Zaqueri ‘aphromoo’ Black and Johnson ‘Johnsun’ Nguyen tried to stand up in 2020 on Dignitas as one of NA’s best home-grown bot lanes. It didn’t go exactly to plan. Reunited for 2022 on FlyQuest, the LCS landscape has evolved, but the duo are ready to use their learnings from a year apart to push further.
When the LCS 2022 off-season kicked off, Johnsun had something in mind.
The FlyQuest AD carry struggled somewhat in 2021. He had to navigate the growing pains of an inexperienced roster in just his second year in the LCS. Without a strong voice in the team, everything crumbled. He found himself floating in and out of Academy — just a year after some were touting him (alongside then-Liquid’s Edward ‘Tactical’ Ra) as the future of the region after a strong start in 2020.
So, he called on an old friend to partner up with and turn things around: his old support aphromoo.
“We only saw the opportunity happen during the offseason because both teams were doing their own shenanigans. After last year, I was looking into [rejoining] aphromoo because looking at our team, we didn’t have an in-game leader,” Johnsun explained to Dexerto.
The move didn’t necessarily catch aphromoo by surprise. Having stayed on with Dignitas in 2021 and rebuilding yet another inexperienced roster, the side suffered a downturn in Summer after a promising Spring. When Johnsun approached him, he was all ears.
“During the off-season Johnsun did want to hang out and wanted to talk about playing together again, and I thought that was pretty cool,” aphromoo said.
Now, the two are once again leading another up-and-coming roster in FlyQuest in 2022 — and they’re adamant their fortunes will be better this time around.
— FlyQuest (@FlyQuest) December 2, 2021
You don’t know what you’ve lost until it’s gone
They do say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and for Johnsun’s bot lane marriage with aphromoo it certainly sounded that way. After spending his rookie year with the LCS veteran, the transition to a roster which didn’t have that same strong voice was hard.
“It’s much easier to play the game — if you’re the newer player — if you have someone teaching you. If I was a veteran ADC I could teach a new support, but if both players aren’t as experienced [like FlyQuest last year], it’s hard to play,” he said.
Johnsun had his own challenges too, irrespective of his team’s struggle. There was a new kid on the block in Evil Geniuses’ Kyle ‘Danny’ Sakamaki that everyone had their eyes on, while Johnsun was floating in and out of FlyQuest’s LCS roster.
He ended LCS Summer 2021 with the lowest KDA (1.65) and gold per minute (382) out of any AD carry in the league. His champion diversity also was concerning, only playing five champs in 14 games across Summer — with a lot of priority put on scaling picks like Ezreal and Tristana. His replacement, Frank ‘Tomo’ Lam, played 10 champions in 13 games with a wider base.
“I think after last year, it was sad in a competitive way because I wasn’t able to play as many games as everyone else because they’re making it deep into the playoffs. It made me reflect on what I need to do to get better,” he admitted.
“It’s more motivating to play I guess. After that experience [in Academy], it made me see the big things I needed to work on and the small things I needed to perfect.
“When it came to the roster changes, it was more like things needed to be spiced up regardless of whether it was a good decision or not.”
Aphromoo was quick to defend his duo though. The stats don’t tell the full story in his eyes, and the 29-year-old veteran (now the oldest player in the league by two years) said Johnsun had to bear a big load for the two teams he’s been on so far in his professional career.
“Johnsun is more of the guy who learns when you tell him once and then you don’t have to tell him again. He’s always theorycrafting, all that jazz,” he stated.
“When we were on DIG, it was pretty easy for us to just perform, learn, go over small things, and I don’t want to say we had to carry everything, but a lot of the time it fell upon our shoulders to do well else we would have lost. Johnsun had to get fed, had to snowball.”
It’s an important relationship between the two, something which they cultivated on Dignitas despite their failure to win anything major. If you don’t get along with your bot lane partner, it can instantly crumble a team. It’s also easy to build that synergy over years to create a dynasty — aphromoo has already done that with Yiliang ‘Doublelift’ Peng back in the CLG days.
“If you hate your bot lane partner you’re just going to suck ass. You can’t have that happen,” he laughed. “We played well. Obviously emotions happen but that’s normal on every team. If you don’t have disagreements you’re not going to improve too much.”
