On August 29 2021, 100 Thieves became the top LCS seed for Worlds. It’s the result of a three-year journey that has seen them go from the league’s worst team to its best.
100 Thieves end the LCS Spring split by losing their seventh match in a row, a 26-minute speedrun by OpTic Gaming. They end the season with a harrowing league-worst 4-14 record.
“Maybe Thieves should talk to Cloud9 academy because right now they look stronger than 100 Thieves,” remarks analyst Hai ‘Hai’ Du Lam before the Thieves are quickly forgotten and the conversation turns to the much more exciting topic of Spring playoffs.
2019 was a disaster for 100 Thieves.
After making their Worlds debut the year before, the organization looked to enter LCS title contention. They retooled the team around their marquee signing, two-time Worlds champion Bae ‘Bang’ Jun-sik. But the team would win just 12 games in 2019, four in the Spring split and eight in the Summer. While their 8-10 Summer record gave them a shot at the playoffs, it wasn’t to be as they lost a tiebreaker match to OpTic.
“When the LCS went to a franchised format [in 2018], there was a lot of dumb money floating around,” longtime LCS analyst Mark ‘MarkZ’ Zimmerman told Dexerto. “But 100 Thieves was one of the organizations that impressed me. They appeared to know what they were doing. After 2018, they felt like they could challenge for an LCS title, and the moves they made were logical ones to achieve that goal. The team just didn’t click.”
100 Thieves rebuild
Following the failure of the 2019 season, 100 Thieves undertook a complete rebuilding effort.
The rebuild would be overseen by a general manager, a new position within the 100 Thieves organization. To fill this role, they turned to renowned LCK caster Christopher ‘PapaSmithy’ Smith, widely regarded as one of the sharpest minds in the pro League community.
Welcome Chris Smith (@PapaSmithy), our new League of Legends General Manager!
Previously an LCK caster for 4+ years, Chris is one of the most well-respected analysts / commentators in the industry. We’re thrilled to bring him to NA & can't wait to build more for 100T LoL. #100T pic.twitter.com/5ixH4Gm1uQ
— 100 Thieves (@100Thieves) September 4, 2019
With a leader in place, the process of putting 100 Thieves back together could begin.
“It’s not just about getting the best players,” PapaSmithy told Dexerto. “It’s not just about getting lucky. It’s about setting up all of the scaffolding so that when the luck goes your way, you have everything set up so that success is the inevitable result.
“I feel that, right from the beginning, we had a strong framework of what we wanted our org to be about, and what we thought success required.”
The first team fielded as part of the rebuild struggled through the first two-thirds of the 2020 Spring split but rallied in the final weeks of the regular season to finish third in the standings with a 10-8 record. However, back-to-back losses in the playoffs saw them end the split in sixth place.
Further tweaks were made to the roster, with support William ‘Stunt’ Chen leaving for a coaching position and jungler William ‘Meteos’ Hartman being sent to the academy team.
The amended roster, now featuring academy prospects Juan Arturo ‘Contractz’ Garcia and Philippe ‘Poome’ Lavoie-Giguere, didn’t fare much better. They finished the Summer split with a 7-11 record, making the playoffs as the seventh seed. However, a first-round loss in the losers’ bracket ended 100 Thieves’ season.
But it was to be expected – the first year of a rebuild is all about assessing your available talent and figuring out what works.
“When the goal is winning championships, finishing in seventh/eighth is going to be a disappointment,” PapaSmithy said of the season. “But 2020 was a year of learning for me as I stepped into a new role.
“We needed to know what worked, and I needed to find the best way to do the job I was there to do. And we saw a lot of success in our amateur program and the youth pipeline we had established.”
100 Thieves made significant changes to the lineup for 2021, choosing to build around toplaner Kim ‘Ssumday’ Chan-ho, who had started for the team in every split bar one since their Worlds appearance three years prior.
As for the rest of the team, they purchased the Golden Guardians roster, naming jungler Can ‘Closer’ Çelik, midaner Tanner ‘Damonte’ Damonte, AD carry Victor ‘FBI’ Huang, and support Choi ‘huhi’ Jae-hyun to the starting lineup.
For huhi, it was something of a reunion. He had been the midlaner during the team’s disastrous 2019 Spring split, leaving just days after the split ended. Now playing support, he had a second chance to be part of a 100 Thieves roster looking to contend.
“Coming into 2021, we felt really good about the players we had picked up,” PapaSmithy said. “We felt they reflected the vision we had for the team and we felt that they could form a lineup that would help us contend for a title”.
Spring 2021 was a mixed bag for 100 Thieves.
FBI and huhi performed well, continuing their strong bot lane partnership. FBI was fifth in AD Carry KDA, huhi was second in assists and gold difference at 15 minutes for supports. Closer enjoyed a strong, if statistically middle of the pack, split in the jungle. However, Ssumday and Damonte struggled.
Things were bad enough in the midlane for Damonte, who had the second-lowest KDA, worst gold and xp differential, and joint-highest first blood victim rate of all primary midlaners, that he was benched after 12 matches. Academy prospect Tommy ‘Ryoma’ Le, who had been the starting midlaner for 2020, played the last six matches of the split instead.
Thieves finished with an 11-7 record and entered the Spring playoffs, rebranded as the Mid-Season Showdown, as the fourth seed. They could offer little resistance to Cloud9, the eventual champions, and were swept into the Losers’ Bracket. After beating Dignitas, Thieves fell short against TSM. But there were positives to take into Summer: The fourth-place finish was their best since Summer 2018.
They were getting close to that goal of title contenders that had been set in 2019. They just weren’t quite there yet.
Heading into Summer, Thieves made two changes. Ryoma was sent back to the academy in favor of Felix ‘Abbedagge’ Braun, who was considered one of the strongest midlaners in Europe after a deep LEC playoff run with Schalke 04.
