The last time that Lucas “Santorin” Larsen played on stage was one of the lowest points of his career. Team SoloMid had just lost their final group stage match of the 2015 World Championship — a beatdown at the hands of LGD Gaming — and was gearing up for what proved to be a busy offseason.
A former NA LCS Outstanding Rookie Award winner, Santorin ended his time on TSM blamed and mocked for a style that both experts and the community deemed to be too passive. A few weeks after Worlds, Santorin left the team and returned home to consider his future all the while wrestling with the very real potential of an early retirement.
After sitting out of the LCS for an entire split, Santorin was given another chance to play at the game’s highest level and signed a contract with NRG eSports in April. If one thing is for certain, it’s that the Santorin that left the public eye all those months ago is not the man that people will watch come the 2016 NA LCS Summer Split.
“I just felt like I had a really poor performance in the summer split and at Worlds,” Santorin told theScore esports. “I just had to realize: ‘Ok, am I going to get better again? Am I going to stay in this slump? And is it better to just go studying?’”
Only 18 years old at the time, the question as to whether or not to leave the competitive scene and return to high school was not something that Santorin took lightly. Fresh off of his departure from TSM, the choice to continue pursuing a career as a professional player wasn’t a clear cut one. But after a month off, Santorin determined that a return to League of Legends was the right course of action, and so he joined the European Challenger team Huma in December 2015.
“I felt like I definitely have the competitive drive. I [felt] like I just had a bad split and I’ll definitely step up again,” said Santorin.
And while at the time it was unclear whether Santorin’s gamble would pay off, it was the first step on his journey back to the top.
New Teams, New Player
Before he was anywhere close to making his LCS comeback, Santorin knew he couldn’t be the player he was during the 2015 NA LCS Summer Split if he were to succeed. While a return to the LCS stage was the obvious goal, Santorin says he recognized that starting over from the challenger scene was important, primarily for what he could add to his game and the valuable extra experience it would provide.
“I wanted to play for a challenger team because, first of all, it’s going to improve me a lot as a person,” he said. “Playing on a team that has [players that aren’t in the LCS] … puts me as a leader and as a shotcaller. It puts me on a lot of different roles that will make me a better player and a better person and a better player for the team. So I saw it as a huge opportunity for myself.”
The added responsibility of learning to be an in-game leader and a shot caller made the already daunting task of re-qualifying for the LCS even more difficult, but Santorin says he didn’t shy away from the job despite the veteran talent which surrounded him on Huma.
“Because I felt like playing in the Challenger scene was not really where I ‘belong’, I felt like I could take on that extra work and become a shot caller,” he says.
If becoming a leader and shot caller was one element that the young jungler wanted to work on during his tenure with Huma, a returning to the aggressive play-making style that earned him his spot on teams like Intellectual Playground, Team Coast and TSM was the next priority. Santorin knew that he needed to wipe the slate clean of the passive reputation he infamously garnered over the course of the 2015 NA LCS Summer Season. Although Santorin explains that his passive playstyle was was partially born out of the tank meta as well as the needs of stars such as Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, he acknowledges that his own failings were also part of the cause.
“I had issues with being the hard engager, the one that goes in first and wins the fight by getting a good engage,” he said. “When I got back to the Challenger scene, I had to sort of carry whatever team I was on ... That means I had to take a more aggressive role again."
“I feel like I’m kind of back at where I was at Coast in terms of being really aggressive, but now also have the knowledge and I have the leadership; I think that’s only going to make me even stronger as a player.”
While his time on Huma had prepared him for re-entry into the LCS as far as his gameplay was concerned, life wasn’t through putting the young Dane through the ringer just yet — financial issues would ultimately sink Huma and force Santorin to look elsewhere for a starting spot.
“The financial part definitely made me head towards another team,” he said. “I felt like it’s not going to last in the long run. Even though I loved playing with the entire team ... I felt like it was better for me to go away from it and start somewhere else.”
Ironically, Santorin’s fresh start was in many ways a blast from the past, as he ended up returning to North America to join Ember alongside Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer and Benjamin “LOD” deMunck, two familiar faces from his days on Team Coast.
