Xpecial: We thought we were ‘screwed’ until we found FeniX

The trendiest pick to top the new season of the League Championship is Team Liquid

The trendiest pick to top the new season of the League Championship is Team Liquid. But the real reason why might not be what you think.

The team put together an outstanding offseason, making the biggest free agent acquisition of the year in Chae “Piglet” Gwan-jin. They also adopted new digs, dropping the Curse Gaming name for one of esports’ oldest brands, Team Liquid. But even with Chae in tow, the team was “screwed” until they found new mid laner Kim “FeniX” Jae-Hun, says support player Alex “Xpecial” Chu.

“People were just getting dumpstered all over the place,” Chu said.

Finding Kim and signing new head coach Peter “PtotheD” Zhang, who Chu calls the “biggest change” Liquid made this offseason, will be the real key to the team’s success. There was no better indicator of that than their LCS debut against Team Impulse. Even with Chae out of the country due to the lengthy visa application process, Liquid still pulled out a decisive victory.

They entered the match with a game plan and executed it perfectly, even centering their strategy around substitute Yuri “KEITHMCBRIEF” Jew. Chu credits Zhang with having the team prepared. And they didn’t miss a beat.

Lessons with PtotheD

Last season, Zhang coached LMQ to the top of the standings before internal issues with management saw him resign near the end of the season. After he left, LMQ struggled, limping into the playoffs and only barely qualifying for the Riot World Championships.

If ever there was a big name coach on the free agent market in America, Zhang might be it, and Liquid quietly signed him this offseason.

The team was desperate. 

Since then, he’s been working to improve the shot-calling of both Chu and the team’s new primary in-game leader, Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera. Zhang sets up “classes” for the two where he presents them with specific team comps and game situations and tasks them with figuring out how to react on the fly, a process that sounds not dissimilar to the “Lesson with Quas” flash game Team Liquid released two weeks ago.

“Adding him and his really smart input and strategy, we’ve been doing a lot better in scrims,” Chu said.

It was “a bit weird” working under a new Coach, Chu said. Zhang is younger than some of the players on the team, players with years of League of Legends professional experience. But his results under LMQ—and immediate impact on Liquid’s scrims—had the team believing in him fast. Plus, Chu says, the things he suggests just “make sense.”

“He’ll listen. He’ll change his mind. That’s the kind of quality that I like in a coach,” Chu explains. “He knows he’s not 100 percent right all the time. Because he’s right 90 percent of the time we’ll trust him, and if we don’t, then we’ll give him some input and he’ll change his mind or he’ll give reasons why. It’s a very logical procedure and it’s working out well for us.”

One tangible benefit of having such a solid coach is that Chu is freed up to spend more time on his own individual play, instead of working on team compositions or strategy considerations, for example.

It also makes working in an inexperienced player much easier.

The unknown

New Liquid mid laner Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun may have some professional experience in Korea as a member of Jin Air Green Wings Falcons, but he’s not nearly as seasoned as players like Chu or Rivera. And as a newcomer to America, adjusting isn’t easy.

If ever there was a big name coach on the free agent market in America, Zhang might be it.

But Kim was just what the doctor ordered for Team Liquid. After long-time mid laner Joedat “Voyboy” Esfahani left the team during the offseason, it was a scramble to find a replacement. Liquid spent two weeks trying out various players from challenger teams and even those without teams. None of them could stand up to players like Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, who was in America preparing for IEM at the time, Hai Lam, or Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg.

“People were just getting dumpstered all over the place,” Chu said. “We realized this is going to be a problem if we can’t find someone to stand up to these people. Because we’re not just looking to win NA, we’re looking to be world class. And we need a world class mid laner to stand up to these people, or someone who has potential.”

The team was desperate. Rivera suggested an unknown player he had seen in solo queue, a mechanically strong mid laner by the name of FeniX. The team didn’t know anything about him. They didn’t even know he played for a pro team in Korea at one point. But they gave him a shot, contacting his team to secure a tryout, and it worked.

“We were really stumped before we found Fenix,” Chu said. “We thought we were screwed because we couldn’t find anybody.”

The mid laner moved to America about one month before Team Liquid’s mid lane search. A bit of serendipity brought the two together. Kim speaks “good enough” English, but its his skill that really stands out for the team.

So far, so good. Kim’s LCS debut may not have been flashy, but his 5/5/12 LuLu stood up to last season’s MVP, Yu “XiaoWeiXiao” Xian, and his LeBlanc.

The additions have Chu eyeing a top two finish in the league. The early weeks may be rough, with a tough week two schedule and little time to work Chae into the lineup. But once the former world champion gets going, Chu says, the team will finish right there with perennial contenders Cloud9 and Team SoloMid.

“Our mechanics are one of the best,” Chu says, “that mean’s our laning is really good. With [Rivera] and myself working on our own shot calling, with [Zhang] as a coach, I think we’re going to do really well this season.”

Image via Team Liquid