//WAVE// EliGE & Bjergsen: NA’s Greatests
In that heavy hype style native to Riot’s promotions, Jatt announces that Bjergsen is the greatest LCS player of all time.
“He defined how Mid lane was played in North America for nearly a decade. Bjergsen is the greatest LCS player of all-time.”
Fitting to the NA League scene, what follows is drama. If Bjergsen is #1 then Doublelift is hot on his heels as #2. The star carries are nearly interchangeable on a ranking like this, the winner coming down to the values of the players and analysts holding the ballots. Social media lights up over who deserves the title, the winds against Bjergsen given Liquid’s recent loss to EG. He and Doublelift carry the LCS trophy out together at the Chicago Finals.
The scene for Elige and for NA Counter-Strike is a lot quieter.
“Best NA player of all time,” Elige answers for a casual video, “I’m gonna go with myself. I think that I have to say it. There’s no point being fake-humble.”
Doubelift may rival Bjerg in League, but CS’s Elige is more the mid laner’s mirror. Elige too is NA’s consensus GOAT in CS:GO. Both of them have gotten there by being very meticulous, process-oriented competitors in a time where there was a great deal of footage to study as well as meta to develop. Both of them found their stride in a historically weak North America, making their struggles about as mirrored as their successes.
That’s why, with the A Wave of One crossover animation in development, I wanted to speak with these two in particular. In the entirety of Liquid, I don’t think any 2 athletes reflect each other so closely.
Of course, it’s not a perfect 1-to-1 reflection. You’re bound to run into differences comparing a MOBA to an FPS, a Riot-run circuit with 2 international events a year to an event-dense CS circuit, and one entirely distinct person to another. But I think these streaks of contrast only make the comparison between NA’s 2 GOATs more interesting - especially for a fan of NA CS or NA LoL. Because the differences in many ways come to reflect the scenes each player came up in.
Students of the game
Starting at the beginning of their careers, Bjergsen and Elige’s respective esports were at unique moments where the meta was advancing rapidly but the games had enough history to already be well-defined. Entering esports as teenagers, there’s a sense in both of them that their rapid growth came from being students of the game.
They’re each quick to credit the footsteps they followed in and the shoulders they stand on. Given that they’re both NA players, their studious style fits with their region. Growing your talent in NA means that catching up is part of the routine.
While they both take similar lessons from past and present legends, there’s a difference in that Bjergsen’s always had his eyes on League. He was a fan before a player, which made it natural for him to study others. Elige, on the other hand, was a StarCraft player before he was interested in CS and it was the necessity of VOD reviewing and studying in a 1v1 esport that cemented his style and process in CS before he’d even reached high-level pick-up games (PUGs).
[To Elige] You came up from Starcraft right, which is a 1v1 game. When it comes to 1v1 games, the culture is really different. You talked about that culture kind of shaping some of your improvement and growth in CS and I was curious what some of the specific impacts it had on your training regime and how you approached growth?
I think that StarCraft in general has helped me be more efficient in my life. In Starcraft, a 1v1 game, if you lose it's pretty much all on you. You have to find ways that you want to improve, you can't have anyone else pick up the slack for you.
In terms of improvement and growth, I learned the best way for me is to look at the best players, what works for them, and then fitting their best qualities and their best strategies into my play style. From that method, I've been able to improve very quickly at a lot of different games that I've tried, I think I could have actually gotten a lot better at StarCraft, if I played more but that was more from like, ladder anxiety that I didn't want to play. But even with playing so little, I think I was able to improve at a pretty quick rate. Then in CSGO, it was pretty much the same thing.
[To Bjergsen] Elige came from a Starcraft background. In a 1v1 game and especially in Starcraft, VOD review is very natural. For you coming up in League of Legends, were you always a person who studied a lot of other people's games? Or was that something that you picked up gradually over the course of your career?
I think it was something I was doing from the very beginning because before I was a pro I was a fan. So I would naturally watch the games, watch the Season 1, Season 2 World Championship and try to play the champions they’re playing, use the builds they're using. [...]
