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Onur Can “Bolulu” Demirol vibed backstage at the Volkswagen Arena in Istanbul, Turkey to Rise and Legends Never Die, previous League of Legends World Championship anthems. The 22 year-old mid laner closed his eyes and imagined lifting the Turkish Championship League summer playoffs trophy as DJ Mako played to a small, socially distanced crowd during the opening ceremony. As the moment washed over him, he was ready to finish one of the most oppressive runs the TCL had ever seen.

The music faded and the announcers introduced each player. As he called Bolulu’s name, the fans in the arena let loose a rapturous roar. That was something the Swedish player and the rest of the league had not seen in some time, considering they played the majority of the season online and the entire playoffs without any crowds. For Bolulu, it was a scene he had missed.

“It’s been a really long time, having the hype and people chanting your name,” Bolulu said. “I really miss that feeling.“

Bolulu backstage at the TCL summer split final
Bolulu backstage at the TCL summer split final. | Provided by Riot Games

He and his Galatasaray teammates loaded into the rift and decimated their competition 3-0, completing the fastest TCL playoff finals in the league’s history. The Swede only died twice, showcasing his proficiency on carry and scaling champions from Sylas to Azir and Syndra. Unlike previous years and finals, Bolulu was calling for plays and making dives, especially in Game 1, on his deathless Sylas.

“I’m not afraid to make a mistake or do a bad play or bad engage,” he said. “If I see the opportunity, well, I’ll just go for it.”

After destroying NASR eSports Turkey’s Nexus for the third time, Bolulu and his teammates hoisted the TCL trophy just like he visualized just a few hours before. In that moment, he knew he was playing at his current best.

All game

Bolulu started his League of Legends journey as a preteen in Stockholm. The son of parents with Turkish roots, he loaded up the old client on his family’s desktop one day and suddenly the game took over his life. In a familiar story to many professional (and casual) players, as his interest in League of Legends grew, other aspects of his life started to fall away.

“I was really invested in school and invested in football,” Bolulu said. “That was like my whole life. I was like the ideal kid, didn’t play too many video games. I’m focusing on football and school, doing my homework and having good grades.”

He lost interest in soccer and put down his PlayStation controller in favor of a keyboard and mouse. His schooling fell to the wayside, too, as he spent his nights grinding ranked and his days in class catching up on the lost sleep. To this day, League is the only game Bolulu plays consistently.

This extreme dedication allowed him to start his professional career with second tier European and Turkish squads — the odd weekend tournament here, an online league game there. His first real taste of top tier competition came in 2019 when he signed with 1907 Fenerbahçe Esports. According to longtime TCL caster Kursad “Regarnur” Demirer, there were no expectations for the 19 year old, but he had a tough act to follow.

“He was coming right after [Kim “Frozen” Tae-il],” Regarnur said. “And Frozen is still to me the biggest signing TCL ever had.”

The young pro also had to deal with the rabid fans from Fenerbahçe’s soccer club, who — like most Turkish fans — are more than passionate about their favorite teams, even if they have no idea what’s going on in-game. There was also another talented mid laner within the organization, current SK Gaming player Ersin “Blue” Gören, who was waiting in the wings if Bolulu underperformed.

Bolulu blew those obstacles away as he finished first in the TCL winter season and playoffs, qualifying for the Mid-Season Invitational in his rookie season and taking home the Rookie of the Split award. The young player showcased his controlled laning style, fighting over gold and positioning the mid lane, looking to starve his opponent of resources rather than looking for an angle to scrap.

The young Swedish player grew into the best mid laner in the TCL in almost no time at all, according to Regarnur. While that’s not necessarily a high bar to clear, Turkey is not known for its mid laners. South Korean imports and young European players looking to vault their careers into a major region see the TCL as a good jumping off point. Bolulu has stopped those aspiring players from leaping into stardom every year since he hit the scene.

Coming up short

Bolulu shakes hands after bowing out of 2020 Worlds.
Bolulu shakes hands after bowing out of 2020 Worlds. | Provided by Riot Games

In 2020, on SuperMassive Blaze, Bolulu competed in Turkey’s latest trip through the Play-In Stage. The TCL had still not moved past “that fiesta” since 2017. But this time, Bolulu came into international competition with a stacked cast of South Korean veterans, a TCL mainstay and current League of Legends European Championship summer champion İrfan Berk “Armut” Tükek.

However, in SMB’s final series of the tournament, Bolulu went up against Unicorns of Love’s Lev “Nomanz” Yakshin, who picked Kassadin in Game 2. On Azir, Bolulu was the first kill of the game, and the first chain of kills that led to a 10 minute Ace thanks to SMB mispositioning in the river. Nomanz teleported right over Bolulu’s Shurima wall and left the fight with three kills. This jump started the scaling mid laner into his power spike early and snowballed the game out of SMB’s control. Then, in the Unicorns’ second Ace of that game, Nomanz’s Nether Blade caught Bolulu in the back, making him the final kill as he tried to run away.

The series sealed Turkey’s fate for the third year in a row, and some felt the result rested on his shoulders for losing the lane matchup.

“There was some kind of conversation around him being not flexible around with his picks, or him being not confident enough with his picks,” Regarnus said. “But I know for all of his career, he was playing tanks, or utility or carries as well. In that series, I don’t know why, but he wasn’t up to the challenge.”

The best revenge is potential stardom

Bolulu will get the chance to get the TCL back into the main event at the League of Legends World Championship with play-ins starting on Oct. 5. He comes into the tournament with yet another stacked roster, on-paper, sporting a different football club’s colors and an opportunity to showcase his talents as the best mid laner in the TCL.

Galatasaray was also seeded into Unicorns of Love’s group, prompting a rematch from last year early in the tournament.

“I have some unfinished business with Nomanz,” Bolulu said.

This time around, the three-time TCL champion said he is more confident in his play, no longer asking if he should start a fight but telling his team he’s going in.

“When you play mid lane, you have to be that person. You have to ask for resources,” Bolulu said. “You have to want your support to commit, you have to want your junglers to commit. And that’s what I learned this year. I am demanding what I need to be able to carry the game”

He will also need to impress internationally if he wants to move beyond the TCL. His former teammate and friend, Armut, made the jump in 2020 after his impressive performance and two TCL titles.

Current League Championship Series champion Can “Closer” Çelik left after one impressive title run and Worlds showing. So far, Bolulu has yet to field any serious offers from top flight teams in the LCS or LEC because his previous international performances were not at the level of his major league peers.

Bolulu on the TCL summer final stage.
Bolulu on the TCL summer final stage. | Provided by Riot Games

“I think I didn’t step up to the occasion [last year]. I only have myself to blame… But this year, I feel more ready,” Bolulu said. “I think I’m ready for that big step.”

The Turkish fan base is also ready to follow Bolulu if he sets out beyond the TCL since they already follow the major leagues anyway.

“Right now, the Turkish fanbase has to follow three leagues: LCS, LEC and TCL,” Regarnur said. “And if Bolulu goes to another league, that will give us another player to follow up on.”

With the opportunity to showcase his talent to top flight teams and revenge on the table, Bolulu’s newfound confidence could be the determining factor for if he can rise to the occasion this time around.