The Lost Boys - Role swaps that will always make us wonder
With Team Fusion's attempt to enter the NA LCS, two notable players have returned to their former positions. Nientonsoh has returned to play AD Carry from his stint in the top lane and MakNoon has given up his brief mid lane career to become a top laner again. Both of these swaps involved a former star switching to a new position and failing to enjoy the success they had before. Role swaps have always been one of the more interesting and unique aspects of League of Legends. There are players out there who have performed extremely well in their new roles and achieved heights that never would have been possible at their former positions. Other players role swapped and their careers were never quite the same. What would have happened if they stuck to their original positions? Role swaps are quite common in competitive LoL but are rarely effective. But the one thing that holds role swaps together (both successful and unsuccessful) is that they are filled with an air of mystery. What could have been if these players had not changed their positions? Here is a list of ten players whose position swaps will always make me wonder what could have been.
extinkt (Mid Lane to Top Lane)
Before Bjergsen and nukeduck rose in Season 3 to challenge Europe's longstanding oligarchy of Alex Ich, Xpeke, and Froggen, there was another group of talented youngsters who stood to inherit the throne from these titans of the mid lane. Extinkt's incredible versatility, Tabzz's mastery of assassins, and CitizenWayne's calculated gameplay excited fans all around the world. It was wildly belived that these new stars would one day rise to the throne. Looking back, these players have become a sort of "lost generation" of European greatness. (I would also put Incarnati0n in this category.) Only one of these players (Tabzz) plays competitively today and not even as a mid laner. In many ways, extinkt shone as the brightest of the trio. Whereas Tabzz and CitizenWayne focused on assassins and mages respectively, extinkt was able to play both styles and even innovated his own creative picks such as Deathfire Grasp Lulu mid. His versatility also extended to other roles and he was able to play both top and AD Carry at an LCS level. As the main carry of an upstart Crs.EU team, extinkt remains one of only a handful of players to defeat Moscow 5 at the height of their powers.
In spite of extinkt's greatness, he struggled to find a spot in the EU LCS. His original Crs.EU team would dissolve right before the EU LCS qualifications and the subsequent patchwork roster was unable to qualify. Later LCS bids would also fail until the Copenhagen Wolves were picked up by gaming organization Ninjas in Pajamas, who would controversially add extinkt, Freeze, and Malunoo as starters. Teaming up with fellow mid lane prodigy Bjergsen, extinkt would become an absolute monster in the top lane. His ability to play both carry top laners and tanks proved invaluable to a rising Copenhagen Wolves squad that often took games from the top ranked teams. He may not have been the best top laner, but his rapid improvement strongly suggested that he could eventually achieve that goal. However, extinkt would soon retire from competitive LoL in the middle of the summer split, citing a lack of interest.
What made extinkt such a special mid laner was his uncanny ability to pick up and innovate new champions. He was often able to surprise even veteran mid laners such as Alex Ich or Froggen with his sudden aggression and unusual champion/item choices. These traits suited him well in the top lane too, but the combination of his re-learning a new position and his abrupt retirement leaves little doubt in my mind that his mid lane play was superior. His inability to qualify for the LCS as a mid laner seemed like no true fault of his own. In his first attempt, he played with a Crs.EU team that had to replace 2/5ths of it's members right before the tournament. In his second attempt, he played against Bjergsen, the greatest of the new mid-lane generation. If extinkt stayed as a mid laner and stayed in competitive play, it's quite possible that we would still consider him one of the greatest at his position today.
inSec (Jungler to Top Lane)
Normally, role swaps happen under duress. Sometimes, player swaps because he sees a roster opening on another team in a different position. Other times, teammates suggest that a player swaps roles to make way for a better replacement. In inSec's case, the kT coaching staff believed that his aggressive engages and play-making brilliance were better served for the top lane position, where he could operate with more gold and less late-game importance (top laners do not carry the team's Smite.) The team could then bring in young prodigy KaKAO, a jungler who they considered inSec's rival or even his superior. The role swap worked. The kT Bullets became the second best team in the world and were two narrow 3-2 losses from playing in the World Championships. In top, inSec became a role player rather than a star, but he was still able to catch the opposition unaware countless times with his unique eye for engages from strange angles. After a while though, the kT Bullets roster would fall apart due to declining player skills and apparent attitude issues. inSec would return to the jungle position but he would never quite make it back to the same heights as the inSec of old. Eventually, inSec would move to China where he would serve as a secondary star to AD superstar UZI. Although inSec would make the World finals, he would be solidly outplayed by Samsung White jungler DanDy and look like a shell of his former self.