Rather than try to learn everything from scratch I might as well catch up to the people that have put up more time than me and then try and elevate my play on that champion afterward. I think in League of Legends, there are so many different champions and builds and counters, there’s an infinite amount of things you can try. So really learning how to study other players - whether it’s pro players or whether it’s one tricks that have put in thousands of hours - is really important to your learning.
[Elige] When I talked with oSee about reviewing VODs and looking at the top players, [he said] you have to be careful about trying to take things because the context is huge. Did you struggle with that at all going from a 1v1 esport to a team sport?
No, I don't really think so because I had that in my mind as well, when I was watching VODs. [...]
When I was a StarCraft player, I would always hate hearing people that weren't top-level pros say that they're not gonna watch better players and they're just gonna do what works at their level. The top players are doing what they do because it can work against a wide range of different things. [...] There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when people are at such a high level.
[...] Like, you have to take all these [advanced, contextual] things into consideration when you are at a higher level. But if you're not at a higher level, you just have to learn how to start walking first. You’re gonna be crawling for a long time if you’re gonna tackle it by yourself. Because these players have been playing for years, some of them, and it’s very difficult to catch up. You can do it. You can grind your way and get 5,000 hours and learn by doing. But I personally would rather skip to walking.
Ego vs. Expectation: Growing up in esports
Coming into professional play as teenagers, EliGE and Bjergsen’s growth in esports was as personal as it was professional. Over the course of adolescence, EliGE and Bjergsen both have developed a heads-down, competition-focused image.
But despite their similar image and circumstance, the rest of their stories are pretty different. For Bjergsen, growth came in confronting ego and working specifically on being a leader within a team. For EliGE, the story is more about expectations and learning how to handle the moments when you don’t meet them. For EliGE, the specific work was less on being a leader and more on being a teammate.
When you look at their histories, it makes sense that they’ve faced very different problems even if they’ve been in pretty similar positions. After all, EliGE went on a gradual climb up the ranks that gave the audience time to adjust their expectations with his performances. While Bjergsen entered NA and plunged into incredibly large and immediate success.
I think there’s even more explanation buried in their respective esports. Looking again at the way their GOAT debate is handled, you can see a wide gap in the way that CS and LoL approach the NA region. There is, in the CS mindset, very little reason to get frenzied about the NA GOAT. NA is historically no great contender, outdone by Europe in most eras and frequently enough by CIS and Brazil too. Much of NA has simply accepted this and acknowledged that when it’s a fight for survival at the tier 2 level and a slow-build effort to replicate a 2019 Liquid (or even 2018 C9) at the tier 1 level.
If there was any grandstanding around the NA CS GOAT it would probably just get mocked. For an NA team or player that’s scaling up, it really is more a battle of raising expectations than checking egos.
In LoL, NA gets an outsized amount of org money and developer energy poured into it, relative to the region’s actual competitive level (and actual interest in PC esports). There is so much money and cultural stopping power in the LCS that the whole region’s become one of the few esports underdogs people consistently root against. So, even though the LCS has less international success than NA CS, there’s likely more room for to ego to grow in the LCS. Not to mention, League’s competitive circuit has so few tournaments that expectations naturally soar and collapse when compared to CS’s more active circuit.
Both due to who they are as people, and how their scenes are drawn, in the arena of personal growth, you find some of the starkest similarities and differences between the two competitors.
[To Bjergsen] You talk a lot about how much you grew over your time in League, as a person and teammate. For me, this is something that seems very difficult because it's a shift in personality and in character traits. I'm curious how you went about that shift.
[Bjergsen] I don't think it was too conscious, it’s just growing up. Age, 17 to like 26, are just very formative years, and you change a lot.
Outside of really consciously trying to become more of a leader and taking the steps necessary to do that, it's just learning through experience. I think it's part of being able to be a professional for this many years. In a game like League that is changing so much, it's just that I am always looking to change, and I'm always looking to improve, and I really enjoy learning and growing as a person in League and outside the game.
