The LCS Everyman: Why Solo gets the call when teams are in need
by Nick Geracie
Colin “Solo” Earnest has had one of the strangest career trajectories in the history of the League Championship Series. The top laner competed for eight years before ever getting his first shot in the big leagues of North American League of Legends esports. Despite putting up strong performances, he has failed to find a spot on a roster long term in the last two years. More often than not, Solo seems to appear as a fixer for teams in need of a consistent, veteran presence after pressing the panic button in the middle of the season.
Solo’s track record
Solo made his LCS debut in 2018 with Clutch Gaming after competing in the lower tiers of the competitive scene for the better part of a decade and provided a consistent presence in the top lane for the Houston Rockets affiliate. After being part of a trade between CG and Echo Fox, Solo showcased impressive laning and primary carry potential on the 2019 Echo Fox squad, but found himself without a spot on a starting LCS roster for 2020.
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Solo joined FlyQuest toward the end of the 2020 LCS spring split as a positional coach and substitute top laner for FlyQuest Academy, but he soon found himself on the starting LCS roster as its sixth man due to the struggles of young top laner Omran “V1per” Shoura.
On FlyQuest, Solo played a very different role than he did while with Echo Fox, opting for a stalwart, reliable top side option while jungler Lucas “Santorin” Larsen and mid laner Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage snowballed the rest of the map. Although this was individually less flashy than Solo’s carry play on Echo Fox, it was a perfect fit. On FlyQuest, Solo played a crucial part in a team that made back-to-back LCS finals in 2020 and qualified for the League of Legends World Championship.
Read more: How Cloud9 shocked the LCS in beating Evil Geniuses to qualify for Worlds
Despite a strong 2020, FlyQuest found their starting roster scattered to the winds ahead of the 2021 season. PowerOfEvil replaced a recently retired and newly appointed head coach Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg on TSM. Santorin replaced Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen on Team Liquid. Franchise AD carry Jason “WildTurtle” Tran joined Counter Logic Gaming, and support Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun joined Evil Geniuses. Only Solo was left without a team heading into 2021.
Solo, right, was left teamless after going to Worlds in 2020 with FlyQuest. Photo credit: Riot Games
Despite not starting the 2020 LCS season on a team, Solo was a linchpin for FlyQuest’s back-to-back finals appearances and Worlds qualification -- all firsts for the organization. And yet, he was left teamless to start 2021.
Counter Logic Gaming signed a brief contract with Solo for the 2021 LCS Lock In tournament after visa issues barred top laner Finn "Finn" Wiestål from joining the team until after the event. By the start of the spring split, however, Solo found himself watching the LCS from the sidelines.
When Solo was first signed by Golden Guardians, it was as the new top laner for Golden Guardians Academy after the team parted ways with James "Tally" Shute. However, the writing was already on the wall for him to be promoted to the LCS roster. Top laner Aidan “Niles” Tidwell struggled mightily in his rookie LCS split, failing to provide the stability required of him by his team as GG struggled to a 10th place, 3-15 finish in the spring.
GG improved with Solo in place of Niles, but it became clear that Solo’s signing was a band-aid fix before a larger move was made. In an effort to make a push for the 2021 LCS Championship, Golden Guardians acquired top laner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie as their new starter, and Solo’s competitive season came to an abrupt end.
TSM comes knocking
After not finding a team in the LCS once again in 2022, Solo kept his skills sharp by playing Champions Queue -- the new solo queue server for NA’s best players -- in case an opening on a team became available. A few months after Solo had taken on a position on the coaching staff for Counter Logic Gaming’s amateur squad, CLG Faith, an opening became available on TSM.
TSM top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon had stepped down from the starting roster due to wrist problems, and while TSM Academy top laner Alex “S0ul” Luo showed a lot of promise for a young player in Huni’s place, he wasn’t quite ready for the postseason push TSM was looking to make down the summer split stretch.
Read more: His playing days might be over, but Huni is not going far from the Rift
Similar to when he joined Golden Guardians, Solo was signed to the top lane for TSM Academy by TSM, but was promoted to the LCS a few weeks later. After his promotion, he immediately made a difference in the team’s performance. With Solo, TSM had a reliable veteran presence who was able to provide a stalwart frontline and reliable engage on champions like Ornn, which created far more space for the duo of jungler Mingyi “Spica” Lu and mid laner Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang to shine in skirmishes and teamfights.
Photo credit: Chris Bet / Riot Games via ESPAT)
TSM qualified for the 2022 LCS Championship as the seventh seed but became quite a force in the postseason. In their first match, TSM upset sixth-seeded FlyQuest in a close 3-2 victory and pushed the No. 1 seed and defending LCS champion Evil Geniuses to five games before falling just short at the end of the series.
TSM have plenty to figure out in the offseason, especially with Spica announcing his free agency after nearly a half-decade with the organization earlier this week. However, an abysmal 2022 season for the organization was made better by a surprisingly strong ending that exceeded expectations set throughout the year. It’s a transformation that would not have taken place without the addition of Solo to the LCS roster.
Solo: ‘I know I bring a lot of value to teams’
Solo isn’t surprised that he was able to make TSM better in such a short time. He has made a career out of improving teams under unusual circumstances on short notice.
“I know I bring a lot of value to teams,” Solo said. “I’m aware of who’s playing in the league, and more often than not, I’m better than half the league at the current time.”
It’s a confident claim for someone who has not always been a full-time starter in the LCS, but time and time again, Solo has backed up those words with his play. However, he’s aware that there is only so much in his control in regards to his employment status as a pro player in the LCS, and with each passing offseason, he has become more and more accepting of that.
Read more: CLG Dhokla: ‘I wanted to prove to everybody that I could make it back’ to LCS
“I know that decisions being made as far as roster building that exclude me don’t have anything to do with my skill, and the only thing I can really control is myself,” Solo explained. “I try not to worry because I know if I keep doing me and working hard, I’m going to get calls and opportunities to keep showing off.”
“If anything, I’ve learned not to have expectations for esports.”
Solo has embraced the rather bizarre nature of his LCS career, especially when the broadcast and the community at large have given him more recognition for his play despite his sporadic employment transitions.
“It seems like I’m a pretty easy guy to root for -- I earn the check; I come in; I’m always working hard -- I’m always on the grind, ready to play,” Solo said. “I seem like the guy people want to cheer for. I’m kind of the Everyman’s player.”
Despite appreciating the support Solo has received from the community, the veteran top laner is far from satisfied and hopes to be in the LCS more than just a month or two out of the year each season.
“I just hope that, eventually, I get enough people to buy in to where I can get some consistency in the market,” Solo explained.
“It’s fine. I’m always prepared for whenever a team needs me.”
Lead photo credit: Chris Bet / Riot Games via ESPAT