Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Art of Getting Carried and the Continued Brilliance of Impact’s Career

In another lifetime, Jeong”Impact” Eon-young’s career looks a little bit different. For the 2015 season, Champions Korea removed an organization’s ability to field two line-ups. Feeling the need for a new challenge, he left SK Telecom T1 for “green” pastures in North America. SK Telecom got a second World Championship thanks to their top lane selection but only managed to keep their choice, Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan, for one year.

In that same period of time, Impact would be a key member of the forgotten Team Impulse. A line-up constructed around Yu “XiaoWeiXiao” Xian and the remaining members of the line-up being young talent, the team would surprise most of North America — finishing fourth. But even with the world champion in the region, putting up amazing numbers, it didn’t crack the headlines. In an era before All-Pro voting, he was the silent force, showing how the lane should be treated.

Its a step down from being a world champion. But, its a small victory.

He’s never been the highlight player, never the person that craved the spotlight. He rarely streams and is relatively quiet on social media.

But when he would be the first Evil Geniuses member to be interviewed after their 3-0 victory against 100 Thieves, it felt important. When his named was called by Gabriella”LeTigress” Devia Allen, he was surprised. And even when he spoke, the moment was somewhat taken way from him with his teammates lifting the trophy.

It clearly wasn’t intentional but come on.

A smile never left his face. He played into the crowd. The confidence never waived in his demeanor. It was a beautiful moment for a player constantly feeling under respected in the competitive League of Legends stage.

When a North America team signs Impact, it broadcasts an energy of confidence. He’s a player that is constantly elevating the talent around him. Not often will he be considered for MVP of a game. And not often will he be asked to carry a team. Rather, the team is hoping that Impact can do a lot with a little.

Rarely will his team focus on the top side of the map. And somehow, he’ll survive. He’s constantly been able to hold his own — either averaging a lane lead or being behind by less than a 100 gold in the laning phase. In fact, his 2022 spring split -60 average gold deficit at ten minutes was his first regular-season split where he was averaging a ten-minute deficit since 2019 Spring.

In recent splits, he’s become a target of pressure. Destroy the pillar, destroy the foundation of a team. Yet his ability to overcome and still manage to find a way to influence the game is simply incredible.

In a match-up against his former team back in spring 2021, Team Liquid looked to bully Impact — similar to the Hawks treatment of Adam Banks in The Mighty Ducks. The man was not allowed to enjoy his time — recording fourth in deaths at ten minutes.

Yet he simply didn’t let Team Liquid get away with this. In a manner only Impact could pull off, he not only managed to keep his cool, but he would also help turn the game around at rift herald with an amazing Gnar ultimate. It was these types of moments that you just knew would happen with him. Only he could play from this position.

When he’s allowed to breathe in lane, he constantly battles opponents. He forces them to play the lane perfectly. Unless he is laning against Gabriel”Bwipo” Rau — who is beating him in the solo kill duel the two have undergone this year.

But the fascinating thing with Impact is that with time, something interesting happens: his perceived value diminishes. Teams look for a new toy, something seemingly different with more bells and whistles.

The top lane position has always been a “luxury” position. If you have an incredible top laner, that’s amazing. But for a winning formula, typically, a team will need to prioritize other areas of their respective line-up. In the hierarchy of most valuable position, top lane is dead last and it is a reality that isn’t argued. In the NFL, great wide receivers can only do so much (apologies to Calvin Johnson) and the power forward is dying in the NBA.

kang”TheShy” Seung-lok found this out the hard way as his reputation crumbled in recent years. With Invictus Gaming lacking a good bottom lane, the man whose electric performances help lead iG to a world championship instead became a punching bag for enemy teams, constantly camped, refusing to change his way. It just so happens when he moved to Weibo Gaming, with a talented bottom side of the map, things are looking a lot better.

It’s not a coincidence.

Still, a great weakside top laner is a lost art. They make the game easier for their teammates. Proving that you have mastered said art will constantly earn you a position in the professional scene.

With his past two teams, Impact was removed from the roster for similar reasons: the team was searching for something different. Cloud9 originally brought in Jeon”Ray” Ji-won to play alongside Impact to provide a ripple in strategy during the best of three regular-season format. When Ray didn’t necessarily provide that, Cloud9 would sign a Challenger Series standout in Eric”Licorice” Ritchie — a cheaper contract with a perceived high ceiling. Team Liquid thought they were getting an upgrade in 2021 by signing an even larger contract in the incredibly talented, fellow weakside warrior Barney “Alphari”Morris.

And both teams found success with their replacement. Cloud9’s start would be slow in a very competitive 2018 spring season but they would be able to turn things around in the summer. And Team Liquid built an incredibly stacked roster with the incredibly talented Alphari being able to provide stylistic flexibility (with a side of attitude).

While it could be argued that some of their wins wouldn’t have happened with Impact in the line-up, some of the losses they had more than likely wouldn’t have happened with Impact in the line-up. And that’s always been the biggest question mark. What if we kept him?

This iteration of Evil Geniuses has been the best example of the value of Impact as a player. With two young carries in the marksman and mid lane position, the role of other team members becomes incredibly important. Effectively, they are serving to protect their presidents.

For most of the spring split, Evil Geniuses would struggle with his concept. Whether it was poor positioning, mental errors or great play-making from their opponents, Joseph Joon “jojopyun“Pyun and Kyle”Danny” Sakamaki simply couldn’t be kept alive long enough. They weren’t able to mechanically outperform their opponents. The “believe in the zoomers” logic was crumbling — even with moments of brilliance.

When the playoffs came around, so did adjustments from Impact, Kacper “Inspired” Słoma and Philippe “volcano” Laflamme. Notoriously, the team would funnel gold and resources onto Danny. Inspired would see a massive improvement in his performance month over month.

Impact shines in his role. He would account for only 21.3% of his team’s overall economy, decreasing his share of his team’s creeps post fifteen minutes from 23.8% to 22.0%. And somehow, his percentage of his team’s overall damage would increase from 23.3% to 24.1%.

In the semi-finals against Team Liquid, he would do his best to make Bwipo a non-factor in the series. He did just that. And he did it in front of a live audience in Houston.

And in the finals, he stopped the Kim”Summerday” Chan-ho hype train in commanding fashion. 100 Thieves would funnel over 29.0% of his post-fifteen resources into Ssumday, accounting for 25.5% of 100 Thieves’ overall economy. He would still be out damaged by Impact — 22.0% of his team’s overall damage, 15.0% of his team’s overall damage post fifteen minutes compared to Ssumday’s 16.3% of his team’s overall, 9.4% post fifteen minutes.

It was beautiful.

It is remarkable that a player can have as many accomplishments as Impact — 749 career games, a 63.3% career win percentage, five-time LCS Champion, two-time LCK champion, two first-team All-Pro honors, four second-team All-Pro honors, three third-team All-Pro honors, is a freaking world champion — and he still feels underrated.

That is just the beauty of Impact.

If he ever retires, we likely will never hear of him again. He’ll ride off into the sunset, with his flowing hair being lifted by a summer breeze. And if Evil Geniuses, for some reason, decides to move on from him, he’ll find another home and it will be the most under-discussed yet most important offseason signing.

That’s just how Impact is.

He’s a man of few public worlds and a man that doesn’t need to say much. His teammates praise him, pundits give him the respect his deserves and his team makes sure the check reaches his bank account every month.

He’s the quintessential top laner. And we have to keep appreciating him while we have in North America.

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