[To Bjergsen] You and EliGE both have talked about having pretty set routines, training regimens, and things like this that you'll do. And I'm curious about where that comes from. Is it a part of just aging becoming a veteran, or just who you are personally?
Yeah, I think, every young kid starts out only playing the game and not doing anything else.
[Only] drinking soda, eating fast food, not sleeping a ton, and just trying to get by on five, six hours of sleep.
Sometimes I would play well and do well. But as soon as something would go wrong, I would get emotional, I would tilt. I would be unpleasant to be around, I wouldn't be affecting my team in a positive way. And I learned that the better that I feel, mentally and physically, the better I'm going to play and the better of a teammate and leader I'm going to be.
I started thinking a little bit more around my routines when I really wanted to be a team leader because I felt like it wasn't enough to be a good player. [...] And a part of being that guy is taking care of myself. It’s being someone who has enough energy to be aware of the issues that are going on and to give constructive feedback, take feedback in a good way.
[To Bjergsen] Coming into NA, getting a lot of success very quickly, winning your first split kind, I'm curious, what kind of effect the fame had on your work? How did it impact you and how you approached the game?
I don't think it actually affected too much how I approached the game because I had a really strict work ethic. But I think it affected how I was towards other people. [Chuckles]
I think I was a lot less pleasant, just because of my big fat ego and feeling like I was better than other people, not even wanting to talk to pro players on other teams, because I felt like I was better than them. So why should I even talk to them? I definitely had those kinds of moments. I just got a really big head.
I started realizing that the way that I was feeling towards other people is not warranted and that they're people just like I am and that I should be humble and kind. It never really helped anyone to have a crazy big ego. So I don't think it was something that lasted for a long time.
[To EliGE] Another part of your growth as a player has been growing into a better teammate, a really strong teammate. I’m curious how you went about that process. Because to me, it strikes me as almost like a shift in personality or character trait, which seems pretty difficult.
So that definitely is the hardest thing to do, especially keeping that up, as well. When I first did, that was in 2017, where I was at potential to be benched and the team gave me another shot. We started working with [former Liquid sports psychologist] Jared [Tendler] and I think Jared was a huge help to me. And helping me streamline, like the root issues of why I was getting frustrated at things and how I wanted to deal with those.
I think that Jared is very good at pointing out root issues, root problems and he has good solutions for them as well. It's like a weed, right? if you don't pull up the root of it, you'll never get better at it. And that was pretty much what I needed to do. It's pretty much just been more about me coming out of my shell more and more and being more head-on with the problems that I faced over the years.
(Twistzz talks directly on EliGE’s struggles to face problems directly and how he fixed the issue.)
[To Bjergsen] We've seen several players within TL improve a lot when they've worked closely with sports psychologists. Did you ever have anything similar in TL and TSM? independently?
Yeah, I mean I've been seeing a therapist for the last two+ years and she has helped me a ton [with] transitioning into coaching, transitioning back into playing, interpersonal issues—just so many countless things. I've also worked with sports psychologists that really helped me especially early in my career working with like Weldon green, and David [Denis], who was on TSM. It really helped me learn so much about what is going on in my head and my mind, and how my body relates to that.
[To EliGE] I recently pulled up your Team Liquid announcement. It was like a six-question interview and this picture that somebody took of you against a white wall. You were coming in as definitely a talent, right? But people weren't just like, “oh man, EliGE is the best player in NA!” What was it like for you to gradually pick up that mantle?
I mean, it was definitely a process. It's not like the improvement was linear, where it was easy to see. There were definitely a lot of downfalls and crap time periods, and starting in NA we were definitely on the back foot in 2015. People didn't really care if someone was making a roster change in NA because all the NA teams were 15+ in the world. [...]
It's definitely something that's changed gradually, like over the years. Expectation changes for what you expect as a team, like, how far do you think that you're going to be going? I personally never felt like we broke through any barrier until 2019. Because as you keep getting better, expectations keep getting set higher and higher.
[To EliGE] Interesting. So because [success] was gradual, the expectations also rose gradually, and the only way you really shattered it was just fucking winning.
