The first time FlyQuest enter the 2017 North American League Championship Series stage, they have no official jerseys, just printed t-shirts. The first time they walk off that stage, they are victorious.
When FlyQuest jumps out to a 2-0 start in 2017, no one is more surprised than the members of the team themselves. "We weren't expecting anything for this week," jungler Galen "Moon" Holgate says in a broadcast promo. "Walking out of the stage Altec was like, 'How did we go 2-0?'"
Week 2, FlyQuest sport new jerseys as they walk onstage. Although they drop their first series of the split, a 2-1 win for Echo Fox, expectations have shifted.
The FlyQuest story begins with 2013 Cloud9 — the upstart squad that entered the North American League Championship Series and razed the standings.
Through the years, C9’s domestic success grew them into one of North America’s most beloved organizations.
Winds of change shook the foundation of C9 when mid laner Hai “Hai” Du Lam retired in 2015.
The word retirement has a certain finality to it. Retiring is presumably final, the end of a career. Retirement often means a rosier look back into accomplishments and an extra sugary glaze over accolades. A legacy often deepens after retirement, with time.
Hai came out of his short-lived retirement in 2015 to, in fans' words, save Cloud9 from certain 2015 World Championship elimination. Credited with peerless in-game leadership, Hai's legacy grew following his retirement in a different way than most, the importance of his role was only apparent once he was gone.
After their worst split in the organization’s history, Hai returned as their jungler. In early 2016, Hai stepped in once again, this time as a support. The organization were overly-reliant on Hai, stuck in a position where no one was able to assume his role of team leader, but where their reluctance to let him go led to stagnation.
With the addition of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, the return of legacy C9 jungler William “Meteos” Hartman, and a later commitment to the vocal Andy “Smoothie” Ta as their support, C9 rose again in 2016 summer while Hai and company headed up the organization’s challenger squad: Cloud9 Challenger.
Unsurprisingly, with Hai and veteran C9 staples An “Balls” Le and Daerek “LemonNation” Hart, C9C soared through the 2016 summer challenger series
“Are we going to see you playing again in the LCS?” Isaac “Azael” Cummings Bentley asked Hai after the team qualified for the 2017 NA LCS Spring split. “Are you going to stick with this challenger squad?”
“Well, I don’t think I’m going to,” Hai said. “My wrist kind of hurts and my back kind of hurts and I’ve played a lot already, but for my teammates, I’m pretty sure all four of them want to continue playing and I think they want to play on a team together so maybe you’ll see those four with someone else but I’m getting old, man.”
There’s genuine humor in his voice, with only a touch of weariness. He visibly cares about his organization and teammates. Contrary to this interview, Hai stuck with C9C, which later became FlyQuest — the Milwaukee Bucks management’s first foray into League of Legends esports.
Despite widespread concerns from many analysts and the community, the new management of the team stuck with four of their five qualifying players. Jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate, who said he was not the team's first choice, was added in the eleventh hour and the departure of their promising former jungler Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia to C9 proper. The team was panned on paper as a possible playoff team with a noticeable ceiling.
Now, two weeks into the 2017 NA LCS Spring split, that ceiling looks much higher than expected. FlyQuest sit in third place at 3-1 with only former sister team C9 and the new Phoenix1 roster ahead of them.
It’s easy to point to Hai and name his leadership and vaunted shotcalling ability as the sole reasons behind FlyQuest’s success, but to do so is lazy at best. Hai undoubtedly has a large part in FlyQuest’s affinity for early barons and other notably gutsy calls, but it’s a team effort that also requires context. In-game meta, the regional landscape of North America, and Moon’s unexpected strong start all deserve recognition for FlyQuest’s success.
Two weeks into the season, and North America is wide open. Packed with new, hybrid rosters from most teams, the landscape has yet to settle. This paves the way for a team like FlyQuest, who have maintained their strong coordination with the addition of Moon, to have a strong start. Teams are still in a period of adjustment, even teams that were expected to start strong due to few roster changes like Team SoloMid and Counter Logic Gaming have had their struggles, especially the latter. The idea of synergy is ever-changing and the new meta has thrown some teams and players out of sync — again, the most notable example of this is CLG.
Meanwhile, FlyQuest, formerly C9C, relied on their strong laners while in the Challenger Series. They enjoyed an average of 1,834 gold over their opponents at 10 minutes during the 2016 NACS Summer regular season and used this to their advantage. Hai and Contractz became known for their aggressive dives together. Hai would push up his lane and roam while the side lanes were content to farm up and push their opponents inexorably back into their own territory.
They’ve adopted a similar approach with Moon. Moon has a slightly lower overall jungle proximity (39 percent) than the NA average (40 percent) and spends most of that time in the mid lane, like the rest of his NA counterparts. FlyQuest generally leaves Balls to his own devices — Moon’s jungle proximity top lane is a mere five percent, the lowest in the region — on Maokai, Nautilus and Poppy. Moon takes more of a tertiary DPS role, Altec is the secondary carry and Hai is the primary carry — noted for his strong damage per minute at 670, the highest of any player in NA. The strength of this statistic has more to do with his champion choices, especially Corki, but gives insight to the way FlyQuest works: through the mid lane and the jungle.
This could fall apart if the meta shifts, leaving FlyQuest stranded in the middle of the standings. Most of their players — specifically Hai, Balls and LemonNation are known entities with visible skill ceilings. The best case for FlyQuest’s continued success comes from an unlikely source: their last-minute addition, Moon.
|Moon||First Blood %||GD@10||CSPM||CS%P15||DPM|
|NA LCS Spring 2016||13%||-240*||3.6*||11.9%*||262*|
|NA LCS Spring 2017||60%||36||4.8||17.4%**||411**|
*Worst in 2016 NA LCS Spring
**Second highest in 2017 NA LCS Spring
Moon’s statistics from his previous LCS experience on NRG eSports to his first two weeks with FlyQuest are so dramatically different, they look more likely to belong to different junglers than the same person. In his own words, Moon was not ready for the bright lights of the big stage, and struggled with nerves his first split. He was known as a jungler that applied little-to-no pressure while NRG slowly acquiesced to losing ground. Outside of a few Rek’Sai games and one Elise game, Moon was rarely able to show off his talent.
“I think FlyQuest is a really good fit for me,” Moon said after their first win. “I have four veteran players around me. Already I can tell my nerves are a lot better, which is good.”
Veteran experience not only means Hai's lauded shotcalling, but laners who understand the general flow of the game and know how to communicate that information to Moon. He currently has some of the strongest statistics of all NA junglers, including the third-highest First Blood percentage, something that almost seems impossible considering his struggles to impact his team's early game while on NRG.
This combination of known experience with young talent has led FlyQuest to a strong start, with only one loss. Yet, that loss provides insight into how to beat them — attack the jungle and mid lane early, although FlyQuest letting Camille through also has something to do with it.
FlyQuest's true test lies ahead. As other rosters sort out their communication and the meta shifts, that's when we'll know just how strong they are.
Jungle proximity statistics courtesy of Riot Games, all other statistics taken from Oracle's Elixir.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. Yes, she was wrong about FlyQuest. You can follow her on Twitter.