Like Tom Brady, these esports pros left their iconic teams
The 42-year-old Brady, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time, said goodbye to the only NFL team he’s ever known in a post on social media. It’s rare for anyone to spend two decades with a team and rarer still for players who do to leave for another team before retirement. While esports pros don’t have nearly as lengthy careers as Brady, we’ve come up with a list of players whose departures were almost as shocking.
Kkoma leaves T1
Before Tom Brady and Bill Belichick split, League of Legends had their own version of a Brady/Belichick breakup. After three world championships and an era of dominance, Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun left SK Telecom T1 and star player Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok to lead the LPL’s Vici Gaming. When it’s all said and done, kkOma will absolutely have a place in T1’s Hall of Fame (if there was a T1 Hall of Fame). It’s too early to tell who won the breakup, even though people will already look at the standings and see Vici Gaming 1-4 in the LPL while T1 are second in the standings at 7-2 (before the suspension of the season due to COVID-19 concerns). — Arda Ocal.
Caps leaves Fnatic for G2
Long before we were talking role swaps involving Rasmus “Caps” Borregaard Winther, we were talking jersey swaps. The heralded mid laner had been with Fnatic since December 2016, a year and a half after Fnatic’s 18-0 split. The team made it to the finals of Worlds, falling to IG 3-0 in the final. Three players left Fnatic after that final, including Top Laner sOAZ and sub Expect — but they didn’t head to the rival G2. For fans to see Caps in the rival jersey after Fnatic’s success with him at midlane was surreal. But G2 fans are certainly happier for it (no matter where he is playing) — Ocal.
Hiko leaves Cloud9
New Counter-Strike fans may not be as familiar, but in the first few years of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Spencer “Hiko” Martin was the man. His team, which went from Quantic Gaming to Complexity Gaming and then eventually to Cloud9, were among the best Counter-Strike teams in North America. As Cloud9’s profile continued to rise in 2014 – their League of Legends team being the best in the region at the time – so did their Counter-Strike teams and Hiko quickly became one of the most famous Counter-Strike players globally.
His departure from Cloud9, the team that had stuck together at its core for nearly two years, was not only shocking for that reason alone but who he left for was even more surprising: iBUYPOWER. That team was hitting their stride and quickly establishing themselves as a potentially competitive force globally in the European-dominated game. They were being courted by Evil Geniuses, then one of esports’ most successful organizations. That was until several members of the team were banned for match-fixing in Counter-Strike’s largest scandal.
Hiko soon would find himself a free agent. He’d go on to stream full time while trying to assemble a super team with Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham and several European legends, but that never came to pass. Instead, Hiko would eventually join Liquid, where he’d fail to attain the glory that he nearly once did on Cloud9. — Jacob Wolf.
ROX Tigers break up after Worlds 2016
This was a weird one. Worlds 2016 was ESPN’s first full video presence at an esports event. Full desk, live pre and post shows… Madison Square Garden, Staples Center, the whole thing. ROX Tigers vs SKT, the greatest series of League of Legends ever played. But one of the storylines already creeping up was that this was it for the ROX Tigers crew: win or lose, they were going their separate ways after Worlds (the news was broken by who else…. The Wolf Bomb).
This wasn’t a complete surprise, because the team was originally set to disband after the 2015 season due to financial uncertainty, but ROX decided they wanted one more go. It worked out, because the team made it all the way to the final four at Worlds. The world’s most famous arena was sold out, and Silver Scrapes blared through the Garden for a game 5 … that SKT was able to win and move on to the final (and win Worlds). All five players’ contracts were up in November, and they all found new homes: Top Laner Smeb went to KT, Jungler Peanut poetically took the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach by signing with SKT, mid laners Cry joined EDG and Kuro went to Afreeca Freecs. The bot lane pair of ADC PraY and Support GorillA left for LZ, along with Substitute Mid Sylph who joined GT. –– Ocal.
