FlyQuest has proven you cannot judge a book by its cover.
Coming into the League of Legends Championship Series spring split, the former Cloud9 Academy club (since bought by the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and rebranded) was often brushed aside when talking about the contenders in North America. The likes of Dignitas and Phoenix1 drew more attention with their high-profile South Korean signings. Two weeks into the season, however, FlyQuest isn't only in the conversation, but is in the thick of the playoff picture, utilizing a cohesive team dynamic and impressive 5-on-5 fighting and is in good position for a postseason slot almost a quarter into the split.
One of the catalysts to FlyQuest's success has been jungler Galen "Moon" Holgate, shaking off a rough rookie season to turn it around in what appears to be anything but a sophomore slump. ESPN spoke to Moon in his team's new gold and white uniforms this past weekend during the second week of the NA LCS.
"It feels really good [to prove critics wrong]," said Moon, spouting a grin. "People were doing their power rankings on Twitter or whatever and putting us at like eighth, ninth, 10th -- I don't think I saw anyone put us higher than that. So it feels good to do [well] at the beginning of the split."
Last year, Moon entered the professional scene with a bit of excitement surrounding him. One of the better prospects in a seemingly shallow pool of homegrown talent, his signing to NRG Esports at the start of the year kicked off his Rookie of the Split campaign. But Moon was replaced midyear following a tepid spring split and had to return to the minor-league Challenger Series. He then reappeared on Team Liquid in the summer season but failed again to keep his starting job, eventually being replaced a second time and whisked back to the minors.
Last year's excitement was met with shrugs this time around when he joined FlyQuest, his previous follies still lingering in minds of fans. So far, however, his play has been worthy of positive attention, already amassing more wins in two weeks than he had until March of last year.
"On NRG, our team environment was actually really good. We were all really good friends and spent a lot of time outside the game together," Moon said. "But I had really bad nerve problems, and I just wasn't great at the game. I honestly don't know what happened, but I feel so f---ing confident on this team. I'm not nervous at all. I feel like I can s--- on everybody, and that's what you need. That's the mindset you need. That's the mindset Joshua 'Dardoch' Hartnett had his entire career, and I didn't have that. But I feel like I'm getting better and better at getting that ability."
"Dardoch's my rival," Moon said when asked which of the emerging homegrown junglers he was aiming for. "[He's] my rival because I replaced him on Team Imagine. We scrimmed Team Imagine, he was the starter, they made NACS, and then we made this new team of five people and scrimmed against [Imagine]. [Team Imagine] determined we were better or something, so I replaced him there. Then I got on NRG, he got on TL, and he became super popular and everyone was like ''Wow, Dardoch's so good!' and everyone was like 'Moon sucks.' He's obviously my rival. I'm good friends with him too, so it's a friendly rivalry. He's talked to me a lot about how I can improve."
NRG and then TL failed with Moon last season without proper shotcalling in the team. NRG, a team chosen with massive individual talents, fell apart in games and won mostly through raw talent instead of fitting together on Summoner's Rift.
That won't be a problem on FlyQuest. North America's famed captain and shotcaller, Hai "Hai" Du Lam, returned to the NA LCS following his departure from Cloud9 to head up a new team for the first time since C9 first made it into the NA LCS over three years ago. In Hai's first season on C9, the team nearly went undefeated, winning the championship in authoritative fashion. The history of FLY's first split is still being written.
"I had some interview posted on Reddit only on me, and in the comments -- everyone was talking about Hai and how he's such a good shotcaller," he said, laughing. "So I think it's funny. It's kind of a meme to be like, 'Oh Hai's shotcalling,' but he's a f---ing good shotcaller. He's good at thinking about things the other team won't expect and stuff to do in a high-pressured situation when you don't know what to do. A lot of times in game when you don't know what to do and the game is just stalling out, everyone is just farming.
"He's a super good shotcaller."
In an age where democratic shotcalling has taken over for a majority of the teams, including Hai's former team C9, the leadership Hai brings to FLY is unquestionable. Back in his natural position of the mid lane after playing jungle and support the last few seasons on C9, he's a leading candidate for league MVP after two weeks. Hai is not only leading his team through crucial calls, but through individual play, holding one of the highest DPMs for a player in the competition.
"Also, [Hai] is one of the nicest people I've ever connected with," Moon said. "As soon as I got here, there wasn't anything set up on FlyQuest yet, [so] I went to Hai's house, stayed there, and slept on the couch. But he made me feel super welcome immediately. He introduced me to everybody, because there's a lot of people I hadn't met at his house yet, and he introduced me to everybody. He just made me feel welcome immediately, and that's really nice of him."
Captain in and outside of game, Hai is already building a culture around the new franchise colored in white, black, and gold.
While not a juggernaut when running down the lineup -- an injured semiretired captain, older veterans seen past their prime and a jungler who failed to impress at all last year -- the team isn't too worried about its past.
For now, weak on paper or not, FlyQuest is all on the same page, and that can, with the right five players, do far more than any high-profile offseason foreign acquisition.