“Personally, 2019 was a very hard year for me. It’s been about 3 years since i came to the US, and this year was the only time that I missed the playoffs.”Most regions have an iconic role associated with them. Europe consistently creates top tier mid laners; China has had some of the best ADCs in the World and South-Korea has been known for housing the best top laners in the scene, year after year. Players like Reapered, MakNoon, Shy, Flame, Impact, MaRin, Looper, Smeb and more recently TheShy, Summit, Kiin, Nuguri. One of the elitesOne of the best years for the role in the LCK was 2016, when top laner Ssumday was at his peak form trying to catch up to Smeb in MVPs— but failing because Smeb’s Rox Tiger team was dominating the region. This was Ssumday’s third and final year with the KT Rolster, the organisation most associated with him and in which he really started his professional LoL career. After an unimpressive career filled with obstacles, roster changes and even time spent as a substitute, Ssumday finally joined the South Korean Top lane royalty with tank performances that were second to none. Season 6 was a meta heavily impacted by extremely strong tanks and smart TP usage, and no one did it better than KT Rolster’s top laner. His champion pool ranged from tank Ekko, to Shen, Irelia and even some Yasuo. He could adapt to the situation and was one of the most consistent players to ever perform to such a high level.Three and a half years after that legendary season, Ssumday maintains a consistent mindset and a permanent refusal to give up in the face of adversity.A tough fallAs 2019 was coming to a close, Ssumday wasn’t in his best place. Despite being consistently considered one of the LCS’s best Top Laners, the legendary veteran played for 100Thieves Academy during the Summer Split. After missing his first playoffs in the NA Region, this “demotion” was another heavy blow. Although the times were hard, Ssumday accepted the team’s decision and did his best in the NA Academy Summer Playoffs, helping the squad get the convincing 3-1 win in the Finals and take the Cup home. As he marvelously put it, it was an “Honorable death”. The main word on my mind as I read this interview with Inven Global is: uncertainty. Uncertainty is the word that can better describe the world’s present situation and—returning to our esports bubble—the LCS. Seven teams have between 6 and 8 wins and nothing seems confirmed other than “C9 are pretty good” and “DIG and CLG are pretty bad”. A lot of surprises have marked this Spring Split, and one of those is 100Thieves being unexpectedly decent. Their 7-7 record puts them right in the middle of “The Soup” — the perfect description for the standings, coined by The Dive— and the main factor in this over-performance of a seemingly weak roster is Ssumday. The consistent soldier who has quietly been one of the best top laners in NA for years now, has been having one of his best splits ever. How can he maintain this kind of dedication and performance in his 8th year as a professional player? New beginnings Ssumday flew to North America in December 2016, joining Dignitas alongside a few other South Korean hires. According to the Top Laner himself in this interview, the main catalyst for this roster move was a need for something new. "At the time, I felt that I needed change, and so did the team. I believe we parted ways for mutual benefit. Being in the same environment and on the same terms for four years made it feel like there was nothing new. I had fallen into bad habits and my plays suffered.” Related: "EG Svenskeren on addressing players controlling draft phase: “A lot of players have this mentality where they just disrespect the opponent and think they can play anything into them…”Faithful to his calm, consistent personality, Ssumday began his journey with very reasonable expectations. The team had just gone through a lot of changes, making instant success a very unlikely outcome. Indeed, his first year in NA wasn’t impressive. He made both Spring and Summer playoffs with Dignitas, but their best of five performance was disappointing. The squad made some changes between splits and some improvements were seen, but it all came apart when the organisation wasn’t selected to join the North American franchised league. Despite the mediocre performance of the team as a whole, Ssumday did not falter. He was tied for second player with most MVPs in the league (won MVP 8 times) and bolstered an impressive champion pool, ranging from tanks, split pushers, bruisers, mages. His experience and veteran status were already impacting the league. A new homeDignitas didn’t join the LCS in the 2018 Season, but Ssumday did. This time, he was wearing the 100Thieves jersey. Alongside him were Meteos, Ryu, Cody Sun, Aphromoo and pr0lly as the coach. A team of veterans that had been on what looked like the lower points of their career didn’t exactly create high expectations for the fans, but all that changed when they managed to finish the regular season in first place. Ssumday didn't exactly have his best split, but his consistency and everlasting will to help the team was one of the stepping stones that the Thieves needed. Never forgetting about his fans, the South Korean Top laner was already dreaming of his first North American title when he spoke with Inven Global:“Because I am doing well right now, I want to meet with my fans with an even better performance on an even bigger stage.”They did arrive at the bigger stage, but Team Liquid crushed their hopes with an impressively dominant performance throughout the entire playoffs. The defeat never feels good, but a second place finish in the playoffs for this roster should not be seen as such. If anyone wanted to call Spring a fluke, 100Thieves were quick to answer with another great showing in Summer Split. They finished third place, behind TL and C9, and managed to beat everyone in the league except for Liquid. At the helm of this impressive performance was Ssumday, boasting his best split since leaving South Korea. The top laner ended up tied for first in MVP awards with Doublelift (ahead of Bjergsen), was undefeated in multiple picks and had one of the scariest Gangplanks in the league. This wasn’t enough to satisfy Ssumday. What he wanted was to go back to his home and represent North America in the 2018 World Championship, as he expressed in this interview. “This year’s Worlds is in Korea. We still have a long way to go, but I’ll do my best to go meet the Korean fans. And to the NA fans that send us endless support; I’ll do my best to repay you by getting to Worlds. Thank you.”100Thieves were taken down by Team Liquid again, but their placings in both splits allowed them to qualify for Worlds through Championship Points. Ssumday got his wish, but a hard group with Invictus Gaming and Fnatic (eventual tournament winner and runner up) made any other ambition impossible to achieve.Ssumday’s career reached its lowest point in the year that just passed. 100Thieves did not make any changes and the team just performed worse and worse. The elite top laner remained consistent and made every sacrifice necessary. Frustrations were many and his future was uncertain. The drop down to the Academy roster must’ve hurt, but the Summer Split title might’ve been just the beginning of another return to glory for the ever-smiling veteran. In 2 weeks the LCS’s regular season ends. Playoff qualification is an uncertainty for most and a challenge to get to for some. 100Thieves have a tough schedule ahead, but hope’s not lost. Spring Split has been downplayed by a lot of people, but for the Thieves’ Top Laner Ssumday, every playoff counts. He has been having one of his best Splits yet and is the team’s best hope to surpass the huge challenges ahead of them.8 years after he began his journey, Ssumday’s eyes are still in the future. And he’ll sure as hell make it a bright one. If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @Kaaaosh.
Images courtesy of Lol Esports's Flickr.
Stats and details taken from Games of Legends esports and Leaguepedia.