The ever-growing history of League of Legends has seen numerous great finals played out, matches which put certain teams at legendary status, games which sparked intense and fondly remembered rivalries and upsets which thrilled and shocked spectators. In spite of all these great matches though, everyone can identify with the feeling of the time the two teams they really wanted to see in the final didn't make it, either entirely or with one falling before that stage. Other times the eventual final perhaps doesn't live up to the billing, leaving one to wonder what might have happened had the bracket played out a little differently.
In the spirit of revisiting the deep stages of some of the tournaments of the past, this feature looks back on ten great LoL finals that could have been, but ultimately never were.
10. The one-sided rivalry that wouldn't die - fnatic vs. SK (S2 Regional Finals EU)
Event: Season 2 Regional Finals Europe
The final that was: Moscow Five vs. SK Gaming
The final that could have been: fnatic vs. SK Gaming
When the four semi-final teams for this event were decided (fnatic vs. M5 and SK vs. CLG.EU) most fans anxiously anticipated the next chapter in the epic rivalry between M5 and CLG.EU. Instead, fans ended up with a one-sided pounding of SK Gaming, with the Russians swinging the hammer. There was no thrilling back-and-forth series to decide the top spot of the European region, just M5 crushing their opposition to take the big cheque.
It's easy to understand why that ended up being the case: SK had been elated simply to defeat CLG.EU in their semi-final, knowing they had secured a spot at the S2 World Championship. What's more, it has often been suggested that the SK players had been so exuberant in their celebration of that crucial win, and perhaps set in the knowledge that M5 were better, that they had perhaps come to the final the next day a little shy of sleep and slightly dehydrated, if you catch my drift.
Rather than direct the reader's attention to the initial expectation for the finals match-up, which will be referenced later in this article, what if, instead, fnatic had won their semi-final over M5? That may seem a ludicrous prospect, M5 were impossibly dominant in European LANS, having only lost a single series ever - to CLG.EU. Even that loss had soon been avenged emphatically, with their win in the final of ECC Poland. No, for many it was set in stone that M5 would roll through an ailing fnatic, who hadn't reached a final in 10 months.
The actual semi-final between the two turned out to be much closer than the two teams' forms might have suggested beforehand, though. The opener was M5 in the kind of dominant and forceful form one might have expected, but fnatic struck back in game two with a monster killfest, finishing with 30 kills to M5's 16. The third game, admittedly, was another Russian rolling, stomping through fnatic's hopes of a top two finish, but the seeds had been there for a potential upset, so one can feel justified in imagining it was a possibility, however remote.
Had fnatic reached the final, and the other semi-final played out the same way as it in fact did, the the final would have been the renewal of a different, and yet no less storied rivalry, as fnatic faced off against SK Gaming. One could imagine SK being much more motivated to be in bed on time with the possibility to such a huge opportunity to beat their long-time rivals, in a much more winnable series, and gain ground in the rivalry.
fnatic vs. SK was a rivalry which initially lived off the expectation level carried over from Counter-Strike, by virtue of the names of the two teams. Represented by the two best sets of Swedish line-ups for the last half a decade of CS competition they were always fiercely locked in competition for both the best spot domestically and internationally. In LoL that rivalry carried over and even the usual outcome, fnatic finishing on top, seemed to translate too.
By the S2 Regional Finals for Europe rolled around in LoL fnatic had historically gone 5:0 in maps over SK in offline tournaments, 2-0 in Bo3 series. Add in the time when some of the fnatic players were MyRevenge, when admittedly only ocelote played for SK from the later line-ups, and the map score went up to 7:0 for the orange and black. This was the rivalry which had spanned European LoL and it would have been a fitting opportunity to play it for the top spot in Europe heading into the S2 World Championship.
9. Battle of the Korean new school - CJ vs. SKT (IEM VII Cologne)
Event: IEM VII Cologne
The final that was: fnatic vs. SK Telecom T1
The final that could have been: CJ Entus vs. SK Telecom T1
This tournament is perhaps best known as the return of Reapered, as the former Blaze leader and OGN Spring champion returned with a line-up composed of solo queue players, freshly minted as the new SK Telecom T1 side. With the latter organisation the most historic and prestigious in Korean esports, SKT T1 could return back to Korea with nothing less than the first place. They did just that, unfortunate choice of celebratory poses aside, and some hoped Reapered would establish a new OGN contender back on Korean soil.
