Enrique 'xPeke' Cedeño-Martinez and Gambit Gaming's debut
Isn't it difficult to imagine that the famous Enrique 'xPeke' Cedeño-Martinez backdoor happened less than a year ago?
League of Legends esports is moving so fast, and we get to see so much action, that it already feels like one of those big plays of the past, yet it was just in the beginning of 2013. This epic move that has been rewatched nearly 3 million times was a fitting opener for a year that put League of Legends on a scale bigger than ever before.
The way xPeke managed to take down SK Gaming’s nexus all by himself and survive with 39 hp is the thing most people remember IEM Katowice, the first tournament of 2013, for. However, that was also the tournament that Moscow 5 debuted under their new name of Gambit Gaming and what a debut that was.
The Korean teams, namely Azubu Frost and Azubu Blaze who were feared before that for being almost unbeatable, looked mediocre when they faced the Russians’ wrath. They had a rough start in the group stage and were on the brink of being out of the tournament, but when they showed up for the playoffs on the second day it was like we were watching a completely different team. Gambit came for the win and took it decisively, continuing the trend of securing a top finish at each IEM event they participated in.
Upon the Azubu teams’ return home they had to face yet more disappointment as they played the last games of Champions Winter 2012-2013. Blaze lost the match for 3rd place against KT B, a team that was just starting to shine brightly in the Korean scene, while Frost would lose too when they faced NaJin Sword.
That was the last time the two teams played under the Azubu name, as from February 4th onward they became part of the CJ Entus organization. They would play IEM's Season VII World Championship under the CJ Entus banner.
Of the four Korean teams playing there, three of them found a place in the semifinals while their European counterparts, Fnatic, SK Gaming and Evil Geniuses, would find themselves eliminated early.
Frost successfully took their revenge on Gambit eliminating them from the tournament in one of the semifinals and denying them the chance to defend their IEM WC title from the previous year. The other finalist was none other than Blaze as the matchup between the sister teams had by that time become traditional in all Korean competitions. Ambition and Flame lead their team to victory but what mattered was that Korea once again dominated the Western opposition. The loss at Katowice was just a temporary setback.
Taking esports to a new level
After IEM Katowice some of the European teams had one of the hardest tasks in their gaming careers -- qualifying for the professional league Riot was starting to run in Europe and North America, the League of Legends Championship Series.
After a rough start in the group stage Fnatic, the biggest name in the qualifier, safely made it in. So did the surprise of the tournament Copenhagen Wolves, against All authority, GIANTS and, after one hell of a battle with MYM that ended 3-2, Dragonborns. The eight best teams of Europe were chosen and it was almost time for all the action to kick off.
On the other side of the ocean, Curse cruised through the qualifier, alongside Good Game University, Team FeaR (later Vulcun) and The Brunch Club (later compLexity). The surprise of the tournament was Cloud 9’s disappointing dropping out after the group stage. In their match against Team MRN they engaged in a reckless base race that cost them the game in the last second. MRN, however, took the chance they were given and secured for themselves the last eighth spot in the league.
From the beginning of February onwards the professional teams battled each other every weekend. Gambit and Fnatic were the undisputed leaders of the European rankings, while SK Gaming remained steady in the third place. Evil Geniuses were struggling throughout the majority of the split and they almost got their fourth place taken from them by the Copenhagen Wolves. The latter started 0-9 because their superstar mid laner Bjergsen had to wait for three weeks on the sidelines until he turned 17. After he rejoined the team and got in the swing of things however, they started winning and quickly became everyone’s favourite underdog team. The rest of the teams, despite their best efforts, remained in the bottom of the table.
In the first LCS playoffs Fnatic took out Gambit in a thrilling Best of 5 that went down to the last game after some exciting back and forth action. The following week the relegated teams had to fight in order to stay in the LCS, but only Copenhagen Wolves were up to the task. aAa, GIANTS and Dragonborns had to say goodbye to the league and make way for the new recruits -- Sinners Never Sleep (later Lemondogs), Alternate and MYM.
In the meantime in North America, Curse and Dignitas were fighting for the first place in the rankings throughout the majority of the spring split only to see it snatched away by TSM, who experienced a massive resurgence after the addition of WildTurtle. Much like EG in Europe, CLG had trouble throughout the split and barely made it to fourth place. Despite many people cheering for the underdog teams MRN and compLexity, and their occasional good games, they didn’t have the consistency needed for better spots than seventh and eighth and they left the LCS after they lost their promotion matches against Velocity and Quantic (later Cloud 9).
The playoffs, however, brought a lot of surprises. CLG and Dignitas lost their quarter-final games and had to play in the promotion tournament the next week if they wanted to defend their place in the LCS, which they successfully did. Vulcun won the third place match against Curse and GGU were fighting for first against TSM. After another Best of 5 set the NA powerhouse came on top, but GGU put one hell of a fight to go down with a score of 2-3.