inSec remains the only time that a player has role swapped while at the absolute peak of his powers. It remains one of the most fascinating roster swaps of all time. Other examples of this list contain players who were strong contenders at their original roles, but none of those players were the greatest in the world when they changed positions. inSec had just come off of representing Korea at All-Stars, where his brilliant mechanics on Zed and Lee Sin had captivated the world. His ward-hop-kick combo became so prolific that fans gave the move a name of its own: The inSec. Roster swapping may have helped the kT Bullets, but it was possibly the worst career move inSec could have made. In the cutthroat world of Korean jungling, even a small lapse can be fatal. The team failed the make Worlds and his return to the jungle hasn't demonstrated the results that his early career had promised. Multiple junglers have already surpassed him and it looks like more will soon follow. inSec's insane plays at Worlds shows that he may still be the most mechanically perfect jungler to ever play this game. DanDy destroying him showed how much the half-year he took off has cost him.
Tabzz (Mid Lane to AD Carry)
Tabzz is another member of the aforementiond "lost generation" of EU mid laners. When Tabzz first burst onto the scene, it was as the talented mid laner for Team Millennium. Millennium managed to pair rising star Tabzz with another young superstar in Creaton. After a number of impressive showings, many suspected that the two would soon become the best players of Europe. In particular, Tabzz's Fizz and Diana picks were especialy devastating. His Fizz in particular (and his innovation of taking two combat summoners instead of Flash) stood out as unique in a time when many mid laners still prefered to play farming champions such as Orianna. To many fans, Tabzz would become synonymous with that champion. Unfortunately, the new era of Tabzz-Creaton dominance was not to be and Milennium would fail to qualify for the EU LCS. Believing that the mid lane position was too crowded, Tabzz would role swap to AD Carry. Athough Tabzz would briefly considering forming a new Lemondogs roster with dexter jungle and himself in the mid lane, he would ultimately join Alliance as their new AD Carry player in the beginning of Season 4.
Tabzz's move to AD Carry is probably one of the most high-profile and successful roster moves of all-time. Fans may mock the Lemondogs members today for their inability to return to the EU LCS, but they dominated the opposition in the Summer Split after benching support wewillfailer for mithy. Tabzz was an integral part of their success and would continue his run of dominance on Alliance. Ever since Tabzz has changed positions, he has consistently been a top 3 AD Carry in Europe and has qualified for 2 of 2 World Championships. His aggressive and carry-oriented playstyle has clearly transitioned well to the AD Carry position, where he has enjoyed much more success than he has as a mid laner.
Even though Tabzz is probably a better AD Carry at this point than he was as a mid laner (and it was clearly a great career move for him) I still can't help but wonder what could have been. To this day, the brash "Carry main" believes that he is a superior assassin player than Alliance star Froggen. Now that he's left Alliance, it remains to be seen if Tabzz will build on his repeated success as an AD Carry or return to his home in the mid lane and answer our remaining questions.
