In what was widely recognized as a two-horse race for best marksman in North America, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng found himself third. Some could argue, it was a relief. Some could argue that it was expected. And the cynic could argue it wasn’t earned.
In his first split of competitive League of Legends since his unceremonious exit from TSM in 2020, he received six “Player of the Game” awards and his performance in the final two weeks dramatically shifted the story on 100 Thieves’ split from a disappointment to a third-place regular season finish. Balancing the life he had built as a content creator with a return professional play and the addition of drama with his past was a heavy ask. To his credit, Peng has handled it better than most could ever dream of.
There was the reality that the split ended on a sour note. Golden Guardians’ would eliminate the team in five games and the final moment featured his ill-fated attempt to secure additional creeps being punished, leading to the team’s nexus falling. If matters could not get any worse, his partner-in-crime Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg retired.
100 Thieves will enter the summer split with a new look – featuring a new top laner, a mid laner and a new head coach. Yet the expectation will be fairly similar to the start of the spring and the eyes will still be on Doublelift.
Can he handle that?
Doublelift returned to a meta that favored a style of preference for marksman – the prioritization of front to back team-fighting. The ability to position well to be able to output as much damage as possible, outlasting team-fights was what made him famous. And in the spring, he was a decent performer in this area. He ranked third among season-long starters in damage per minute and fifth among season longer starters in lowest damage taken per minute.
He was not a perfect player. His willingness to trade at times would be his downfall, recording the most deaths among marksmen in the season (47) and totaled 20.6% of 100 Thieves’ deaths in regular season match play.
In the biggest area of concern for players returning or participating on the professional stage for the first time, his laning play was average – averaging minor gold leads at ten minutes (+19) despite participating in 35% of first bloods. To his credit, he was able to build up his gold advantage between ten and fifteen minutes – averaging +151 at fifteen. And he was one of the better marksmen when it came to gold utilization, recording a 2.2 damage per gold utilization rate.
Then again, there should always be some healthy skepticism.
Seven regular season games across two weeks completely changed the narrative on the season. And eight post-season games brought the team back to reality. A reality that saw them move on from their stashed, highly praised academy prospect Milan “Tenacity” Oleksij whose carry, split-push style of play clashed with the team-fighting outlook of the team.
An investment into building around Doublelift is a gamble teams have been willing to make for the entirety of his career to mixed results. North America’s greatest marksman has at times not been able to carry the weight on his shoulders but has also struggled to relieve himself of said weight. And the league is projected to enter a meta once again reliant on the performance of marksmen, the question stands if he can raise his performance from “good enough” to “very good.” The argument of improved synergy with his young standout support Alan “Busio” Cwalina is plausible. But the criticism the duo received early in the season was not the first situation where issues in a bottom lane with Doublelift are being pointed at his support.
There is always the hope that a veteran player can produce one more magical season. Those memories of the old being reproduced and re-lived. But Doublelift hasn’t been able to showcase that just yet. In a split where general marksmen talent felt so poor for nearly all of it, Doublelift was the story people could get behind but it doesn’t make it the best story. Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes’ breakout performance in the playoffs was a gentle reminder that the marksmen talent in North America is relatively deep, it is just a matter of timing. And there are still names such as Victor “FBI” Huang, Frank “Tomo” Lam, Sean “Yeon” Sung and William “UNF0RGIVEN” Nieminen smelling blood in the water.
With a longer off-season, the question does stand of how that will impact talent. Will veterans be able to shake off the rest quicker than others? And maybe that is what 100 Thieves is counting on with their refurbished lineup.
Or it could be the dead space that impacts a player who has already tasted the retirement life. A player that seemingly felt near the end of his career back in 2020.