All-Stars and the start of the EU versus NA rivalry
Riot made sure we that fans wouldn't get bored during the break between the LCS splits.
The community had the opportunity to vote for the best players in every position in both regions for an All-Star Match, and some of the results couldn’t have been closer. In Europe the battle for the top lane spot between Wickd and sOAZ was so close that it was ultimately decided by a best of five, on versus one battle; the stream of this showdown broke the personal stream viewership record for Twitch.tv.
The All-Stars event itself was held in China and it had to decide which is the best region in League of Legends. Korea won the competition with ease -- something that a few were surprised about. What’s more, after North America’s team defeated Europe and left them in the last place, the rivalry between them became fiercer than ever and that remained a central storyline in the competitive scene throughout the year.
LCS Summer, and everyone aiming for Worlds
The second split of the LCS ran very differently in the two regions.
In EU Alternate was on top of the rankings for a few weeks and then Lemondogs took over. However, the competition was extremely close throughout the whole split and it ended with a 4-way tie for second place between Fnatic, Gambit, EG and NiP and a 2-way tie for sixth between Alternate and SK.
In North America Cloud 9 started with a 5-0 and had a tight grip on the top spot throughout all 9 weeks of the league. They were closely followed by Vulcun, who surprised many by claiming the runner-up spot, while all of the veteran "top four" teams finished between third and sixth with very close or equal win-loss ratios.
And so, it was time for the playoffs which would decide which three teams from each region will go to the Season 3 World Championship.
Fnatic and Lemondogs grabbed the first two European spots with the former winning the final between them and thus becoming back to back champion of the LCS playoffs. The third and final team that would have a shot at the world finals had to be decided between Gambit and EG, a rivalry that we had seen so much of during Season 2. In typical Gambit fashion they lost the first game only to dominate the next two and qualify for the finals in Los Angeles, while Evil Geniuses had to battle the disappointment after a season which was far from successful for them.
In the North American playoffs it was TSM and Cloud 9 that made it to the final and the latter once again came out on top after taking all 4 matches between them during the regular season as well. As NA got the fourth place in the All-Star event, C9 also got a bye for the group stage of the World Championship. In the third place match Vulcun came on top of Dignitas securing the last spot for Worlds.
Meanwhile in Korea, we see old faces and rising stars
While the LCS was going on in Europe and North America, Korean League of Legends stuck with OGN’s “Champions”. The spring season of the tournament was all about MVP Ozone’s Dade and SKT’s Faker. The first secured his team the trophy by defeating CJ Blaze in the final and the latter took third against CJ Frost, and you can bet that wasn’t the last time you heard those names.
In the fifth and final game, played on blind pick as the rules in Korea state, it was all about the things Faker does on Zed. A legend was born that day as SKT were lifting a trophy for the first time. Soon after, they also claimed the third Korean spot for the World Championship in the region’s qualifiers by once again defeating KTB.
During the summer edition of the tournament, the final standings were reversed but still involved familiar faces. Blaze were left out of the top 4 for the first time, while Frost finished fourth after Ozone defeated them. The cherry on top was, as usual, the final match though where KT Bullets, which had recently added InSec to their roster, and SKT T1 faced off against each other. KTB took the first two games convincingly but after the match ended it looked like Faker was just giving them false hopes as he and the rest of SKT suddenly brought their A game and equalized the series.
China and Southeast Asia’s pro leagues
Riot’s intention coming into 2013 was for every established region to have their own professional league, and so China and Southeast Asia were no strangers to that format. Truth be told, the latter’s league, the GPL, was already running in 2012, which might be one of the reasons for the Season 2 World Champion TPA’s strong performance then. They continued dominating the opposition in the first half of 2013 as well but during the summer season they dropped the ball. That lead to a lot of roster changes in the team and ultimately they ended third in the rankings, while another Taiwanese team, ahq e-Sports Club took the top spot.
Over in China, the well known and successful teams from 2012, WE and iG, were not doing any better. OMG, Positive Energy and Royal Club were all trying to snatch the top spots in the rankings both during the spring and the summer seasons. First, OMG got first place, while PE was the runner-up, then they switched positions.
However, only the first of the two qualified for the World Championship as Royal Club claimed the second Chinese spot.
The hunt for the Summoner’s Cup
And just like that, it was time for the biggest event of the year -- the Season 3 World Championship. Fourteen teams from all around the world flew to Los Angeles, California to fight for the huge prize pool and the eternal glory of having their name engraved onto the Summoner’s Cup.
