Alex Ich: From Russian Star to Stars and Stripes
Daily Dot writer William Turton has recently released a rumour that Alex Ich will be joining a North American challenger team, Team BrawL. The move is undoubtedly a smart one – it gives Alex the opportunity to play in a competitive and hopefully stable environment and also a chance to prove himself once again. If the team does well, great! If not he could find himself well situated to work his way onto a more established North American team, after all, we all know where the fingers are going to point if CLG fail to perform in yet another split. For a team that always falters under pressure an unflinching Veteran may seem like a good solution. We also know that the move to NA is always great for an increase in Twitch viewership.
Yet it seems strange to me that Alex Ich joining a small-time, North American challenger team could be considered a good career move. This article frames Alex's past year providing a context for why this is actually now the case.
One of the all-time greats
Alex Ich. When I hear that name I think of countless explosive team fights. I think of explosive plays, decisive victories and instinctive brilliance. I think clutch, I think versatile, I think Kha’zix. I think… what happened?
If you had told me that Alex Ich would not be in the LCS for Season 5; even as late as the end of the 2014 Spring Split, I may have believed you. Only however if Alex had decided he didn’t want to. To think that a legend of the mid lane, a player of Alex’s calibre and accolades would not instantly be one of the most sought after free agents would have been to me, a farcical notion. After all, what could go so wrong in half a year to relegate one of the greatest League of Legend players to the competitive side-lines? Well as it turns out, pretty much everything.
The fall of Gambit Gaming
Season 4 started as always for Gambit, crushing Fanatic to take yet another IEM victory, this time it happened to be IEM Cologne. Taking decisive victories off top teams, whilst conceding a few unexpected defeats to lesser teams – the Russian Machine steam rolled it’s self into a shared first place with SK Gaming by week 9. However the pack was fairly close nit, with little to no games separating the top teams.
Week ten arrives and SK Gaming and Gambit face off, both competing for the top spot. SK gaming pick Vel’koz support, a pick Gambit is more than ready for – they punish it hard and quickly snowball the game in their favour. The game is paused early due to a small bug that meant Aatrox would proc his life steal every second auto attack, instead of third. The game was paused but SK were not outright made aware they had a right to remake the game, as per Riot’s rulebook. The game continued and the bug was quickly dealt with as it vanishes after Aatrox activates his w once. Darien got no real lead in lane, and was the first member of Gambit to die. However he drew enough attention to secure the first drake and from there on in, Gambit would win through dominance on the rest of the map.
Unfortunately and controversially Riot later decided that they had wronged SK by not allowing them a remake for one of the least game impacting bugs ever to feature in a professional League of Legends game. Gambit was informed late that they would face a rematch with SK at the end of the next day. The research they’d done for that week was now useless, Aatrox was banned and champion select was entirely re-done. Vel’koz support was nowhere to be seen. This was not the last time that a Riot decision would hurt Gambit Gaming, but it was the beginning of the end for Alex Ich as Gambit’s mid.
From then on Gambit Gaming was a different beast, no longer the snarling wolf that given just a small sniff of weakness would rip you limb from limb, but a subdued, beaten down mutt. Even their infamous pre-finals boot camp was unable to rekindle their old form. After a poor showing the team found themselves in new territory, instead of competing for an LCS split title they would be instead competing to stay in the League. Not one member of the once glorious Moscow Five seemed themselves and each undoubtedly must shoulder a part of the blame.
Citing a poor work environment and stubborn teammates (amongst not being able to see his family) it was here that Alex Ich had decided to leave the team. Not before, of course, securing Gambit’s place in the LCS by crushing the Copenhagen Wolves in the deciding game of an intensely close relegations series, with a monstrous showing on Orianna.
A series of unfortunate events
For Alex however, this was just the beginning, with plenty more problems on the horizon. Again initially things looked bright. Ninja’s in Pyjama’s had taken Alex as a top laner. Dissatisfied with a stagnant and more passive mid-lane style, Ich sought a new challenge. Initial results looked positive with Alex being able to bring a unique flavour to the top lane; playing carries such as Lulu and Kayle, as well as flex picking Orianna and sometimes switching lanes with Nukeduck. The new Ninja’s in Pyjamas stomped their way up the ranked ladder and won a few minor online tournaments.
