"Man, we are actually so bad right now, but somehow, it's Week 2, and we're 3-1," FlyQuest mid laner Eugene "Pobelter" Park said with a smile.
Out of context, Pobelter's words could be a bit harsh. Yet no one knows just how much work they have to do as a team better than the members and staff of FlyQuest themselves, including Pobelter, who joined the FlyQuest lineup this past offseason from Team Liquid and Immortals before that. Pobelter is the third veteran presence on the FlyQuest roster, alongside jungler Lucas "Santorin" Larsen and Jason "WildTurtle" Tran. The team sits in second place in the North American League of Legends Championship Series.
"We have a lot of players honestly that got blamed or scapegoated for their team's failures: me, Santorin and Turtle," Pobelter said. "We're all good players, but we just get blamed or memed or whatever. That's just life. You deal with it. We have two rookies as well, and that's pretty much it."
FlyQuest are one botched mid-to-late game against Counter Logic Gaming from joining Team Liquid undefeated and at the top of the standings. At 3-1 heading into Week 3 of the LCS, they're a surprise to most North America fans, analysts and, to some extent, themselves.
"I think the biggest one is no [import slot players]," Santorin said. "Every time people see no imports, it's like, 'That's probably a bad sign,' especially looking at Golden Guardians last year with no imports as well."
Without using any of their roster spots for foreign players -- Santorin is Danish, but he has North American residency status -- and with player signings that were perceived as minor, FlyQuest occupied a ninth or 10th-place spot on most preseason rankings lists. Most NA teams are built around one or two talented players from Europe or South Korea, and native NA talent fills in the gaps. Historically, squads such as last year's spring split Golden Guardians lineup haven't been all that successful in the LCS. Doubt about this year's FlyQuest only increased when South Korean veteran top laner Lee "Flame" Ho-jong left the team this past offseason, and Viper was brought in as the new starting top laner. There's a prevailing attitude that if you have one or two spaces open for non-NA players, a team should use them. Thus far, FlyQuest have defied this sentiment.
"Since people were like, 'I don't really know where this team places, so I'll just put them at the bottom,'" WildTurtle said. "It's also because we have an entirely NA team. We have no imports, so it's like, 'Why does this team have no imports? They should be using their import slots. They're a 10-place team.'"
FlyQuest's all-NA lineup has led to a positive team environment and a simple but effective system of communication that the team was able to develop ahead of their hybrid counterparts. This has made some of their scaling late-game drafts work out better than expected, since the team has chosen their teamfights well and kept cool heads even when opponents attack them early.
"Our synergy is building really quickly because we like playing with each other," Santorin said. "Specifically Viper, every day I play duo queue with him after scrims. It's just a really nice team environment, and everyone wants to win, especially the rookies. It's just nice seeing the rookies really want to win as well. It gives us a lot of motivation."
Strong starting record aside, FlyQuest have their work cut out for them on multiple levels. Even with poor performances from some of the new hybrid lineups, such as 100Thieves, FlyQuest have a lot of holes in their gameplay. In Week 1, the team drafted compositions with losing lanes but good late-game teamfighting potential. Their first game of Week 2 saw FlyQuest go all-in on the early game but fail to close the game out before they were outscaled by CLG. In their final matchup of Week 2 against Team SoloMid, they picked a stronger mixture of both early-game pressure and late-game teamfighting, a sign that the team was learning from past mistakes.
"We learned how to play early game, but then we completely forgot how to close out a game on stage," FlyQuest coach Gabriel "Invert" Zoltan-Johan said after the loss to CLG. "Obviously, people can be really frustrated with that, but when those pieces come together, I'm confident in what we can show as a team."
Balance is key, and while FlyQuest aren't the only team trying to figure out what suits their lineup or what is best for them to play in the current meta, their roster has made it difficult for both outsiders and the team to find a focal point.
"One of the things that we have clearly identified is that we need an identity," Invert said. "We're an interesting team because you can't look at our roster and be like, 'I know who they're playing through.' Viper has traditionally been a person that people pour resources into. Pobelter in that first iteration of Immortals was a player to pour resources into. Turtle was always a player that people poured resources into."
Their flexibility is a strength, but it's also a weak point if the team doesn't continue to grow. Without a go-to game plan, FlyQuest has tried different things with each onstage performance, with varying in-game success.
"[Flexibility] is our identity at the moment, but I don't think that's sustainable for a lot of reasons," Invert said. "So we'll need to find our footing and understand what feels right for us. I can't really answer where I see that going because honestly, I'm discovering it myself right now."
The first big test for FlyQuest will come this weekend, when they take on an undefeated Team Liquid.
"It's a long season. I'm really confident that, even though we may have our questionable moments thus far in the year, we'll definitely shape up, if not for playoffs this spring, by next split for sure," Invert said.