Exactly, yeah. It's like everyone's expectations just go higher and they expect you to win at that point. And then they're disappointed when you're not. [Second] is still a disappointment for everyone, because everything is a moving target. You never really achieve as much as people ever want, because they keep expecting more and more. Us and the fans.
[To EliGE] There's this interview that Bjergsen has with Emily Rand, where she asked, “How did Soren as a person deal with being Bjergsen?” Was there ever a moment where it was hard to deal with being EliGE?
I guess for me, it's always been hard. From a personal level, just having friends and being able to talk to them regularly [is hard] because we've had so much travel over the years, and I've been playing for a long time. [...] When we're done with practice or a tournament day, I only have two or three hours for myself, and I have to be very picky [about] how I use that time.
In terms of rising expectations for me, it's definitely been very difficult over this last two-year period. We had that slow rise for the majority of my career up until 2019 and we hit the peak. Coming back down from that has been very difficult.
We expect to have those insane results, and then [we’re] let down when we don't [get them]. It's tough, it's tough. When people have such high expectations of you, and you're not able to achieve them, and it's been like a really long time, it weighs on you.
But keeping to myself and reminding myself of the process that I have, and making sure that I still have the confidence that I do, has been able to keep me in it. That's why I've been able to play at a high level for so many years in a row. Because it doesn't really matter what most people think—the general sentiment. Only you and the team and those closest to you are going to know what's happening and what you need to fix. If you start listening to everyone that doesn't know exactly what's happening, it definitely can feel like a lot. And that's why you have to streamline it to people that you trust.
[To EliGE] So you have a core.
Yeah, exactly. And I think that's very important, especially from reading a lot of other successful people. They always have a role model or a mentor that can help them when things are tough. Because, you know, life is hard. There's always going to be high points, low points, and everything's easy in the high points where everyone's on your side and happy for you. But when things get hard, you need to have a good backbone of people that you trust that can help you.
Style, process, and control
Bjergsen and EliGE both approach the game with a very developed process that’s built around consistency and finding higher percentage plays. It’s earned them a decently accurate reputation as calculating players—but that’s about where the similarity ends.
Though they’ve got similar ideas on how to improve, stay consistent, and even on how to make space for teammates, the differences between NA CS and NA League mean that their processes lead to different places. The stereotype for NA CS is overly aggressive and “puggy”—an endless desire to force an individual will on a team game through raw aim. The stereotyped style for NA LoL is totally opposite—a desire to drag the game out and hope for a coin flip teamfight.
In some ways, the divergent styles still come from the same source: that same underdog status. In an FPS, the less-skilled team benefits more from turning the game into a vulgar brawl—no artillery, all aim. This is because, if you ask the pros in CS, the difference in aim between a top 5, top 15, and top 100 player is a lot smaller than the difference in game sense. So if you can manage to pull a polished team into the mud and make them PUG it out, the margin falls more to aim, less to game sense, and the upset becomes more likely.
In the MOBA, if you can drag a game out and turtle until late game, then the upset becomes more likely. That’s because top Korean or Chinese teams often have better early and mid macro, game sense, and drafting, which lets them run NA teams over. However, in the late game, MOBAs naturally take on a coin flip element, where one mistake can cost the team the game and where the gold lead matters less as item slots fill out. In recent years, the tide (and meta) has turned and many people argue that the upset best comes through well-prepared cheese that, if it works, can be a match-ending early game haymaker. . But for a long time, NA teams tried to play carefully and win late.
The result is that NA’s greatest CS player started off trying to force aim duels and needed to hone his aggression over time, while NA’s greatest League player started off trying to play calculated and safe and needed to push himself to relax his own guidelines around the game and play less strictly. For both players, the learning took a bit of extra time because of the nature of NA competition but much like it was in the realm of the personal, their styles diverge and grow in different paths due to the differences in their scenes and games.
[To Bjergsen] On your end, how did you start cultivating [your] playstyle? Was it from reviewing Korea? Was it because it was leading to more consistency in performance? Was it particularly good against other NA teams?
