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Top 5 Most Influential NA Pro Players of the Decade

Izento 2020-01-09 06:03:20
  The decade has come to a close and the amount of players in NA that have truly left a mark in the scene are a slim number. Although there are easily more influential people from other regions, NA has had some solid contributions to their entire region and some extending their imprint onto the rest of the world...which is a lot to ask for an NA player. This list had to have some requirements to make it interesting and not simply based upon popularity, brand or recency bias. The criteria for this list is as follows: - Minimum of five years playing in the league, or in other words, half a decade. - This also considers players that were initially an import to NA, but given their historical and lengthy significance to the region, they have been considered for the list. - High influence on gameplay, both through in-game or teamwork aspects outside of the game. - The criteria doesn’t include streaming or personal brand building. This list is not in order in terms of influence or importance

Hai

[image courtesy of Riot games]
 

"Hai is literally so important to our team. He's the shotcaller, he's the person who is outgoing, that gets us out going to do things and talk to each other. He's the person that will sacrifice himself for the team. He's the most important role filler for our team" - LemonNation

 
[source: GameSpot]
  The famous conception about Hai as a player has always been how he has essentially led his team through leadership and micromanagement, which places him as one of the most influential players to ever play in NA. From his time in Cloud9, he cemented himself as one of the most respected shotcallers in the entire region. Having brought Quantic Gaming to the peak of amateur League of Legends, the team reformed into C9, and then qualified for the NA LCS in Season 3. Hai and company would win S3 Summer Split, blazing through staple powerhouses such as TSM and CLG, arriving as one of the most dominant NA teams the region has ever seen. Hai played no small feat in this, as his ability to lead the team was also through the nature of his personality being extroverted, one of the rare qualities from a player at the time. This would make C9 deadly because of how decisive Hai was and it proved to be the biggest strength Hai contributed to the wins the team were able to sequester. Many have forgotten that, mechanically, Hai was quite skilled when he first came onto the professional scene, playing skill-expressive champions such as Zed and Leblanc. It would only be revealed in later years that his ability to perform on assassins had been depleted and his champion pool began to show signs of weakness as he went into his latter years in C9 and into FlyQuest and Golden Guardians, particularly because of his collapsed lung and wrist issues, but this is what makes his story so much more compelling. Instead of retiring and closing his chapter of greatness, Hai came out of retirement after being replaced by Jensen on C9, to then jungle for the team because their roster was so dysfunctional without the legendary shotcaller, and as an aside, many also don’t remember that Hai was originally a jungler when he first started playing. This entire ordeal, along with his short stint playing support for C9 shows how fundamental Hai was to the core of C9 but also that Hai’s impression on the scene in terms of leadership and style of shotcalling, which was essentially following the call 100%, proved that his style was effective and revolutionary. With that skill alone he was able to qualify C9 to worlds in 2015, with their famous gauntlet reverse sweep, not to mention his uncanny capability to inspire his team to keep morale at a high level and believe in the possibility of victory during the most dire of straits. One of the rarest accolades to be had by a player, even on an international spectrum, Hai was able to attain. He has brought a Challenger team to the LCS, twice, both with C9 and C9 Challenger, which was later sold to become FlyQuest. Few players can say that they’ve made millions for their organization, and even fewer can say they’ve shown multiple instances of massive leadership skills, regardless of the roles he was forced to play, displaying repeatable results over the years.

Bjergsen

[Image courtesy of Tina Jo/Riot Games]
 

"He's forcing other mid laners to either get better at their role or get better at controlling the map with their role. Bjergsen is very good, even 1v1 his mechanics are amazing and he's a very good player, but the reason why he's so good is because he works very well with his team" - Hai

