Team Dignitas has been around since the very early days of League of Legends and has always been one of the staples for professional teams along with Counter Logic Gaming and Team SoloMid. Unlike the other two, however, Dignitas has always been in the middle of the pack.
Last year, Dignitas had a vigorous start to the summer split of the North American League Championship Series, going 7-2 in its first 9 games. But just as things were looking good, the team fell back and finished in sixth place, avoiding the relegation tournament but failing to make the playoffs after such a strong start.
The 2016 spring split has proven to be a rebuilding time for Dignitas, which finished in last place and will play Team Dragon Knights of the North American Challenger Series on Wednesday night in the spring promotion tournament.
Alan “KiWiKiD” Nguyen is the longest-tenured Dignitas player and has tried to use that position to help the team through its transitional split. He’s one of the few LCS vets who has been around since the start of the LCS. He’s been a mainstay on Team Dignitas and understands it is hard for a team full of younger players to finish at the top of any standings.
“Playing with rookies has kind of been kind of a challenge, but both of them have learned a lot and both try hard, so it’s not even that bad,” Kiwikid told Slingshot during Week 9 of the LCS. “I think most of our problem stems from on-stage nervousness. That’s a really bad thing. I’d say we do pretty well in scrims.”
Dignitas is in its rebuilding phase but kept Kiwikid (and Danny “Shiptur” Le, who’s been with Dignitas since 2014) as the veteran LCS professional. Kiwikid has taken on the leadership role for the team, and feels confident going into the next split. The new best-of-three format should strengthen the region as a whole, and Dignitas specifically, because it means — among other things — much more on-stage experience. Kiwikid leads the team when they review replays of the games, and while he believes in self learning, he has been trying to really push ideas on to the newer players.
“I know you’re supposed to have an epiphany by yourself,” Kiwikid said. “But I pretty much induced epiphanies in our players, just shoving stuff in their brain.”
Apollo “Apollo” Price echoed Kiwikid’s sentiments. As difficult as the split has been, Dignitas has tried to focus on what it can do to improve instead of focusing on its place in the standings.
“We didn’t think we were gonna blast through and go to playoffs, but we felt like we could keep improving each game,” Apollo said. “I think we did, actually. We just didn’t improve quick enough. The other teams just were better than us.”
Learning advanced ideas such as the where the lane swap meta has evolved is quite difficult for Challenger players to execute right away. That sort of thing has been the biggest point of struggle for Dignitas this season. Teams like Cloud 9 or CLG already have experienced things like the lane swap, and they have players capable of teaching others their strategy, what to do, etc.
“That’s the difference,” Apollo said. “Experienced teams, you teach (the new players). But non-experienced teams like us, we have to learn together.”
Dignitas started the season well enough by defeating CLG in Week 1, but it has been a steady decline since then. Dignitas’ record stood at 2-2 after two weeks; it went 2-12 in the remaining eight.
Renegades and Impulse, two teams that also struggled mightily through the season, surpassed Dignitas and left the club in last place, where it must win two matches this week to avoid relegation. The thought of one of the old guard LCS teams being relegated is surprising, even if Dignitas never quite reached the same ceiling as the other veteran clubs.
“The season has definitely been more down than up, but if we were to take something away, it’s mainly we play the games and we’re actually really close,” Apollo said. “It feels like we’re just about to hit that point where we’re gonna win. It didn’t seem like we were gonna be a top-tier team. At most, we were gonna be a mid-tier team.”
Kiwi and Apollo explained that the whole structure of Dignitas is changing. While learning advanced tactics like the lane swap at the LCS level is important, Apollo said that they realized they just needed to hammer down the fundamentals before anything.
“The thing we focused on, especially at the end of the season, ironically, is that we really needed to hammer down the basics,” Kiwikid said. “I felt like we just kind of skipped ahead to the advanced tactics when we really needed to focus on the basics and get the fundamentals down.”
At the surface, that might seem counter-intuitive, as these players are coming from Challenger, which is the highest level of play in solo queue. But as Apollo said, having good fundamentals has to come before everything or you will just be left in the dust. Most Challenger solo queue players are very good at the early laning phase, and most of the time, when a player tries to improve, they try to refine mechanics for the laning phase.
One of the first things Apollo noticed when he entered the LCS was that the game is much more than just the laning phase.
“For me this season, I definitely try to focus on just the team aspect of it, and knowing how to play with other people and getting an advantage for myself,” Apollo said. “That’s the most important thing, right now, in this current meta, is you have to focus on your team game play. You have to work with everyone else and focus on that.”
Working together is a very important part for Team Dignitas, but it wasn’t always like that, which is why Dignitas was probably always only a mediocre team. Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo, now on Renegades, was one of the members of old Dignitas. He said there wasn’t too tight a relationship, which could have been from a lack of leadership.
“The closeness wasn’t a very close friendship. It was more like a friendly co-workers kind of thing,” Crumbz said. “Share some laughs here and there. Go out every once in awhile. For the most part I wasn’t particularly too close with anybody on Dignitas on the time.”
This time around, however, Kiwikid said he and Thomas “Kirei” Yuen have really tried to step up. It will be up to that veteran leadership to help Dignitas stave off relegation starting Wednesday night.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned this season is that confidence is probably the most important part of it,” Apollo said. “Confidence is the most important thing I’ve learned from Kiwi just because he’s a veteran. He’s a confident player, and I respect that a lot.”