Stephen “Triple” Li has signed with FlyQuest, and is set to begin his North American career with LCS Academy 2020 Spring in January, after a whirlwind offseason story that first began at Worlds.
On October 5, in the LEC Studio in Berlin, Triple and the rest of the Mammoth roster fell to Unicorns of Live in a 15-1 defeat during a Play-In group stage tiebreaker. After defeating the Russian champions twice in the round-robin, Mammoth failed to make it three, and were punted from the 2019 League of Legends World Championship.
There were plenty of places that the roster could have pointed the blame — “logistical issues” had left the Australian representatives stranded for 18 days and falling behind the bell-curve, while Clutch Gaming had failed to pull their weight as the group’s first seed, meaning Mammoth’s 2-0 record against UOL was cancelled out.
As it turns out, the team’s struggles in groups hadn’t been in vain. 62 days after falling in the Worlds Play-In stage, Triple, as well as Mitchell “Destiny” Shaw, Calvin “k1ng” Truong, and head coach Richard “Phantiks” Su, had all jetted away from Australia.
Even breakout top lane star Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami is reportedly in the process of joining Cloud9 ahead of the 2020 season, meaning nearly all of the international roster had achieved something besides Worlds success: they had made the world take notice of Oceania, in a big way.
For Li, his post-Worlds—and as it turned out, post-OPL—journey started in Shanghai. There, nearly a month and a half ago, Triple began his trial with Chinese titans Royal Never Give Up, with aims to join the three-time LPL champions’ challenger team.
Triple’s trials were a success. He was on the verge of putting pen to paper when North America’s FlyQuest got in touch. They wanted him to start in the mid lane for their Academy roster. He’d be training behind German star Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage.
He agreed, and on December 4 was officially announced as one of the many Australian and New Zealand stars making up the huge Oceanic exodus.
“It wasn’t really surprising [to get the chance internationally],” Triple admitted.
“That was my goal for the entire year, and I knew I was doing my best and just kept my eyes on playing for an international team. I spent two and a half weeks with Royal and could have joined them too, and in the end, had a really hard choice.
“The OPL changes played a big role in my choice to leave Australia too, along with NA’s regional policy for Academy. If you’re a 17-year-old in the OPL, getting paid to play games is amazing, and you’re at the start of your career.
“Then, as you get older, it’s not sustainable anymore if you want to make a career out of it, and you have to test the waters other places. For me, at least, moving upwards was my best option, and I’d say a lot of people are in the same boat now.”
While remaining in the OPL wasn’t really a choice for Triple, the mid lane star admitted, he revealed he very nearly settled on China and Royal Never Give Up.
What swayed his hand, in the end, was that he knew he’d have more of a chance of breaking into the LCS top level in the near future, and take one more step towards his personal goal: returning to the World stage, and continuing his story on the biggest stage.
“Every lost year gives me a feeling of regret, and there’s nothing that feels bigger in that regard than losing at Worlds and having to go home,” he said.
“As soon as you lose at Worlds, you just want to have another go, and prove that you can do better than last time, but it’s even harder because you know it’s a full year away, and you have to earn the right to even be involved a second time around.
“I feel like this move to North America, and with FlyQuest, was my best shot at playing on the international stage again, which is why I made the decision in the end.”
The mid lane star knows it won’t be easy either. While North America boasts two more slots than Oceania at Worlds, and at least two are seeded straight into the tournament’s main event, there’s plenty of challengers with the same ambitions.
“I know it’s a bit of a stretch at the moment to just say ‘I want to go to Worlds,’ first I have to prove myself in Academy, then get promoted to a main team, and then from there we have to get to the top-three spots in the LCS,” Triple said.
“There’s no doubting it’s a big dream, but it’s always been what I’ve wanted out of my League of Legends career, so I’m not going to change that now, and think that I’ve made it. For now, short-term, I have to focus on preparing myself as best I can for the LCS.”
Li has never been one to shy away from a challenge either, so he knows he’s up to it, but he also knows there’s plenty of stars standing in his way—not least of all the host of Oceanic stars heading to Los Angeles at the same time.
“I was seeing all these players getting announced [for LCS and Academy teams] and I remember thinking: now I have to beat all of you to show that I’m worthy of a top spot, and send you back to Australia,” Triple said of the ‘OCE Exodus.’
That’s not to say he sees his fellow Aussies and Kiwis as rivals, or enemies. Far from it, and he said he’s looking forward to having a ready-made OPL community over in the LCS system from the start.
But he knows he does have competition to beat.
“You have to compete against each other, yeah, but at the end of the day, it’s just about who you are better than in your role. Australian, American, or even Korean, I have to beat them all now. You have to beat them, and that’s the best way to show what you can do.”
Alongside Triple and the rest of the Mammoth roster who have found places in the LCS and the LEC, Tommy “Ryoma” Le has been named as 100 Thieves’ starting mid laner for 2020, while Victor “FBI” Huang (GGS) and Lawrence “Lost” Hui (TSM) have remained in NA.
Order duo Samuel “Spookz” Broadley and Aaron “ChuChuZ” Bland have also joined the Golden Guardians coaching staff for next year, and will be working alongside FBI, with the Australian bot laner named as the team’s starting ADC in the LCS.
The LCS, and it’s Academy systems, are set to begin in January, while the Oceanic Pro League will begin 2020’s first split at a similar time.
Australia’s domestic league has already had a few major changes ahead of next year, including Pentanet.GG replacing 2019 Split 1 champions Bombers, and Chiefs veteran Brandon “Swip3rR” Holland making the switch to Order.