The event is also known as the last hurrah for the rekkles era of fnatic, as they used the young AD Carry stud one last time, reaching the final and losing in three games, before they had to switch him out for YellowStar and move on into a S3 the Swede was too young to compete in. The real sleeper hit of the event though was another Korean team: CJ Entus. Not to be confused with the modern day CJ line-ups of Blaze and Frost, this team was composed of players who have since gone on to occupy positions in Korea's best teams.
With a line-up of LongPanda, inSec, dade, space and kkinsh, CJ received a group containing the mighty CLG.EU, top four finisher at the S2 World Championship and top six at IPL5; MYM, a Polish team who had been using the same line-up for as long as many could remember and finally ALTERNATE, the now infamous high elo team trying to make it work in competitions. For a team on their first international outing this group could have been daunting, one potentially elite world class team and other teams that would use radically different playign styles to those CJ were accustomed to back in Korea.
The match-up against CLG.EU allowed Western fans to get their first real taste of the power of a mechanically dominant farm-heavy Korean carry Jungler, as inSec's Zed made a mockery of Snoopeh's Malphite. The Korean finished the game with almost double the Scot's farm (406 to 209) and a scoreline of 5/1/8. Elsewhere in the CJ line-up we found dade, now an object of derision, due to his S3 World Championship performance in Ozone, but then considered a promising up-and-coming Mid laner. Finally, we have Space, who has since gone on to become the starting AD Carry for Frost.
CJ faced fnatic in the semi-final and lost in the three games, but had they reached the final and a match-up with SKT T1 then we'd have had the opportunity to see some of Korea's future stars battling on a foreign stage.
8. The new king vs. the old - SKT vs. CJB (OGN Spring)
Event: OGN Olympus Champions Spring 2013
The final that was: MVP Ozone vs. CJ Blaze
The final that could have been: SK Telecom T1 2 vs. CJ Blaze
Going into the playoffs of this season of Champions there were two new sides really impressing the fanbase: KT B and SKT T1 2. The former featured the power of carry jungling by one inSec, while the latter had seen the rise of the new god of mid lane: Faker. Both were thought to be potential finalists, yet both fell in upsets to imp's MVP Ozone team. Despite those two monster upset series wins, few took Ozone seriously as a contender for the crown, but with good reason.
Over on the other side of the bracket, Blaze were tearing apart every team they face. Reapered's SKT T1 and sister team Frost, who had never before failed to make an OGN final, both fell to an inspired Blaze team in straight 3:0 thrashings. Having beaten their sister team in the IEM VII World Championship final in March, more than two months prior, Blaze seemed to have truly stepped out of the shadow of Frost. Frost had been the better in the latter half of 2012, now it was Blaze's turn to lead the way for the organisation. Blaze were on a 13-0 winning streak in OGN.
When MVP reached the final it almost seemed a blessing for the CJ team, this underdog side had cleared the other side of the bracket of any potentially dangerous contenders and now would lie on the alter as sacrificial lambs to the glory of Blaze. Instead MVP Ozone went on to unleash probably the most shocking LoL final outcome in the history of the game, both in the viciously one-sided nature of the game, in the opposite direction that most had anticipated, and also in the complete collapse of all of Blaze's strengths.
Let's rewind a little, back to the semi-final of Ozone against SKT T1 2. The quarter-final upset over KT B made a kind of sense. The KT side had purposely thrown their final group stage match to avoid having to go into the other side of the bracket and face NaJin Sword, reigning champions, in the first round. Facing MVP Ozone seemed only ideal to them. Little had they anticipated, or seemingly even considered, the backlash of anger from netizens. In a country where what others think of you is of paramount importance, KT B found themselves facing a hurricane of negative publicility.
