Hundred Thieves, one of the new teams inducted into the North American League Championship Series through franchising, does not expect to be given anything: wins, fans, even respect.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers brass backing the franchise and owner Matthew "Nadeshot" Haag -- the creator of the 100 Thieves brand itself -- the name is more than just a tagline. They're not here for handouts -- the Thieves are here to take from the established pillars of the league such as Cloud9 and three-peating defending champion Team SoloMid.
When the Thieves step onto the stage at the LCS Arena, the team stands out from the other nine franchises. While other teams dress in the same style of esports uniforms that have become the norm, the Thieves wear sharp red-and-black baseball-style jerseys. In the first week of play, 100 Thieves went undefeated, opening up with a marathon victory over Nadeshot's former organization, Optic Gaming, before stealing a victory on Sunday from one the pillars it wants to replace, Counter Logic Gaming.
At the heart of the 100 Thieves lineup is the man who was the face of CLG for most of the club's run in the NA LCS, All-Star support Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black. After going through a difficult offseason to find the next stage in his illustrious career, he settled on the Thieves, feeling like it was the best place for him to continue his personal legacy and create a new one in a fledgling franchise.
"What stood out about [the Thieves] is that a couple of the players are known as superstars," said Aphromoo. "Ssumday, Meteos when he was on C9, and then myself coming over. And for Ryu and Cody, not so much, but going from past seasons, all of that has died down [for everyone]. Ssumday came to NA, was on Dignitas, and didn't do so hot. Meteos essentially took a break from the game for a while. CLG went downhill for a little while this past season as well for me. So everyone on the team essentially had a fresh slate, and for us coming into it, no one really took it upon themselves to be a 'superstar.' We're all mainly about the team."
On the surface, the Thieves' lineup is made up of notable players throughout the eight-year history of professional League of Legends. All five players have made the world championships, including Ryu, who made it to the semifinals in 2016 with H2k Gaming, alongside head coach Neil "pr0lly" Hammad, who is now leading the 100 Thieves and was the person most involved in putting together the team's opening-day roster. Ssumday has won a domestic title in South Korea. Meteos, in his first season in the LCS, was seen as some sort of jungle demigod, his otherworldly KDA (kills, deaths, assists) and teamfighting making him one of the first legitimate superstars in the NA LCS in 2013.
This year, though, all five starters -- even including head coach pr0lly -- have something to prove. Meteos had to watch as his close friend and former teammate Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi star at the most recent Worlds and almost make it to the semifinals in a thrilling loss to home-crowd favorite Team WE in the quarters. The only member of the five to make Worlds last year, Cody "Cody Sun" Sun, was the scapegoat in his team's exit from the tournament, his inexperience rearing its ugly head at the worst time as mechanical mistakes sent his team Immortals from a single victory away from making the quarterfinals to out of the event entirely.
On the Thieves, no outside observer is going to feel bad for any of the players. They've had their chance in the sun, and for someone like top lane ace Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho, who went from being considered one of the best players in the world in 2016 to being on a fringe playoff team in North America in 2017, the only person who can stop him from retaking his position back as one of the elite players in the world is the one he looks at in the mirror every day when he wakes up.
"[I] have no rival," said Ssumday. "My rival is me. If I have good condition, I can beat everyone. If I'm in bad condition, I can lose to everyone."
All the players on the 100 Thieves know how to win. This season, playing together for the first time, they all will have to find their own path to make it back to where they want to be. Ssumday, fighting his own mental space to get into the condition where he feels confident in beating the world. Cody, getting over his disappointment in Boston last summer at the most recent NA LCS finals and the disaster at Worlds to become the star AD carry he knows he can be.
Each Thief has their own interpretation of what "100 Thieves" means to them. Aphromoo, already looking toward the future without dwelling on his achievements, has only one thought when he thinks of the name he now represents every time he steps foot in the LCS Arena.
"The name 100 Thieves to me means when I think of it, like, I'm a thief," he said. "And no one really knows what you're capable of, only that you're there to take something. For us coming into the NA LCS, we're going to take the throne from all the previous NA organizations in terms of them being first place. And we want that."