BERLIN -- Clutch Gaming AD carry Cody "Cody Sun" Sun has learned a lot on his journey from Challenger Series player to competing at the League of Legends World Championship. His team's 0-6 exit from the tournament on Saturday was another hard lesson.
There are two types of people in the League of Legends World Championship: the winners, and the ones they leave behind.
For three years -- this one included -- 22-year old Cody Sun has been part of those who fell short. This year, there wasn't much he or his teammates on Clutch Gaming could do in the "group of death," as fans and analysts considered them outmatched against SK Telecom T1, Fnatic and Royal Never Give Up.
But, as he has done so many times in his career, the AD carry has found the silver lining in the midst of disappointment.
In 2016, he had a similar feeling when, as a player on DreamTeam in the Challenger Series, he faced Cloud9 Challenger, a team mostly comprised of League of Legends Championship Series veterans on their way back to the LCS stage.
DreamTeam were crushed, but they built chemistry throughout the year.
"It sort of feels like the old days, where sometimes you feel like you have a really low chance to win, but you still have to give it your all, and that's all you can do," Cody Sun said of this year's world championship. "I definitely always cherish these moments, back when we were in Challenger and fighting for our lives. I usually try my best to bring that sort of spirit and energy to other teams [when] I play in the LCS."
The old days taught him that being a League of Legends professional means thriving in a cutthroat environment. In the Challenger Series era, before the LCS franchised and bought Academy teams, teams weren't established organizations. At worst, one bad week meant the end of a career before it started.
The Tier 2 scene also taught Cody Sun the value of motivation. In his first year in the LCS when he was on Immortals in 2017, he grew from the time his former teammates and coaching staff invested in improving his performance.
"I didn't get to the LCS from trying hard by myself," he said. "I really wanted to keep my career going to let them know that their efforts aren't wasted."
When the stage lights and raucous crowd in the LCS Arena replaced the calm and quiet of home, Cody Sun struggled to get used to the big stage. Doing away with solo queue tendencies to improve in the LCS was another challenge he faced -- and conquered.
However consistent he was as a performer at the time, it took more than that for him to become a reliable contributor, one who troubled Fnatic at this year's world championship with a surprising Glacial Augment Heimerdinger pick.
As is the case in life, formative mistakes and hardship act as the best teacher.
For example, Cody Sun's infamous Tristana play against Fnatic at 2017 worlds -- one that was borne from a desire to shine -- eventually led to Immortals' group stage exit. To this day, many remember it, himself most of all.
"It really sucks a lot when mistakes like that happen," he said, "but I know that it happened for a reason, and I definitely needed to improve from that experience and not let it get me down. In the long term, I'm pretty grateful for mistakes like that, because it allowed me to really reflect and analyze my own mistakes, and it made me the player that I am today."
Then, in 2018, as a member of 100 Thieves, a team decision led to him sitting out the entire world championship, leaving him stuck in a hotel with no chance to hone his play against the world's best. That situation was a different kind of lesson, one Cody Sun took to heart on his way to Clutch Gaming.
"Just make sure that if other people treat you a little bit unfairly from your own perspective," he said, "don't let that spread to other people."
This year, he faced another stern test at worlds as he and Clutch Gaming found themselves in a tough play-in group and facing three of the best teams in the world once they prevailed. Playing Fnatic and the Unicorns of Love in the play-in stage highlighted the relevance of unorthodox bot lane picks, like mages with Glacial Augment and Garen-Yuumi combinations. T1 and Royal Never Give Up's bot lanes also showed Cody Sun the importance of efficient marksman play.
Cody Sun plans to take those lessons back to Los Angeles for the spring split and beyond.
"I'm still going to be really confident going back," he said. "I feel like there's no NA bot laner that's going to be able to match me after I improve on my mistakes."
Granted, Clutch Gaming's 0-6 result showed how outmatched North America's third seed was, but Cody Sun said it does not portray their effort, or the road ahead.
"When you're doing your best, you're giving it all that you have," Cody Sun said. "You definitely want to give it your all and then afterwards look back and see what else you could have improved on. With time, you just have to get better. I think that's what's most important.
"Learning from hard times destroys you as a person, but that's what happens if you want to be the best. I do think you have to destroy every inch of yourself if you want to build upon it. The more you get destroyed, the more you improve if you have the right attitude. But at the same time, you can't just be totally destroyed where you can't come back from it."
He learned how to bond with teammates throughout the Challenger Series and this year's 0-6 showing at worlds, promoting a healthy atmosphere and approaching the group stage with a positive mindset, even beyond the game.
"I think you just have to focus on what you can do," he said. "You know we're all humans. Pro players just like playing a game, and we can only do so much.
"You're not going to be able to win every game, [or] lose every game; being able to properly appreciate both sides of winning and losing, then improving from both sides and taking as much as you can, is the most important if you want to keep going forward."