t the only 15-year-old on COG, and there were rules in place that limited the number of 15-year-olds per team, so that qualifying teams would be able to field eligible rosters in the actual Challenger Series. Even if he was good enough to win through the qualifiers, there were barriers in Armao’s way: not only his age, but his schooling as well. That’s still a barrier for aspiring pros today, but Armao tells me that the experiences of a high-school-aged aspiring pro have “definitely evolved” between then and now.
“Back then… It wasn’t the Wild West time [of the LCS’s initial creation in 2012 and 2013], but it definitely wasn’t the best of times.” He remembers some teams telling young players that they would have to drop out of high school if they wanted to commit to competing in the NA Challenger Series.
Armao wasn’t a fan of the idea of leaving school early. His parents weren’t, either. He’s appreciative of the improvements the LCS scene has made in that area over the years, with more teams going out of their way to make accommodations for their players to combine their studies with their pro careers. But when Armao was 15 and 16, that support wasn’t being offered, especially not for a kid attending public school, which tends to be less flexible than the private schools some other players attended.
So Armao bided his time and continued climbing the figurative ladder of the amateur scene until he got his first real opportunity, and an unexpected one, at that.
Foot in the Door
It was January 2016. Armao was now 17, newly LCS-eligible, and one of the LCS teams, Echo Fox, found themselves suddenly in need of some substitute players due to a competitive ruling regarding their planned starters’ visa status. The team had to forfeit its first game of week 2, but Armao flew in from his home in San Diego on time for the Sunday game, joining Solo and Goldenglue as subs to play alongside the starting bot lane of Keith and Big.
“It was ‘an experience,’” is how Armao sarcastically describes that first LCS game to me. The cobbled-together Echo Fox lineup faced a Team Liquid lineup led by world champion Piglet, and Armao found himself jungling head-to-head against newly promoted rookie phenom Dardoch. It was a long, hard-fought game, and Armao held his own, posting a 1/3/10 scoreline on Rek’sai against Dardoch’s 3/3/6 Elise, but despite a 10-kill performance from Keith, the Echo Fox sub squad couldn’t pull out a win, and after over 48 minutes, Armao suffered his first LCS loss.
For a player who had been dropped into the league without any scrim time or prior pro experience, that wasn’t a bad showing, and as Armao tells me, it was a cool experience and came with a little money. So he and his temporary teammates repeated the experience the following weekend: after going home for the week to attend school, he flew back in to play another weekend of games, losing to the CLG lineup that was bound for the MSI Finals later that split, and then dropping to an Immortals team that was early in a 17-1 regular season run.
Given the circumstances, no one expected that Echo Fox team to win any games, and for a 17-year-old amateur Armao it was, in many ways, a dream come true to jump onto such a big stage and play against a world champion like Piglet and 2015 Worlds Semifinalists like Huni and Reignover. But with the benefit of hindsight, Armao tells me, “I would not have probably [agreed to play those games] again if I was gonna go back.” He knows, now, the importance of first impressions, and the inevitability of making a bad first impression when you’re flying in with no scrim time or prior experience to play against the best players in your region. “I was a little dense when it came to that aspect of it,” he says. Even so, he had his foot in the door.
An Interesting Experience
Armao continued his relationship with Echo Fox throughout 2016, filling in for a couple of games at the start of summer as well, and that led to a more meaningful opportunity when 2017 rolled around. Echo Fox invited him to be part of what they were calling “Delta Fox,” their answer to the tier 2 arrangements of organizations like Team Liquid and Cloud9. But unlike those teams, which targeted promotion to the LCS as a way to earn money, while also developing young talent along the way, Echo Fox “had some scrim-partner idea.” Armao tells me the org didn’t care whether or not he and his teammates tried to qualify into the NACS; they just wanted a strong internal practice partner for their main LCS squad. And so, five years before Cloud9 brought together their current Academy roster with Malice and company as a practice squad, Armao was doing the same thing as part of an org that no longer exists.
But even though Echo Fox didn’t push them to chase a Challenger Series spot, Armao and his teammates—Brandini, Damonte, Shynon, and 1onz—went for it anyways. And they won, defeating the University of Toronto team 3-0.
That Delta Fox team struggled in the NACS itself, though, placing fifth out of six teams and prompting a change in direction as Echo Fox tried to earn some new followers with a fan-service team of well known but effectively retired pros. Armao’s esports career had hit its first snag, a minor speed bump compared to what was ahead, but he continued to work with Echo Fox as a practice partner for their primary jungler, Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham, and even managed to earn himself 9 games of LCS play time during the summer.
