The midlane, along with the jungle, has been considered for a long time a position where NA players were much weaker than their European or Asian counterparts. EU was where the good western midlaners were, and that was exemplified by the domination of the NA scene by Bjergsen. Once bigfatjiji lost his title of best midlaner in the world, before even S1 worlds, the NA stars couldn’t compete with the European ones anymore. Reginald or Scarra were considered good by a lot of fans, but noone would have compared them to players such as Froggen, Alex Ich, or xPeke. Some people were hopeful with Link or Mancloud, but they turned out to be disappointments. However, at the end of S3, a “new” hope for NA appeared. Pobelter was finally old enough and able to play in LCS. He had showed some potential in the challenger scene, playing for Curse Academy and some other smaller teams, and quite a few people believed that he was going to be a great midlaner once in the LCS, that an NA midlaner would finally be able to compete with the best EU midlaners.
Before talking about how that turned out, it’s important to mention that prior to reaching the LCS and playing with EG, Pobelter had been playing in the competitive scene since season 1, and was a known name. He was already a veteran player at that point, and while it’s hard to know for sure why he was treated like a newcomer by the fans in 2013, it probably has to do with his young age, and the smaller fanbase of NA teams that weren’t CLG, TSM or Dig at that time. Because of that, it was hard to expect him to suddenly become the greatest midlaner in NA. And to be fair, most people didn’t expect him to dominate as soon as he would get into LCS, he was praised mainly for his “potential”, and a lot of people thought he still needed to grow as a player. It’s funny when you realize that after more than 2 years of competitive play, despite not reaching the top level, people were talking about his potential, and the fact that he could still improve, while after the same amount of time in the competitive scene, Diamondprox (whose first team was M5, so he appeared in the scene in early 2012, one year after Pob), starting to underperform, was considered washed up and was “advised” by a big part of the community to retire to avoid tarnishing his legacy. To this day I still don’t understand why a player that never proved anything in more than 2 years would have more potential than someone who during that time managed to be considered the greatest player at his position and the most influential one. It seems most people think it’s easier for a mediocre player to become great than for an underperforming great player to get back to his level.
There are two arguments often used to explain why Pobelter has potential despite what I just wrote. The first, his age. According to this argument, the reason why he wasn’t able to perform before was that he was too young and had school. It could seem a good reason why he wasn’t able to develop, however, how could you then explain the countless players that managed to reach the top, to be considered great before reaching 17 year old, such as Rekkles, Bjergsen, Sencux, Uzi, etc. His age is nothing special in the scene and doesn’t explain his lack of achievements. That said, there is another argument, a “more legitimate” one. Pobelter never had the opportunity to play for a good team. It’s true if you consider that the only good teams NA had during the first two seasons were CLG, TSM, and Dig. He was playing for Curse during most of S2, the “fourth best team”. You could consider that failing to showcase your talent despite being in one of the top5 teams in your region means you’re not that great when some players managed to shine in lower teams than that (GIANTS Pepinero, CW Forgiven/Amazing, MYM Czaru, etc.). Although, to be fair, he was playing toplaner at the time. In S3, when he was playing midlane, the issue became less his team, but the weak competition he was against, making it impossible to prove anything.
So why the hype despite this ? Well, some people don’t consider these two arguments worthless and he was also a pretty good soloq player. Not dominating it in the same fashion as Incarnation did in EU, but he was one of the best players in NA soloq. And despite the fact that NA soloq is considered a joke by many pros, for a lot of fans his performance in soloq was a reason to be impressed and expect great things from him.
Pobelter started his journey in the LCS with Innox, another player with potential, and three “EU rejects” : Snoopeh, Yellowpete, and Krepo. The first two had been obvious weak links in EG in Europe and Krepo wasn’t considered one of the stars of the legendary CLG.eu squad. They were the weaker part of that team, coming to compete in an easier region. Some people believed that because of their experience and their past achievements, they would be able to achieve good things in a weaker scene. This turned out not to be the case. Snoopeh and Yellowpete got steadily worse as time went on, Innox was one of the weakest players at his position, Krepo stayed an average player, and Pobelter often confirmed the nickname he received a long time ago, “Throwbelter”. He would look good some games, and very mediocre in others. Of course, fans attributed this to his poor team (despite the counterexamples given earlier), and were arguing he had a consistency issue rather than a skill issue, and that he just needed to fix this to become a top NA mid. The roster changed around him, none of his original teammates remained, but the results stayed the same, or even got worse.
A year and a half later, Pobelter is relegated by TDK, outperformed by Alex Ich, a “washed up” player who had also been in the scene for a shorter time than Pobelter. After 3 splits of mediocre performance, after 4 years in the scene, with no other achievement than not losing more than one relegation series, maybe the hype was going to die down. Maybe Pobelter wasn’t the greatest midlaner NA ever produced. But the community had another opinion, it was another opportunity to get on a good team ! He was the one that could save CLG, C9 or any team without Bjergsen as a midlaner ! And it seems Hotshotgg thought the same, while C9 decided to go for Incarnation after trying out both players. A lot of CLG fans rejoiced, they got rid of Link and got this awesome player that doesn’t have a long history of under-performing instead ! He was the solution to the problems that plagued their favourite team. The Pobelter fans were happy too, their hero would finally be able to prove he was the greatest midlaner in NA. The hype was back. For Pob, and for CLG. Both have a long history of being very hyped and never delivering, a match made in heaven. And the split started out great, with CLG managing to reach first place in the rankings, Pobelter playing at a good level, despite not reaching Bjergsen yet. The hype grew incredibly fast, you could read on Reddit statements such as “Pobelter is at least as good as Febiven”, many people were sure that CLG would finally qualify to worlds again, the future seemed bright. But the last week, ending with 2 losses for CLG slowed down the hype train. History seemed to repeat itself as CLG is once again starting to under-perform after dominating the first weeks of the split. It’s too early to tell if the trend will continue, and if both CLG and Pobelter will disappoint once again. Maybe the weak state of the current NA scene will allow them to succeed, maybe they’ll continue to get worse and fail in playoffs, or maybe, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, Pobelter has actually the potential to become a great midlaner, and CLG will be able to overcome their curse.
Currently though, Pobelter is far from having proved himself, and comparing him to EU mids would be inappropriate. Besides maybe Soren or Betsy, there aren’t any midlaners Pobelter could challenge, all of them have proved much more in mostly shorter careers. He will need to qualify for worlds and accomplish something there, if he ever wants to prove his detractors wrong, and become worthy of the prodigy title so many fans gave him.