I think the way I play the game is kind of a reflection of my personality and I think that is the case for most players. I don't think I will necessarily classify myself as a control style or focusing on countering the enemy [kind of player].
I do think there's a lot of thought in the way that I play the game, and it's very… Maybe calculated is the word. That's been both a strength and a weakness for me at certain times. Now that I'm growing a little bit older, I'm a little bit more loose. Like, I think when I was younger, I was very, “This is how things have to be done! When they do this, I have to do this!”
I learned to think outside the box, look at things from a different perspective at times and not think so strictly about the game—and really about life, honestly. And I think as I changed as a person, I changed as a player as well, in that sense.
[To Bjergsen] Was this [old playstyle] at all a product of the metas and NA at the time? Or do you still think, no, this is much more just a product of how you were?
It’s tough to say. I think there was a point where I was smarter and better than most of the other mids that I was playing against. So if I just played by the rules of the game in my head, I would usually win. But then as you go up against better players, you need to see the small moments of opportunity, and you can't just play the game in a very calculated way to win. So I think it was part of what worked for me and what allowed me to feel in control of the game [in the past]. I'm definitely a bit of a control freak, in my personal life and in the game. And the more I feel like I'm in control of the flow of the game, the more comfortable I feel to lead the team.
[To EliGE] I'm curious how you started cultivating [your] style and whether you were picking it up from reviewing other players. Or if it was from competition at the time, or a consistency factor.
When I first started CS, I actually was super aggressive all the time and I was very confident in my mechanics. I knew that I had good mechanics, and that I could out-aim and out-duel people all the time. And then it was just my process [that honed my style]: I wanted to go for the highest percentages, as much as I could.
I would still have that aggressive style to me but I want to have it on my terms. [...] That’s how I’ve become over the years, wanting to have things in my control as much as I could, not just playing on someone else's terms.
[To EliGE] When did you feel like you made that shift?
It just happened as I continued to get better and saw what was working out for me more and when things weren’t working out. When I was able to take things into my own hands that’s when I would:
- 1. Have more confidence in my plays.
- 2. Have a better process of when I think [a play is] good or when I just want to scrap it.
Players that have that brick wall type of style, I don’t think I personally have that. But there are players that, when they're able to have that control, it's very difficult to play against them compared to someone that’s running around out-aiming you. People can do that, but it's not the most consistent thing that you can rely on.
[To EliGE] So for you it was partly consistency, you can't always rely on your aim.
Yeah exactly. You wanna be doing the things that have the highest percentage even when you’re not on your best days.
Shadowboxing in NA
One of the hidden joys of rooting for the underdog comes in seeing the unique ways they find to improve. When a team or player comes from a big region, their success isn’t nearly as unique—often the result of obvious infrastructure, mentorships, and the wealth of good competition around them. In the weaker regions, top players have to get creative, find unique solutions, and box with the shadows.
Shadowboxing literally means practicing punches against an invisible opponent, anticipating their guards, their counter hits in your imagination. Used in a broader context, it often means applying techniques and practicing scenarios you need for stronger opponents, even when you’re facing weaker ones. A pug stomping strategy might make the victory in practice more complete, but it’s more important to get reps in on strategies that will hold against better opponents.
Here, the CS and LoL perspectives meld in a way that’s close to seamless.*
*(There’s also a shared bemoaning of NA PUGs and NA solo queue that mirrors super well, but I cut it for space because haven’t we heard it all by now?)
[To EliGE] One of the things that oSee told me in his interview, and that we see in [NA] League is that since the competition is weaker in NA you get used to getting away with certain moves that better teams will hard punish. How big of a factor is that for NA teams?
We actually spend a lot of our time in EU practicing even though we are an NA team. Whenever we go to international tournaments, we always make sure that we have a good bootcamp. So we get caught up with the EU meta and the strategies because as you're saying, it is definitely a big problem.