[source: GameSpot]
  The first truly great import to NA and has been a consistently high-performing mid laner for the vast majority of his career. Although normally Bjergsen wouldn’t qualify for an influential NA player, his length of play in NA (joining TSM to play in the 2014 Spring Split) proves his commitment to the region and his ability to stay at the top, despite new players coming into the scene touting superior mechanics and often falling short in the face of this legendary player. Bjergsen is not only mechanically skilled but it’s the drive he has to consistently become the best player, and therefore stay at the top in NA and at times, having the ability to be considered among the best in the world. As Bjergsen came in to replace Reginald, it was already apparent that he played an aggressive playstyle, and by that display he’s garnered more resources from his teammates, and he’s been one of the first mid laners to demand resources while also using them to secure a victory far more often than not. This has famously lead to TSM prioritizing contesting the enemy blue buff for their mid laner to have the mana advantage, while at the same time using their jungler to keep wards and a pressure advantage for Bjergsen. The style of play that was first developed by Reginald and then perfected by Bjergsen is an achievement in itself, but this later revolutionized how teams in NA played, as they now had to contest the mid lane as a 2v2 rather than 1v1. With the jungler and mid laner trying to gain priority to then carry their advantage to the other parts of the map, this style has been the dominant way to play LoL, and for that we can thank Bjergsen. He cemented the midlane as one of the most impactful roles, a very fitting ideology given the name Team Solo Mid.

Aphromoo

"I've always thought that Aphromoo was so important because Aphro became the loudest or second loudest in the room, but he was the one that was a lot more measured[...] I think he was probably one of the only pro players at the time that had great social skills, and that made such a big difference in the team” - Doublelift

[source: Thorin Reflections]
  Although this name has caused derision in the past year, to dismiss his contribution to LoL because of his recent performance would be an error. Aphromoo has changed how LoL has progressed, both in-game and out of game with strong leadership and an ability to create distinct playstyle characteristics in his team. Starting as an ADC, Aphromoo quickly realized that his ability to synergize with other players through the support role was a greater strength than continuing to play the ADC role, and with this single change it spawned a legend in the age of crucial development for NA. From the meme of “support is so easy”, Aphromoo actually reveals how a support should play the laning phase, something which pro players still have difficulty learning even after a five year example, which is also evident from CoreJJ’s series How To Support. The clearest part of Aphromoo’s strength is his ability to shotcall for his team, having been repeated from various teammates throughout his career. Similar to Hai, Aphromoo has displayed great leadership and the willingness to take ownership when his team needs him to. From his time on CLG to his journey on 100 Thieves, he had to ease into his role as a leader, learning that it wasn’t just making calls, but being emotionally aware and leading discussions outside of the game. When talking about the similarities of Hai and Aphromoo, Meteos said in an interview with The Shotcaller that, “it doesn’t feel like you’re being ordered around, it’s more like you’re being given directions. In that regard, I think they’re similar”. The most popular bot lane for a significant period of time was Rush Hour, comprised of both Doublelift and Aphromoo. During this era, it not only showed the advantages of a bot lane staying together, a true constant that could be relied upon in CLG, but the duo was so famous that allegedly Korean teams would scrim CLG solely for their bot lane. And although Aphromoo isn’t the support people would attest to teaching Doublelift (that right being reserved to Chauster), this is when Doublelift mastered his dominance as a player. Not only has Aphromoo grown and help grow Doublelift into the monster that he is now, but Aphromoo went on to fully train Stixxay and Cody Sun, both formidable ADCs in their respective teams. The final contribution Aphromoo has given to the LoL scene, which is fairly underappreciated, was his time at MSI 2016 with introducing enchanter supports to the global meta. While the original introduction to this meta could be pointed towards Adrian from Immortals, it wasn’t truly caught on from the rest of the world until Aphromoo brought it to an international tournament, pushing CLG all the way to the finals against SKT where they would lose 0-3 to the Korean overlords. This was one of the very rare times NA would influence the global meta to a significant degree, outpacing the other major regions and providing more plays into the playbooks of other teams.

Doublelift

[Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games]
 

“When I played with Peter, it’s like, wow, how does he think like that? I was so impressed by his ideas [about the] game. I played with other ADCs in Taiwan, Brazil and Korea, but when I was with Peter, I was like ‘wow’. That’s why he’s the best ADC[...] No one is going to say Doublelift is not the best. I’m saying that Doublelift is the best ADC in NA and every ADC has to prove they can beat Doublelift” - Olleh