Both groups were stacked, and while in Group A OMG and SKT T1 made it out without much trouble, in Group B we saw a surprising turn of events. One of the favourites of the tournament, Samsung Galaxy Ozone (former MVP Ozone), didn’t fulfil the expectations and and made an early exit after being eliminated in the group stage. Instead, both the European teams in the group, Fnatic and Gambit advanced to the playoffs.
The North America vs Europe rivalry found its next high point in the quarter-finals when North America's 1st seed, Cloud 9, faced Europe's first seed, Fnatic. Fnatic dashed America’s last hopes as they eliminated from Cloud 9 from the event, and they themselves were starting to look like a serious contender for the title.
Gambit lost their quarter-final to Korea’s first seed, NaJin Sword, and marking the first time in the year that Gambit hadn't done fourth or a better in an offline event. In another quarter-final we saw the all Chinese battle between OMG and Royal Club, which the latter took with ease.
There were great games throughout the whole championship, but the semifinals were on a whole other level. In the first series we saw the two Korean teams, NaJin Sword and SKT, go head to head in a best off five brawl that went to the final game. Even though the last game wasn’t a blind pick, the whole set was incredible as the two teams were rotating winning the first four maps. Ultimately, Faker and company came on top and advanced to the final as many predicted they would.
The other semifinal between Royal Club and Fnatic was not any less exciting. Despite the fact that the European team got dominated in the first two games, they had an amazing showing in the next two, and only the Chinese superb patience and teamfighting prevented them from going to a game five.
That set the scene for the grand final in Staples Center where the Chinese Royal Club clashed with the Korean SKT T1. The latter, however, didn’t give their opponents any chance and in three quick, more or less one-sided games, they became the Season 3 World Champions. After winning the “Champions” trophy a few months ago, they added another big Cup to their shelf and carved their name in League of Legends’ history forever.
The culmination of the North America and European rivlarly
After Worlds most teams got a well-deserved break for almost two months until the next tournament, and the first of pre-season 4, which took place at IEM Cologne.
We saw two top teams from Europe and North America trying to defend their region’s honor. Unfortunately for the fans of apple pie and bald eagles, Gambit, newly reunited with their support player Edward, took care of Cloud 9, yet again crushing North America's last hope when CLG “got rekked” by them.
However, xPeke and company looked mediocre in the final besides a certain jungler who shined bright like a Diamond. Another IEM, another top finish for Gambit.
Whoever said “he who laughs last, laughs best”, was never more right than at the end of last year.
In December, Riot organized and event called “Battle of the Atlantic." For the event the top five teams from the European LCS clashed against their North American LCS counterparts over two weekends, with matches taking place in Cologne and Los Angeles.
First blood was drawn by the newly formed Alliance when they won against Gambit, but TSM struck back by defeating the revamped Lemondogs roster. Alternate and Gambit took two more wins for Europe but in the end it was all in the hands of Fnatic and their rematch against Cloud 9. No one knew what any of the teams could be playing on the new pre-season patch but it looked like C9 prepared better. Hai had two superb games on Kassadin and Kha’Zix and his team got the long-awaited and completely deserved revenge they were looking for since the World Championship. Ultimately, NA now has the bragging rights, at least until the next encounter between the two regions.
Pro or Amateur - The Promotion tournaments
Alongside the Battle of the Atlantic, Riot also run the promotion tournaments for the EU and NA LCS 2014 spring splits. The three relegated squads from each region had to reclaim their right to be a salaried team while facing the top challengers. Copenhagen Wolves finally found their way into the LCS, taking away Meet Your Makers’ spot. SK Gaming successfully defended their place among the best in Europe, but they were the only ones to do so. Surprisingly for many, Ninjas in Pyjamas handed over their spot to Kiedys Mialem Team after a rather one-sided 0-3 affair. In North America, however, everything went as expected. EG, who now play under Velocity’s spot, managed to get into the NA LCS and will be effectively the only newcomer in the league. Curse and Coast triumphed over their challenger opponents and will return among the eight best teams in NA.
2013 will be remembered as the beginning of Riot’s professional leagues which tries to mirror an established format from conventional sports. There are people who love it because they get to see their favourite teams play every week and people who hate it or at least want to see it changed because of the lack of international tournaments.
Nevertheless, the LCS is here to stay. We have the 8 teams for both EU and NA ready to kick off the action in less than two weeks. Whether we will see more international play besides the All-Stars which will take place in Europe this year and the World Championship which will take the best teams from all around the world to the home of esports, South Korea, is up to Riot and their partners. One thing’s for sure though - with the introduction of the Coke Zero Challenger league there will be even more games to be watched. Prepare to have your eyes glued to the screen throughout 2014!
Imaged Credit: lolesports, ESL Flickr, Leaguepedia