PHOENIX – New year, new team, same faces.
For the ASU League of Legends players and the coach, familiarity is the name of the game and the key to a successful season, which starts in the first quarter of 2023. Playing with friendly faces is not unique to the ASU League of Legends, as this year’s new roster underscores, and it could lead the team to their ultimate goal. But the work starts now, in the fall, long before any player reaches the varsity level.
The ASU League of Legends development team serves as the training ground for its players and, ultimately, the entire team to adjust to playing competitively with a team. Look no further than Yihong Cao and Sean Innes.
Cao will play the role of jungle in his first year on the varsity team, which is headed by coach Innes. Cao and Innese played the role of jungler and mid-lane, respectively, together on the ASU League of Legends developmental roster before their dynamic shifted when Innes earned his first coaching role.
“I feel pretty good, I feel pretty confident,” Cao said about the team heading into the season. “I like my teammates. I think we have a really strong, really good team together.”
Four of the five players on the ASU League of Legends varsity roster played for the developmental team last year. Jeff “Skarmori” Qian made his first varsity team this fall but has experience playing with most of the team members, including with Cao, in the development league.
Innes also participated on the team in the past and credits the experience for putting him in the position as coach of the team.
“That was absolutely fantastic. Some of the most fun League of Legends I’ve ever played was on that team,” Innes said about the experience. “So the value of the (developmental) team can definitely not be overstated. It was a great experience for me.”
This year, especially, ASU is not taking the developmental team lightly, instead choosing to dedicate more resources due to the team’s success. The team now has its own analytics team and coach, Alex Orzescu, who hopes to help the younger players make strides in his first season.
“When I first came in, I talked to every single one of them and asked them, ‘What are your goals and where you envision yourself with League of Legends?’” Orzescu said. “Really, it’s getting to know every single [player] and understanding their goals and then helping them reach those goals.”
Top laner Hoang Long Nguyen takes the developmental team’s mission to heart in his quest to improve. Nguyen came close to making varsity roster this fall, but a lack of experience working with a team held him back.
He looks to use coach Orzescu’s past experience as an example in search of finding tools to boost his macro play, which focuses on teamwork and communication, to the same level of his micro play, which focuses on controlling a player’s own character.
“Micro is one of my biggest strengths,” Nguyen said. ”My micro is probably one of the best, but my macro is [bad]. That is why I’m Master and not Challenger. I hope to learn a lot from coach Alex for my macros. He’s been teaching me a lot of macros.”
The key benefit of the development team is fast-tracking chemistry and camaraderie long before players earn a promotion to varsity. The bonds formed over hours and hours of practice reps make for a huge advantage in building a new team when its members are already close.
“It helps me a lot because we have probably saved one or two months of learning for them just by having the dev team,” Innes said.
In the long run, those couple months will pay off when the College League of Legends season begins next year after nearly eight months of team bonding.
Cao is confident the team can overcome any adversity as a close-knit group.
“Most of the players on our team are super talented, and I also have my best friend at the top, so I don’t feel lonely on the team,” Cao said. “It just feels good playing with my teammates.”