[source: Travis Gafford]
  The other part of the famous Rush Hour bot lane, Doublelift has shown he’s one of the most skilled ADCs not only in NA, but in the world. His ability to consistently perform at the highest level is unrivaled, but he was also once a player everyone knew was great, but was mocked with an empty subreddit entitled “Doublelift’s Trophy Case”, which now is ironically bolstered by seven LCS titles, the most out of any player in NA history. During Doublelift’s time playing on TSM he was able to play with then rookie support Biofrost. This was the first time Doublelift would don the role of veteran and leader in the bot lane. This placed pressure on him to not only teach Biofrost how to play but also extended past the bot lane into how the entire team would operate. This was one of the first times an ADC could be considered a major shotcaller in a NA team, which goes against the narrative that a great ADC is there to just be all hands and no brain. Doublelift’s style of play also translated when he joined Team Liquid, playing with Olleh and leading the bot lane to create victories for TL. With the vocal presence of Doublelift comes the demand of resources, but that is easily relinquished given his track record of success. Often times Doublelift would argue with his teammates, the most recent example being Xmithie, but this shows how demanding Doublelift can be to his allies and the playstyle he envisions for his team. One of the most iconic points in Doublelift’s career has got to be his mercenary work for TL. During the Spring Split of 2017, Doublelift took a break from competitive play, citing that he was burnt out from playing and also gave him an opportunity to spend time streaming and with people outside of the game. The bat signal was thrown out from TL, with Steve asking Reginald to loan out Doublelift to play for TL and to save them from relegations. During this time, Piglet had moved to the mid lane and their rookie ADC Youngbiin was replaced by Doublelift. TL would prove to be successful in the promotion tournament, with the shoulder of improvement being attributed to the addition of Doublelift to the roster. Without this move, it was almost assured that TL would have failed in making it back into the LCS, which would have left a black mark on applying for franchising for 2018. Without Doublelift, there might not have been a TL.  

LemonNation

[Image courtesy of Riot Games]
 

"Lemon always has a lot of strategical questions, like what we should be doing[..] He's obsessed with pick/ban" - Sneaky

 
[source: Blitz Esports]
This name immediately jumps out on the page and it’s obvious from first glance that this name is not like the others, especially considering he has retired in recent years. Never was LemonNation known for his mechanics, but he played a critical role in the development of the draft phase. LemonNation made his name on Cloud9, famously winning back-to-back LCS championships and having one of the most dominant LCS splits at the time during Season 3 Summer Split, boasting a record of 25-3. Perhaps even more famously, LemonNation is known for his notebook (famously considered the “Death Note” in the Chinese scene). Inside he kept plans of how to draft against various picks and teams, something which was unheard of during that time in Season 3. There were no coaches or analysts, and LemonNation was one of the first players to introduce the idea of a structured pick/ban phase. Even Hai spoke about this topic in an interview with Gamespot saying, “he started the entire trend of bringing notebooks and papers up onto stage with a planned out pick and ban phase. Back in the day people would try and remember, but then Lemon came along and we revolutionized that aspect of pick and ban phase. That was a huge part of our success”. Without this single contribution, it might have taken more time for LoL to progress in a more serious manner, not only in NA, but perhaps in the western world. It would be naive to think LemonNation thought of something no one else would have eventually come up with, but one begins to wonder how long it would have taken for players to take the game at such a serious level. A forgotten relic to the LoL scene, but also an integral part, LemonNation even brought innovative picks, some of which younger fans might have thought always existed. Morgana was first popularized by LemonNation in the support role, as she was previously only played in the mid lane. Along with that, Zyra, Veigar (which was actually first played by GorillA, but played first by LemonNation in the NA pro scene) and Nautilus support were popularized by LemonNation. One of the hidden strengths of LemonNation was his ability to innovate and seek out other players which have innovated and by doing so, he could arguably be considered as one of the greatest minds outside of the game. All of these names have given a significant contribution to the LoL scene, either isolated to NA as a region or impacting the rest of the world in how they view and play the game. Whether the revelations these players have brought were through leadership or gameplay, they are considered the most influential players of this decade. This list is not fully exhausted, as there have been many great names to grace the LCS not mentioned in this article, but this list should be considered a great sampling. As we head into the next decade we will continue to see the next crop of players appear and dominate their era to create a name for themselves, but let it not be forgotten what came before them. ___ Izento has been a writer for the LoL scene since Season 7, and has been playing the game since Season 1. Follow him on Twitter at @ggIzento for more League content. Special thanks to Gamepedia For more LoL content, check out our LoL section
 

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