Armao describes that 2017 year with Echo Fox as “strange” and “a very ‘interesting’ first experience.” He was roommates with top laner Brandini, sharing a gaming house with a group of young men who were not only putting grueling hours into the game, but also learning how to live outside of their parents’ home for the first time.
Armao seems amused, looking back on it. “The living situation here at Team Liquid [now] is 20 times better than that,” he observes. “Maybe 200 times better.” He’s referring to the quality of the facilities and the logistical support around things like food, cleaning, and transportation, but I get the impression that his own growth as a person adds a decent lift to that multiplier.
I ask Armao what life as a pro was really like during that time, as an 18-year-old kid surrounded by 18-year-old kids. I have to push a bit, but Armao starts to open up.
When things were rough, Armao admits, he sometimes asked himself whether he had made the right choice to pursue a pro career, or whether he should have just taken that cool LCS experience in 2016, and the spending money he earned from it, and gone to college. A poor result in the spring NACS and a 2-7 record in his summer LCS showings were naturally going to prey on his confidence and create some friction inside the team. Armao was responsible for his fair share of that friction, too. He says, “I was very emotional… somewhat of a rager back then.” He had things he needed to work on, not only in his gameplay but outside the game as well. I ask whether there was anyone he used to connect with back then, someone to whom he could safely vent his frustrations. “I’m good friends with Brandini and Damonte,” he says, but they “didn’t really talk about that kind of stuff.”
The player who really helped Armao learn to process his emotions was a veteran of the scene. Armao credits Brandon “Mash” Phan, Echo Fox’s starting LCS bot laner during the 2017 summer split, for teaching him how to improve his mentality and become a better teammate. “[Mash] helped me a lot with not getting frustrated at the game,” says Armao. By showing him the right way to debrief tough games and modeling a more productive overall mentality, Mash helped Armao learn how to avoid being “self-destructive.”
Armao is also quick to shout out his coaches during that 2017 summer split, Inero (currently the Golden Guardians head coach) and Peter Zhang (now the head of player development with TSM). Under their leadership, Armao saw real growth. “That’s when I started to get better, for sure. I learned a lot,” he says. “That’s when pro became more fun.”
And in spite of his team’s weak in-game results, Armao’s growth as both a player and a person was about to launch him into the first real breakthrough of his career.
A Good Year
In November 2017, Armao’s contract with Echo Fox expired, and for the first time he found himself entering free agency as a real commodity. The LCS was instituting permanent partnerships, which meant brand new organizations were coming into the league and others were disappearing, while an unprecedented number of players were changing teams and unprecedented sums of money were being paid out to try to secure the best possible start to the new era.
Armao had options.
He specifically tells me about two opportunities he was weighing. “[Clutch Gaming] were offering way more money [to join their Academy team],” he explains, but they were a brand new org without any existing presence or legacy. His other option was slightly more prestigious. He received an offer for less money but it produced a much larger reaction: “I was like, damn. TSM.”
He didn’t have to think about it all that hard.
“I really wanted to join TSM.”
And who wouldn’t? For years, TSM had been the premier LCS brand, with the largest, most passionate fanbase, a slew of LCS titles, and an all-time great mid laner, Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, who was at the height of his powers and cachet. (Little did he know he would link up with Bjergsen again later, this time on a Team Liquid that had usurped TSM’s position atop the LCS.)
“I was extremely cocky,” Armao says of how he approached that 2017/18 offseason. He told himself, “If I join TSM [Academy] I can take this LCS spot… This is fantastic.” In retrospect, though: “I definitely was not as good as I thought.”
So Armao joined TSM Academy for the start of 2018 and did exactly what he had set out to do. While a red hot Mike Yeung slotted into TSM’s LCS lineup for the spring split, Armao set out to prove in Academy that he deserved to be called up to the big league. By the time summer came around, Armao found himself where had hoped to be, starting in the LCS alongside Bjergsen, Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, and the rest of TSM.
Now came the true challenge. He had become an LCS starter, but in one of the most notoriously dangerous roster slots in all of LoL esports. At Bjergsen’s right hand, under Reginald’s gaze, there stretched a veritable graveyard of notable junglers. Could he survive the pressure of the fanbase that had chewed up and spit out Amazing, Santorin, Svenskeren, and other decorated junglers the moment their performance seemed to slip?
