Long before their loss to Giants Gaming in week nine, it had already been a rough split for Copenhagen Wolves. There were the losses. There was the hack that leaked private chat logs from upper management. There was a player revolt that almost saw the team’s entire group of starters quit. That loss to Giants was the denouement, however, the moment that the Copenhagen Wolves finally bowed out of the League Championship Series.
But despite the team’s problems, one player still managed stand out: Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek. The 21-year-old Czech Republic native has been in the professional scene since late 2012 and has made quite the name for himself. For Kněžínek, there is no down time. His determination makes him one of the best in the league. He’s always looking to get better—whether individually or by working to improve his synergy with his teammates. And now, he’s looking to bring his talents to another team.
Kněžínek has been a star since his debut in the LCS in 2013 with the Ninjas in Pyjamas.
After spending a year on the Ninjas’ Challenger squad in 2014—where he failed to qualify for the 2015 LCS season—an opportunity arose when Copenhagen Wolves AD carry Paweł “Woolite” Pruski accepted a trade deal to ROCCAT. With the position free, the Wolves extended their hand to Kněžínek. He accepted.
“I have gotten several offers already and I keep getting them.”
It wasn’t long before Kněžínek made good on his chance. His performance alongside a new coaching staff in his Spring debut led the Copenhagen Wolves to their most successful split in the organization’s history. For the Wolves, a sixth-place, middle-of-the-table finish meant a playoff berth—and that meant everything.
“I expected to be top sixth both splits,” Kněžínek told the Daily Dot. “We did how I expected in first split.”
The first split highlighted Kněžínek’s power. His Kalista and Draven became feared by many teams, who opted to ban both champions in the pick and ban phase.
“If you can force bans on you, you are already doing something right,” Kněžínek said. “Enemies are scared you’ll get into their head and you make a big impact there.”
With an 8-10 record, the Wolves qualified for their first LCS playoffs since April 2014. More importantly, they dodged relegation down to the bi-annual Promotion Tournament. The sixth-place seed put them against the third-place seed, H2K Gaming. The Wolves fell decisively in that game—but even in defeat, the team showed improvement.
“I expected something like that but I was still surprised we did it,” Kněžínek said. “I always hoped for better.”
Throughout the off-season, the Wolves looked to make roster changes to improve even more, looking to upgrade the three players surrounding Kněžínek and their mid laner Søren “Soren” Holdt Frederiksen. On April 5, the Daily Dot reported that Wolves’ jungler Karim “Airwaks” Benghalia was on the chopping block.
The team took interest in former Elements support Mitch “Krepo” Voorspoels, former Counter Logic Gaming jungler Marcel “Dexter” Feldkamp, and many other veteran talents in the region. But it was unable to land deals with the players and held on to its roster.
Kněžínek, however, was the apple of other teams’ eyes. In what amounted to a European marksmen shakeup through April and May, SK Gaming benched Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou, then went after Kněžínek and European Martin “Rekkles” Larsson (who had privately made a deal for a return to Fnatic).
Conversations began between SK management and Kněžínek, but the transfer ultimately fell through. Kněžínek said that both he and SK were to blame for the deal not working out, but it didn’t affect his mentality, nor did he regret the outcome:
“Both sides were at fault,” he said. “I never regret anything that has ever happened to me. It makes me who I am and where I am now.”
The failed trade deal had a negative effect on both teams. SK Gaming quickly plummeted to the bottom of the standings, which led to a player revolt with Christoph “nRated” Seitz as the focal point. And in similar fashion, the Copenhagen Wolves also became mired in controversy.
After the team went 1-1 in its first week, Riot Games levied suspensions against coach Karl “Dentist” Krey and its own caster Martin “Deficio” Lynge for allegedly colluding to work together to build a super team and attempted tampering with many other LCS players. The Wolves would be without their coach for three weeks.
Those weeks were abysmal, with the team only taking a win over fellow LCS bottom-dwellers Elements. Around the same time Riot released several patches that shifted the game’s role focus. The changes made tanks—primarily from the top lane and jungle—some of the strongest characters in the game, but also weakened several marksman champions.
“If you can force bans on you, you are already doing something right.”
The effect made the AD carry role much more difficult, and put Kněžínek and his peers at a major disadvantage. He said the meta shift and the Wolves losing streak affected his mentality.
“Everyone gets affected by losing everything—all scrims, every LCS match,” he said. “It is not a nice thing. At some point I was very frustrated that I lost the impact I always had on the game (when the tank meta began and ADs were useless.)”
Then, on June 23, Krey’s social media and email accounts were hacked. The hacker took screenshots of his private conversations with Copenhagen Wolves owner Jakob Lund Kristensen and posted them to an imgur album, which was later posted to Krey’s Twitter.
The conversations publicly revealed that Krey and Kristensen were interested in making moves to replace almost every player on their squad. The logs confirmed that Benghalia’s position was on the line—as well as top laner Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool’s and support Petar “Unlimited” Georgiev’s. The two even hypothesized that if Kněžínek left for SK Gaming, they would try to chase after Larsson. The news just made Kněžínek more determined to prove his worth.
“[The leaks] did not affect my personal play,” Kněžínek says. “If it did, it only made me play better to prove myself. Players are replaceable. You play to earn your spot; you always have to be on 110 percent of your play or you are not worthy of your spot.”
But after the hacks, the team fell apart. Benghalia was the first to be replaced, with veteran Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema taking his place. And shortly after, Steltenpool and Georgiev stepped down from their starting positions. Kněžínek said that this was bad for the team environment, but it got better once the team got new players.
“[Our team environment] was terrible in the beginning, but after we found new players it was getting better every day,” Kněžínek explains. “If the season would’ve have been longer, we would not have been 10th for sure.”
The team brought in two rookie talents Lenny “Lenny” Uytterhoeven and Christophe “Je suis Kaas” van Oudheusden in the place of Steltenpool and Georgiev. Neither had played on a professional stage before and there were growing pains as they made the transition. But after some time together Kněžínek says he and Oudheusden learned each other’s playstyles.
“Kaas is more of a roamer support, so I had to get used to 1v2 in lane and let Kaas do the job. I’ve enjoyed the change since now laning has no impact on the game and if your support roams so much, you are considered as a good botlane.”
But the replacements were not enough to save the Copenhagen Wolves. They finished 10th in the regular season after the loss to Giants Gaming. They were auto-relegated.
His determination makes him one of the best in the league.
It was over; the Copenhagen Wolves’ run in the LCS had come to an end.
“It was very rough for me in the season and the end of the season. Since I am a person who does everything for the moment,” Kněžínek said. “I put maximum effort to try and stay in LCS since that was the only thing that mattered for me.”
The Wolves’ relegation isn’t the end of Kněžínek’s career. As a determined and young talent, it’s likely he’ll once again become the focal point for any western team in need of an upgrade.
“I have gotten several offers already and I keep getting them,” he said. “So I will most likely choose to play in the LCS again.”
He may even end up in North America, which would be a dream for many of his fans across the pond. The region has long imported both European and Korean talent, and many fans have speculated a potential reunion with former teammate Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg on Team SoloMid.
Kněžínek says he doesn’t fear moving halfway across the world to compete at the highest level of League of Legends. “It is possible to join a North American team and I am very open to new places,” he said. “I have always stated I would enjoy being in NA. I wouldn’t be nervous at all. I love traveling.”
The AD carry shuffle in Europe has already begun, and there’s no doubt Kněžínek will play an active part. With teams like Unicorns of Love already opening up tryouts for the position, it’s likely Kněžínek will get a shot to prove himself once again.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr | Remix by Jacob Wolf