Head coach Tony ‘Ziks’ Gray, who had been with the team since Spring 2019, was also let go. In his place, 100 Thieves brought in longtime Cloud9 head coach Bok ‘Reapered’ Han-gyu, Repeared was a four-time LCS Coach of the Split and exactly the sort of mind the team needed.
A switch had been flipped. Ssumday went from the second-worst KDA in toplane to the third-best. Closer absolutely dominated the jungle, the only primary jungler with a KDA over five. Abbedagge was the high-impact midlaner the team had been lacking, Everything was finally falling into place.
100 Thieves stormed to an 18-9 record, the joint-best of the Summer split. Due to a format change that meant the results from Spring carried over, 100 Thieves entered the Summer playoffs as the second seed with a combined record of 29-16.
The summer playoffs were something of an underdog story for 100 Thieves, with people convinced that one of Team Liquid, Cloud9, or TSM would take the title.
Starting one win away from the Winners’ Final, 100 Thieves outlasted Evil Geniuses in a grueling back-and-forth series to become the first team to secure a place at Worlds 2021 from North America. To reach the Grand Final, however, they would need to defeat Team Liquid, who were the favorites to take home the first seed and had defeated Cloud9 and TSM.
It was a series that 100 Thieves let slip from their grasp. After three games, they were 2-1 up and a win away from a place in the Grand Final. But it wasn’t to be as they lost games four and five and dropped into the Losers’ Final.
There they found Cloud9, who had booked their ticket to Worlds at TSM’s expense. Cloud9 had taken home the Spring split title and were looking for their first top seeding since 2013.
100 Thieves dominated, winning 3-1 and moving onto the Grand Final. The clash against Team Liquid was a rematch of the Spring 2018 Grand Finals. On that occasion, Team Liquid had set the record for fastest ever Grand Final, accomplishing a 3-0 sweep in just 1:23:18.
But 100 Thieves had finally reached their summit. A helpless Team Liquid could only watch as the Thieves took the Summer 2021 title, and the top NA seed at Worlds, in a 3-0, 1:24:13 masterclass.
“They finally found the team that clicked,” said MarkZ. “I think a lot of people underestimated them or ignored them because of some of their slumps and because of discourse about the bracket. But 100 Thieves were a good team and 2021 was the year their plan finally worked out for them.”
While some may have been taken aback about 100 Thieves’ newfound success, PapaSmithy sees it differently, having been involved in the process every step of the way and seen the gradual improvements that were being made.
“Everyone across the organization did their part in making this happen,” he said. “Winning the LCS was the goal we were working towards and every move we made, every decision we took was part of the plan. We built the scaffolding for our success and well, here we are”.
“I’m not writing anything in blood when it comes to expectations,” PapaSmithy said of his goals for Worlds. “It’s not about making quarterfinals or setting a goal like that. It’s about putting in a performance that NA fans can be satisfied with, and about showing what we can do on that stage.”
And, as is his guiding philosophy, PapaSmithy sees it as a way to prepare for future success.
“We need to be able to take something away from our performance at Worlds. It needs to serve as a platform going into 2022 and beyond.”
100 Thieves’ roster for Worlds 2021 has a lot of international experience. Reapered, Ssumday, Closer, and huhi have all been to Worlds before, providing invaluable knowledge on how to play on the biggest stage in League. However, 100 Thieves are not banking on that prior experience, according to PapaSmithy.
“It’s great to have a coach and to have players who know what it’s like to play at Worlds,” he said. “But we’ve always ensured that our players prepare themselves for moments like this. We want them to treat every match like they are playing it on a stage like Worlds.”
North America at Worlds has been a meme in recent years. The teams always seem to underperform, best exemplified by first seed TSM going 0-6 in the Group Stage at Worlds 2020.
- Read More: Worlds 2021 hub
However, it is a reputation that MarkZ feels is somewhat unfair.
“I think people forget that North America wasn’t terrible at Worlds last year,” he said. “Yes, TSM were bad, but both Team Liquid and Flyquest went 3-3 in really tough groups.”
For PapaSmithy, he is confident that his team can shoulder the burden of representing North America well.
“I think that fans have lost confidence in North America in recent years,” Papasmithy said. “But we are ready to show them that the LCS is good, that teams from North America can be competitive at Worlds.”
100 Thieves in the group stage
Prior to the group stage draw, MarkZ said that “3-3” would be a reasonable goal for 100 Thieves, with expectations obviously relative to the rest of the teams in their group.
100 Thieves face LPL top seed EDward Gaming, LCK third seed T1, and LJL play-ins team DetonatioN FocusMe. The draw saw them avoid teams like DWG KIA and MAD Lions, but 100 Thieves has still been left with a mountain to climb.
If the team can play as well as they did in Summer, they might be part of a three-team battle for second place. However, if 100 Thieves want to make it to the knockout stages, they must take wins off T1 and DFM. Even then, it might come down to a grueling tiebreaker gauntlet.
Odds from DJ Esports put 100 Thieves as the heavy underdogs against EDward Gaming, the slight underdogs against T1, and the slight favorites against DetonatioN FocusMe.
|October 11||EDward Gaming||1.289||3.645||100 Thieves|
|October 12||100 Thieves||1.410||2.932||DetonatioN FocusMe|
|October 13||T1||1.494||2.624||100 Thieves|
|October 16||T1||1.463||2.726||100 Thieves|
|October 16||100 Thieves||1.410||2.932||DetonatioN FocusMe|
|October 16||EDward Gaming||1.304||3.524||100 Thieves|
No one expects 100 Thieves to succeed. But they are a team that is always ready to prove people wrong.