Hanlon's razor warns to "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Perhaps this should be applied to struggling League of Legends teams. Never attribute to callousness (for the game or teammates) that which is adequately explained by a lack of team chemistry or much less salacious reason. In baseball, no pitcher, however awful, wants to go on the mound and be shellacked. No player, new or veteran, regardless of community perception, wants to walk out onto the LCS stage and fail to win week after week, regardless of whether they've been playing professionally for under a year, or since 2011.
Neither Soligo nor 100 Thieves expected this particularly poor spring season, one in which the main team's star-studded starting lineup would stumble onstage and Soligo would be called up from 100 Thieves Academy after less than a split in the system.
"I never expected it to come this soon. Especially given that 100 Thieves was hyped up to be a top-three team. This kind of came out of nowhere." said Soligo in an episode of "The Heist."
He went from an amateur player participating in the 2018 NA Scouting Grounds event late last year to splitting scrims with Choi "Huhi" Jae-hyun before Week 6 of 2018 Spring League of Legends Championship Series.
Two weeks later, he made his LCS debut.
"I actually felt like it was just like Scouting Grounds," Soligo said of the moment he stepped on the LCS stage as a pro player for the first time. "It was just another day."
"My initial goal was just to win academy spring and hopefully be ready by LCS summer and just go from there," Soligo said. He laughed and shrugged. "Things definitely did not turn out how I expected them to happen, and yeah."
Team Liquid's 2018 spring title and dominion over the summer split has had a curious side effect of erasing the fact that it was 100 Thieves who took the top spot in the regular season of 2018 NA LCS Spring. That summer, they finished third with top laner Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho firmly in the discussion for summer MVP. That roster was already good. After a disastrous worlds 2018 appearance, swaps of mid laner Huhi and AD Carry Bae "Bang" Jun-sik for Yoo "Ryu" Sang-wook and Cody "Cody Sun" Sun, respectively, were both perceived upgrades. This was a roster that was to surpass what the 2018 Thieves had accomplished and make the bad taste from the worlds appearance disappear.
On paper, this was an even better roster.
In practice, it has been significantly worse.
After another 0-2 week, playoffs are still possible but seem like a distant dream for a 4-10 team. With all remaining matchups against fellow bubble teams, the Thieves are still firmly in control of their own destiny. Yet, even when they've seemed in control, wins have slipped through their fingers. Between every match, intense media and community scrutiny appeared ranging from valid critiques of their poor performances to personal attacks and presumptions about the team environment. No NA team has been under this intense of a microscope since the 2016 NA LCS Spring days of Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim on Team SoloMid.
"The team environment when I came in was definitely very serious, but I'd say I was pretty surprised with how scrims were going because the difference between their stage performance and scrim performance is massive," Soligo said. "They're actually doing really well in scrims. So I figured that the main problem was how they translated it to stage."
"I still think we could have taken more risks, but I think overall the performance was a lot better this week," he added.
Soligo's assessment of 100 Thieves' scrims have been repeated by pro players from other LCS teams when opponents ask the inevitable: Why is a team with so many talented players on it performing so poorly?
This scrim-to-stage problem is repeated at least once a split. Last summer, it was Cloud9's turn after initially benching Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen, Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi and Andy "Smoothie" Ta. North America as an LCS region has a risk-averse playstyle that frequently trends toward scaling 5-on-5 teamfighting. NA teams often struggle with bringing the decisiveness and aggressiveness shown in scrims to the LCS stage. This 100 Thieves team has yet to find a way around this particular hurdle.
"The team atmosphere is just the same as it always has been, even coming from last split," 100T support Zaqueri "aphromoo" Black said. "We're all pretty quiet in general. When we scrim or just hang out we're pretty chill. When it comes to improvement and progression in game that's where we can get a little slow I suppose. Maybe that's a byproduct of how everybody is, we're all pretty quiet. I think it's not too different, having Soligo or Huhi on the team, team chemistry-wise."
"There's definitely a huge shift in environment from academy to LCS," Soligo said. "I think part of it is by circumstance with how the main team is performing right now. But in general, LCS is a lot more serious."
"Going forward we have to win every single game to make playoffs," aphromoo said. "I think I'm going to try to do a lot more focus on laning phase and getting Bang ahead, like today we got ahead of Sneaky, blew his flash a few times. I think we're going to try that same style going forward. And then once we get to mid- and late game."
He paused. In that moment, several teamfights from their close loss to Cloud9 likely ran through his head. He sighed.
"I'm just going to push myself to exhaustion to make sure that we're all on the same page, doing the same plays, no matter what."