It's easy to see how that could have played on the minds of a team that, despite being possessed of a high level of skill and excellent team-play, were still relatively inexperienced as a unit. Ozone came in and snatched the series 3:1 and it was easy to put that down to the circumstances encircling the match, outside of the server. The semi-final against SKT was the true upset though.
Faker's famed LeBlanc game had only been his announcement as the next Korean LoL master, all season he had been a carrying force and he was expected to be the leading man in this semi-final.It's no coincidence that the season ended with Faker and bengi, the Mid and Jungle combo of SKT T1 2, tied for fourth each in the MVP voting. Instead, as they had done all season, Ozone found a way to shut down their opponents and progress.
Despite the 3:1 nature of Ozone's win this match is one of the most reasonable to overturn, for the sake of speculation, being as SKT were the true favourites going into it. Had SKT reached the final then the match-up there would have been most delectable for enthusiasts of high level LoL. Blaze were famously being powered by the god tier form of an unstoppable Flame, but the secondary carry was 'old reliable', Ambition. Considered the best Mid in Korea, by virtue of his All-Stars play, his consistency and his tenure as an elite player, Ambition was having one of his great seasons. It's only reasonable to want to see him tested by the new Mid in town, the mechanical monster that is Faker.
Elsewhere there'd have been the traditional Blaze botlane of Cpt Jack and Lustboy, which really were exposed in the real final, facing a new tandem of Piglet and PoohManDu. We know now what monsters that SKT botlane have become, but back then they were still unproven at this calibre of competition.
7. The Final Showdown of the NA S2 Masters - TSM vs. CLG Prime (S2 Regional Finals NA)
Event: Season 2 Regional Final North America
The final that was: Team SoloMid vs. Team Dignitas
The final that could have been: Team SoloMid vs. Counter Logic Gaming Prime
The ever-repeating storyline at North American LANs in Season 2 was that CLG would lose to Dignitas in the upper bracket, Dignitas would then lose to TSM, CLG would get revenge on Dignitas in the lower bracket and then lose to TSM in the final, often after winning the first series to make it one Bo3 for all the money. TSM used that formula to rack up numerous titles and establish themselves as the clear-cut best team on the continent.
With the S2 Regional being single elimination the first part of that formula repeated, as Dignitas beat CLG Prime 2:0 in the semi-final. In the final Dignitas was rolled again by TSM, losing 0:2, and CLG qualified for Worlds by defeating Curse.NA in the third place decider. The formula did suggest that CLG.Prime were more than capable of beating Dignitas, they frequently did, but that the first time the teams met Dignitas always had something prepared to slay them. Let's imagine CLG could have gotten the early jump on scarra's men.
TSM's pedigree in Season 2 is well established: from April through to September the team won six offline titles and were only eliminated from a tournament once, by the invading Azubu Blaze at the MLG Summer Arena. It didn't matter how the NA teams did against TSM, they were always stood atop the podium at the end of an offline tournament. Yet competing in NA only, while Dignitas and CLG had tried their hand in Korea, made the only bone of contention their peers could pick namely that TSM had not particularly shone against international competition.
CLG had finished 5th-8th in both seasons of OGN Champions they'd played, but they'd lose in those quarter-finals to the eventual champions both times, and in the mean time built fanbases outside of their native continent. CLG couldn't hope to challenge TSM's NA pedigree, but they could claim to be better against international competition, or at least argue the matter.
The match-up everyone wanted to see in NA, every time out of the gate, was CLG vs. TSM. This would have been a fitting end to the Season 2 circuit for North America, one last time to see if CLG could do it or if TSM were still the kings of NA.
6. The passing of the torch - WE vs. TPA (IPL5)
Event: IGN ProLeague 5
The final that was: World Elite vs. fnatic
The final that could have been: World Elite vs. Taipei Assassins
The two primary storylines of IPL5, often cited as the best tournament ever held in LoL history, were of World Elite's domination of the event and fnatic's surprise runner-up finish. World Elite ran through the field with only two single games lost, each in separate series, going 10:2 (83.33%) for the event. fnatic may have suffered two series loss to the imperious Chinese, but they themselves mightily impressed on their own run. The Europeans defeated teams like Blaze, TPA and CLG.Prime.