When we are here in NA, it definitely is a problem but we understand that. NA has been like this pretty much since forever. We understand and have focused our practice in a way that even if something's happening, that shouldn't be happening, we're just going to keep trying to practice the things that we want to practice. Sometimes it can be really inefficient, even when we're trying to do that because the NA teams end up just dying. [Chuckles]
Because, they're not actually practicing for a purpose. And people are doing individual plays. It makes it very difficult to practice in terms of, like, time efficiency, where maybe in Europe, we're going to be able to do the things that we want in practice because there are more realistic situations, compared to NA.
[To EliGE] I was literally going to ask if you guys shadowbox. It sounds like you do.
Yeah, It depends on the type of day. YEKINDAR started bringing this—he coined it as a kill day—where that day is specifically just for trying to win as hard as we can in the scrim. [...]
But for the majority of our practices we’re going to be looking at our weak points and trying to strengthen those. If we notice that we’re struggling against certain teams that do x strategy, x playstyle, we’re gonna try to use the ideas that we came up with to fight that style. Sometimes we just can’t, even in Europe. [...]
For most of [the EU scrims] we are going to be able to [shadowbox] outside of the very specific counters we want to be trying or different playstyles. But in NA it’s very difficult because there doesn’t seem to be something that the teams are playing for most rounds that they’re trying to improve on. [...]
[To Bjergsen] One of the things that EliGE mentioned doing was, when they're practicing with weaker competition, essentially shadowboxing. You know they're not necessarily going to punish things so you'll sort of treat it as if they will and you'll try and shadowbox for an LPL team, even if you might be facing an NA team. Is this something that you guys employ at all in League?
There’s definitely a lot of shadowboxing because even for our biggest competition in NA, [because] we’re not playing against the biggest competition every single day when we’re practicing. Sometimes we’re playing middle or lower-tier teams or maybe the higher-tier teams are having an off day. Maybe their drafts are really bad, maybe they're not using their timings and advantages within the game and we kinda have to be like, “Okay but what if they did this [right move]? [...] How do we respond?”
Otherwise, it just becomes: we won, therefore we did well. To really prepare for not just international tournaments but for playoffs when the other teams are gonna be peaking, you have to think about if they make what we perceive as the correct play, how should we respond.
The difference between 3rd and 4th
As the real opponents stepped from the shadows, EliGE and Bjergsen found very different results. In the same month, EliGE and the CS team climbed up to 3rd in the HLTV global rankings—a height that the team hadn’t seen since their golden Grand Slam era—while Bjergsen and the LCS squad slipped into 4th place in the LCS playoffs, falling just 2 game 5’s short of Worlds. It’s 3rd and 4th but the difference between them is massive, defining the trajectory of the rest of the year for both athletes.
In the constant competition of CS, EliGE will be back on the road again soon enough for EPL, BLAST, and other events. It’s taken 2 full years and plenty of roster movement, but he and Liquid both are looking at a return to form not seen since Twistzz (his own Doublelift) left. Bjergsen is in with the vast majority of the entire League scene, looking at a long offseason that will no doubt have its own roster movements. That “4th” isn’t overall, it’s 4th in NA—a rough number for a superteam built around the recently crowned king of the LCS.
I conducted two separate interviews with the two star players, both about a month before publication, and in each conversation I could feel the weight of what was to come. EliGE’s excitement was palpable, his mood was high and he could not stop raving about YEKINDAR, even in questions that didn’t set him up for it. Bjergsen came into the interview after a long scrim session that turned into a long team meeting, with a runny nose that sounded like a remnant of the COVID he’d gotten during the split. He was tired and pushed through the interview on a long practiced professionalism. Had I done these same interviews in the Fall of 2020, the moods would’ve likely been reversed.
For many players, it would be easy to get lost in the ups or the downs but EliGE and Bjergsen have seen more than their fair share of both. They’re more aware than anyone just how quickly trajectories can change and how much work it takes to make those flight paths change in the right direction. Especially in NA.
Perhaps more than anything, the two players share in the real human toll behind it all. Heavy is that crown, even if NA is a small kingdom. It takes building a whole style of self just to carry the weight.