Alex Ich - The model of an esports man

If I had a hero in esports, Alex Ich would be it. Monster of the Mid lane, master of Season 2 and multiple-time champion.

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This article was originally published on GameSpot's sister site onGamers.com, which was dedicated to esports coverage.

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"Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion!"

-Rudy Tomjanovich, Two time NBA champion coach

Alexey 'Alex Ich' Ichetovkin finds his career encircled by uncertainty in a manner he has never before experienced. Once the most effective Mid lane player in the world, the leader and star of the best team in professional LoL, the Russian would, right up until many points in this year, have been a heavily contested free agent, had he ever chosen to leave Moscow Five or Gambit Gaming. Separating Alex Ich from Gambit was a seemingly impossible scenario to even conceive of; Alex Ich was Gambit, for some fans, or at least embodied the spirit of Gambit.

When the moment came that Alex did decide to leave his Eastern European comrades, following their disasterous LCS Spring 2014 split play-off performance, the worst finish of their careers with that magical five man line-up, he found himself a comfortable new home within the NiP organisation. Surrounded by other formerly elite LCS talents and seemingly destined to return to LCS for Season 5, the way seemed clear for Alex to write a fresh new chapter in the story of his career, dictated according to his own terms and in line with his vision for Alex Ich the professional League of Legends player.

Now, with visa difficulties hanging over his career in Europe, faced with the possibilities of potentially having to leave his continent or perhaps even retire, the legendary Mid laner, once a demi-god of the position, finds the next phase of his career as difficult to deduce the right direction of as those who speculate on destinations he might end up at. A man who has helped his teams to more than $400,000 in prize money winnings finds himself seeking any kind of spot at all in LCS.

Alex Ich is more than just one of the greatest players to ever compete in LoL, he is a man I respect above all others in his field. He is, in every sense, an icon of Western LoL.

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Monster of the Mid lane

Alex Ich is one of the 10 greatest players in the history of competitive League of Legends. As the best player on a team which held position as the strongest in the world for the better part of 2012 and Season 2, he was one of the quickest to accumulate accomplishments and accolades. A six time champion, placing top four in 15 significant offline tournaments, Alex Ich has known success few other European players can approach or imagine. As the best player on the teams accomplishing such feats, his place in history is as undeniable as his play during that time-span was unforgettable.

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When Moscow Five kicked open the door of the Western scene and took their place atop the throne, it was Alex Ich whose play led the way and set the tempo for the destruction they would visit upon their opponents. Every member of that near-mythical line-up had his own unique playing style, often setting meta trends and innovating new approaches directly, but Alex Ich's Mid lane play defined and directed the unstoppable march to more titles and top placings.

Moscow Five's special secret was that they were a team who synergised both in attitude and the combination of their strengths and weaknesses. A weakness of one player, which would have been exposed in another team, would be covered by the strengh of one of his team-mates and vice-versa. After putting the pieces together though, the mouth of the ravenous lion devouring their enemies was Alex Ich. If M5/Gambit was the spear, then Alex Ich was the sharpened head.

When one conjures up a vision of a classic Gambit team-fight, one can vividly see a Kha'Zix firing its void spikes from distance, pacing as the fight progresses, awaiting that one glorious moment of fierce and fast-paced fury in which he flings himself from afar onto fresh meat, reset following reset as the death counter seems as startled and slow to react as the now lifeless enemy champions below his feet, until the fight is finished and the battle won.

Thoughts of Moscow Five's best days bring to memory moments of Alex Ich laning against opponents from thousands of miles to the West of his native Russia and thousands to the East, finding ways to defeat and out-perform each of them. Where so many other legendary players are associated with a few champions, often seeing their careers marked by the developer's whims when they come to buffing and nerfing that avatar, Alex Ich has transcended metas and champion pool changes again and again.

Master of Season 2

Those who have not seen Alex Ich prior to 2013 may find the context of his play difficult to ascertain, with so many legendary names occupying that lane during Season 2, so some specifics should be stated. Alex Ich of Season 2 was better than Toyz, better than Ambition, better than Reginald, better than Misaya. All of these players represented the best their region had to offer, but none could match Alex Ich, in terms of overall play and impact on the game.

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Alex's only true rival existed as the star of his team's most famous rival: CLG.EU's Froggen. In this author's opinion, that Dane was the better of the two, but that's a judgment offered in line with a specific philosophy on how best to define the value of a star Mid laner, the debate is very much one which can be had and fought well from both sides.

When M5 were at their most dangerous, they would steamroll opponents before 25 minutes. In such victories, Alex Ich would tear apart team-fights and run down enemies with a steadfast focus that approaches the no-mind states described in zen Buddhism, unwavering and without hesitation, acting from a place of pure intention. M5 did lose games and Alex Ich was beaten in lane and in fights, even gods can bleed, but during this time it took a fellow diety of the Mid lane, playing in peak form, to best the Russian maestro of the Mid lane.

