100 Thieves were the first team to announce their roster for the 2022 LCS season. General Manager Christopher ‘PapaSmithy’ Smith spoke to Dexerto about the decision to field a six-man roster, and how different the LCS will look in the coming season.
The LCS has braced itself for a wave of change in 2022. Several teams have undergone substantial roster changes, while the league itself abandoned its 2021 format to combine the records from the Spring and Summer splits.
But as the league changed, 100 Thieves opted to stay largely the same.
There were no major roster changes, as they had done in 2020. The only move they did make was promoting academy prospect Milan ‘Tenacity’ Oleksij to the LCS roster.
With plans to work with a six-man roster in 2022, 100 Thieves GM PapaSmithy sat down with Dexerto to explain the offseason strategy, the expectations for 2022, and the shifting face of the LCS.
Six-man roster for 2022
100 Thieves didn’t see the need for major changes following the conclusion of their 2021 season.
“Coming into the offseason, we looked at what we had, and we felt we had a team that could continue pushing the boundaries of the LCS,” PapaSmithy explained. “We had a team that worked. That was the big thing about our Summer team – everyone had fun being there, the coaching staff was getting really good results out of the players.
“But you always want to make sure that you don’t just run things again because you won, and assume you’re going to get the same results.”
The team, who few had expected to win the LCS in Summer 2021, are no longer underdogs. However, that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t have the same drive that carried them to their first LCS title.
“We’re entering 2022 as, I hope, one of the favorites to run it back,” PapaSmithy explained, “but the energy around the team hasn’t changed. Just because we’re the defending champions doesn’t mean we’re any less hungry.”
While they didn’t make sweeping changes, as some of their LCS opponents have done, 100 Thieves looked at what they could do to ensure they didn’t fall behind the other contenders in the league.
For PapaSmithy, that change would emerge from the org’s academy team.
“At the end of the day, people look at 100 Thieves Academy from 2021 and say there’s a lot of talent on that roster,” he said, “how that talent could make it to the LCS was an open question for people at 100 Thieves and people outside 100 Thieves to speculate on,” PapaSmithy continued.
100 Thieves Academy had a strong 2021 season, taking third in the two Academy splits before finishing the year with a win at the Summer Proving Grounds event. But there was one player that stood out to PapaSmithy: Tenacity, a 100 Thieves talent through and through. He joined 100X, the organization’s amateur team, in 2020 before being promoted to academy play the following year.
“At the end of the day, the piece that made the most sense to me to commit to in terms of a day one, fully-integrated member of the LCS roster was Tenacity,” PapaSmithy explained.
“Milan has this insane drive to be the best. If he doesn’t get what he wants from a team scrim, he’ll go to solo queue. If he still feels like he needs something, he’ll come to the coaching staff at 100 Thieves. And if for whatever reason they can’t help him, he’ll go and reach out to the people around the scene.
“He just has this hunger and appetite to be aggressive about his own development. And I felt that another year in Academy wasn’t the thing that was going to bring him closer to his potential.”
Tenacity was formally promoted to the LCS on November 16, with PapaSmithy explaining on Twitter that 100 Thieves would be running a six-man roster for the coming year.
6-Man rosters are far from a solved system in League of Legends esports, and we’ve put in a lot of time to consider how to integrate players above just the starting 5.
One thing I can confirm is that neither Ssumday nor Tenacity will play Academy – Both will focus on LCS Prep
— Chris Smith (@PapaSmithy) November 16, 2021
However, the announcement raised questions, namely what this meant for Kim ‘Ssumday’ Chan-ho, 100 Thieves’ starting top laner since 2018.
“A lot of people are going to be asking questions as to whether this is a reflection of Ssumday’s abilities, of Tenacity’s abilities, on whether top laner is the thing that needs to change in a six-man roster,” PapaSmithy said, “for me, if I have a player who has a lot of ability to take the LCS by storm, like Tenacity, I want to do the thing that is going to accelerate his development the most.”
PapaSmithy made it clear that there would be no expectations placed on either player to fulfill a certain role.
“It would be unfair for me to place the expectation of mentorship on Ssumday. I spoke to him about the situation and explained what we were doing. He accepted it, the nature of their relationship is up to them,” PapaSmithy explained.
