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Making Waves is a weekly column series highlighting the best rising League of Legends talent in North America.

Over the years, the various paths a player can take to reach the professional level in League of Legends have certainly changed. Gone are the days when every 17 year-old with good hands is pressured to drop everything to pursue a career as a pro. Now, solo queue, amateur, collegiate and academy programs are all viable environments for players to hone their skills and get noticed while navigating whatever other commitments their lives necessitate, like school.

This week’s Making Waves highlights one such player, Supernova top laner Nathan “Firetheft” Harris, who’s currently studying Psychology at Arizona State University while competing in both collegiate and the League Championship Series Proving Grounds Circuit

“For me, this is what I enjoy doing,” said Firetheft. “There’s still things in the big picture that I want out of it. But, at the same time, I’m flexible.” 

Firetheft, now with amateur squad Supernova, has been playing at the amateur level since 2018. After taking a year off from competing in 2021, he’s still set on pouring his all into pursuing a career as a pro and hopes to break into the LCS Academy League soon, but he’s doing it his own way and at his own pace.

Becoming ‘Firetheft’

Firetheft grew up living with his two brothers, and they would always play video games together on the GameCube and Wii. Once he got his first laptop, the first online game he really dove into was Minecraft, which also happens to be where he got the idea for his handle.

“When I was 11 or 12 and I was making my first Minecraft account, I wanted something that sounded kind of cool and edgy,” Firetheft said. “So that was what I came up with sitting down with my mom… it’s been my name ever since.”

Firetheft got into League for the first time around Season 4, when he was in middle school; the group of friends he normally played Minecraft with introduced the game to him. Two years later, in Season 6, Firetheft hit Diamond for the first time and committed himself to hone his skills in the top lane. Eventually, he met a friend through the game that was Master tier and would give him tips and advice on how to get better at the game.

“He would duo with me on smurfs and teach me the game,” said Firetheft. “Honestly, all the fundamentals about what carrying a game should look like and what playing top lane should look like I basically picked up from him back then.”

It didn’t take long for him to pick the game up and start improving at a faster rate than his friends. When his knack for the game became clear, and he started rising through the ranks, his dream to become a pro player was born.

“I wanted to be a pro player really badly for a very long time,” said Firetheft. “For a good five-year stretch of me playing the game, I only imagined myself going pro. That was the main goal.”

Firetheft poured everything he had into his dream of playing on the LCS stage until about 2019, when a major turning point in his journey caused him to adjust his mindset.

“Around when I was graduating high school, it felt like I wasn’t where I needed to be to convince myself that I was guaranteed on track to going pro,” said Firetheft. “I started dissecting all these ways that I would spend my time or approach the game, and it became really harmful…after that point, I was just really hard on myself.”

While an all-or-nothing approach works fine for some, Firetheft felt strongly that in his case, going about his dream in such a way became unhealthy and would eventually lead to burnout.

“I still really want to prove myself and improve to a point that I can get opportunities in Academy and really see what I’m capable of at the highest level,” said Firetheft. “It just has had to be balanced alongside school and other responsibilities.”

While it’s true that many improvements have been made over the years, especially by Riot, to create more reliable pathways to becoming a pro player, pursuing a future as an esports pro is never without risks. Even the most dedicated and accomplished of amateur players don’t get a proper shot in some cases. To call education a backup plan doesn’t show the full picture of the hard work Firetheft has put in over the years to reach his goal; he believes completing his degree is equally important, especially because he knows nothing about the life he’s pursuing is guaranteed.

One step at a time

When Firetheft’s amateur career began back in 2018; he was Diamond 3, but he loved playing with a team in a competitive environment all the same. He’s been on plenty of B teams and played the unfavored side of many “one-sided” top lane matchups. While those experiences were valuable, he feels as though that underdog narrative has followed him throughout his career. 

“I just want to feel, especially for myself, that I’m going into every game and every match as a true competitor and never like some great underdog story or just like some guy trying his best,” said Firetheft. “I’m somebody who’s going to win instead.”

Regardless of how 2022 shapes out, Firetheft will feel like he’s made progress towards his dream if he’s able to do two things this year. The first: maintain Challenger for a longer period of time than he has the past four seasons, and to establish himself as a top performer in his role on the the Supernova roster. 

This spring with Supernova will be Firetheft’s first time competing since 2020. Since then, aspiring talents from Academy and collegiate like Joseph “Jojopyun” Joon Pyun, Ethan “Iconic” Wilkinson and Sean “Yeon” Sung have been called up to play at the LCS level for at least a few games, if not a starting role. While Firetheft still recalls the what-ifs of seeing waves of young talent receive such opportunities, his focus is still on improving himself, just as it always has been. 

“I’d say I’m content with who I am and who I was in the past, but I’m still not content in the sense of who and what I can be in the future,” said Firetheft. “Every time I’ve come back to the game, I’ve peaked again and been better than I was prior… I’m definitely not down in the dumps about things not working out for me three or four years ago because I’m going to make things work now.”