Zeyzal’s return to the LCS: SolaFide, the contract that almost was & coaching on Cloud9
Zeyzal isn’t the first player to return to the LCS after a prolonged absence – coaching position or otherwise – but few comeback stories boast the obstacles he had to overcome to be in his current position on Cloud9.
Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidam’s return to the League Championship Series as a member of the Cloud9 coaching staff marked the end of his absence from the premiere level of North American League of Legends esports competition – an absence that lasted nearly three full splits.
Zeyzal made his big-league debut as the starting support for Cloud9 in June 2018 -- where he ultimately ended up being part of the only top 4 finish for a NA team in the history of the World Championship -- and his last appearance in the LCS was as the starting support for Evil Geniuses in 2020. Zeyzal was EG’s most consistent performer throughout the season, but he found himself without a starting spot in LCS 2021.
Cloud9 in action in LCS Summer Split Week 7 ( Image Credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT)
In November 2020, Zeyzal was told by Evil Geniuses that he was being replaced by Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun. Zeyzal had a fine season in 2020, but IgNar was coming off one of the best seasons of his career on FlyQuest, who qualified for both LCS finals and the World Championship. Zeyzal began to look for new opportunities immediately, but the timing wasn’t exactly in his favor. “I was pretty late in the offseason to actually begin looking,” Zeyzal said. “Pretty much every team was locked…I couldn't find an LCS team.”
After turning down offers to play in the LCS Academy League, Zeyzal found an opportunity in the amateur scene alluring for his future prospects with SolaFide Esports. “They were basically saying how these contracts work were that if an LCS team was interested, they were just void,” Zeyzal explained. “So I was like, Okay, that's pretty interesting. I might as well play to keep up my form.
And in context, with how it ended, it's pretty funny.”
The end of SolaFide barely qualifies as gallows humor. Fresh off of a strong LCS performance, Zeyzal was the clear strongest player in the amateur scene, and SolaFide maintained their reputation as the top amateur teams for the entirety of their existence.
Unfortunately, missed payments resulted in SolaFide Esports withdrawing from the amateur scene before the 2021 LCS Spring Proving Grounds, and owner Colin “Oddity” Ethan received a three-year ban from Riot Games. Shortly after, Oddity announced a ceasing of operations at SolaFide Esports until all former employees were paid what was owed.
“My agency at the time was basically telling me like, ‘Yeah, this org is great.’,” Zeyzal recalled upon first hearing of SolaFide. “Turns out their owner was scamming everyone and convinced the former agent of my agency that it was real, who convinced my agency that it was real…We didn’t even get to compete in Proving Grounds.”
A necessary step back
Zeyzal received more offers to play in Academy come summer, but decided to stream instead before trying to land an LCS offer in the off-season. Zeyzal kept his skills sharp while streaming, putting three separate accounts in the top 50 on the North American solo queue leaderboard all at around 1,000 LP.
Zeyzal had much better luck this time around in the off-season. “I was likely going to play in LCS,” Zeyzal conceded. “By all means, I had pretty much reached verbal confirmation that I would be starting for Dignitas. We pretty much went through to the last day where I got the contract.”
"I had pretty much reached verbal confirmation that I would be starting for Dignitas. We pretty much went through to the last day where I got the contract."
Zeyzal on how close he was to playing for Dignitas
Unfortunately, Zeyzal and DIG were not meant to be, albeit for a very valid reason. “Without giving too much detail, death in my family kind of shook things up,” Zeyzal admitted.
“I was, I guess, not ready to leave after that, so I opted to not to play in the LCS that split. It was kind of rough for both the org and I because I backed out last minute, but I mean, there’s no way to plan around death in your family.”
Zeyzal made the difficult but correct choice to put himself and his family first in a tragic situation and remained on the homefront for the spring of 2022, but one day, Cloud9 CEO Jack Etienne came knocking with a coaching opportunity.
Zeyzal’s addition to the C9 coaching stuff was not announced until mid-July, but he actually made his coaching debut for Cloud9 in the 2022 LCS Spring Playoffs. “The idea was like preparing to see if I wanted to be onboarded for next split,” Zeyzal explained.
Coming into a team in any position in the middle of a post-season and being able to make an impact is a tall order. For Zeyzal, however, there was an added obstacle of coming into a brand new roster situation.
After being shellacked by 100 Thieves in a 3-0 sweep in their first match of the post-season, Cloud9 subbed out support Kim "Winsome" Dong-keon for Jonah "Isles" Rosario on the very day that Zeyzal joined. Isles had not played in the LCS since the Lock In tournament at the beginning of the year, and that was only due to Winsome’s visa issues delaying his arrival until February 2022.
“I didn't want to like come in and shake things up right before playoffs, right? So I kind of just gave more, I guess like a watered down version of feedback that I knew it would be like, just reinforce good habits,” Zeyzal said of his approach to coaching in the Spring Playoffs. “Essentially. I didn't try to shake up general game sense or things like that introduce complex topics.”
Zeyzal is now assistant coach of Cloud9's LCS Summer Split team (Image credit: Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT)
Since then, Zeyzal has settled into his position within the Cloud9 coaching staff, working primarily with support Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, who roleswapped for the Summer Split after competing as an AD carry for the better part of a decade.
“When I’m watching a game, I’m mostly looking for what our bot lane can do better and thinking about it from that regard,” Zeyzal explained. “In addition, I'll add in things like scheduled reviews going over map movements and general, presentation-style work…I also have minor contributions to draft and things like that.
“Currently, the position I'm in is very good for me, because I have the option to be either remote or in-person. I think I’m getting more comfortable with being in-person again. It was a bit rough on my family right after that, but now we’re at the point where we moved on the best we can.”
"I'm focused 100% on coaching right now, but maybe, during next offseason, something will happen"
Zeyzal on the possibility of a return as a player
What's next for Zeyzal?
Zeyzal’s current position is the right move for right now – he gets to keep his brain sharp for the game and remained involved in the premiere level of North American competition while also being able to slowly transition into being back in Los Angeles full-time as he and his family continue to heal from a recent tragedy.
That being said, the support admits that while he thinks coaching is good for him, he would rather be playing than coaching if he returned to LA full-time. “I'm still interested in playing, I'm just not sure if it’ll really take form,” Zeyzal admitted. “I'm still, top 20 in solo queue right now – I just started playing again, pretty much two months ago, so, not too bad.
I'm focused 100% on coaching right now, but maybe, during next offseason, something will happen.”
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Esports journalist since 2016. Nick has covered live competitive gaming events from coast to coast in the United States.Over the better part of the last decade Nick has developed a unique voice in the LoL Esports space as a columnist, built relationships with premiere organizations, told captivating stories through interviews and features and authored industry-shaking reports.