Philip "Philip" Zeng’s professional League of Legends career happened on a whim.
Before he was with FlyQuest, he was a university student at the University of British Columbia struggling to find something he could be passionate about.
“Right before that started up, I was struggling in university and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Philip said. “But something that I had been really passionate about was League. I always played the game and grinded it out.”
That hard work paid off when he was discovered by FlyQuest assistant coach Richard “Richard” Su who saw potential in the top laner.
“[Richard] was the one that saw the potential in me and he made the recommendation to give me a tryout. Our relationship is pretty close because we often test out matchups against each other and he will clap me,” Philip said laughing. “It’s really nice to have him as a coach and a mentor to help me out with parts of the game I did not think about.”
Richard was truthful about the weaknesses he saw in Philip’s game. He noted the lack of knowledge for the game and the basic laning fundamentals that LCS players do seamlessly.
“Before I went pro, I would say my playstyle was like a coin flip,” Philip said. “I didn’t CS as much back then, but [Richard] told me the importance of having a high CS especially in a competitive game. You’d never see somebody with under 10 CS. When I first started, I was fighting people nonstop. I didn’t know the long-term effects of it all.”
Yet, even with these faults, there was something special and unique in the way he would handle mistakes that set Philip apart from other top laners at his level.
“Philip was a definitely a double-edged sword when I first laid my eyes on him in solo queue,” Richard said. “He was making questionable decisions and putting himself in awkward situations, but the way he navigated himself out of those situations was unique. He approaches skirmishes with a creative mindset which really caught my attention.”
“He was a short-term idea for our Academy team back when we moved [Eric “Licorice” Ritchie] at the end of last year,” general manager Nick Phan said. “It was hard to evaluate him because he didn’t have much experience at all. We chose to take the risk to work with him longer in Academy where he was able to discover himself as a player through Academy and then the Korean bootcamp.”
Initially, a short-term solution to fill a void on FlyQuest Academy, Philip quickly made a major impression, progressing quickly through the system and ultimately making a major jump.
Photo credit: Tina Jo / Riot Games via ESPAT
A promotion that shocked many
After a tough 2021 season when the organization missed playoffs in both spring and summer, FlyQuest bounced back in 2022 with a rebuilt lineup that saw the team finish fifth in the spring. When the team made changes in summer to promote Philip, there were many questions surrounding their newest top laner’s move to the LCS, especially when the team truthfully shared that they didn’t have expectations.
“I think there was a misperception from a lot of people in the community. A lot of casters and different personalities reached out to us in the beginning when we first announced the swap coming into summer, and our answer was that we don’t have a lot of expectations,” Phan said. “We just wanted people to know that it may take some time to adjust into the LCS.”
Still, even with this adjustment period, FlyQuest had confidence in Philip to experience major growth in the LCS and make the team even better because of the spark he could provide to the team.
“This roster had a specific need, and I think Philip fills that with his hunger and work ethic,” Phan said. “The risk didn’t seem as crazy to us as it does to people on the outside. The holes we saw in his game felt like they would progress a lot quicker at the LCS level than at Academy.”
Taking his first steps as an LCS top laner
No feeling is more exciting for an aspiring professional League of Legends player in North America than taking your first steps on the LCS stage. For Philip, it was a moment that ignited a realization that his work had paid off.
He remembers the initial excitement of being told he had been promoted to the main team, his hands trembling with a mixture of eagerness and nervous feelings. He recalls the wave of motivation that immediately increased tenfold as he began to watch VODs on repeat before immediately jumping into solo queue games to test out new things he learned.
“At the moment, I just wanted to do everything in my power to get better at the game,” Philip said. “In my spare time, I would try and get smarter about the game. It was a lot of pressure, but when I won that first game, it was validation for the work I had put in.”
He noticed the crowd chants that bled through his noise-canceling headphones. He felt the vibrations of the stage that further ignited his motivation to only keep growing as a professional and continue to have moments like that for the rest of his career.
Phan speaks highly of Philip’s level of concentration.
“He treats being a professional very seriously which is something you won’t get a lot when you see him hanging out with friends,” Phan said. “But I like that duality with him because it is hard to predict. I think his hunger and his dedication to his craft is something that really brings this team together.”
When asked to describe Philip, Phan immediately called him “an enigma.” He discussed the duality of his young top laner with marvel noting his ability to shift from “goofy” to “thoughtful and intentional.”
“We have Aphromoo. We have Josedeodo, Johnsun and Toucouille as well who can act as the glue of the team, but I think Philip keeps us leveled in a lot of cases,” Phan said. “All the players want to play with him, and it feels like the right decision to have him in our team.”
Philip replaced Colin "Kumo" Zhao on FlyQuest's starting five. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games via ESPAT
Moving forward with FlyQuest
Currently, FlyQuest are 7-6 in the LCS summer split and have a steady grasp of sixth place. For Philip, his progress has been seen externally, and he feels it internally as he has been refining his own playstyle with the qualities that made him initially stand out.
“I didn’t believe in my abilities to compete with the best of the best at first,” Philip said. “I felt that my opponents didn’t really respect me, so I began to use that as a strength and do a lot of things they don’t expect.”
He detailed his unorthodox approach to the game -- all the random roams with the high of knowing that it could change the tide of the game. So far, he admits that hasn’t been as successful.
“It didn’t work, straight up,” Philip started laughing about the incredible failure before continuing. “But one day, something like that will work out and it’s going to be really awesome. I’m not afraid of making mistakes if it means in the future it can be something that changes the game positively.”
Nowadays, being an everyday LCS top laner has been all about making adjustments on the fly, where his biggest thing has been capitalizing on his strengths as a player while working on his weaknesses.
“I’ve been working on being more calculated with that aggression nowadays with the help of my teammates,” Philip said. “Still, I think going for crazy plays that may seem really bad is not always bad as long as you make the most out of it.”
The constructive criticism has been something that has only made Philip stronger, as he adapts to the curveballs thrown his way in switching from laning against Academy talent to LCS pros.
“I always thought my ability to play at that level was there, but I couldn’t always channel that,” Philip said. “Now, I feel like I’m getting a lot better at that. The strides I’m making are huge and I feel myself adapting to the LCS.”
This mentality is one that makes Richard optimistic about Philip’s future.
“Despite being thrown into the LCS on short notice, he’s been taking my feedback to heart and improving at a steady rate,” Richard said. “I’m excited to be a part of his growth and what is yet to come.”
Lead photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games via ESPAT