Both players will be considered viable candidates for the LCS top lane role.
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Ssumday shared his thoughts on the situation in an interview with InvenGlobal:
“Obviously, competing with someone within the team is pressuring, but in the world of professional gaming, if I’m not good enough, I need to pass on that spot to someone who’s better. That’s how it works,” the veteran top laner said, “Right now, I’m wondering how he would fit into the team.
Our team has our own style, and I’m curious about how it’ll be different when I’m playing and when he’s playing — whether he would struggle in the same areas that I struggle with, or how he would deal with the situations put for him.”
But he had nothing but praise for Tenacity.
“It could seem that I’m too proud of myself, but he’s the kind of player that’s evaluated the way I was when I was young,” Ssumday said, “He’s a solo queue warrior with great mechanics. He loves playing aggressive champions, but he needs to learn the team game a bit more. Overall, he’s really good.”
The concept of a six-man roster in League of Legends is one still met with plenty of skepticism. There have been examples where it has worked, T1’s 2015 Worlds-winning campaign being the most prominent. However, the general idea is often dismissed.
“I think a six-man roster is seen as something of a dirty term in esports,” PapaSmithy said, “but it feels like people attack the concept much more than the implementation.
“I had the opportunity to speak to a lot of people at Worlds, T1 for example, and I used those conversations to really dig deeper into six-man rosters. What worked, what didn’t. So we’re coming into this with a really good idea of how we can make it work for us.”
LCS arms race
Prior to the start of free agency, PapaSmithy told Travis Gafford he expected an “arms race” in the LCS ahead of Worlds 2022, which is due to be hosted across North America. It’s a prediction he stands by now that free agency has begun as LCS teams begin to reveal their rosters.
Cloud9 brought over three players from Korea, while Team Liquid will reportedly field young LEC standout Steven ‘Hans Sama’ Liv alongside the likes of LCS legend Søren ‘Bjergsen’ Bjerg and 2018 Worlds finalist Gabriël ‘Bwipo’ Rau. TSM are yet to reveal their plans for next year.
“We are absolutely seeing an arms race,” PapaSmithy said, “though perhaps fans don’t see quite see it that way as to them, an arms race would be signing lots of big-name players.”
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PapaSmithy identified five primary contenders in the LCS in 2022, based on what has been rumored and seen so far in free agency:
- 100 Thieves
- Team Liquid
- Evil Geniuses
“I think what’s so interesting is that every team has gone about their offseason a different way,” PapaSmithy explained, “we are going down the six-man roster route; Cloud9 is looking to Korea, both in terms of talent and training; Team Liquid are pulling in all this European talent; Evil Geniuses are fielding young players that people feel have a really high ceiling, and the jury is still out on TSM as they still have to fill out the meat of their roster.”
The notion that the league’s top teams have gone in different directions excites PapaSmithy.
“I honestly can’t wait to get coffee or jump in a discord call with other GMs and ask them why they made the decisions they did. It’s going to be really interesting to see whose strategy ends up paying off, what the million-dollar idea ends up being”
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While too early to make any sort of reasonable prediction about 2022, those five will likely battle it out for LCS titles and Worlds places, making for an incredibly competitive year in the LCS.
“It really feels like the teams that can, have gone big for Worlds,” PapaSmithy said, referencing the NA-hosted Worlds in 2022. “Everyone wants to be there to represent the region.”
100 Thieves in 2022
“The energy around the team hasn’t changed, and that’s honestly what we want,” PapaSmithy said,
At Worlds 2021, 100 Thieves went 3-3 in the group stage. They were eliminated from the tournament as semifinalists T1 and eventual winners EDward Gaming progressed out of their group with 5-1 and 4-2 records, respectively.
“I don’t think many people at the org were happy with our Worlds performance, we certainly weren’t satisfied with it. We want to be able to take that next step in 2022,” PapaSmithy said.
For 100 Thieves, that means putting faith in their six-man roster.
Whether it pays off, the LCS Lock-In tournament begins on January 14 2022 and will provide the first glimpse of what 100 Thieves are all about as defending champions.