MaRin leaves SKT for China $$$
Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan leaving SK Telecom T1 in the 2015 offseason would be akin to Tom Brady leaving the Patriots if he did it following their 28-3 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl. Instead of leaving following a few bumps in the road, MaRin, renowned as one of the best in-game leaders in the world, left SK Telecom T1 following a world championship where he won finals MVP and the team only dropped a single game throughout the entire event.
Yeah, that’s not a typo — they only dropped a single game in a month-long tournament.
What happened, as is usual in these situations, is that MaRin wanted a big pay day. One of the older active League of Legends players still performing at a world-class level, the reigning finals MVP knew that he only had one or two more lucrative contracts to sign before he retired. SKT, always going to prioritize their crown jewel, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, over everyone else when it came to contract discussion, led MaRin to seek employment elsewhere for the 2016 season.
MaRin, like many South Korean players before, signed in China with LGD Gaming, where all he found was mediocre results and a lot more money in his bank account. Hey, just like Brady, no one can take away from his ring, and no one should blame the now-retired 29-year-old for setting himself up financially for the future. — Tyler Erzberger.
Fly leaves OG
I interviewed OG captain Johan “N0tail” Sundstein, soon after the team won The International in 2019. After a few minutes, I asked about the OG / EG rivalry and he gave a great answer about how much it meant to the players. I then asked about the relationship with Tal “Fly” Aizik today and his response was, “It’s something for later still… not ready to talk about it just yet.”
Fly’s departure from OG was a dramatic one. In speaking about his split, he said in a team interview, “the team hasn’t worked for a long time, and I can say personally that I lost a lot of motivation when the whole situation arose where I could join EG, I felt a new surge of motivation where I felt this is really a team I could win with, as opposed to the previous team where I felt like we kind of hit a dead end and yet I want to win, and I want to do it with teammates I believe in.”
Fly admitted that telling his former OG teammates about his decision was very hard; he and N0tail had been friends and teammates (across multiple teams) for several years. After TI2017, and years of trying, it felt like OG might never win the big one. Fly decided it was time for a change in scenery, and joined Evil Geniuses with the hopes of finally winning a World Championship. Instead, it was OG that is having the last laugh, going on to win the next two consecutive World titles, with OG defeating EG in the winners bracket in both years. — Ocal
FormaL leaves Optic
“The Green Wall” is one of the most successful franchises in all of esports history, let alone Call of Duty. An era of dominance, led by Seth “Scump” Abner and Matthew “FormaL” Piper, known as “Team T2P”. The “OpTic Dynasty” amassed countless championships, stockpiling a very full trophy case … until May of 2018 when FormaL decided to leave OpTic Gaming. On Twitter at the time in a response to a question, he revealed that part of the reason for his departure was that he and Scump were on the outs: “Yeah, we haven’t gotten along for a lonnnnng time. I didn’t agree with a lot of things he did and vice versa. We were on a downward spiral as a team since before we even won champs. IT was pretty inevitable we were imploding, and S1 this year was the nail in the coffin”
This story does have a happy update, however, as T2P reunited in 2020 under the Chicago Huntsmen banner, a OpTic 2.0 of sorts, with Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez once again at the helm. The Huntsmen have one tournament win thus far in the Call of Duty League (currently suspended due to COVID-019 concerns). So far, so good. — Ocal
Samsung White/Samsung Blue leave LCK
What’s worse than losing one world champion? How about losing all the world champions? Oh, and throw in their sister team to boot. That’s what happened when Samsung White and Samsung Blue, the two top South Korean teams in the world, decided that it was time to cash-in by leaving their home region of South Korea to sign with various teams in China’s League of Legends Pro League. The move, along with a slew of other top South Korean players moving regions for bigger paydays, is what became known as the “Korean Exodus,” gutting what was the undisputed strongest league in the world.