Of course it did not take long for misfortune to strike the NIP roster, Mithy and Nukeduck had continued to display signs of toxicity and after one too many incidents were temporarily banned from competing. Having lost two LCS calibre teammates, one could only imagine the team’s morale. PowerofEvil an up and coming mid laner initially took Nukeduck’s place and things looked positive. This roster was able to win Dreamhack and dropped only a single game. Alex had looked solid nearly all of this time, especially given how hard it can be to transition roles.
Yet as time went on internal issues rose to the fore, NIP struggled to get Alex the required VISA and friction within the team ended with Kou, the young jungler, leaving the team. By the time a chance at the LCS was looming, the NIP roster had never looked worse.
An out of practice Alex resumed his original position mid but was unable to reach the level required to carry the team around him. A particularly poor performance against Unicorns of Love is often referenced amongst Redditers as damning evidence that Alex’s level has fallen off. Alex found himself facing off against his briefly former teammate PowerofEvil. On the whole it is inarguable that of the two, Alex had far less impact. However in most of the series it was actually the then Unicorns of Love jungler Gilius that was putting PowerofEvil in a position to dominate the ex-Gambit powerhouse. The worst of the three games for Alex was the second, after a particularly poorly timed all in – Alex’s Yasuo was unable to quickly finish his opponents Orianna, allowing Gilius on Jarvan an easy gank awarding the Unicorns of Love first blood and PowerofEvil all the advantage he would need to keep Alex out of the game.
Alex Ich: exciting prospect or dangerous risk?
After what can only be described as a turbulent year, Alex found himself without a team and his reputation in question. I asked Froggen whether or not he thought the ex-Gambit Captain would find a place in the LCS, during a stream. The Alliance mid laner seemed sceptical, reasoning that there are already an abundance of good mid-laners in Europe and none carry the same VISA risks that come with being a Russian citizen. He believed Alex’s best chances were in qualifying with a challenger team and indeed for a while there were rumours of Alex Ich heading to Xpeke’s new team Origen, where the newly unbanned Mithy now resides. The immediate future seemed bleak. Why risk facilitating a difficult living situation; complicated only further by the fact Alex has a family to support, when there were options such as Nukeduck available?
The answers can be found in a recent interview with Alex where he quells some of these worries for potential organisations looking to recruit. “A lot of teams and fans think that a team needs to provide an apartment for me and my family, but I can sustain myself and pay for everything myself. The main thing I need help with is the visa and finding an apartment for me and my family that I will be able to play from.”
Given the increasing hostility between the European Union and Russia over the Crimea and the fact that working VISA’s are available to eSport athletes in the USA – Alex believed that his best chance at returning to the LCS lay across the world. The American dream is very much still alive in eSports and many foreign players have seen levels of success from transferring to the American League. Most notably are perhaps LMQ a full Chinese team who took the US by storm, securing a ticket to worlds with a third place finish. Many Korean greats are also making the transfer; namely Helios, Lustboy and Piglet. There is a perceived low level of talent in the region which also makes it easier for talented foreign stars to find strong teams.
It is my sincerest hope that Alex finds success in the states, all the better if it mirrors that of former European Bjergsen, now touted as the best mid in North America. Whom it must be added was also outclassed by PowerofEvil at the recent 2014 IEM San Jose tournament – being solo killed in lane on multiple occasions.
The American Dream
I believe it only fair that Alex be given the opportunity to prove himself. The same opportunity afforded to both of his NIP former team mates; Mithy and Nukeduck, despite multiple failures in the challenger league. Perhaps it is the case that when failure is so uncharacteristic people make more of a note. Either way the once world acclaimed King of the Jungle Diamondprox slumped, I think it’s fair to say, even harder than Alex. Yet after a strong showing at IEM Cologne, once again innovating a new jungle pick – this time Sejuani, it looks like the once dominant Gambit jungler may be back to something resembling his former self. If the same can happen for Alex, it’s going to be a great year for fans of the classic Gambit roster. Or if not, at least he'll have been given the shot, an opportunity that has surely been earned by his years of dedication and excellence within the scene.
The fan-boy in me believes that Alex has been sold short massively. Of course he's good enough to play in NA LCS. How can you argue otherwise? Even Jesiz is. Alex Ich may have slumped, but he was also a victim of circumstance and people don't just wake up one day and lose all the qualities that had once made them a genius.