Smoothing It Out
The Quiet Achiever
With Team Dragon Knight’s victory in the 2015 Summer Promotion tournament, the community was poised for the return of veterans Shin “Seraph” Wu-Yeong and Kevin “Kez” Jeon. This top-jungle duo, whose synergy and coordination, along with the last minute inclusion of legendary mid-laner Alexey “Alex Ich” Ichetovkin, propelled TDK into the LCS. In this team of veterans and all-stars, little attention was paid to rookie support Andy “Smoothie” Ta.
TDK’s LCS journey started poorly to say the least, with visa issues forcing mid laner Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo and AD Carry Kim "Emperor" Jin-hyun to miss the first four weeks of the summer spilt. As a part of TDK’s emergency roster reshuffle, Smoothie also missed the first three games of the split. These roster inconsistencies rippled into the team’s in-game performances, with the team going 0-9 to start the split. Even after finally locking their roster into place, TDK’s season never fully recovered. The team finished in last place and was auto-relegated back into the Challenger Series.
In his rookie split, Smoothie showed glimpses of excellence, particularly with his aggressive Alistar engages and clean Thresh hooks. However, with TDK’s lackluster performances, Smoothie never really separated himself from the pack and appeared to be another case of unrealised potential. For a brief period, it seemed that Smoothie would return to the Challenger Series and be out of the community’s mind.
The False Start
After another year of letting an opportunity to attend Worlds slip through their fingers, Team Liquid released a video officially announcing the replacement of journeyman support Alex “Xpecial” Chu with none other than Smoothie. In following statements, it appeared that TL saw the lack of synchronisation between Xpecial and high profile AD Carry Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin as a hurdle to the team’s growth and success.
Finally on a team with a stable support structure and history of achievement, Smoothie was given all the tools he needed to mature into a world-class support. TL fans were excited by this news, as by bringing in Smoothie, TL could mold him into the perfect support to compliment the demanding and uber aggressive style that Piglet is known for.
However, it was not meant to be, because after just a single game, Smoothie was subbed out of the main roster and sent back to the Challenger Series to Team Liquid Academy. Once again in the Challenger Series, his team failed to meet expectations and Smoothie failed to distinguish himself, a familiar scene during the 18-year-old’s young career.
Third Time's the Charm
What came next appeared to be another repetition of the cycle of Smoothie’s career. Perennial powerhouse Cloud9, like Team Liquid a split earlier, released a video announcing the addition of Smoothie to their roster to share the starting support role with Michael "Bunny FuFuu" Kurylo. This came as a surprise to many as Cloud9 had spent the entire previous split keeping support Bunny FuFuu on the bench to learn shotcalling under to tutelage of legendary mastermind Hai “Hai” Lam. The 2016 summer split was supposed to be the unveiling of the new and improved Bunny FuFuu to take the reins of the bucking bronco that was Cloud9 in the absence of Hai.
In the beginning of the split, the acquisition of Smoothie was perceived by many fans as a waste of time. Bunny FuFuu was making highlight plays and winning multiple player of the game awards, and most importantly, the team was winning games. Smoothie’s performances paled in comparison, with his passive style of play and proclivity for utility based champions.
After the first two weeks of competition, Cloud9’s record with Bunny FuFuu was 5-1 and with Smoothie only 3-3. The fans took this as clear evidence that the rotating support strategy was not working and that Bunny FuFuu was the clear choice for the starting spot. Coach Bok "Reapered" Han-gyu persevered with his rotating roster and in the following weeks, it would become clear as to why.
The Stage is Set
Over the course of the split, Smoothie’s style began to mesh with the rest of the team, while Bunny FuFuu’s high risk gambles were starting to hinder the team’s momentum. From Cloud9’s Genesis series, Smoothie’s role within the team became much more apparent, as even though his play was passive, his communication and shot-calls were the boisterous kickstarts that Cloud9 needed to break out of the cycle of indecisiveness they so often fell into.
Smoothie began to solidify a strong bottom lane synergy with AD Carry Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi. Together, they were able to fortify an average laning phase they had become known for, while the duo of Sneaky and Bunny FuFuu continued to flounder. The staunch differences in play style began to show in Sneaky’s CS differential at 10 minutes. When paired with Smoothie, the AD Carry had a CS differential of +11.8 at 10 minutes, as opposed to +1.9 when paired with Bunny.
Then the day came; Cloud9 had finally chosen their sole support, with Bunny stepping down after Smoothie had finally cemented his spot. From that point forward, Cloud9 and Smoothie have been on a steady rise. Smoothie’s clutch Tahm Kench saves and coordinated cross map plays swayed many team fights in Cloud9’s favour on their way to booking their ticket to the 2016 World Championships.
There is no other role more stacked with talent at this year’s World Championships than support. With world champions Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong and Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan, along with international superstars Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez, Hu "SwordArt" Shuo-Jie, Tian "Meiko" Ye and Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon competing, the cream is sure to rise to the top.
With Cloud9 still riding the momentum of winning the North American Regional Qualifier and Smoothie in career-best form, it appears the stage is set to see if Smoothie can prove himself to be worthy of being named amongst the world’s best supports.
Where do you rank Smoothie on the list of best supports in the world? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.
Image credits here.