In the end, although the former Samsung members were paid well for their departures, not a single one has won a world championship since. This past offseason, former Samsung White starting support and 2014 Worlds final MVP Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong retired, officially ending the active legacies of all starting five members of that 2014 championship squad. — Erzberger
Huk leaves Team Liquid (joins Evil Geniuses)
While this might not jump out at you now, this departure almost broke the Internet all the way back in 2011 (wow, it’s almost been a decade). At the time, Chris “Huk” Loranger was one of the few western players capable of matching the best South Korean players in the world. For Team Liquid, a team which blossomed from a StarCraft fansite of the same name, he was their heart and soul. Huk was that homegrown talent that was going to take the little engine that could into a real contender in the world of esports.
Then Huk left to join TL’s arch-rival Evil Geniuses and his own adversary, Greg “Idra” Fields, turning the entire StarCraft II scene on its head. At least Brady isn’t going to sign with the Giants, which is what Liquid fans had to witness in 2011 when their hero left them. — Erzberger
Olofmeister leaves Fnatic
Like Brady and the Patriots, Olofmeister and Fnatic both felt like they needed to go their separate ways. During his three years on Fnatic, the Swedish sniper reached unparalleled heights, winning an array of tier one tournaments, including two world championship victories. At their peak, Fnatic was one of the great dynasties in all of esports, running roughshod over the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive world.
At 25-years-old, though, and the team limping to a disappointing quarterfinals exit at PGL Major in Krakow, it was time for a change of scenery. While Olofmeister found instant success with the superteam he then found himself on as part of FaZe Clan, it has been an up-and-down ride since those early days of top finishes. For Fnatic, the rollercoaster ride has been even worse, their results yo-yoing from a world championship dark horse to a complete afterthought. Currently, Fnatic has a slight edge over Olofmeister’s FaZe in the HLTV global rankings, the orange and black seeded comfortably at No. 5 overall as FaZe sit a few spots behind at No. 8 position. — Erzberger
SumaiL leaves Evil Geniuses
All good things must come to an end sometime. Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan is many things — brash, cocky, brilliant and otherworldly skilled. Since joining Evil Geniuses as a teenager, he wanted to become the best player in Dota 2 history. SumaiL proved he was more than just a mouthy, overconfident kid when he won a world championship in his rookie season.
From there, it’s always been about becoming the first player to win the elusive two world championship trophies. Regardless of the team around him or the predicament placed in front of him, SumaiL always carried himself as if anything other than another world title finish would feel like an underachievement. In 2019, SumaiL’s dream of becoming the first two-time Dota 2 world champion was dashed when OG, as an entire starting-five, won their second-straight The International tournament.
After sitting out for almost half a year, SumaiL is back…and what’s the saying again — if you can’t beat them, join them? Though he’ll never be the first two-time world champion, he has joined the organization that might have the best chance of making his dream of reclaiming the throne a reality with OG.
This is the equivalent of Brady joining the Kansas City Chiefs following a lengthy holdout. I don’t think Patrick Mahomes would approve of this hypothetical. — Erzberger
Doublelift Leaves CLG (for rival TSM)
Back in the day there was no more iconic duo in North American League of Legends than Peter “Doublelift” Peng and Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black. Commonly and affectionately known as “Rush Hour,” these two created innumerable memorable moments together.
But nothing gold can stay. After nearly four years on Counter Logic Gaming (starting in 2011 and ending in 2015), CLG kicked Doublelift, making him a free agent for the first time in years. His destination? Then-rival Team SoloMid, who Doublelift and CLG bested months earlier at the Summer Finals at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Team SoloMid’s announcement video for Doublelift’s signing started with him in a pile of garbage, found by mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. The skit continued with Bjergsen welcoming Doublelift into the TSM team house, handing him a jersey and then Doublelift throwing his CLG jersey into a bathroom trash can — an ode to his famous line, “everyone else is trash.” Prior to Doublelift’s CLG departure, big-name player moves were few and far between. Once Doublelift and CLG parted ways, it was fair game for legacy players to move from team to team. — Darin Kwilinski