Rising from his chair, he tilts his head to the side a bit. His dark bangs fall flat and his backpack dips slightly on his right shoulder.
“Wait, does he have a Cinderhulk?”
He points to a nearby screen where last-place Team EnVyUs are beating his former team, the organization on which he made an international name for himself, Cloud9. Even after four weeks, seeing William “Meteos” Hartman in the orange and black of Phoenix1 looks off after so many years in white and baby blue. On screen, jungler Nam “LirA” Taeyoo is playing AD jungle Nidalee. He stares for a moment, steps forward and squints, before shaking his head and chuckling.
Meteos has been playing League of Legends since Season 1. A staple of the North American competitive scene since Season 3, he has seen a myriad of champions and builds through the years. Once retired and twice having exited the professional stage, Meteos returned as an emergency substitute for Phoenix1 after their starting jungler, Rami “Inori” Charagh, flew home to Vancouver for personal reasons, leaving the team looking for a temporary fix.
Meteos’ mid-season appearance was unplanned, and still somewhat confusing to the jungler himself.
Approached by Cloud9 owner Jack Etienne regarding P1’s request, Meteos initially refused the offer.
“I don’t even remember what my response was. It’s not the first offer I’ve had,” he says. “Quite a few teams have approached me when I haven’t been playing about wanting me to play. At first I was like, ‘Nah, I’m good.’”
Yet P1 — and by extension Jack, who presumably saw this as a good opportunity for his former jungler — were insistent.
“I’m not even playing League, I don’t know why they want me in the first place,” Meteos says he told Jack on his second request. “There’s got to be better options, but if they really need someone to play I can step in for a few games.”
Since Meteos had been streaming at the time, he regarded the P1 offer as a potential stream boost.
“I haven’t been the most consistent on streaming, I’ve been going through a phase in my life — the end of last year/beginning of this year, some depression stuff, just trying to clear my head,” he admits. “I was just in a state of mind where I was trying to focus on feeling better and it seemed like I could help them out so I started playing. And it’s been going well and I’ve been enjoying my time with them as long as things work well, I’m down to help them until they get a more permanent replacement.”
Since stepping back onto the North American League Championship Series stage, Meteos has been unable to slough off his history with Cloud9 and escape the unwanted attention surrounding his return. Meteos has long struggled to find his own happiness amidst the pressure of top-tier performance. Back in Season 1, he opted to play normals with friends, avoiding pressure until queue times grew too long due to their ever-increasing hidden MMR. At the 2016 World Championship, he actively struggled with community criticism following Cloud9’s performance in the group stages.
“It doesn’t fully feel like we deserve to be here,” he said after qualifying for the quarterfinals. “I don’t feel like we played better than TSM did — if they had been in our group, they probably would have done better so I don’t know. I don’t take [the last hope of NA stuff] too seriously, that’s more something for the fans to like.”
While Meteos made his name on Cloud9, the pressure that accompanied their success was difficult to process. Cloud9 was consistently called NA’s last hope or, at previous World Championships, NA’s only hope.
A hybrid roster with an up-and-coming jungler in Inori and the best AD carry in NA, Noh “Arrow” Donghyeon, P1 is a breath of fresh air for the veteran jungler. Meteos is sheepish but optimistic about his time on the team, praising the staff and players for the relaxed atmosphere.
“We had this mutual thing when I joined the team,” he says. “They didn’t think I was coming in as, ‘Okay guys, here’s your permanent jungler, you’re stuck with this guy, you’ve got to make it work kind of thing.’ And they weren’t like ‘Yup, this is your new team, you’re going to be with these guys forever.’ There was never a feeling that I was trapped in this situation.”
Upon joining P1, Meteos says that the attitude was that of a team making the best of the situation at hand. “[It’s] better than, ‘Oh man, here’s your new super team, you guys are expected to be first place,’” he says. “I think a lot of teams can get like that, they just have super high expectations so I’ve always been a huge fan of the low or zero expectation thing — just see what happens.”
This feeling of freedom has led to success for Meteos and Phoenix1. Since his arrival, P1 is 7-1 in series with a 15-3 overall record. At 31:40 in their most recent series, Meteos racked up a quadra kill on his signature champion, Zac — an off-meta pick that Meteos enjoys playing above other, more standard options.
“The biggest thing is that my team is really supportive of the pick,” he says, another nod to P1’s more relaxed environment. “Zac’s a champ that, basically any time he’s decent, I enjoy playing him. On C9 people weren’t always as supportive if I wanted to try new stuff unless you stuck to very meta things but on P1 the environment is really nice. The whole team has a lot of respect for me and it makes it easier to do my job.”
Meteos has done such a good job on P1 that it has put the organization in a sticky situation: continue to play Meteos, the experienced choice with known strengths and weaknesses, or opt for Inori, who goes for riskier plays but has an unknown skill ceiling. Although Inori returned to P1 last week for a win against Echo Fox, Meteos suited up for all four of P1’s games in Week 8.
“I want Inori to do well,” he says. “I’m always down to help him. I don’t know what the decision is between using me or Inori but I don’t really ask, I just play when they ask me to play.”
If you ask him who is best for the team, he quickly shrugs off the question.
“In the past I was always concerned about whether I was good or not,” he says. “Now I don’t really care if I’m good or not, I’m just going to go out there and play. I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. Even when we lose, I just like playing with them.”
After a sweep of Immortals, Meteos runs his fingers through his hair, looking down at his lap. Nearby, mid laner Yoo “Ryu” Sangook and Arrow joke and laugh. Support player William “Stunt” Chen gives Arrow a dramatic hug. Arrow gathers the team into a celebratory huddle and then Meteos finally cracks a smile. He stands a full head taller than his teammates as they cheer before turning to shake hands with their defeated opponents.
As for Meteos and P1, he’ll play for as long as the organization needs him.
“Without going super into it, it’s still the case where I really don’t feel like I’m mentally ready to play full time on a team,” he admits. “I’m not really sure what the future is going to be. I’ll play until they don’t need me anymore, then I’ll probably keep streaming, just see what happens, you know? I’ve never been a long-term future planner, stuff just ends up happening. I’ll see where life takes me, I guess.”
Right now, life takes him to P1’s manager Chad Smeltz, who is waiting outside the pressbox. Chad tells him that the team is going out and extends the invite. Meteos nods, tossing his bangs again.
“I’ll think about it.”
Emily Rand’s love of the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter @leagueofemily