In the wide-open LCS playoff race, one team has stolen the spotlight. Led by veteran jungler Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider, 100 Thieves rocketed up the standings, bouncing back from five straight losses to begin the season into a three-way tie for sixth.
Now, the team is the hottest in the league and has a real shot of making the postseason despite winning just four games in the spring. And these next two weeks will prove whether the team is a contender or not. Two of their final four games are against Clutch Gaming and Golden Guardians, fellow sixth-place teams. The squad will also face off against CLG, who figure to be one of the best teams in the league, and a slumping TSM in that stretch. Quality wins over three of those four would solidify the Thieves as title threats and turn them into a dark horse candidate to steal the trophy.
For Amazing, being in the playoff race is no surprise despite the team’s horrendous start. After all, he was brought on board during the offseason and billed as the team’s savior, though even he admits the going was tougher than expected.
“I didn’t expect it to take that long to actually get to playoff-caliber level, but I’m happy we’re finally there,” Amazing told Dot Esports. “We had a couple of losses in the beginning of the split where we just didn’t play well. We made a lot of mistakes, and I didn’t expect it to be that way. I expected us to have a slow start and ramp up, but 0-5 was a bit slower than I wanted it to be.”
He pins the blame on a lack of synergy between players early on in the split. While he knew it would take time for him to adjust to his new team environment and build chemistry with his new teammates, communication issues all across the map limited the team early.
When 100 Thieves opened the season looking listless, fans and pundits alike began to write them off as yet another failed experiment. The bot lane duo of former Korean superstar Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and former LCS MVP Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black was washed up. Rookie mid laner Max “Soligo” Soong should have been sent back to Academy. And Amazing was just an old man past his prime, unable to live up to expectations.
A roster shake-up before the third week of play changed everything for the Thieves. Rookie top laner Aaron “FakeGod” Lee was called up and Ryu Sang-wook was brought out of retirement to man the mid lane. Since then, the team has won six games, only dropping three in the process. While Amazing acknowledges that both Soligo and top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho are competent players in their own right, a lack of chemistry between team members made the swap better for the main squad.
“The way that we’re set up as a team, it was just not functioning in the way we wanted it to be,” Amazing said. “We had a struggling bot lane and no synergy on top side, so that whole thing was a bit too much to handle and we had to band-aid somewhere while fixing the more important issues, which is my synergy with the other players. That was fixed by the roster swap, and then bot lane talking out their issues, which they’ve done now.”
In addition, Amazing points to a rejuvenated team culture as a main factor in his team’s success. While former players have long criticized the atmosphere on 100 Thieves, the longtime jungler enjoys the environment he’s found himself in. He believes it’s up to individual players to create their own atmosphere they can be comfortable and succeed in.
“I think what some players struggle with, they’re unable to create their own environment,” Amazing said. “If I’m not happy with my own environment, I will make sure that I’m going to be happy with it and make sure everyone around me understands what I need to succeed … [T]ake the right steps to create the environment you need and want to succeed. If you blame your surroundings, you should blame yourself rather.”
The team’s scrim culture has also shifted. As a player with experience in both North America and Europe, Amazing has a unique read on why European teams seem to be so much more successful than their counterparts across the Atlantic. NA players are not individualistic enough, he said, often to the point of being “too self-sacrificial.” European players, meanwhile, can often have trouble playing as a team due to their “selfish” tendencies.
“In NA, you have a lot of yes-sayers. In EU, you have no yes-sayers. Everyone has their own opinion,” Amazing said. “That’s the difference between EU and NA. In EU, you have great individual players and they play their own lane really well … whereas in NA you have people that get together as a team before they’re even ready as individual players.”
With this revitalized roster, 100 Thieves are poised to perform the robbery of the year by snagging a playoff spot in a league that’s more balanced than ever. Yet despite the relative parity between teams, Amazing can spot signs of weakness. He called out OpTic Gaming and Echo Fox as teams that “reached their limit too fast.” Amazing is confident his team can take on any of the remaining contenders, and with games against the likes of TSM, Clutch Gaming, and Golden Guardians coming up, Amazing is ready to back up his words.
The postseason is just the beginning, however. While Amazing is currently solely focused on just making the playoffs, he believes a spot at the World Championships is well within reach.
“We’re probably going to have a lot of close games, but hopefully from now on, we’ll perform the same as we did [against Echo Fox] and have that rhythm going and come into a playoff spot,” Amazing said. “Whether that’s fourth, third, fifth, or sixth, I don’t really care. What I care about is getting us into playoffs, and I think what we’re all going to go for. Everyone wants to go to Worlds, and if it happens, it’s going to be great.”
What seemed impossible for 100 Thieves at the start of the split now seems feasible. Relatively easy, even, if Amazing is to be believed. The Thieves’ sinking ship has finally righted, and its captain is at the helm, ready to lead his team back to international competition.