Giving someone the pink slip is never easy. Anthony “Zikz” Gray was one of the longest-standing LCS coaches before his departure. But this decision does feel like the right one. 100 Thieves started the season strong but struggled to adapt in the mid-season. Sitting in the fourth-place position with not a lot of optimism, the team announced they would be making changes, starting off with bringing in a new head coach in Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu.
But maybe it’s not the right time.
Well, It Worked for Team Liquid
Back in May of 2020, Team Liquid surprised most of North America. After a spring season filled with drama and poor League of Legends, they would bring in a new head coach in Joshua “Jatt” Leesman to steer the ship while Jang “Cain” Nu-ri would stay on as a strategic coach.
Jatt was able to guide the team out of the storm that was 2020 Spring — picking up “Coaching Staff of the Split” honors in the summer, along with making a Worlds appearance.
They wouldn’t change their strategic formula right away. The team would continue with their focus on a conservative style of play that allowed for natural leads to grow across the map from their talented laners. Incorporating clean decision-making and decent jungle pathing from Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen was an excellent regular season strategy, however, it would get punished in the post-season. More focus from other teams on how to counter Team Liquid’s strategy meant a lot of regular tendencies would get exposed from an inexperienced head coach.
And a lot of things went right for the organization. Their players were finally all in America, they fixed a team chemistry issue and put Cain in a better position to succeed as a strategic figure rather than as an organizational leader. Fans were finally were able to see the expected vision of what Team Liquid was meant to look like. Other mid-season changes from other organizations would work in Team Liquid’s perspective.
It isn’t to discredit the work completed. It’s to put it into a more appropriate perspective.
Why a Shell is Left in the Sand
Cloud9 relieved Reapered of his duties back in September of 2020. Failing to make Worlds simply was unacceptable for the organization.
He was seen as an innovator in the scene, pushing out new strategies and approaches to the game of League of Legends. At times, it felt like the needed edge the organization would need to reach new heights. But other times, it was the head-scratcher that would set his team up for failure. Playing to win the draft would sometimes build incredibly difficult to execute compositions. He would be connected to questionable roster decisions — such as the mid-season benching of Cloud9’s star mid-laner and marksman in 2018 — but was overall a net positive for the organization during his tenure.
They moved on from him for a reason.
Cloud9 would promote their academy team head coach Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin along with re-building their core coaching staff with new analysts and assistant coaches. While still finding their footing, the timing of the decision has worked in their favor. A rocky start to the year finished with the team winning the Spring Split title. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Reapered, on the other hand, would find himself without a team. Rumored to be a result of his high asking price, it also felt as if the scene had doubts. His journey ending with Cloud9 was a surprise yet explainable. Teams that were in need of a new head coach would go with “talent development” minded individuals rather than strategic gods. The coaching market was correcting itself in that sense.
Teams weren’t in the market for what he offered.
His background, coming from the Korean esports environment, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Former players have been outspoken about how refreshing it was to have more agency when it comes to the game of League of Legends. His hand was deep in the cookie jar when it came to the Cloud9 collapse because of that control into how the game should be approached, what he considered to the best strategy.
He was left to wait.
It is interesting to think about what makes Reapered check off the boxes for 100 Thieves at this point in time. Christopher “PapaSmithy” Smith has been transparent about his expectations for the team are set incredibly high. Worlds or bust.
100 Thieves’ biggest problem in the spring was their lack of an identity. Switching styles, switching mid-laners plagued the team after what was an impressive start. It’s pretty difficult to fix this mid-season. Reapered even addresses this problem in his opening statement as the 100 Thieves head coach.
In sports, a new head coach oftentimes isn’t hired until after the season. The off-season allows the organization to shape things around a leader or a player. A person in-house is usually promoted, following the path laid out for them while also showcasing their potential to guide the team in a new direction.
100 Thieves didn’t go that route. They brought in someone that is expected to lead the team to Worlds right away. Fans just don’t know if it can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time. He also doesn’t have the luxury of making a ton of changes.
Reapered isn’t the type of coach to “fix” a line-up, he’s the type of coach to steer it into a new direction. He didn’t turn Cloud9 into a first-place team right away. It took some time. Potentially seeing a completely different 100 Thieves team on the rift isn’t out of the question in the summer, it can just go both ways. But some might argue it is a risk they need to take because of its potential.
What if It Doesn’t Work?
This is potentially the most important change in PapaSmithy’s tenure as 100 Thieves’ General Manager. One of the best commenters on the game of League of Legends, his history as a front office representative has been rocky. The team has yet to see an LCS Finals and their best post-season finishing was 3-4 for the Lock In. Their roster activity hasn’t translated into the desired success the organization is looking for.
It’s been a lot of having the right idea but executing poorly.
Reapered is the right guy for the job of head coach but possibly at the wrong time. He’s the man that should be guiding the direction of an organization for the future. But to turn a shaky team around in times for Worlds, that’s a large ask. The argument could be that the talent is there but the counter would be projections were unrealistic for some of the members. Everyone knows Victor “FBI” Huang and Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho are talented. But determining which side should be weak and which side should be strong doesn’t have an answer just yet.
And it’s why the blame shouldn’t fall immediately onto Reapered if it doesn’t work right away. Truly fans and higher-ups shouldn’t place blame onto him if the team doesn’t get it together. This is on the general manager for how he has approached what has been a turbulent year with original expectations being missed.
What If It Does Work?
In a world where everything goes right — Reapered gets the most of out of the players, they excel from a strategic perspective and FBI wins the MVP trophy — where does that get 100 Thieves? Fans kind of saw their peak abilities in the Lock-In tournament. They would perform well in the group stages, they would take a talented Cloud9 team to their limits, only to be reverse swept by a superior performance from Cloud9’s bottom lane and jungler.
Since then, teams have been able to play around some of the star talent on 100 Thieves. FBI has at times struggled when limited in the early game. Ssumday has been struggling, failing to perform up to expectations when treated as a strong-side player. The potential for Closer to develop under Reapered is still there but his setbacks continue to be concerning.
And then there is the question of “Who falls?” Cloud9 and Team Liquid look like locks to represent North America at Worlds 2021. TSM, despite looking somewhat shaky in their playoff run, can never be counted out. Then there are the wildcards in Dignitas, Evil Geniuses, Immortals and Counter Logic Gaming who all looked really good at times during the regular season and could take advantage of the downtime.
Its A Lot
That’s the biggest takeaway.
A lot of pressure is going to be put on 100 Thieves to perform this split. What is still a lineup with a developing core is now being expected to overcome a lot of problems. It’s challenging. It isn’t to say it is impossible, it just not as likely as people may think. It was a team with expectations set incredibly high that now has tasked a new coach to figure things out.
Sometimes, you just have to be accepting of a loss to move on. Buying stock close to its peak, watching it fall a little, and thinking that it will totally bounce back is a bold move. Assuming that one or two fixes will save the roster is a bold prediction. They’re a victim of the expectations set out for them and a victim of when projections go wrong.
“From Our Haus to Yours”