Perhaps no League of Legends team went through a larger roster upheaval in the offseason than Team Impulse.
In 2015, TiP was rather successful, finishing third in the North American Regional Championship. The team was filled with star players such as jungler Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae and mid laner Yu “XiaoWeiXiao” Xian. TiP was originally a Chinese team called LMQ that moved to North America in 2015 and rebranded as Team Impulse. After the 2015 season, however, the team fell apart. Quite literally.
XiaoWeiXiao was caught Elo boosting and negotiating to sell a Riot-unlocked account,resulting in a seven-month ban. His contract had also expired, same with Rush, Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Apollo “Apollo” Price. In October, the organization confirmed its intentions of selling its League Championship Series spot.
By then, the team was left only with Austin “Gate” Yu, who played in XiaoWeiXiao’s place during the suspension, and Adrian “Adrian” Ma who was the starting support. Adrian soon left to join Immortals, and Team Impulse looked like it was done for.
In a surprising move, TiP didn’t sell and on Jan. 7, only one week away from opening day, announced a new lineup with Wang “Feng” Xiao-Feng, Kim “Procxin” Se-Young, Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik and Brandon “Mash” Phan joining Gate.
Fans were skeptical. Mash has been a veteran player who never rose to superstar status. Gate was a good player but transitioned from mid lane to support. The rest of the team was also inexperienced, with most of the squad coming straight from solo queue. On top of inexperience, there were language barriers.
“I think it’s difficult to shot-call when there’s the language barrier,” Mash said. “Usually, we have our translator here and there, but we definitely don’t have it for actual games. So I have to use my vocabulary wisely. When I used to shot-call for Coast, I had Kwon to translate, so it was so easy.”
Week 1 revealed what many fans expected to be the trend. In its first game, TiP was shut out by Immortals. The perfect game drew plenty of jeers from the online League community, but the TiP players tried to take it in stride.
“I think to us it was just like a funny game,” Gate said. “We got no kills. We didn’t really think too much about it. We knew we were gonna kind of get owned the first week because that week we almost had no practice and were just getting the team together. The first game there was almost nothing to us, so we just didn’t think about it.”
Impulse shrugged the first week and went into Week 2 blowing everyone’s mind and bypassing any expectations by going 2-0, picking up wins versus Renegades, and heavily-favored Cloud 9. People thought Impulse could go winless; TiP won two games in a week.
Team Impulse went from the laughingstock of the NA LCS to one of the more intriguing teams in a couple of weeks. But it wouldn’t be long before TiP would again falter. After a win in Week 3 improved TiP’s record to 3-1, the team went into a huge slump.
A win against Dignitas — which ended up finishing in last place — in Week 5 followed by another against NRG in Week 7 would be the only other wins all split for TiP. The initial success proved unsustainable, though Mash said expectations were definitely higher after Week 2.
“We were definitely aiming for playoffs, which was sixth place,” Mash said. “But we didn’t make it there, so we’re just trying to work really hard to focus on what’s ahead and not behind. It’s been kind of rough because early on everybody was like, ‘Yeah, we’re in decent standing. We’re defying expectations.’ But now it’s nothing.”
It was obvious how passionate Mash is about the team. Being a player since even before the LCS, Mash is eager to prove he still has what it takes to play at the top most level. He’s also taking on the daunting task of shot-calling from the AD Carry position.
Mash said TiP’s problems started with poor scrims, which seemed to be the opposite in the other lower placed teams. Both Renegades’ Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo and Dignitas’ Alan “Kiwikid” Nguyen said that their scrims were surprisingly good despite the team’s bad record on stage.
“We’re not the best practice team,” Mash said. “It’s kind of bad for our atmosphere. I think we all get along together but for some reason our mornings are generally really rough. But our afternoons are better.
“It’s been getting better, but it’s still not the best.”
Team Impulse will be facing off against Apex Thursday night in the promotion tournament. Winning five games after piecing together a roster the week before the split started is a mini accomplishment, but TiP isn’t safe just yet.
Despite the regular season struggles, though, Gate seemed optimistic going forward.
“There have been a lot of improvements in our team. The most notable one is communication. It’s been getting better. It’s still pretty rough around the edges.
“I still think we’re better than the Challenger teams, so my expectation is that none of the LCS teams should get relegated this split. We’ve seen how (Apex) play on stage, and we’re not too worried at all about how the relegation matches will play out.”
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.