In the space of just a few weeks, Phoenix1’s new jungler Michael "MikeYeung" Yeung has gone from “who is that guy?” to “I want to be that guy.”
Phoenix1 entered the Summer Split with high expectations on their shoulders. The team had finished third place in the Spring Split, and it seemed like their next goal would be to compete for a spot in the top three or final two, rubbing shoulders with Team SoloMid and Cloud9. That didn’t quite work out; they stumbled through their first weeks in the LCS, dropping games until they were 0-6 .
The decision to drop jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh, the long standing face of the team, and replace him with MikeYeung was not quite a controversial one, but it wasn’t an inspiring one... Up until Mike debuted against Dignitas, popping off with 11 kills and 20 assists across the series. From there, it’s been a wild ascent for the LCS rookie, climbing from his first LCS game to an MVP on the international stage in a matter of weeks.
Blitz Esports had the opportunity to sit down with Mike, and he shared his thoughts on his career, the future, the memes about his names, and his greatest opponent.
Growing up in solo queue
“I started League of Legends when I was in middle school, when I was about ten or eleven years old,” MikeYeung says. He was a middle school student growing up in a world where esports are increasingly saturating mainstream society. A friend recommended him the game, and he immediately fell in love. “It was the first esport, the only esport, I’ve ever played.”
He hit Challenger by the time he was 13, during Season 3. Two years later, he was maintaining a 70% win rate in Challenger. He was talented at League, and the LCS was thriving by this time, but he didn’t think the professional path was for him. “Since I started League of Legends, it was discouraged by my parents.” he says. “They thought it was more important to focus on school, as any parent should.”
It was pure passion that kept him hooked on the game, even though he had to take long breaks to focus on his academics and ward off his concerned parents. After months of dominating solo queue, he’d take a few months to focus on high school. Every time, he returned, shook off the rust, and climbed again. “I had planned on graduating from college my entire high school education. I went into senior year expecting to ditch League of Legends and play the game as just a side hobby.”
It wasn’t until his graduation neared that he realized that he was good enough to go pro. “Literally one month before I got onto the LCS stage, that was when I knew I could make this a suitable career.”
MikeYeung is aware of the excitement building up in the community about his performance. Phoenix1 fans are delighted he’s arrived, and new fans are flocking to the organization to follow his progress.
“I definitely do take part of the hype train, as I would call it,” he admits, and for a moment he sounds bashful. “For example, I would read Reddit sometimes about some of my plays, as any newcomer would do, I believe. For me, it feels really amazing because I haven’t reached a downfall yet where pros start to lose motivation.”
Even when he’s enjoying the limelight, he’s still painfully aware that success in the LCS is a marathon, not a sprint.
“That’s what I’m most worried about, [losing motivation]. As a child, I was very grateful for the things I believed in, because I did have a rough childhood as far as being raised by a single mother.” Now, he’s determined to make every sacrifice worth it.
As for his family, they’ve accepted his dream. “It worked out because, in the end, they realized how much growth that the career had. They started being okay with it.”
Mike “Don’t Call Me Mike “Mike Yeung” Yeung” Yeung
When it comes to the memes about his name, he’s aware of them - but he’s not about to call himself Mike “Don’t Call Me Mike “Mike Yeung” Yeung” Yeung any time soon.
“Actually, there is a story that a lot of people don’t know about my name. It has a deeper meaning for me. For the longest time, I decided to stick with this name, and not just P1 Mike, because it reminded me of my father who passed away when I was in middle school. He was the only one in my family that had the same last name as me, Yeung. It helps me remember to be grateful for the things I have.”
Speaking with Mike is a unique experience as an esports writer; he’s calm and poised, serious but engaging. When I ask him what the next challenge in his sights are, I expect an answer along the lines of taking the Summer Split or going toe to toe against TSM. Instead, he gives a surprising answer for a rookie.
“I think the next stop is understanding how to adapt patch by patch, because of how pro life is now, it’s much more important to read the thin lines every single new patch and try and figure out or adapt to a different style of play instantly, so you don’t fall behind the other team.”
He may be calm and collected, but he’s still dealing with the pressure of the big stage. “Some people think I may not be nervous coming into the games, but every single player has nerves. It’s normal to have nerves, but it’s about what you can get out of that.” Phoenix1’s professional infrastructure has been massively helpful to Mike as he transitions from solo queue to the big stage. “Talking to my sports psychologist, Matt Edwards, he just thinks in a way where the nerves are completely natural and players can use this kind of feeling to perform.”
Phoenix1 rises again
Mike may be one of Phoenix1’s most popular players as they head back up through the ranks of the NA LCS, especially after the team showed up at Rift Rivals with a 4-2 record. “I do get energy from the fans cheering for me in a way where it boosts my confidence; it makes me want to try harder,” Mike admits, and for the first time he sounds like a rookie heading into his second month of competition. “I want to impress my fans again and again.”
Yet nothing seems to shake MikeYeung; he perfectly manages coming across as cool and confident without swinging over into arrogance in a way that veterans are still struggling with. When Phoenix1 upset Immortals in Week 5 in a 2-1 convincing victory, even though 97% of fans predicted an IMT win, Mike wasn’t surprised... but he wasn’t crowing about the win, either.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel very nervous going into the match, because every single time I go into an LCS match, I make sure I go into the match with the right mentality,” he says. Coming up from the bottom and being plunged into the LCS doesn’t seem to bother him; the biggest yardstick he has for success is surpassing his own performance. “Whether that means five more hours late at night, watching VODs of the team I’m playing against or rewatching my scrim VODs, I feel that if I feel confident with my preparation, my stage nerves will go away.”
That doesn’t mean he isn’t availing himself of the resources available on a LCS team. Not only does he work with the team’s support staff to stay centered, but he’s aware of what an asset his teammates are. “Coming into a team full of veterans, I really wanted to make sure I was able to do everything to the best of my ability,” he says. “Whether that means playing the most solo queue, reviewing just as much as these guys, learning the macro game just as much of these guys.”
He takes his participation in the team one step further, developing his voice alongside the team’s loudest players. “I take just as much of a part of the shotcalling as many of the experienced veterans do. Sometimes I even insist we make or try out new strategies.”
Mike brings every question about the LCS and other junglers back to himself. It’s not because he’s self-centered; he just has his eyes on the prize. He’s learned that the biggest obstacle in his own success will always be himself. “Having the goal to become a better player, the goal to reach Worlds, the goal to experience even more victories... It makes all the solo queue games and late night grinds more worth it.”
It’s the summer of Mike Yeung, but he’s not interested in celebrating his monster debut. He’s focused on keeping this performance up for the rest of the year, and beyond, because he’s in the LCS for the long haul.