During the LCS Spring Split Finals, Team Liquid
’s normal jungler, Santorin
, was replaced by their Team Liquid Academy jungler, Armao
. Armao has briefly played for Team Liquid during the January Lock-In, but this is the first time he was brought onto the team for such a vital set of games.
Despite being an Academy player, Armao did a commendable job in the jungle. He helped Team Liquid demolish TSM
and gave a decent showing against the Spring Split champions, Cloud9
Armao took this opportunity to help prove his own worth and the potential worth of all Academy players in the league. After all, Academy and amateur teams tend to get memed on by the community. But, clearly, there’s merit to some of these up-and-coming players. With more experience, Armao has become a much more solid and effective player who can make a name for himself in the bigger leagues.
Strong players don’t have to rise to the top the second they get on the League of Legends scene. Sometimes, amateurs and Academy players can learn directly from the top players and coaches to become the exact professionals that the top teams need.
Going into the summer season, look to fresh players pulled up from lower ranks to be making big waves in the LCS.
If we’re using Armao as our case study for the potential of Academy players, we have to start by exploring where Armao came from.
Armao is currently 22, but he’s been in the LoL esports scene since 2014, when he was 15. His team, COGnitive Gaming, burst onto the tournament scene in the NACL New Year’s Kick-Off Tournament. However, they disbanded after being eliminated in the third round of the loser’s bracket. Since then, Armao has bounced around from team to team, from top LCS teams to other Academy teams like TSM Academy and Dignitas Academy. Armao has spent roughly 40+ months on notable LCS teams, and 28+ months on Academy teams. As a player, he’s struggled to find a place where he belongs.
Across his LCS journey, Team Liquid’s the most notable and revered team Armao’s ever been on, but he’s been climbing the LCS ranks since 2017 when he first joined TSM Academy.
During the January Lock-In, Armao played 3 games with Team Liquid. He adapted to the meta by using tactile, squishy jungle powerhouses like Lillia and Nidalee. Other jungling pros like Evil Geniuses’ Svenskeren also used Nidalee to crush Golden Guardians
early in the Spring Split. Between both Nidalee games, he secured a total of 5 dragons and cleaned up 6 kills.
However, while his Nidalee games were solid, he struggled with the newer Lillia against 100 Thieves
. His kill participation was a rough 13.64%, lacking the kind of teamwork and support that Team Liquid needed in the situation. He crumbled under the pressure of 100 Thieves. The enemy jungler, Closer
, had a score of 6/3/6 and 3 of those kills under 12 minutes. He bullied mid-lane into submission and Armao (a 1/2/2 Lillia) simply couldn’t keep up.
The Spring Split Finals
Armao’s second outing this year had a much more positive outlook. Subbing in for Santorin, he helped Team Liquid destroy TSM (3-1 win) and gave a good fight against Spring Split winners, Cloud9 (3-2 loss).
While his raw KDA stats were not nearly as high as his Nidalee games, his Hecarim and Udyr showings provided more CC and utility for his teams when they needed it. After all, in the ADC meta, Team Liquid needed Armao to help control the fight more than doing tons of damage.
For example, in their series-winning game against TSM, Armao secured a dragon at 6 minutes and followed that up by drawing first blood on TSM’s jungler, Spica. Though he got no other kills the rest of that game, he set Team Liquid up for success and a 23-minute win.
Other Academy Hopefuls
In the LCS, all of the top 10 orgs have their own Academy teams playing off against the amateur teams. When the Academy and amateur teams play, the LCS gets to see how they’re all progressing and pluck any promising players onto their own rosters.
Armao’s sudden involvement in the Spring Split finals and his long history with the LCS have made him our Academy player case study, but there have been a handful of his peers also pulled up into the LCS for parts of the season.
Much like Armao, 100 Thieves' ry0ma
is an Academy player who filled his team’s empty space when necessary this spring season. Mid-laner ry0ma has spent the past 4 months on the 100 Thieves Academy team, but after mixed results with their OG mid-laner, Damonte
, ry0ma was subbed in. He has since played 16 games in the Spring Split.
