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In their sixth year as an esports organization, Golden Guardians is having their best League Championship Series performance in history. The Golden State Warriors affiliate punched their ticket to Raleigh, NC to compete in the final weekend of the 2023 LCS Spring Playoffs by way of a dominant sweep of Evil Geniuses.

GG’s success in the post-season thus far has been due, in large part, to the play of top laner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie. For the majority of the Spring Split, Licorice was put on weak-side duty and then some – he was statistically the most isolated top laner in the league. But Golden Guardians was able to clutch out a five-game win against 100 Thieves last week and dominate EG yesterday because they began putting Licorice in a position to carry for the first time this season.

“For the first part of the split, the games would just kind of happen that way,” Licorice said. “When we were on our big win streak, our bot lane just won really hard, so then, we would go bot. I’m not going to tell my team not to go bot in that situation.”

After their seven-game win streak was snapped by Team Liquid, Golden Guardians stumbled to the finish line of the Spring Split, going 2-4 in their last six games. Throughout the final weeks of the split, GG tried to stabilize by further conventionalizing their approach, but it did little to help.

“When we were having problems, my coaches wanted to go to a standard playstyle: tank top, carry bot, carry mid. They wanted to play the game that way, and I was always like, ‘I don’t know guys’,” Licorice recalled with a chuckle. “There were drafts where we were first-picking Sion on blue side! And I can do that; I know it’s fine, but I’m pretty sure there are better picks. But we were struggling, and that’s just kind of the way things went.”

After the Sion pick was deemed a failure, Licorice got more liberty to pick what he wanted, which was further enabled by GG mid laner Kim "Gori" Tae-woo’s K’Sante mid, a flex pick introduced to the meta by Cloud9 in recent weeks. In GG’s 6 post-season wins, Licorice has played Gwen thrice, Olaf, Fiora, and even showed off a pocket Rumble against the Malphite of EG top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho.

Golden Guardians has seemingly developed a reliable second style of play overnight for the LCS Spring Playoffs, and Licorice attributes his ability to deliver as a carry for his team after not doing so all season to his growth as a person. In an interview during the Spring Split with Dexerto’s Carver Fisher, Licorice spoke candidly about seeing a therapist and working on dealing with the pressure that comes with the level of performance demanded from an elite LCS top laner. Six weeks later, it looks like those efforts are paying off in spades.

“I think a lot of it, for me, has just been making it less complicated,” explained the GG top laner. “Instead of trying to get every last drop out of the lane, I’m just being, You know what? If I miss 1 CS here, I’m still winning the side and it doesn’t matter in the long run.’

Through his personal development, Licorice has developed a confidence in himself that has allowed him to handle performance-based pressure better than ever. “If you have low self esteem, it'll show up in one of two ways: either through grandiosity and you’re basically being an egomaniac, or you'll be like, ‘Oh, I'm so bad. And like, no one, no one should pay me for their team. I'm not even worthy to be a pro player’ . . . I think, early in my career, I didn’t have the best self esteem and I leaned towards the grandiosity side,” Licorice admitted.

“That caused a lot of problems in game because it like made me want to try to beat everyone up as hard as possible in every game. Having that mindset is not really going to be the best thing for winning a lot of games. When you're playing a stage, you're trying to play a team game and you're just trying to do your job and be consistent – for me, therapy has been really, really big for working on that.”

Golden Guardians Licorice

Golden Guardians Licorice

This isn’t just the best split in Golden Guardians’ history, it’s also the best performance Licorice has had since his departure from Cloud9 at the end of the 2020 season. Should GG defeat FlyQuest in North Carolina next week, they’ll qualify for the 2023 Mid-Season Invitational as one of two North American representatives and get a chance to take on C9 in the finals of the LCS Spring Playoffs.

Licorice has been here before, but this time, he’s approaching the height of competition with a new perspective: “The biggest thing that I’ve worked out in therapy is making my self-worth less attached to how I’m doing as a pro player. It’s a huge struggle if I lose both games in a week and then just feel terrible for the rest of the week. It’s not a life I want to live. That has been a huge amount of the work I'm doing.”

Licorice was denied a trip to the MSI 2020 with Cloud9 when the event was outright canceled due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, and if GG beats FLY, he’ll get a chance to play internationally again for the first time since 2019. But this is not the Licorice of old – the veteran top laner has found success by keeping a level perspective, and he’s keeping things simple.

“I'm happy. We're winning. I feel great about that. If we were losing, I'd also be okay.”