The scene was set for Alan “KiWiKid” Nguyen to walk away from professional League of Legends.
He had just been through perhaps the worst split of his career in the League Championship Series. His team lost its spot. Heck, he even said in an interview he was leaning toward retirement.
“I was almost as close as you can get,” KiWiKid said.
For KiWiKid, who has played every match of the LCS, retiring would have understandable. He’s hung on far longer than most professional players and become one of the most revered North American players in the game.
His team, Dignitas, of which he had been a member since 2012, was relegated. The organization later sold its Challenger Series spot and left League of Legends. One of the longest-tenured clubs was gone in a matter of weeks. It would have made sense for KiWiKid, the most identifiable player of the team, to follow suit.
“The next day after we got relegated, I reapplied to school, and then I got accepted,” KiWiKid said. “I was almost ready to go.”
But something held him back.
For years now, Kiwi has been a universally beloved player, as fans have flocked to his funny interviews and care-free nature. His gameplay always seemed to be an afterthought to the engaging personality he exuded. He’d always been considered a fine player if nothing spectacular, though his reputation on the Rift has slowly solidified the longer he’s been around.
Still, thinking about his career left Kiwi in a place where maybe he wasn’t ready to go after all.
“I’ve been in the game for so fucking long, honestly way too long, and I haven’t accomplished much,” he said. “Sure, I’ve accomplished getting the fans to like me, but ultimately, what comes first, without deprecating others, is I wanna go to worlds. That’s been my dream for so long, and I’m just giving it one last shot, I suppose.”
NRG is one of the newest organizations in the North American LCS and is among the new wave of entrants into League of Legends. It purchased a spot before the spring split, and its majority owners are part owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Other investors include well-known athletes Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins.
A fifth place finish put NRG in the spring playoffs before being ousted by Team Liquid in the quarterfinals. The ensuing break between splits resulted in a massive roster overhaul, with only one player, Lee “GBM” Chang-seok remaining in the lineup.
That’s where KiWiKid came in.
“When last split ended, the ownership identified some things they wanted from the roster for next split, and I identified what I thought kind of were the problem areas, and we came to a compromise,” NRG coach Tadayoshi “Hermit” Littleton said. “Specifically for Kiwi, I believe he was the first player signed.”
Hermit and Dignitas’ former coach Barento “Raz” Mohammed are close, and the two spoke about Kiwi. After contacting the longtime support player, Hermit explained his ideal role and how Kiwi fit with the rest of what they wanted the roster to become.
The other players would soon be revealed, too: Lucas “Santorin” Larsen, Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min and Diego “Quas” Ruiz, who was coming back from a retirement (of sorts) of his own.
For Kiwi, it was all about the roster.
“I was only going for the roster, and that’s pretty much it,” KiWiKid said. “I probably was the most excited to play with Santorin. We had been kinda talking for a while. I knew we would work pretty well together.”
A worlds appearance would be the perfect cap to a career that hasn’t lacked much else. He’s been around longer and liked better than just about anyone to play the game. But the split has started of rocky. At 1-3 through two weeks, it’s clear there’s much work for NRG to do. But Kiwi’s mood hasn’t dampened.
This is it: One shot, — one final shot, perhaps — to do something he’s never done.
“I think veteranship, that word is bullshit,” he said. “Just how someone’s mentality is, that’s all that shapes them. It isn’t how long they’ve been in the scene. So having all these players, they’re all great, they want to learn, and that’s what you need. You need the drive and self-discipline.”
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.