When 100 Thieves took down Clutch Gaming's Nexus in Game 5 of the North American League Championship Series semifinals, the team didn't jump up and celebrate. Instead, mid laner Yoo "Ryu" Sang-wook immediately chugged some water in relief. They all took off their headphones, while jungler William "Meteos" Hartman and top laner Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho shared a fist bump. AD carry Cody "Cody Sun" Sun was the first to stand as the team wearily stumbled toward each other and hugged. 100 Thieves had qualified for the NA LCS finals in Miami -- now they'd be facing Team Liquid in the title match.
A few moments later, head coach Neil "pr0lly" Hammad collapsed onto the couch in the press room. I congratulated him and teased him a bit for being the Jin Air Green Wings of North America, a slight dig at the team's lengthy 39.1 average game time during the regular season and 74-minute Game 5 against Clutch.
"I feel a bit worse that you called us the NA Jin Air," he said, laughing.
Meanwhile, looking out at the empty LCS Battle Arena stage, Meteos shook his bangs from his eyes as he mulled over the series. He didn't think much of their performance, despite the victory and finals bid.
"I think that when we got first seed, we had a good chance of making finals just because we get the bye and we get to play the lowest-seeded team remaining," Meteos said. "I don't know if our current state is that good. Today, we didn't really play that well."
The reaction on social media was harsh. Tweets and comments on reddit sarcastically congratulated Team Liquid on its likely victory over 100 Thieves in the finals, given the slow, plodding pace of 100T's win in the semifinals.
In the inaugural split of the NA LCS franchise era, 100 Thieves were an interesting mixture of old and new, united under a brand built from the ground up by Matthew "Nadeshot" Haag, formerly of Optic Gaming. Nadeshot received funding from Cleveland Cavaliers' Dan Gilbert, yet another example of the NBA's growing interest in esports investment.
The lineup was almost entirely made of veteran players: Ssumday, Meteos, Ryu, support Zaqueri "aphromoo" Black and even their coach, pr0lly. Cody Sun was the youngest on the team, and even he had represented North America at a World Championship. Save for top laner Ssumday, all those players had question marks hanging above their heads going into this split.
Throughout 2017, the community vacillated on whether aphromoo was the star of Counter Logic Gaming or washed up, especially when he wasn't on engage champions. Cody Sun had a major gaffe at the 2017 World Championship that became a sour cherry on top of a bitter sundae when IMT failed to make it out of the group stage. On Phoenix1, Ryu suffered from motivation issues and was taken out of the starting lineup for a few weeks in favor of Choi "Pirean" Jun-sik.
And then there was Meteos, a legacy jungler in his own right from 2013 to 2017 on Cloud9. After leaving the team, he joined Phoenix1 and worked through his own issues during the competitive season. At first, he was simply a substitute while the team caught jungler Rami "Inori" Charagh up to speed. But Meteos quickly became the team's starting jungler instead, starting a few games at the beginning of the summer split. But eventually, the starting position was handed over to rookie Michael "MikeYeung" Yeung.
"People always mention that I stopped playing entirely, but it's never really been that way," Meteos said. "Last year was just a break for me. I never said that I wasn't going to play again. It was more like, I'm just going to take this year to chill, to catch up on some other areas of my life that I've been neglecting since LCS is such a full-time thing. Like seeing family, friends, just experiencing life a bit. As the year was coming to a close, I was like 'Yeah, I'm ready to play again.'"
On 100 Thieves, Meteos found stability and a new home on a team of veteran voices. Although 100T had an up-and-down split, their ability to communicate and improve week to week eventually led them to the top of the standings -- and now, the NA LCS finals.
"I knew it would be a difficult split because I have a lot of veterans and a lot of smart people on the team," pr0lly said. "They know the basic fundamentals of the game, so it's always hard to explain a concept that you already know everyone understands on the team -- but it's important that they discuss their nuances with each other."
Combining everyone's experience into not only a cohesive vision, but strong execution on the Rift, has been the team's greatest challenge.
"Everyone is coming from different teams, so everyone wants to do things in a different way," aphromoo said. "It was rough to learn it, but once we did, our games were a lot cleaner and our scrims were way cleaner."
Much of this began with Meteos, who has controlled not only his own jungle but those of his opponents. With consistent pressure, he has been able to at times give his team a natural tempo advantage.
"I don't think I've outperformed everyone by a large margin, but I don't think I'm dead weight on my team or anything," Meteos said in a quick self-evaluation.
For him, joining 100 Thieves has been less about becoming the best jungler in the league -- although he's always looking to improve and learn more within the role -- but becoming a certain kind of teammate. Looking back on his past performances, he's harsh on himself and credits his time with former Cloud9 mid laner Hai "Hai" Du Lam for giving him a strong example to follow.
"One thing I always respected about him is that I think he made everyone on his team play better," Meteos said. "I think there are two kinds of ways you can be as a player: You can be the kind of player who sucks the life out of their teammates to make themselves look good or you can be the type of player who breathes life into their teammates and lifts them up. After playing with Hai, it made me want to be the latter."
Meteos' teammates echo this statement.
"Meteos is very honest about what he wants, probably got it from Hai," aphromoo said. "He really sets the mood for our team, as well. He really brings us up."