The League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) returned last weekend after a month-long break during the Mid-Season Invitational in Reykjavík, Iceland.
Heading into the first weekend of the LCS, Cloud9’s benching of star AD carry Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen for Academy AD carry Calvin “k1ng” Truong led league storylines, but Team Liquid followed through with a surprise roster move of their own -- benching star top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris for Academy top laner Thomas “Jenkins” Tran after an opening loss against Team SoloMid. The move was as much of a surprise for Jenkins as it is for LCS fans and players alike, but Jenkins is taking the opportunity in stride as he holds down the top lane for Team Liquid.
Since joining Team Liquid and the LCS, Alphari continually made the case for himself as not only being the star of his team, but also the best top laner in North America. A midweek roster substitution was a huge surprise for fans and pundits of the LCS, but no one was more shocked than Jenkins himself.
“I was really surprised because I thought Alphari was very good, and I didn’t understand why I was starting over him so soon,” Jenkins explained. “I was just surprised because I started playing in LCS so fast. I didn’t know if I would ever get a shot … I was doing well in those bootcamps and Academy and I was like … ‘maybe next year is my shot.’ [The move] really took me by surprise.”
Photo credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT
Jenkins is the newest face in the LCS, but he’s been around the North American scene since his Scouting Grounds performances in 2018 led to stints with both GG Academy and more recently, Team Liquid Academy. Most North American fans know Jenkins as being a Kennen one-trick as early as 2013, but he has actually refined his champion pool since making the push to be a competitive top laner. This weekend he played Gangplank and Lulu.
“When I qualified for the first Scouting Grounds event, I was only playing Kennen at that time,” Jenkins said. “When I started playing at Scouting Grounds, I ended up playing pretty well in those matches with a bunch of different champions. I started thinking, ‘Wow, maybe I am better than just one-tricking Kennen.’ After that, I started working and really grinding out other champions and trying to go pro.”
Riot Games’ North American Scouting Grounds served as an impromptu tournament that pitted the best amateur players on the North American solo queue ladder against each other, providing them the opportunity to work with LCS coaches and analysts. Jenkins may have started his League of Legends journey as a one-trick Kennen player, but it was the developmental nature of Scouting Grounds that really set his mind toward the goal of being a professional.
As part of Team Liquid Academy, Jenkins also was able to experience the global nature of League of Legends as he traveled to both China and South Korea with Team Liquid Academy jungler, Jonathan “Armao” Armao, and Team Liquid’s starting LCS AD carry, Edward “Tactical” Ra.
“That was … very fun because the thing about going into different regions is that you get a feel for different metas and how the players there interact with each other,” Jenkins said. “The one thing that I learned from playing in China and [South Korea] was that people don’t really hold grudges there. In NA solo queue, if someone hates you, they’ll hold it against you for a very long time. In China, you can be flaming each other one game and the next game, nothing happens. Everyone just plays to win there. I appreciate that.”
Jenkins appreciated the competitive mindset in both China and South Korea, but he also praised the level of competition and practice that eventually led him to where he is today.
“The player skill is a lot higher, at least at the base level, but probably a bit at the top level too,” he said. “Every top laner there was a 1 million mastery bruiser one-trick of sorts. I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is pretty good practice for me.’ In Korea, every top laner you played against in Grandmaster and Challenger was some sort of professional top laner.”
Photo credit: Riot Games
As an amateur or Academy level player from North America, visiting the highly competitive Chinese and South Korean servers feels like a dream come true. Jenkins also referenced that players on those servers are more prone to surrendering, but that it’s “more understandable.” Ultimately, the best players in both China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL) and South Korea’s League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) are who Jenkins looks to up his game.
“I like watching [Kim “Canna” Chang-dong], [Zhang “Zoom” Xing-Ran] and [Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon],” he said. “I just look at what they’re playing and how they play certain matchups. A lot of matchups that I play are mirrored to how I see them playing in solo queue.”
Jenkins believes that a lot of pro players follow suit in emulating the best players, but he specifically studies hard to compete with the best. Although Jenkins stepped into Team Liquid in a surprise role, he brings a specific flavor to the team that’s different from most top laners.
“I think my champion pool is quite bizarre compared to what other top laners play,” Jenkins said. “I think most top laners don’t like playing Lulu ... Kennen’s not very meta right now, and Volibear’s something I played a decent amount last season. Those are picks I saw in other regions last season and played against in Chinese and Korean solo queue that I don’t play against a lot in North America.”
Jenkins often worked with Alphari in one-on-one sessions, and it’s a big reason why he feels confident in his current role, but he’s put in the work to make the most of his opportunity at the LCS level. Right now he’s just enjoying the intensity of being able to play onstage against other professionals with a full team.
“For me, when I’m playing online, I could be playing against anyone,” he said. “There’s no face of who I’m playing against. Playing in the same room with both your teammates and opponents with cameras all over the place … you don’t really notice it when you’re playing the game, but going into the game, you can feel the intensity.”
Jenkins might complain about the stage being “very cold,” citing that most players think the temperature’s a huge problem, but there’s nowhere else he’d rather be as a professional. It might be a cold stage with no audience in the stands, but LCS is where sparks truly fly. There’s no telling how long Jenkins will remain in the LCS, but he has earned every second of playtime he has enjoyed onstage.
Lead photo credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT