In the history books, the early-2000s Los Angeles Lakers team will forever be remembered as the “Shaq-Kobe-Phil” team. In reality, that team was able to flourish because of the other individuals on the court — Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Ron Harper. The role players elevated the play of the superstars on the line-up. And while fans appreciate the role player in hindsight, sometimes they forget how important role players are in the moment.
Respecting and understanding when a player is filling a much needed yet less glamourous role on a team cannot only save a team from self-destructing but also improve the life of a coach, making it easier to read what is going wrong with a team.
Tanner “Damonte” Damonte has been a role player for most of his career. Fans might not think of it as a community, but he’s been the mid laner that has managed to build up the players around him, letting them “cook,” rather than being the conventional carry.
On arguably his best champion, Twisted Fate, he used the global ability of the champion to get the critical pick and secure 100 Thieves an advantage. His card selection continues to be on point. Something that may have been missed in their match-up against Immortals was his key removal of Xerxe from a major fight. Over the course of the fight, he buys times for the rest of his team by hitting 5 straight gold cards onto Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir, potentially saving the team from a disaster situation. He’s playing a style exceptionally well and managed to earn the admiration of the community with his charisma.
But in times of team turmoil, the blame is thrown in direction of a team’s weakest looking member or the coach. And because of what the numbers are showing, Damonte is an easy target.
Starving for the Team
During the 2019 Summer Split, there was a huge revelation: Damonte could survive off of a limited economy. He would rank dead last in percentage of his team’s economy and rank last among starting mid-laners in percentage of his team’s creeps post fifteen minutes. He would even have mediocre laning statistics and would have the lowest damage per minute among mid-laners.
But Clutch Gaming were performing pretty well.
In the gauntlet run, Damonte was the worst-performing mid from a statistical perspective. His impact would instead be seen on film. His performances on Qiyana — being able to set-up his teammates to take advantage of an excellent usage of Qiyana’s ultimate would completely turn fights in the favor of Clutch. His ability to help peel Cody Sun would free up the marksman to do as much damage as possible. It wasn’t something we expected from a young mid laner in North America. His excellent navigation through teamfights was just a commentary on how well he understood his limits.
Nick “Inero” Smith and company would use this style to their advantage in the 2020 Summer Split, helping Victor “FBI” Huang showcase his potential as a carry. Despite not much of a difference in resource allocation, the champion pool difference between Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer and Damonte would be the much-needed adjustment to help the team make a late-season run.
In wins, FBI would lead the team in percentage of team’s overall damage (31.2%), damage per minute (708), percentage of team’s economy (25.8) and percentage of the team’s creeps post fifteen minutes (29.7%). But in losses those statistics would predictably go down, recording 30.2% of his team’s overall damage, posting 528 damage per minute, having 27.5% of his team’s global economy and having his percentage of his team’s creeps post fifteen minutes being increased to 31%. It was the final piece of the puzzle that would come with time – how to put FBI in a position to succeed but not destroying the rest of the team when he couldn’t.
100 Thieves this season have experienced a similar issue. When the team is able to get a lead on the bottom side of the rift — whether it be from early pressure from Can “Closer” Çelik and Damonte or a misplay from the opposing bottom lane, the team has looked to be in sync and performing up to expectations. And whether it is because of drafting choices, overall in-game execution or electing to funnel resources to Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, when that lead isn’t able to be obtained for FBI, the team struggles. Despite putting Damonte on a different set of champions and beginning to underperform, other points of concern with the make-up of the team still remained.
So why is this the mid laner’s fault?
The Expectations of a Mid Laner
The last time a mid laner won the NA LCS MVP trophy was way back in 2017 when Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg took it home. In fact, Bjergsen is the only mid laner in LCS history to have the honor of being a regular season MVP. Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen hasn’t won, shockingly Hai “Hai” Du Lam never won either.
Yet, everyone holds the role with high prestige.
In basketball the view of the point guard role has changed — with players exhibiting an old school approach to the role, such as Chris Paul, having an incredibly different style from the modern scoring point guard like Damian Lillard. Despite this, both are respected for being incredible at their craft while not necessarily providing the same output.
Can fans acknowledge that with mid laners?
In the early years of competitive League of Legends, some control mage mid laners would be the odd picks. It used to be a treat to watch Syndra in competitive play when players from the LPL would bring out the pick while the rest of the world didn’t even touch the champion. Players that go against the conventional norm of a meta shouldn’t be dissuaded to do so. Instead, they should be understood as to why they are playing certain champions.
Discounting the style of play from someone like Damonte or a player like Adam “LIDER” Ilyasov because it is different or disrupts conventional views on how the competitive game should be played creates a sense of staleness rather than figuring out what is the best way for a team to win a game of League of Legends.
A Role Player Shouldn’t Be Dropped for Skill, They Should Be Dropped for a Change in Direction
Damonte’s style of play worked incredibly well with the vision the 100 Thieves coaching staff originally had. If they want to move on to a new style or a new approach to the game, they have every right to do so. That understanding just has to be communicated to the community. A role player doesn’t help the team win just one game, they help them win a championship. If they do not believe they have the tools in place to win games, it’s completely understandable to try and re-configure the line-up. They just have to do it the right way.
Why 100 Thieves have found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place comes as a result of how the issue was framed. Organizations are being monitored regarding every decision they make that impacts a North American resident. 100 Thieves’ decision to substitute in Tommy “ry0ma” Le, who struggled the last time fans saw him on the professional stage, didn’t sit well with others. But after watching last week’s games, it’s particularly clear that 100 Thieves have a strategy problem that Damonte’s individual performance wasn’t impacting. In their win against last-place Golden Guardians, it was the return to their old early game approach with Closer allowing for FBI to pop-off while ry0ma performed admirably in the role-player role.
100 Thieves returning to a style of play that worked well with Damonte in the line-up but with a different member filling that role is fine, role players can be interchangeable. It just defeats the premise of what an interseason player change should accomplish. It’s putting the attention onto the 100 Thieves front office and their decision-making. With how important team chemistry is, the value in making a player change for potentially only a marginal difference in performance from the player feels like a step back. Not only does it discredit what the original role player provided to the team, but it also doesn’t lead to the progress that the team and its fans are expecting.