aphromoo (AD Carry to Support)
aphromoo as an AD Carry has become one of those bizzare instances where a player is both overhyped and underappreciated. Oftentimes, an analysis of aphromoo's AD Carry career often boiled down to how much the analyst liked the player. aphromoo supporters would vigorously defend him by pointing to his great mechanics and unique champion pool. (he was one of the first players to bring out champions like Draven, Twitch, and Varus in competitive play and pioneered building an early Brutalizer to snowball the laning phase.) Some even claimed that he was the second best AD Carry after Doublelift. His detractors often pointed to his poor offline performances as evidence that although he was a popular streamer, his "solo queue playstyle" and tendency to choke in big games meant that he could never achieve true success. Throughout his AD Carry career, aphromoo was unable to prove his detractors wrong. Almost all the squads he played on, from TSM.Evo to Team FeaR were often dependent on him and his ability to snowballing the laning phase. Unfortunately, this strategy rarely converted into real wins. aphro would constantly come up small in big games or turn to a supportive role when his team needed him to hard carry. Eventually, aphromoo would leave Team FeaR (which eventually became Team Vulcun after moving Zuna to ADC and picking up Sycho Sid for the top lane) to become the support player on CLG. For his first LCS split, aphromoo would continue to struggle with the nerve issues that plagued his AD Carry career. Although he was occasionally brilliant, he was usually very underwhelming and failed to fill the big shoes left by his predecessor Chauster. After an underwhelming Spring Split, aphromoo would leave CLG to return to a career as an AD Carry streamer. It looked like aphromoo was doomed to become one of those talented stars who could never quite make it in the big leagues.
But then something funny happened. CLG would drastically revamp their roster after their failure to qualify for Season 3 Worlds and bring back aphromoo to fill the support position again. Comparing 2013 aphromoo with 2014 aphromoo was like night and day. Where aphro was once hesitant, he was now strong and decisive. aphro went from a secondary figure on CLG to one of their brightest stars and a top 2-3 support in North America. He would repeatedly make clutch plays to save the hyperaggressive Doublelift and "Rush Hour" became one of the most feared bot lanes in North America. But even though aphromoo's support career has far outshone his success as an AD Carry, the source of his success is why I can't help but wonder what could have been.
aphromoo succeeded as a support not because he was more naturally suited to the position, but because he got over his longstanding LAN jitters. His mechanical prowess and innovation on the AD Carry position was one-of-a-kind and if he had overcome his choking issues as an AD Carry, he may have become the greatest AD Carry in NA history.
Reapered (Top Lane to Jungler)
As a top laner, Reapered was beyond incredible. He grew up alongside top lane superstars like MakNoon and Woong and also faced off against CJ's bruising duo of Shy and Flame. Unlike his counterparts, whose top lane strategies often focused on strongman muscling tactics, Reapered was a more cerebral type. Although his laning wasn't as strong as others, his mastery of split pushing (particularly on his beloved Shen and Vladimir) often gave him an edge against his more mechanically imposing opponents. In addition, Reapered was forced to serve as both his team's main carry and shotcaller after leaving Azubu Blaze. None of his former teammates on SKT or Jin Air still play competitive LoL (other than H0R0, who is playing in Europe.) In spite of this, Reapered was able to carry his team to an IEM win and a top 4 finish at the IEM World Championships, all while shotcalling to the point that he dictated his teammate's item purchases. At the same time, his SKT squad would play extremely unique comps and strategies (they were one of the first to bring out Curse of the Sad Bullet Time.) In my mind, Reapered's circumstances make him the greatest shotcaller in the history of competitive LoL (only Hai could have an argument, other shotcallers like Mata had too many powerful weapons to judge them on an equal basis.)
That being said, most of the other role swaps on this list have been at least somewhat understandable; even inSec's move to the jungle was backed up by the kT coaching staff. Reapered's move to the jungle (and his subsequent move to the mid lane) is a bizzare case of one of the greatest minds in LoL history shooting himself in the foot not once, but twice. As the captain and indisputed leader of Eat Sleep Game, Reapered could make all the roster moves on his own. Believing that he could carry harder from a more influential position, he decided to role swap after H0R0 decided to stay with the SKT organization. His stint as a jungler was mediocre and his time in the mid lane was downright terrible. After his very disappointing split as a mid laner, he would retire from competitive gaming.
After Reapered's move away from the top lane, he was never the same. It looked like the burden of learning a new role while still being targetted as the main carry by opponents was too much to bear, especially when we consider his shotcalling burden. On the other hand, his final split as a top laner resulted in a top 8 at OGN. It looked like rather than role-swapping, Reapered could have benefited from a much simpler solution - finding better teammates.