Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau’s move to North America after four years with Fnatic was one of the most talked-about player transfers of the 2021 offseason. We sat down with the Team Liquid top laner to discuss the motivation behind the move, his international hopes as a newly-minted NA player, and whether Champion’s queue is actually going to save the LCS.
The 2022 competitive season isn’t Bwipo’s first rodeo. He’s been one of the most talked-about players in League of Legends ever since his explosive debut in 2018, when he made it to the finals of the World Championship in his first year of tier one competitive play.
At the start of 2022, he finally switched teams after playing for Fnatic since his debut. He was the second franchise star to leave the team in as many years, with AD Carry Martin ‘Rekkles’ Larsson making the controversial decision to join G2 Esports in 2021.
While Rekkles chose to stay in Europe, Bwipo decided to look overseas for his next step, joining the LCS’s Team Liquid in one of the most exciting rosters North America has ever seen. The team brought together some of the biggest names in League esports, including legendary NA mid laner Soren ‘Bjergsen’ Bjerg and world champion support Jo ‘CoreJJ’ Yongin.
It’s been a few months since that roster was announced, and they’ve already proven they’re not to be messed with. They won the LCS Lock In tournament in a convincing 3-0 sweep against Evil Geniuses, and currently sit tied with Cloud9 for first place in the Spring split. And Bwipo seems to be enjoying his time in North America.
“Life is just good,” he told Dexerto. “I have no worries – that’s the simplest way to put it. No worries whatsoever.”
Why Liquid, and why now?
Making the decision to move halfway across the world is no small feat. It can be easy to forget that a pro player is more than just the game they’re playing, and that there is a whole life behind what you see on stage.
According to Bwipo, part of what drew him to Team Liquid was the promise of an easy move, as he’d heard from people in the scene that Liquid excelled at taking care of “things outside the game”.
“You know how much of a baby some esports players can be, including myself,” he said. “I really wanted to put myself in a position where wherever I go, I’m going to be able to focus fully on the game. And from what I’d heard, I knew Team Liquid was an excellent place to start.”
But there was more behind the decision than knowing Liquid could take good care of him in the US. He wanted to play with the best, in particular a support who could match the skill of his former teammate Zdravets ‘Hylissang’ Galabov. “If I wasn’t going to play with Hylissang,” Bwipo explained, “I wanted to play with a support of a similar caliber.”
“Obviously there are very few players of similar caliber to Hylissang, but I personally believe Mihael ‘Mikyx’ Mehle and CoreJJ were the two names I would find more than adequate. Perhaps not as good or exactly the same as Hyli, but in their own ways, I felt like they were more than good enough. I couldn’t complain if I had them on my team.”
Bwipo and Hylissang’s mad-scientist synergy was internationally renowned during their days together on Fnatic. With Mikyx left teamless at the start of 2022, later joining Excel to complete the org’s first-ever playoffs run, Bwipo’s only option was CoreJJ. And while CoreJJ is a little less explosive in his playstyle than Hylissang, he’s not a world champion for nothing.
Despite having been unable to start for Team Liquid in the Lock In or the first half of Spring, he’s taking the league by storm alongside AD Carry Steven ‘Hans sama’ Liv. He was a huge part of what drew both Bwipo and Hans sama to North America.
Too good to retire
They’re bold words, but there’s more than a shred of truth to them. Bwipo and Cloud9 top laner Park ‘Summit’ Wootae are the two best-performing top laners in the LCS.
“Some might consider Summit better than me, some might consider me better than Summit, and I think that’s awesome,” he said. “That’s what makes the league fun, because when we face off it’s not just a case of ,‘Oh, this guy is clearly better’. Who’d bother watching if they knew for sure who the better player was?”
Even though he won’t say for sure whether he’s better than Summit, it’s clear Bwipo has no doubts about his own ability as a player. Three World Championship appearances and two domestic titles more than prove he’s able to throw down with the best.
He’s never once considered quitting, even in some of the lowest moments of his career.
“I’m not at a point where I feel like the competition is too strong, and I honestly feel that I would be doing my team and my teammates a disservice if I stopped playing. In the LEC and LCS, it’s hard to find a top laner that plays the game better and understands the game better than I do.”
There’s more to League than the grind
He’s not a grinder, and he admits as much. “I’ve always been a quality-over-quantity type of player. I focus on finding quality in my practice rather than grinding out hours and hours.” The newly-introduced Champions Queue in North America has provided a respite from the relentless solo queue grind for a lot of professional players, but Bwipo argues the system still isn’t perfect.
“There not being any matchmaking is a big problem – LCS-caliber players should generally be considered better than amateur players, but the lack of an MMR system means this isn’t the case for Champions Queue,” he explained. “You could have a team of five amateur players against five LCS players, and while that’s not always a bad thing, it’s going to lead to more one-sided games than you’d generally like out of your practice sessions.”
Praise for Champion’s Queue has been widespread since its release at the start of 2022, but it’s not all been sunshine and rainbows.
Team Liquid’s Bill ‘Eyla’ Nguyen told Dexerto how limited the champion pool for these games could be, and that they offered very little opportunity to practice off-meta picks. Bwipo echoed this sentiment.
“All the champions that get picked are incredibly similar,” he explained, “and the only time you can really innovate is when you’re on the red side because of the way the draft is structured. You never get opportunities to play and expand your champion pool, unless you want to practice one specific matchup that often isn’t repeatable.”
Who needs a legacy?
Bwipo’s career is in an interesting spot in 2022. He’s by no means a rookie, but is he a veteran? Four years competing at the highest tier of competitive League is nothing to sniff at, but he’s also one of the youngest players on his current roster.
The question of legacy is an interesting one in esports, especially given the industry’s youth. A professional player’s career can be incredibly short, and those exhilarating few years at the top can leave an indelible mark on the esport.
Bwipo’s not concerned about the future, though. He’s much more interested in the here and now. When asked what his legacy would be in the esports world, his answer was surprisingly simple.
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“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t care, either. I’ll be remembered as people want to remember me, and that’s good enough for me. I’ve played with plenty of players who have a legacy and I respect them for it, I’m happy for them. But I have no goals to create a legacy of my own.”
He’s much more concerned with what he can offer to his team right now, not what he’ll be remembered as in ten years’ time. But that doesn’t mean he’s above a little nostalgia.
“I don’t think I’ve been an outstanding player at any point,” he said. “Aside from a few glimpses of it in certain situations. However, I do think I’ve had some highs that not every pro player can say they’ve had, and I’m very grateful for those highs.”
And whether he’ll reach those highs again with Liquid, he’s not yet sure. “By the time we enter playoffs, I’ll know whether or not we have the growth capabilities necessary to win an international tournament,” he explained, “because that ability for growth and adaptation is what you need when you go to Worlds and MSI. That’s why Asian teams are often so much better than Western teams at these events: even if the meta isn’t what they thought, they’ll come in and pick it up within two, three weeks of bootcamp.”
There’s not long left until the LCS playoffs, and for Team Liquid to hone this growth capability, if they want to be NA’s representatives at MSI this year. The clock is ticking for this North American superteam to cement themselves as the region’s best, and simply tying for first place won’t quite cut it if Bwipo wants to make his international debut for the region.