With a team as focused around synergy between key parts, it's too much to call Alex Ich the hard carry, but he was certainly one looked upon to do heavy lifting in many of their key matches and tasked with the responsibility of competing with some of the most skilled players in the world, across him in the Mid lane, at a time when their impact on the game could be enormous, should they be fed and loosed upon the rest of the map.

Come with me and win

When speaking of Alex Ich's Mid lane play, it should be impossible and even considered negligent to ignore the synergy he was able to achieve with Jungler Diamondprox. The two may never have lost a game in which both their individual games were on point and their chemistry in full effect, such is the impact they could have on a match and an opposing team. Diamondprox's counter-jungling is an innovation he can claim as his own, but the execution of that approach required the help of his Mid laner.

Even more significant, is that Alex's ability to hold his own man-on-man with anyone in his lane meant that Diamondprox was not required to body-guard his star from ganks, as many junglers have often found themselves forced to.

It's not exaggeration to say that Alex Ich set the identity of Moscow Five as a result of not just his play, but his very personality and attitude to the game. Diamondprox's story of how he conceived of his approach to counter-jungling was that it came due to an ephiphany gained watching Alex Ich stream. When Edward, then known as GoSu Pepper, joined up with Team Empire, bringing the unknown and inexperienced Diamondprox along with him, it was on the condition that Alex Ich help teach them both to play.

Alex Ich's playing style and strengths were Moscow Five's: a wide and never-ending champion pool, including new picks and used in new manners; unleashed aggression; an intimidating aura of certainty regarding the imminence of victory; the belief that no matter the darkness surrounding one, victory's light can still be found if sought with enough fervour and paid for with earnest intentions. M5 had the right kind of players, but it also had the right leader and star.

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The leader

Alex has himself described the problems that Gambit Gaming would undergo, in terms of internal strife and issues with focusing on improvement and staying apace of meta changes, by stating that he was the leader of Moscow Five, but not of Gambit Gaming. Even so, there is a degree to which Alex Ich was always the leader of his teams. The playing style he brings to the server gives his team-mates the belief that they can trample over even the most fearsome of opponents and battle back, trading life-for-life in chaotic team-fights to force the hand of chance in their favour.

Alex Ich is a player who has seemingly never felt the shock of nervous energy which electrocutes and paralyses so many when they arrive upon the grand stages of top level competition. Alex Ich has played badly and been beaten for it, but never has he been found to choke in a series for M5 or Gambit. To the contrary, when others around him fall and lose their footing, the Russian Mid laner is a rock upon which all can rely.

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Consider his final game as a Gambit member, his team entirely discombobulated by the first truly failed bootcamp of their careers, already having placed worse than they had ever with that fivesome and now on the brink of elimination from top level European competition entirely, a prospect that would have been claimed as blasphemy even weeks prior. His team-mates' weaknesses fully on display, the team's style exposed as outdated, the end of Gambit Gaming moments away. In this moment emerged the true spirit of Alex Ich. The shackles of poor form fell away and the youth of genius returned. Alex Ich hard carried Gambit Gaming into another split of LCS. One last legendary game for his magnificent brothers.

The man

Alex Ich the man is much like his play at its best: entirely focused, buoyed up by a loose and joyful personality which ensures the weights of pressure and competition cannot weigh him down, and dedicated to a pure intention. When he answers a question, he thinks for a moment and then speaks with a certainty and force that speaks to a fully actualised being, aware of who he is and what he is doing.

Interviews of the last few years have always been brought, by Alex's direction, to the topic of his dedication and focus on his family life, recognising his roles as husband and father, yet also with an understanding that competition must have its own place carved out where it can be entirely the object of a healthy obsession. The man whose nerves held fast in pressure matches against the best teams of all time can be relied upon in his place at the head of his family.

"Place no head above your own."

-The Buddha

I don't believe in heroes or idols, those who we admire enough to place above ourselves and out of reach. I think such paradigms of thought limit the individual and his conception of what he can actually do and where his inspiration comes from, as motivation should be, by my reckoning, thought of as the lighting of a roaring internal fire from the tiny spark an external one sends off when witnessed with an open and understanding heart.

With that said, if I had a hero in esports then Alex Ich would be it. One of my favourite films is 'Gladiator', as I consider it the best cinematic description of what a real man should and can be. In that sense, Alex Ich is one of the rare few men I've met in esports I can say the same about, a model of what a professional, a champion and a man can be.

With the right team and the right circumstances, Alex Ich can become a champion again and once more represent Europe as one of her finest Mid laners, of that I have little doubt. Nevertheless, whether Alex Ich plays another game of professional League of Legends or not, he has my respect and admiration.

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Photo credit: ESL

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