Thinking about his own performance that summer, Armao is self-deprecating. “[I] was not good enough for [that LCS spot],” he says. “I was close, but I definitely wasn’t able to be a strong player.” It seems to me, though, that Armao is just allowing his own drive, work ethic, and future-oriented mindset to get in the way of appreciating his own success. When I encourage him to focus on some high points, Armao remembers the plays he’s most proud of: the Smite steals that were his calling cards back then. “I had a bunch of Baron steals. I was known for being good at Smiting…. I stole Baron against LirA like twice in a game or something. Some crazy Nocturne ult cross-map.” The entire summer split proved to be a high point in Armao’s career.
“At that point,” he tells me, “[being a pro] was really fun.”
By the end of summer, Armao and TSM found themselves deep in a playoff run, facing Cloud9 in the Semifinals. Armao dueled with Robert “Blaber” Huang back and forth through an intense five-game series. He went 2/0/14 on Gragas to open the series with a win, then added a 0/4/15 game on Sejuani to again pull ahead in game 3. But Cloud9 pivoted and subbed in a more experienced player, former TSM jungler Svenskeren, and turned the tides. Armao’s Trundle and Sejuani weren’t enough, as C9 took the series 3-2 and pushed TSM into the 3rd-place match. (They won that match 3-2 over 100 Thieves, by the way, off of carry performances from Armao on Camille in games 4 and 5.)
TSM’s failure to reach the Finals meant they had to win the Regional Qualifier gauntlet tournament if they wanted to go to the World Championships, and for TSM, failing to attend Worlds was unacceptable. This gauntlet would be the most important run of matches of Armao’s career up to that point.
I asked Armao about the pressure that comes with those kinds of key moments or matches. “It never goes away,” he says, no matter your experience level. “You just have to learn to play with it.” Most of the time, external pressures aren’t really what drive, Armao, anyways. He pushes himself harder and sets higher goals and expectattions than the crowd ever could. “Internal pressure is equal if not greater, at least for me,” he adds, after dismissing the hateful social media comments and criticism that come every pro’s way at one point or another.
Wherever the pressure came from, Armao says he felt less of it going into Regionals than he had for the Summer Quarterfinals (a 3-2 win over his old Echo Fox team). Maybe the fact that TSM was facing Echo Fox again to start Regionals was part of what kept Armao comfortable. He certainly played comfortably, bringing out Skarner and then back-to-back Gragas picks and posting a combined 11/7/32 scoreline to advance to the Regional Finals.
That put TSM on the Rift for a Summer Semifinals rematch against Cloud9, with the winner earning North America’s third seed to Worlds. It was, potentially, a career-defining moment for Armao, who had turned 20 only a week earlier. And after losing by only a single game the last time around, there was good reason to think that TSM would prevail this time with just one or two good adjustments.
It wasn’t meant to be. Three games later, C9 were again triumphant and headed to Worlds, while Armao was left with a 2.1 series KDA and a sense of opportunity slipping through his fingers.
Armao tells me he kept his focus on the future, despite the disappointment of that defeat. He used the loss as motivation to be better and achieve more in the year to come. He set to work to grind for the 2019 season, throwing himself into the training and trying to expand his champion pool and improve his mechanics, driven by his own internal pressure and what he describes as his “perfectionist” tendencies. He was slated to start for TSM in the LCS again, while the team made changes in the top lane and support positions, bringing in Sergen “BrokenBlade” Çelik and Andy “Smoothie” Ta. But despite his readiness and resistance to external pressure, the stress of his own perfectionism began to wear on Armao. He pressed himself so hard in pursuit of a big breakthrough that he began to feel twinges of what every pro truly fears: wrist pain.
He isn’t sure, looking back, how serious the pain truly was. He isn’t even sure to what extent it was a physical injury, or a stress symptom, or a psychosomatic dread. Whatever it was, it wasn’t going away. In discussion with the team, he decided to play things safe and take a break from his grind. Unfortunately, esports isn't a career that always allows the break.
“I was the intended starter for 2019,” he tells me, but “I had missed so much LCS that they decided to go with Akaadian for the rest of spring.” And just like that, his LCS starting spot, too, drifted out of reach.
The rest of 2019 was like launching a rocket and watching it thrust towards the atmosphere, peak, fail to achieve orbit, and arc downwards to disaster.
Armao didn’t get back onto the Rift for a pro match until week 4 of the Academy split. He settled in well, though, and powered TSM Academy to a Spring championship, culminating in a 7/0/6 carry performance as Rek’sai in the conclusive game of the Finals—against C9 Academy and ex-teammates Goldenglue and Keith. That helped him climb back into LCS consideration for the summer split, and he found himself in a familiar position, competing with Akaadian for a grip on an LCS starting role. A grip that he tried to turn into a firm handhold.
