Chris “PapaSmithy” Smith walks out of his new office and onto the blacktop basketball court/parking lot behind it. His new uniform swaps a button-down and tie under his blazer for a black 100 Thieves-issue T-shirt, trades slacks for sweats, and completely ditches the caster’s headset.
He squints under the Los Angeles sun with his hands in his pockets as he jokes around with his new team. They’re all people he’d previously been paid to talk about: a Korean top laner, a shaggy-haired veteran jungler, an Australian mid laner, and an ADC and support that had never played together.
Like a proud father watching his kids, he radiates calmness and certainty—two valuable qualities for a former caster with no coaching or GM experience now tasked with taking the reins of a League of Legends franchise.
“I feel old by esports standards,” he told me with a smile. He’s 33.
For years, as one of the most respected casters to ever put on a headset, he helped introduce, guide, and educate Western viewers on what was at that point indisputably the greatest region in competitive League of Legends, the LCK. He was a prime facilitator in bringing the most talented players and the storylines surrounding them to life on Twitch streams around the globe.
It’s been a unique transition from talking head to GM for PapaSmithy. But he maintains an attitude of humility and curiosity, not blind to the fact that at the end of the day his qualifications are more experiential and less what one might find on a conventional GM applicant’s résumé.
“I’m an inquisitive mind and nothing much more than that when it comes to the competitive side,” he says.
After he announced his move to 100 Thieves, many naturally wondered: What if this was it for PapaSmithy behind the mic? He told League reporter Travis Gafford at Worlds 2019 that he hasn’t put a definitive cap on his career as a caster. He was simply ready for a new challenge.
“Being deliverable to the whims of the game was kind of what I was as a caster, and now, being able to set direction and author a bigger vision of what a League of Legends program could be was why GM really captured my attention,” PapaSmithy said.
The management side of League, whether it’s as a coach or GM, has been the next step for many in the scene. Former SK mid laner ocelote is now the boss at LEC giants G2 Esports. Fnatic’s former backdoor king xPeke started Origen in 2014 and still owns the team. Even current TSM legend Bjergsen became a co-owner of the franchise he plays for in October 2019. Faker, the greatest player in the world, recently did the same with T1.
As legendary as those names are, they have a certain weight because of their playing careers. PapaSmithy is blazing a trail for the legends with casting careers.
“The natural transition [for me] would have been kind of a head coach, and I had offers like that in the past, but at my age, I wanted a position where I could mold something, where I could build something,” PapaSmithy said.
100 Thieves recently opened its state-of-the-art Cash App Compound, complete with offices, streaming bays for its many personalities, scrim rooms, and an outdoor basketball court. It’s a brand that stretches much further than its League team.
Its CEO is world-famous Call of Duty personality Nadeshot and the financial support he garnered for his company comes from sources like Drake, Scooter Braun, and Dan Gilbert of the Cleveland Cavaliers. In turn, it now boasts a roster stacked with video game personalities including Valkyrae, CouRage, and Yassuo, among others. But the spotlight that having a team occupy one of the 10 franchise spots in the LCS brings is a big one, especially for a squad that’s had a two-year span as eventful as 100 Thieves.
In its first year in the LCS, a roster comprised of Korean import Ssumday in the top lane, LCS mainstay jungler Meteos, mid laner Ryu, former Immortals ADC Cody Sun, and veteran support aphromoo went 22-14 in 2018. They won the Spring Split regular season and eventually punched their ticket to the World Championships in 2018.
That was as good as it would get.
The Worlds starting lineup that year didn’t include Meteos or Cody Sun and the duo left the org before the 2019 season started. 100 Thieves went 12-24 that year and subsequently lost aphromoo to Dignitas in 2020. The glory days of less than two years ago seemed far away, but it was PapaSmithy who decided that the way back was via that 2018 roster. As far as he was concerned, it had unfinished business, and this time, its success wouldn’t be a flash in the pan.
For newly-minted general manager PapaSmithy, the only way he can act on that with any degree of sustainability or confidence is by hiring people he trusts completely, thereby allowing his focus to be on enabling the people who will manage the more day-to-day details.
“If I’m going to channel my knowledge in one way, it’s gonna be trying to ask the right questions to make sure that we’ve left no stone unturned and really tried to understand every scenario,” PapaSmithy said. “From there, I just go with [Zikz and Kelsey’s] takes, because that’s what they’ve been hired to do.”
In perhaps more familiar terms, PapaSmithy is in charge of the “macro” of 100 Thieves, while his new hires—LCS coach Zikz and Academy coach Kelsey Moser—oversee the “micro.” He doesn’t see himself as above anyone as GM, but rather in the middle, everywhere and nowhere, with the self-awareness to get out of the way when his expertise isn’t what’s needed, however much of it he may or may not have accrued in his years in the LCK.