However, joining the team only a few weeks before the NA CS Playoffs, Santorin’s efforts were once again foiled, this time by a lack of preparation.
“I felt like some of the reason we didn’t step up was because we didn’t put enough preparation into it. [Team Dragon Knights], I don’t think any of us saw it coming; losing to [them],” he said. “Partially I can blame it on myself. I did try and speak up and say: ‘we have to try something different.”
Following the loss, Ember’s team crumbled as investors pulled out of the organization, leaving Santorin stranded in Toronto, where he was visiting his girlfriend at the time.
“It was definitely for like every single player: ‘What just happened?’ Because after the matches we had discussed what we want to do moving forward, what changes we have to make and all of a sudden it all just disappeared,” he said.
The series of unfortunate events turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Santorin, leaving him not only as a free agent, but with added drive to take the final step back into the LCS.
“I’m not 100 percent sure I would have stayed on [Ember] anyway because I felt like I really wanted to play in the LCS again.”
Thankfully, that’s when a message came through, with NRG eSports on the other end offering him the chance he had been working towards for the past eight months. Santorin wasn’t going to let that chance slide, no matter what his past critics might say.
“In my own eyes I’ve improved a lot, and I’m a way better player. I don’t care if people disagree with me because I know myself — I’m better”
“If I put in the time and effort that I have to,” he later adds, “then I’ll actually be one of the best junglers in NA.”
A Future with NRG
With his spot in the LCS finally secured, Santorin is clearly excited for what the future has in store. Although at the time, Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min had not been announced as the team’s starting AD carry, Santorin was extremely confident at the prospect of competing alongside the likes of Lee “GBM” Chang-seok, Diego “Quas” Ruiz and Alan “KiWiKiD” Nguyen.
It’s easy to see why he might be excited to play alongside Quas, and in some situations might even identify with him as a kindred spirit. Quas is coming fresh off a split away from the competitive scene, much as Santorin himself struggled with questions of his own future in the scene. In fact, Santorin believes that common ground will make their desire to work and win that much stronger.
“I definitely respect people stepping down for a split,” he said of his new teammate. “Taking a split off, I don’t judge Quas at all for that. I think it’s actually a good move for him if he feel like he doesn’t want to compete … I think while he was having that break he realized what he actually wants.”
“And knowing what you want, having a set goal … you want to do whatever it takes to get that goal, and that’s why I feel him and me sort of wanting to have a break will only make us better. Because, now we have a set goal that we have high expectations towards each other and we’ll both do whatever it takes to perform”
As for KiWiKiD, Santorin says his own status as a newly-minted leader won’t interfere with KiWiKiD’s own leadership abilities, and in fact might benefit NRG in the long run.
“I feel like as long as you have those key [components], then you can put them together however you want them,” he describes, going on to explain how he equally comfortable giving up the leadership role to the long-time Dignitas support, taking on his shoulders or sharing the burden with KiWi or any other player.
Aside from the star-power on the squad, Santorin feels that the team’s ability to adapt quickly will be one of their strengths.
“The good think about our team is that we don’t mind adapting. We don’t mind taking the lesser role if the team plays well,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s going to be easier for me to adapt to [NRG]. I feel like there’s just a lot of people who respect each other … and as long as you’re fine with them stepping up and being the carry and you just taking the role back, then it’s going to be good.”
Now, only a few weeks away from his return to NA LCS, Santorin’s journey finally approaches its destination. And, while the roar of the fans and the chance to play alongside the best once again is in its way its own reward for his efforts, it’s hard not to imagine that Santorin is also seeking to reclaim what he lost all those months ago. It’s time to for the young man to take back his title as a top flight jungler, a playmaker, a star. And, also something a little more personal when it comes to an inevitable rematch with his former team.
“It’s going to be great trying to camp Bjergsen,” Santorin says with a grin and a laugh. “I’ve been helping him so much, it’s time to take something back.”
Nic Doucet is an Associate Producer/Editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.
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