“It’s easy to review over things because we know what we like to hear, or don’t like to hear, and because I respect Zaq’s opinion a lot it’s easy to get things done and slowly improve on the things I’m f**king up,” Johnsun added.
How League’s meta is evolving in Season 12
A new year of professional League of Legends often means a new meta to adapt to. In Season 11, the item rework changed every champion in the game; and in Season 12, the new dragons and runes are shaking things up again.
The game has long evolved from the slow-paced metas of Season 6 and 7, to where aggression and constant fighting is the norm (in Riot’s eyes, maybe a bit too far in that direction). You have to be born into the chaos, and it can be difficult to manage that.
“You’re fighting all the time, you’ve got bruisers in every lane — the only scaling champion you pick is in mid lane. You have to control mid lane, make sure you don’t lose that part of the map because you’ll lose. Every other lane, you have to be high-tempo, you have to reset fast. It’s all about dragons now, stacking the soul,” aphromoo explained.
The veteran highlighted teams like Team Liquid — who have undergone a major rebuild for LCS 2022 — picking up strong fighters like top laner Gabriel ‘Bwipo’ Rau and AD carry Steven ‘Hans sama’ Liv to stay ahead of the curve.
As for bot lane specifically, Lethal Tempo and First Strike have blown up the meta as we knew it, opening up more viable picks.
“The runes have changed the meta a bit, with Lethal Tempo being good on a few champions especially in top lane or mid. First Strike is a new way of playing the game I guess, similar to Kleptomancy, so it’ll make some champions more viable in bot lane,” Johnsun said, keeping some of his cards close to his chest.
However, the big concern is the new dragons, especially the camouflage-dropping Chemtech Drake, which aphromoo summed up in one word: “lame.”
“Especially with the new Rengar change where he can jump out of camouflage — that is not going to be fun,” he continued. “It reminds me of Kha’Zix just running through everybody and killing everyone.”
The veteran is also holding onto this last little bit of pre-season solo queue, where players are experimenting with enchanters like the Lucian-Nami combo that gained steam at the end of 2021. He knows once stage play comes back, he’ll be back on tank duty.
“Support champions are pretty much the same — I’m happy there’s a lot more being played, but I’m sure when we get back to the LCS it’ll be back to tank mode,” he laughed.
Proving themselves in LCS 2022
While on Dignitas in 2020, Johnsun and aphromoo were determined to start building a new legacy. Aphromoo was a support many saw on the downturn after his stint on 100 Thieves, while Johnsun was a practically unheard of AD carry trying to find his feet.
The results didn’t roll in — they finished seventh in Spring and eighth in Summer — making this FlyQuest reunion somewhat of a redemption arc for the duo, who are taking it step-by-step to climb to the top.
“I think it’s important we’re able to perform in playoffs and stuff like that, but this year we will definitely be there [in playoffs]. There’s only 10 teams in the LCS and if you don’t think you’re good enough, give up your spot,” aphromoo said.
Johnsun already knows the kind of structure and leadership the 29-year-old brings to a team. He’s become somewhat of an expert of building these rosters, making something out of nothing (especially if Dignitas’ Spring 2021 run is anything to go by).
Trying to instil his philosophy into the FlyQuest roster — which includes the enigmatic Brandon Joel ‘Josedeodo’ Villegas, Aatrox fanatic Colin ‘Kumo’ Zhao, and EUM prodigy Loic ‘toucouille’ Dubois — will be key to FlyQuest’s success in 2022.
“I think everyone on our team can hold their own — that’s what I hear. We haven’t really scrimmed or anything yet, but I believe,” Aphromoo said.
“We’ve just got to hash out very early what our team style is going into it and just hounding that and not trying to copy other people too much. Once you build your own style and perfect it, it’s harder for teams to play against that and it’s better for competitive games. The roles will organically fill themselves.”
FlyQuest are taking small bites at the cherry to start off LCS 2022 though. There’s no big lofty objective to reach Worlds, although it’s the dream every player in top-flight League of Legends has.
They’re mostly just committed to cementing their place in playoffs first, and making right on a storyline that was left unfinished back in 2020 — that they can become one of NA’s best bot lane duos.
“We’re just going to take it slow, get to know each other, build the trust in and out of the game, and make sure everyone gets the support they need so we can [make playoffs and] end up at Worlds,” Johnsun stated.