How FlyQuest’s radical promotion of entire Academy roster to LCS paid off

by Xander Torres

FlyQuest entered Week 6 of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) tied with Counter Logic Gaming for eighth place, owning a 9-24 record that was only narrowly above the 10th place Golden Guardian’s 8-25 record. After a 3-0 weekend, though, FlyQuest now sit alone in eighth place with a 12-24 record and a firm grasp on the final playoff seed.

The move that got them there? Sending their LCS roster down to the Academy level for the week and giving their Academy roster a chance to shine in the LCS. It was a shocking move, but FlyQuest never shy away from challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries of what it means to be an esports organization.

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LCS teams haven’t shied away from major roster changes -- it was only weeks ago that both Team Liquid and Cloud9 sat key players, Barney “Alphari” Morris and Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen -- but FlyQuest’s decision was particularly daring in its own way. FlyQuest’s LCS roster had just lost their 10th straight match, and their answer was to promote an electric, but inexperienced Academy roster in the face of adversity. From the outside, it looked like the waving of a white flag, but on the inside, FlyQuest were as calculated as ever.

“Making changes at any juncture for most teams is like … yeah, sometimes you want to throw some things at a wall and see if it sticks. A lot of people really give a negative connotation to that,” FlyQuest general manager Nick Phan said. “A lot of fans may have thought ‘Yo maybe they’ve given up on playoffs and that’s why they’re throwing in their whole Academy team.’ Not at all. We felt very confident that our Academy team could be just as competitive, if not more so based on synergy alone.”

It’s not uncommon for teams to try different looks for the sake of shaking things up, but FlyQuest’s decision was far from a spur of the moment decision. The organization prides itself on communication and transparency, and the process was clear cut for everyone involved.

“When we came into Week 6 earlier this week, we sat down as a team and had a discussion with the players that were just coming off a 10-game losing streak,” Phan explained. “The actual [substitution] actually ended up being a group decision. I think everyone in our organization felt that the Academy guys deserved a shot in the LCS as a complete unit, which was different from the approach in Week 4 when we first subbed in Colin “Kumo” Zhao, Frank “Tomo” Lam and David “Diamond” Bérubé against Golden Guardians.”

With the FlyQuest players clearly enjoying themselves onstage and in postmatch interviews, it was heartwarming to see that the experience was more valuable than just a few wins. For Australian mid laner Stephen “Triple” Li, it was his first time playing onstage since the 2019 League of Legends World Championship, and he’s taking it all in stride.

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Photo credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT

“I’ve actually been on bigger stages than this one, but it’s been a while since I’ve been onstage,” Triple explained. “You’d think with my experience, I wouldn’t be nervous, but before our first game, I was definitely nervous. My hands were shaking, I was jittery, but after the first game it felt a lot more normal.”

Winning certainly helps with nerves and after the first game, Triple felt like the latter games were a lot more like scrims. FlyQuest Academy is undefeated in the LCS, but he’s keeping it humble for now.

“It feels good,” Triple said. “I feel like the week of practice went well, and we really came into it with no expectations, so anything on top of that is a bonus. We feel good, but it’s just a few games for now.”

As a region, North America is always hungry for new talent to make its way onstage and succeed among more experienced competition. Triple was a champion in Oceania, but his North American teammates have largely bounced between amateur and Academy teams with the occasional stint in the LCS. After a magical 3-0 weekend for a roster that doesn’t often compete at the highest level, Phan is both cautious and proud of his team’s results.

“Let’s see what happens when the honeymoon phase wears out … we’ll see how the motivations are and where the work ethic is,” Phan said. “But they’ve proven time and time again this whole year how hungry they are, and I’m glad that this whole weekend was such a great showcase of how good they can really be and how much better they can be if they get more experience and time onstage.”

Photo credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT

The 3-0 weekend solidly vindicated FlyQuest’s decision to sub in their Academy roster, but the value in the decision was always present. Giving younger, hungry players the chance to shine -- especially when they’re smashing the opposition in Academy -- should be more commonplace in a league that up until recently neglected its secondary talent. FlyQuest’s move is one that blurs the boundaries of LCS and Academy and challenges teams to do the same. Phan admits that FlyQuest hasn’t always been at the forefront of Academy, but he made it his goal this year to change that.

“I came into this year wanting to try to get Academy right regardless of our direction this year,” Phan explained. “I’m very happy to say that Richard ‘Phantiks’ Su, our Academy coach, has done a fantastic job with the Academy guys ... I know we haven’t found a lot of success in LCS, but in the ways we’ve worked with our Academy guys, I think we’ve done a fantastic job.”

At the end of the day, investment in Academy is investment in the LCS. The health of the leagues only benefit from a more direct and cohesive relationship with each other. It has been a rough year for FlyQuest in the LCS, but they always push the envelope one way or another. Whether it’s through their numerous Go Green initiatives, Spanish-language LCS broadcast or giving prospects the chance to wreck face in the LCS, FlyQuest have been pushing the boundaries of what LCS teams typically do.

As an organization, FlyQuest care about making a global footprint that’s about more than just wins and losses. Everyone at FlyQuest is part of a system that wants to better themselves and the people around them, fostering a special trust and bond between players and staff alike.

“The goal at FlyQuest is that when you walk out these doors, whether you’re going home or leaving FlyQuest, is that you feel like you made a difference in your own life and the lives of others,” Phan said.

There’s no telling whether FlyQuest Academy can keep up the hot streak or whether FlyQuest will maintain the current roster situation, but the organization will keep pushing everyone to fly high.

Lead photo credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT

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