“Yes, I was an analyst in a previous career, but I didn’t hire them to be figureheads for me to just kind of put out my whims and get my Aatrox lock-ins and things like that.”
PapaSmithy’s reasons for taking the 100 Thieves GM job aren’t short-term or selfish, and he’s certainly not chasing the spotlight, either. PapaSmithy also knew that, despite being given a blank check as far as hiring power, he would be coming into an organization with experienced people and a solid infrastructure in all areas—not just League. He’s in it for the long haul.
That was good enough for Meteos to give 100 Thieves another shot.
I feel like he has the players’ well-being at heart.Meteos, 100 Thieves jungler
Meteos is an LCS veteran. He made his debut on Cloud9 in 2013 and was a part of the C9 squad that won the mainstay org its most recent split title—Spring 2014. He knows that it’s not a deep region as far as domestic talent is concerned, so most of the roster changes happen not through promoting homegrown talent, but by shuffling players laterally across the league’s teams.
Since leaving C9 after the 2016 season, he’s been on five teams in the last four seasons. He’s now in his second stint with 100 Thieves in 2020, the first of which ended with him requesting to be traded away just a few weeks into the 2018 Summer Split. This time around, he says the new GM was a huge reason why he was convinced to dive right back into a situation not too dissimilar to the one he actively wanted to leave less than 18 months prior.
“I feel like he has the players’ well-being at heart,” Meteos told Dot Esports. “A lot of it was up in the air, but I knew I’d be working with PapaSmithy and Zikz. My opinion of them before I started was that they were probably the best in the industry for GM and coach, and my opinion hasn’t really changed since working with them.”
Getting a player like Meteos back was a huge win for PapaSmithy and the 2020 season hadn’t even started yet. But he specifically wanted to reunite as many players from the 2018 Spring starting roster as he could, so he doubled down by re-signing the ADC who was arguably the team’s MVP in 2018 with a similar pitch to the one he gave Meteos.
“I was pretty surprised during the offseason that I got that offer from 100 Thieves because I did have other offers from other LCS teams,” Cody Sun told Dot Esports. “[Having] conversations with PapaSmithy reassuring me that the org had made a lot of different changes in terms of the staff and what the team was gonna be like—so yeah, I do think in the end I made the right decision to come back to 100 Thieves.”
Bringing the band back together makes for a potentially heart-warming story, but why would this time be different for 100 Thieves? What’s to say that the same issues that reared their ugly heads in late 2018 wouldn’t sabotage plans in 2020? Why would this iteration of the team succeed domestically again? Would they be able to do so internationally, where so many North American teams have met the same fate: elimination at the hands of a “superior” region?
PapaSmithy was tight-lipped about the domestic side of the coin.
“We have a lot of different bullish plans, some of which are unorthodox,” he says.
Could he share details on those “out of left field plans”? He smirks.
“Not at this present time, I’m afraid. But we’ll definitely be sharing our plans before too long.”
Just after the halfway point of the 2020 Spring Split, 100 Thieves are in a four-way tie for the sixth and final playoff spot amid a crowded middle of the pack in the LCS, sweeping fellow challengers Golden Guardians and beating then-stumbling Team Liquid in an opportunistic early-season victory.
In a punishing year for junglers, a lot of 100 Thieves’ games have been heavily influenced by the team’s veteran jungler. When Meteos has been able to get ahead, good things happen, and vice versa. Korean top laner Ssumday has been well worth the import slot in the top lane for 100 Thieves, especially when he’s been able to flex on comfort picks like Lucian. At their best, they look like a playoff team and clearly have strengths to play to. With the playoffs around the corner, it’s a matter of comfort and execution.
PapaSmithy made it abundantly clear that his move to 100 Thieves, while perhaps unorthodox, was one with an intentional, longevity-focused vision. His definition of success after a few years at 100 Thieves is centered around legacy.
Specifically, one that addresses the underlying disease rather than the symptoms of North American teams perpetually underachieving on the world stage. One that allows NA to stay competitive in the long term and for 100 Thieves to be the region’s poster child for that.
For PapaSmithy, that starts by empowering people to be the best versions of themselves, “to look at every single person as an individual that I have hired for a specific reason that has their own strengths and weaknesses and always play to those strengths.”
He wants to “set up a pipeline for success, whether that’s developing North American talent or whether that’s winning championships.”
“It’s to leave a program and a vision that can succeed long after I leave.”