100 Thieves ended their series in the top 4, and ry0ma got a lot of praise from casters for his work in mid-lane. Among all the major LCS teams, his KDA is second only to Team Liquid’s Jensen. Going into the LCS summer season, he will be 100 Thieves’ main mid-laner.
LCS Proving Grounds
Armao and ry0ma aren’t the only Academy players making waves this spring, though.
On April 25, the LCS Proving Grounds series ended with C9 Academy and the amateur team, No Org, battling it for the top. Over the week of play, the Academy teams won the most with 9 wins to the Amateurs' 7. However, 3 out of those amateur wins can be exclusively granted to the Proving Grounds winners, No Org
While No Org is not an Academy team (their name is literally “no organization”) their success means their players could be heading off to different LCS or Academy teams themselves. Though the entire team is made up of “older” players, they proved their worth and ability to adapt to each new meta.
But, are players like ry0ma and Armao getting better organically or are they just finding the right teams for themselves?
Better Fit or Better Player?
Now, considering Armao’s long history of joining different major LCs academies, there’s an important question to ask: has academy play actually made Armao a better player? Or does his playstyle just fit Team Liquid better than his previous Dignitas/TSM positions?
The honest answer is that both theories are true.
To explore that, let’s compare Armao’s stats to Team Liquid’s main jungler, Santorin. If you look at both of them, particularly between their Udyr and Hecarim stats, Armao just looks like a slightly worse Santorin. They have similar strengths, but Armao has the lesser damage output, KDA, gold, etc..
Jungle is also one of those roles that can have quite a versatile champion pool, so let’s focus on how much Armao and Santorin help their teammates. During this season, Santorin has had an average of 6.8 assists to his teammate and Armao had an average of 6. Santorin also did an average of 26.3 cc reduction while Armao did 21.2. Objectively, Santorin does a better job assisting the team.
However, those stats don’t mean Armao is a bad jungler.
When it comes to fulfilling his jungle role for Team Liquid, Armao may not have Santorin’s stats, but he’s still doing his job. For example, in their last 10 games, Santorin and Armao both helped secure 23 dragons each. Similarly, they also both get to an average 14.7-14.8 levels by the end of their games, implying they run a similar kind of jungle play and shoot for a similarly lengthed game.
Also, Armao has the 5th highest KDA in the league. The difference is just that Santorin has the 2nd highest.
While Armao doesn’t have Santorin’s raw stats, they do seem to fit similar, proactive jungler headspaces.
Compare that to his previous LCS career. When Armao (named Grig at the time) was with TSM, he was played as a jungler and a part-time top laner. He was more like a fill-in, flex player. The team also was hard-stuck 2-5 places in all the tournaments he participated in.
Working with Team Liquid Academy has improved Armao as a player, but comparing his January performance to now, he’s particularly become a better jungler for Team Liquid’s jungling needs. Because even if he didn’t do as well as Santorin, he still slated himself well for fitting that similar role. If, for any reason, Santorin’s health knocked him out of the LCS summer season, Armao has molded his gameplay to reasonably take his place.
The Future of Armao and The Academy League
As long as Santorin’s health improves, he’ll likely return to Team Liquid as their jungler for the Mid-Season Invitational and summer season. However, Armao could be rotated in more often as a solid substitute for Santorin, or he could be traded to another top-tier LCS team to head up their jungling.
But does that spell a solid future career for Armao after his solid Spring Split finals showing?
The community joke is that the shelf-life of a LoL player is helplessly short, with the average player becoming an “aged veteran” by 22. Santorin and Armao are 23 and 22 respectively, so it’s a toss-up how their situation might play out. Both of them might “age out” before Armao can ever take Team Liquid’s jungle mantle if that’s the goal he’s going for.
That doesn’t discount the growth Armao has had over the years and how he gave Team Liquid his best during these Spring Split finals. He’s still proven that LoL Academy teams can cultivate influential players, regardless of how old they are.
Just keep an eye out for players like Armao, ry0ma, the No Org members, and any other Academy players to make their own waves this summer and in the coming years. Don’t count them out just because they’ve made a different route to the top. This upcoming LCS season, anyone could be a game-changing player.