He got four games of LCS time—all wins—while Akaadian went 1-3 in his four starts. However, the regular season was not the pivotal moment in the climb. That would be Rift Rivals, where TSM joined two other NA representatives to battle Europe’s best teams for regional bragging rights.
The pressure on Armao suddenly amped way up, not because it was an international event against strong competition, and not, for once, because of Armao’s own ambitions or perfectionism. Armao and Akaadian were told that the coaching staff planned to use their Rift Rivals performances to choose who would be the starting jungler for the remainder of the year. Suddenly this tournament was about a whole lot more than bragging rights: for both players, their LCS dream was at risk.
Armao doesn’t hide the effect the pressure had on him: “Me and Akaadian were absolutely turbo-stressed.” The way he describes it, Rift Rivals was the highest pressure event he has ever competed in.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t go too well. Armao’s three games were all sub-30-minute losses, while Akaadian fared only slightly better, winning one game and losing one. And that was enough. Armao dropped down to Academy, where he competed with a new jungler - Fanatiik - for a starting spot. He sat on the bench for a month, as TSM brought in Akaadian and Spica, before trying something completely different and role-swapping to top lane for a few weeks. It was a return to the role he played when he first climbed up to “pro player Elo” - but not yet a return to glory. A quarterfinals win, a semifinals loss, and then it was the offseason.
Back to square one.
Some players might have let that summer descent derail them completely, but Armao has never allowed setbacks to close the door to future growth. He was ready to run it back for 2020 and write a better story, but there was another change in store: TSM let Armao know that they weren’t interested in keeping him on board for another year, even though he was still under contract.
That wasn’t the only news, though: a different LCS org had made an offer to buy his contract and provide that next LCS opportunity he was looking for. And so Armao joined Dignitas.
“Nowadays, sometimes it’s better to not be [in the] LCS, to be on a top-tier Academy team, right?” Armao says, but “at the time, I was happy to join DIG.” And early on, it seemed like the move might pay off. “I think I was playing pretty decently back then… I was doing well in scrims and I was really high in solo queue at the time.” He was playing with some big names like Huni, Froggen, and aphromoo, and the split started with three consecutive wins, but it didn’t take long for the wheels to start to fall off.
“I had like, two games where I inted,” Armao admits, ruefully. “That’s competitive League. You make one or two int plays, you can int the whole game, especially as jungle.”
And like a bad case of déjà vu, Armao played a month and a half in the LCS for Dignitas before being told that he was being replaced by the team’s Academy jungler. Who was, yet again, Akaadian. (Armao is quick to assure me that he and Akaadian bear no ill will for the countless times they’ve been called up to replace one another across different organizations, but the storytelling draw of their relationship is almost irresistible.)
After a Quarterfinals exit in the Academy playoffs, the other shoe dropped: Dignitas bought Armao out of the rest of his contract and set him loose as a free agent. “I was really surprised,” Armao confesses. “I was like, ‘maybe I should just take a break for a split.’” He calls the news “jarring” and admits it did some damage to his confidence.
Sold by TSM, cut loose by DIG, it would have been completely understandable if Armao walked away from the pro scene for a few months. In fact, no one would have blamed him if he hung up his mouse and keyboard for good. But that wasn’t going to be the end of Armao’s story. His passion for the game was still there. There was a ladder to climb; there were games to grind. A dream to realize.
“I felt like I had ideas of what I needed to work on… I wasn’t shattered, confidence-wise. [I knew] I could still play at a high level in Academy [and earn another LCS shot].”
Enter Team Liquid.
Starting Again at Team Liquid
When TL made Armao an offer to join their Academy team, he had to think about it and gather some information. He was still considering taking the split off, but he reached out TL bot laner (and former teammate) Tactical to ask what it was like being part of the org. Tactical told him good things, and that helped warm Armao to the idea of jumping right back into things. But mostly, he says, he built his decision around his own motivation and self-evaluation. He bet everything on his own ability to perform.
Armao planned out a one-and-a-half-year timeline: he could join TL Academy, play the summer split, continue with the team for 2021, and work himself back up to LCS quality. “For the most part,” Armao says, “it was going on pace.” He even got a little bonus faux-LCS time when he covered for Santorin’s visa delays and helped Team Liquid win the 2021 Lock In tournament.
His TL Academy squad did well too. They finished second in the 2021 spring regular season and won the third-party Arena of Legends tournament. They took a hit in the Proving Grounds tournament, exiting early despite coming in as one of the tournament favorites, but on the whole the split was a success, and Armao’s stock was heading in the right direction.
