As 100 Thieves parted ways with Christophe “Kaas” van Oudheusden, it felt like a white flag on the Split. The high expectations of a star-studded lineup simply were not living up. And quietly, it felt like the organization was in panic mode. The arrival of Peter “Doublelift” Peng and Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg heightened the intrigue of the League of Legends line-up yet it also heightened the salaries paid. 100 Thieves as an organization began to battle the reality of overspending and the complications of the current financial market. They would complete a reorganization of their operating structure, laying off a significant portion of their workforce. Big questions about their esports spending soon would need even bigger answers.
And then they went 7-0 in the final two weeks of the Split, going from seventh to third and everyone shut up.
It is said in a light-hearted, exaggerated manner yet what took place following March 5 is quite the spectacle. What can realistically change in such a short period of time?
First, there is the change in the top lane. Arguably the most intriguing prospect entering the 2023 season, Milan “Tenacity” Oleksij was struggling out of the gate. A player primarily expected to be an equal – if not greater – replacement to Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho as a side lane phenom simply wasn’t living up to the hype. Despite glimpses of brilliance on carry champions, he wasn’t able to carry. And he also wasn’t necessarily contributing – roughly getting involved in 8.4 kills in five wins. In losses, it was even worse – 3.8 kills.
He had found comfort with tanks – notably performing well on K’Sante (2-0) and Ornn (1-1). Since the change, his champion pool has noticeably been reduced to two tanks: Sion and Gragas. While still struggling in the laning phase, he’s become a bigger contributor to the general landscape of games. And the past two weeks, he’s been contributing to 13.2 kills. His damage per minute has improved to 468 and he’s dying less – only recording 21.7% of the team’s total deaths with a 7.2 KDA.
Another newcomer in the support player Alan “Busio” Cwalina has also seen a change. Previously, he was on enchanter duty – recording eight games of Lulu, Nami, Soraka and Yuumi and three games of mage play – Lux, Karma and Azir. Since the start of the win streak, it has mostly been on engage-based champions such as Nautilus, Rakan, Thresh and Renata Glasc. Busio has participated in 82% of 100 Thieves of the kills and has contributed to 16.1 per match.
And while the 100 Thieves bottom lane continues to display struggles in the laning phase – averaging minor gold leads at ten minutes on the season – the adjustment to the champion pairing has opened up Doublelift to have a greater influence. With the movement to marksmen being the most influential role on the map, Doublelift has been outputting the largest damage per minute in the past two weeks (799). Team-fighting wins championships and 100 Thieves have been winning teamfights – recording a 2.30 kill-to-death ratio.
But then we have the caveats. A change of luck has gone their way.
Golden Guardians arguably took a massive step back following their incredible win streak. 100 Thieves also played against three of the bottom four teams in the LCS – including a TSM lineup undergoing roster identity issues. And Evil Geniuses would meet disaster in their final week – potentially a result of the negative attention the organization has been receiving in the final two weeks. It isn’t dismissing their accomplishments and it also doesn’t reference their critical win against Counter Logic Gaming in a tiebreaker matchup, it is just calling it out.
And 100 Thieves are still a flawed team early. They only averaged a gold lead of +156 at fifteen minutes, averaged a 57% first dragon rate and were only getting 3.6 plates per game despite a 57% herald control rate. It has been this ability to win in the mid-to-ate game with their situational awareness that you expect of a team of their caliber.
This noticeable change is kind of what you expect when it comes to a team with an interim coach. American football has this beautiful thing where when a new coach is introduced mid-season, the players play noticeably different – not necessarily better. There is a looseness, a lot more emotion and more freedom. You don’t expect the interim coach to reinvent the wheel but a different perspective or approach is incredibly valuable. More importantly, they turn to the player rather than rely on their instruction.
This is Erlend “Nukeduck” Våtevik Holm’s first stint as a coach and as he has stated in interviews, he’s kept it chill. With a team of established and respected veterans like Bjergsen, Can “Closer” Çelik and Doublelift, he’s let great players do great things. He’s even let Closer return to pocket picks.
100 Thieves are going to have to prepare to face tougher, mechanically superior opponents. Their opening matchup in the winner’s bracket will be against the team that appeared to be the most dominant in the LCS entering the last week and they will have to tip their hand prior to a potential loser’s bracket match-up.
It is no surprise that they are arguably the most interesting story entering the postseason, yet it is a surprise given where they were just a few weeks ago. With all of the concerns surrounding the mechanical abilities of their old stars, those concerns have disappeared for the most part. But it doesn’t mean that positional woes are impossible. In fact, they’re historic instances for some of them. The ending could be a less favorable one for fans. Or for sickos that enjoy false hopes and heartbreaks, their time could be coming soon.
And if the streak does continue, it could be one of the more interesting case studies in recent memory. Maybe coaches do matter. It could also be the win 100 Thieves are in desperate need of.