It’s the NA LCS Spring Promotion Qualifier, a best of 5 series against a far more competitively experienced Complexity team. Everything has come down to this moment. One series to prove your worth, one series to capture an opportunity most league of legends players consider only a pipe dream: a chance to earn a spot in the LCS, a chance to play professionally on the biggest stage, against the best players North America has to offer and validate everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve. For many, the pressure might be too much, the moment too big. But what’s clear as I watch Steven “CaliTrlolz” Kim take the time to laugh at his lane opponent is that he’s comfortable, he belongs here, and it’s showing in his performance. The confident top laner for Team 8 makes vital play game after game, unquestionably carrying team fights with beautiful flanks and teleports. The performance has been impressive, no doubt, but it isn’t over yet. The series is tied 2-2, it’s 35 minutes into game 5 and Team 8 gather in the bot lane to attempt a push for victory. Complexity’s tier 2 tower falls and CaliTrlolz decides to take his Malphite back to base to spend his remaining chunk of gold on a Warden’s mail, he may need the armor for the upcoming brawl. As the front melee minion reaches Complexity’s bottom inhibitor tower, he teleports in, homeguard boots granting him the speed to get in the face of the opposing Ryze, his foe from the top lane. The Ryze immediately flashes to escape, but still pays with his life. An opportunity briefly presents itself, and without hesitation, Kim hits the unstoppable force ultimate into the enemy Corki and Kha’zix, sealing their fate, securing the nexus and victory for Team 8. The gravity of the moment is evident as the players leap from their chairs and hug each other, their elated screams drowning out the broadcasters. CaliTrlolz raises his arms, reveling in the victory as he watches his teammates embrace, but it’s all a bit bittersweet. Earlier that morning he informed his parents with certainty that he would be retiring after this series.
“I could not help but feel my heart race when I perform on-stage with fans, and I started questioning myself. Is this something I will miss? Most definitely, yes.”
A challenger’s decision
Kim has been attending Pharmacy school for 3 weeks, a spot in a program he has worked hard to attain and takes very seriously, but he can’t help wondering if he can pass up this opportunity to compete playing the game he loves in the North American LCS. But the decision is not an easy one. Pharmacy school admission is highly competitive and enrolling meant opening the door to a long term dream of Kim’s, one that he is not willing to give up on. The only way to fulfill both dreams would be to defer his admission, a situation typically reserved for family or personal emergencies. He would have to formally appeal to the school and convince them of the opportunity in front of him, his dedication to both his short-term goal of playing in the LCS, and his long-term goal of becoming a successful pharmacist. With this in mind, Kim turned to the league community with a post on reddit, explaining his plight, and asking for support in the form of a petition to take with him in his appeal. The initial goal was to get 1000 signatures to present to the Dean, a number that was reached in less than 30 minutes. Kim was astonished by the level of support, and ended up taking over 18,000 individual signatures with him to the appeal, resulting in his deferment being granted for one year, and granting us all the opportunity to watch this talented player test his skills against North America’s best.
“I really want to be an innovator for top lane, I really want to use my experience, knowledge, and champ pool to make the game more exciting. I really want to be a fun lane to watch.”
-Calitrlolz, “2015 LCS: A New Beginning” lolesports video
The road ahead
CaliTrlolz brings with him a diverse champion pool and a carry mentality to a North American scene oft criticized for it’s lack of play-making talent in the top lane, evidenced by several teams’ decision to bring in Korean talent over NA challenger players in the off-season including Winterfox’s Donghyeon “Avalon” Shin, Dignitas’s Yeong-Jin “Gamsu” Noh, and Team Impulse signing former SKT season 3 world champion Eonyeong “Impact” Jung. The opportunity does not come without it’s challenges, though, as Team 8 will enter the spring split widely regarded as underdogs to most of their competition. Kim is aware of the task at hand, and remains optimistic, stating that the goal is “to place in the upper half of the spring split,” which would give Team 8 a spot in the summer split, and an opportunity to improve and qualify for worlds. A long shot, surely, but so was Kim being granted deferment to play League of Legends professionally, and all any competitive player wants is the opportunity to prove themselves on the rift. Thanks to his skill, determination, teammates, and a little help from the community, he will get the chance to do just that.