Then came the next big opportunity. TL’s LCS starting Jungler, Santorin, was struggling with health issues, and the team needed Armao to fill in. Naturally, Armao wishes the opportunity had come in a different way, but a chance was a chance, so he stepped right in for the LCS Mid-Season Showdown Semifinals, short on scrim time but ready to roll.
“I was shocked at how little nerves I felt when I was playing those games, to be honest,” he says. It wasn’t his first time in an LCS playoff match. It wasn’t an international event. It wouldn’t send him to Worlds if he won. But it was still a sudden “promotion” into the middle of a playoffs run, and that would be enough to induce anxiety in most players.
Armao, though, was able to play without undue pressure. After all, compared to literally playing for his job, the stakes were honestly pretty low. That well of experience helped him and Liquid to mount a huge upset, knocking TSM out of the tournament, and booking a date in the Finals with, you guessed it: Cloud9. Yes, the same team that knocked him out of the 2018 summer playoffs; the same team that played gatekeeper in the 2018 Regional Finals; the team he had taken revenge on once already in the 2019 Spring Academy Finals. Isn’t it funny how the world moves in cycles sometimes? Looking at Armao's career, time nearly appears a flat circle.
The wheel of time didn’t turn quite hard enough for Armao to deliver a second dose of revenge. A hard-fought five-game series left Armao and Team Liquid on the outside looking in, as Cloud9 booked their ticket to the Mid-Season Invitational. “Being one game away from winning Finals was very sad,” says Armao. Another opportunity had promised glory but faded away at the last moment.
Still, Armao was only part of the way through his 2021 plan, and TL’s need for an LCS substitute hadn’t fully passed yet. Armao stepped in for most of the summer regular season while Santorin worked through his health challenges. He held his own, helping TL to an 8-7 record in the games he played and leaving them in good enough shape that once Santorin returned, they made a run to the LCS Finals and earned a berth at the 2021 World Championships. For his own part, Armao gracefully stepped back down to his slot on the Academy team and led TLA to an Academy Summer Playoffs championship—the second Academy title of his career—on the back of a five-game Finals victory over… wait, really? Yes. Cloud9.
Armao even put together a career-highlight moment that summer with one of the most unpredictable plays I’ve ever watched: a pentakill on Sejuani.
On the whole, 2021 was a very positive year for Armao, a year of growth and improvement with some big moments and real accomplishments. Under the leadership of Academy coach Jake “Spawn” Tiberi, he was not only working on his in-game performance, but also growing as a leader - working as TLA's team captain. He describes 2021 as “a full rebuild of realizing that I had all these problems in my play… I think, overall, last year was a success, just not quite the success I wanted.” He even joined the TL LCS team in Iceland for Worlds as a substitute and made the most of the rich EU West solo queue environment. Although he went into the offseason riding some momentum, his plan didn’t come to full fruition: no LCS offers materialized for 2022. Ultimately, he doesn’t think he did enough. “I had bad games in summer LCS, unfortunately, so that kind of derailed [my LCS goals].”
I’m Going to Be the Best
If I’ve taken anything away from my conversation with Armao, it’s a clear conviction that he won’t be deterred by falling short of his LCS-in-2022 goal. What’s the point of looking back? If the LCS dream is anywhere, it is straight ahead.
He tells me about his current efforts to expand his play style and add some more carry flavor. “I don’t want to be stuck on Trundle/Volibear… I’m really trying hard to be able to play every champion.” He even names a specific champion he’s been practicing, which I’d best keep private. “I’m just gonna learn this champ,” he declares, almost defiantly. “I don’t care how many games it’s gonna take me. I will learn this champ, and it’s gonna make me a better player.”
I push him to look back and summarize his career to date. What are the big high points, the things he’s most proud of? What will he always remember, years from now? “You mainly think about [that kind of stuff] after, or at least I do,” he says. “It’s still too close… [My career] has been up and down so much, more than, I feel like, any other player.” He doesn’t want to try to capture the past several years in a few key moments, or put a bow on anything. He’s much more concerned, as ever, with the future.
I ask about his goals, now that his one-and-a-half-year plan with Team Liquid didn’t entirely pan out.
“I’m excited for this year!” he says. He’s got the long-term view in mind: “The most important [thing] is being dominant in Academy in summer and just destroying everyone, so that’s the goal.”
And how is he going to help his team get there?
“The goal for me is to compete for being the best individual Jungler in Academy.”
Hearing him, absorbing his confidence, I can’t help but feel like that goal - that dream - is just ahead. Nearly in reach. Undying.