100 Thieves still haven’t figured themselves out

100T won on Saturday against the worst team in the league, but it felt almost as bad as a loss.

Photo via Riot Games

The offseason was supposed to fix everything. 100 Thieves ended 2018 on a sour note, crashing out of Worlds with a makeshift roster that felt incomplete. But then, on Thanksgiving Day of all days, reports spread that they had found the magic bullet. Bae “Bang” Jun-sik—yes, that Bang, the two-time world champion bot laner, the marksman who racked up 1,000 kills in Korea—was coming to North America.

Bang was supposed to fix all of 100 Thieves’ issues and make them championship material. But just two months into the 2019 campaign, 100 Thieves are no closer to figuring things out than they were last year. Sitting at 4-7, they can still make playoffs, but the hope of Thanksgiving has given way to the dreadful reality of the cold North American winter.

On Saturday, 100 Thieves snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Clutch Gaming. But it was an ugly, messy win—one that required an incredibly improbable comeback. And throughout the game, 100 Thieves showed that they haven’t actually fixed many of their issues at all.

Over five weeks of play, 100 Thieves have failed to turn their collection of stars into a team that’s more than the sum of its parts. This is why they’ve failed—and also how they can turn it all around and recapture the hope of Thanksgiving.

The superstar

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The one player acquisition that has defined 100 Thieves the most didn’t come from the rebuild last offseason. It was completed in 2017 when the team had just been accepted as a new franchised partner in the LCS. Getting Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black from CLG was a big sign that the new team was ready to make a splash. But the real shocker came when 100 Thieves picked up top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho from Dignitas.

Ssumday has become one of the most recognizable Korean stars in North America. The affable, soft-spoken Ssumday has the most Twitter followers of any Korean transplant—even the wildly popular Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae, who’s been in the region for much longer, can’t compete. 100 Thieves signed him to become a superstar, and he didn’t disappoint. He was a rock for the team, coming through even as they struggled with a lack of priority in both mid and bot lane, and as they worked in rookie jungler Andy “AnDa” Hoang.

But this year, 100 Thieves have bought a little too much into the superstar hype. Ssumday is a huge carry, but not in the way 100 Thieves are using him. He became a star in Korea by playing late-game scaling champions like Gangplank. He just wants to farm out the lane phase and become a monster afterwards.

In that way, his play matches his personality. He speaks softly, but when late game teamfights come around, he carries a massive stick. But for most of 2019, 100 Thieves seem determined to make him speak up in the lane phase. They’ve put him on Urgot, Jayce, and Yorick—champions that the old Ssumday would never be caught dead on. On Saturday against Clutch, they went full galaxy brain and had him lock in Riven. And it wasn’t pretty—Clutch top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon locked in Karma as a counter and made Ssumday irrelevant for nearly the entire game.

Even when 100 Thieves sent AnDa to the top lane to gank for Ssumday and salvage the lane, Huni simply turned it around with the help of his own jungler. And this isn’t the first time this has happened—AnDa’s ganks for Ssumday this year have been notable for how awkward they look. It’s like watching two dance partners each waiting for the other to make the first move.

Even when disaster doesn’t strike like it did against Clutch, those fumbled ganks have a price. AnDa is still keeping up his farm in the early game, but his focus on top lane is taking away resources from the other parts of the map that sorely need it.

The glue

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The part of the map that needs AnDa the most is the mid lane, manned by Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun. Huhi was signed to replace veteran mid Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook, who has moved to the coaching staff.

Before this year, we had Huhi on a list of five players to watch in the LCS because of how important he was to holding this team together. He was supposed to be their glue guy—a player fluent in both Korean and English who played at the Nexus of the map.

Huhi’s always had clear flaws, namely the fact that his lane phase is pretty rough. He’s never been one to generate minion or experience leads in the first 15 minutes of a game. His previous team, CLG, compensated with scripted early game plays that would give them a step up via stronger preparation.

So far, 100 Thieves haven’t done the same—and when they do, it’s rarely focused on Huhi’s lane. And while it would be easy to just tell Huhi to play defensively and wait for the side lanes to draw pressure, that’s really not effective for him or the team. Huhi’s signature champion is the Aurelion Sol that’s designed to press forward and spread influence to the side lanes. And his most played champion is Ryze, a champion that can scale into a late game monster on his own if given enough resources.

Without resources, Huhi often exits lane phase to find himself placed in side lane matchups where he doesn’t have a prayer. 100 Thieves’ percentage of lane farm is among the lowest in the league because they can’t—or won’t—contest side lanes past the lane phase and are forced to share farm while huddling together in a sad, scared group. The only reason Clutch didn’t succeed against him was because they refused to use their map advantage to take major objectives and deny farm.

If 100 Thieves want to give Ssumday time to scale, they need AnDa to camp for Huhi and challenge both of them to pry open mid lane as a duo. It’s clear now that only by mixing Huhi and AnDa together can they create glue. Basically, they need AnDa to play more like longtime SKT jungler Bae “Bengi” Seung-woong, a player who would constantly sacrifice his own farm and carry potential to make sure his mid laner was taken care of.

Only by doing that can they unlock their SKT-trained bot laner.

The carry

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Bang was one of the few players on the team who did have a good game against Clutch. His lane was the only one that didn’t outright lose and his late-game damage was immense.

But Bang has spent most of the year stuck in losing lanes where he doesn’t get influence from either mid lane or jungle. In a way, he’s used to that—Bang’s bot lane was never really a pressure lane for SKT, who focused more on their solo lanes.

But it’s also a waste of Bang’s talents. North America’s bot lane talent pool is not deep. The league champions for the past few years have basically read like a list of which teams had the best AD Carries. Having someone of Bang’s caliber should be an immense advantage for 100 Thieves, but they have to use him properly. Allowing mid lane to influence bot lane—rather than the other way around—would be a great start, one that suits the talents of both Huhi and Bang.

And that’s the last key: It may sound obvious, but 100 Thieves need to focus inward to dig themselves out of this hole.

Play like Cloud9—but not like Cloud9

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There’s precedent for that—just last summer, Cloud9 went from last place to the Worlds semifinals. The way they did it should be an inspiration to every other LCS team: By playing a distinct style centered around their specific strengths. They didn’t get distracted by scrims or metas. They did what they did best, and they did it better than nearly every other team in the world.

The point isn’t that 100 Thieves should copy Cloud9’s style draft-for-draft, play-for-play. It’s that they should stop being influenced by others. They have spent too much time looking at what others are doing and haven’t paid enough attention to themselves. That’s how you end up with Bang’s Viktor experiment vs. Liquid and whatever has happened to Ssumday’s champion pool.

The final indignity should be that Riven game. Riven is not a Ssumday champion—until Saturday, he had not played Riven competitively since season five. A superstar like Ssumday shouldn’t be copying the champion pools of young, untested rookies like FlyQuest’s Omran “V1per” Shoura, a noted Riven main. Hell, even V1per needs to stop playing Riven with so much reckless abandon.

It’s not that teams shouldn’t evolve and players shouldn’t learn new champions. The game has changed a lot over the years, and especially this year. But there was a reason they signed Ssumday in 2017 and Bang last year. In the race to improve, they can’t lose sight of what made their players special in the first place. 100 Thieves can still be as good as we thought they could be at the beginning of the year—they just need to remind themselves of who they are.