North American teams typically haven’t been known for developing domestic talent. With Team Liquid bringing in European stars, Cloud9 signing players from Korea and TSM finding talent in China this year, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking the NA talent pool just isn’t as deep.
However, teams like Evil Geniuses and 100 Thieves have made notable investments in recent years to tap into the NA amateur talent scene. Last year’s League of Legends Championship Series Rookie of the Year was none other than Evil Geniuses bot laner Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki, and this year the team has another hot shot rookie in mid laner Joseph "jojopyun" Joon Pyun.
He recently finished first in the inaugural split of Champions Queue, a solo queue server for top NA players to play League of Legends in a low-ping environment. That honor came with a hefty $12,000, but what really mattered to jojopyun was the experience that came with it.
“I played Champions Queue to just improve,” he told Nerd Street. “I didn’t really care too much about the ranking or the prize. It’s really fun too, so that’s why I played. But it feels good to be Rank 1 in that split.”
It’s also notable that three of the top four players in Champions Queue during Split 1 were members of Evil Geniuses. EG Academy players Muhammed “Kaori” Hasan Şentürk and Jett “Srtt” Joye joined jojopyun at the top of Champions Queue.
Their time in the LCS might one day come, but for now, it’s jojopyun’s time to shine. It’s been a fairly seamless adjustment from Academy to the LCS, according to the 17-year-old.
“I feel like the gameplay has been what I expected,” he said. “I feel like I can be playing a lot better, late game too in a lot of games, and I’m going to keep improving on that too.”
With a gold difference at 10 minutes that’s fourth-best in the league, according to Oracles Elixir, and a CS difference at 10 minutes that’s third in the league, jojopyun has excelled in the early game.
Even so, teamfights become increasingly important in the late game, and that’s something jojopyun is hungry to improve upon. It’s something that he has looked to Danny, who was in his shoes last year, for improvement.
“Danny’s really good at teamfighting, so when I just watch him teamfight I learned kind of what he’s thinking and how to play the teamfights,” jojopyun said.
Danny was the LCS Rookie of the Year in 2021. Photo credit: Tina Jo / Riot Games via ESPAT
Once jojopyun and EG shore up their late game, watch out. We already saw a preview of just how good they can be when they made it all the way to the Lock In tournament final in January. The spring split has been a little more uneven for the young squad, with the team trading wins and losses throughout the split.
Jojopyun is not sure about the difference between Lock In Evil Geniuses and spring Evil Geniuses, but acknowledges that he can be playing better and once again pointed to the late game.
“Just not playing as well as in Lock In, not sure what the reasons were, me too,” he said. “I’m not sure what the reasons were, but I could be playing better late game.”
Right now, EG sit on a knife’s edge for playoff qualification with one week left. They’re tied with Dignitas and Golden Guardians at 7-8 and FlyQuest is 8-7, and not all four teams will be able to qualify for the playoffs.
Jojopyun is confident EG will take care of business this weekend, but even if they miss out, EG will likely come back stronger in the summer. With a full split in the LCS down and more time to practice in Champions Queue, don’t be surprised if jojopyun elevates his play in the summer. As Danny showed last year and jojopyun is showing this year, the future of NA talent in the LCS is bright.
Lead photo credit: Chris Bet / Riot Games via ESPAT
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