It's the TPA match-up that is of the most interest here though. Taipei Assassins had shocked and thrilled the LoL-viewing world by winning the S2 World Championship, overcoming the likes of NaJin Sword, Moscow Five and Azubu Frost to deservedly take home the crown. IPL5 should have been their chance to legitimise their position as potentially the best team in the world. In the end they came up short, finishing third. It's significant though that the team only lost to fnatic, they didn't get to face World Elite and they defeated everyone else they came across, from Moscow Five to CLG.EU.
Had TPA been able to overcome fnatic, even once in the lower bracket, it would have set-up a heavyweight bought for the IPL5 final, a true passing of the torch. TPA had become official World Championship with their S2 World Championship win, and had World Elite beaten them directly in the final it would have seen a clean end to a short TPA era and the beginning of the World Elite one. From IPL5 on the Chinese team sat back in China, title of world's best seemingly off the market for anyone not Chinese, and just racked up domestic titles. Fans never truly got that face-off between the two that would have been oh so tantilising at that moment in Vegas.
5. The meeting of the two kings of 2011 - CLG vs. fnatic (IEM VI Cologne)
Event: IEM VI Cologne
The final that was: Counter Logic Gaming vs. Team SoloMid
The final that could have been: Counter Logic Gaming vs. fnatic
IEM VI Cologne is fondly remembered by the CLG fanbase as the height of the team's competitive peak. Despite being a member down, forced to use Salce as a substitude for Chauster, CLG swept their group and then beat out Millenium in the semi-final and TSM in the final, both in three game series, to take the crown. HotshotGG, the biggest star in the game, shone brightest and collected the MVP award. For CLG fans this event had it all: HotshotGG at peak form, the team beating everyone and TSM being the team to fall in the finals.
Don't be fooled by the names on paper though. This was the era of TSM featuring TheRainMan, and before they had moved into their Long Island gaming house. This was a TSM who had never won a LAN before and whose best offline placing, two months prior, was third at the S1 Championship. Admittedly, CLG had placed even worse at that championship, but they had pedigree stretching back to the WCG win the previous year.
The other great team of that era was fnatic. The European team had won the S1 Championship, slaying CLG and Dyrus' Epik Gamer en route to the title. Now they came into the next international tournament ready to defend their title as perhaps the world's best team. Losing to CLG in the group stage was an early set-back, but it was a three map loss in the semi-final to TSM that saw fnatic eliminated outside of the top two.
Had fnatic been able to move past TSM, we could have see a battle of the two teams who would prove to be the kings of 2011. By the end of the year CLG had put more top placings up, winning MLG Raleigh, placing second at IEM VI Guangzhou, finishing third at IPL3 and rounding out IEM VI New York in fourth. fnatic won that IEM VI New York event, meaning both teams finished 2011 with two big first place wins, yet the two never met at the peak of their powers. fnatic had beaten them early in the bracket at the S1 Championship, but beyond that the two teams played no more series. CLG beat fnatic in the group stage of IEM Cologne and fnatic returned the favour in New York, but no series to test each other's level.
4. That elusive international championship - CLG.EU vs. AZB (OGN Champions Summer)
Event: OGN Azubu The Champions Summer 2012
The final that was: Counter Logic Gaming Europe vs. Azubu Frost
The final that could have been: Counter Logic Gaming Europe vs. Azubu Blaze
For Western fans the final of OGN's Azubu The Champions Summer 2012 is notorious for how bitterly it ended for the European team hoping to take the crown from the Koreans. Up 2:0 in the series, CLG.EU found themselves reverse-swept to lose 2:3 to the new kings of Korea: Azubu Frost. Most painful of all was the blind pick fifth game, in which the Koreans mindgamed the European side hard with anticipating what they would and wouldn't pick. CLG.EU had felt so close to lifting the trophy, but Frost had shown them that a game can be a huge measure of distance between two teams, when it matters.
That finals match-up need not have been the one which appeared on that stage though, Frost had actually been pushed to the limit previously. In the semi-final Frost had faced off against sister team Blaze in a series which had gone all the way to a fifth game and blind pick. Frost now live in infamy as the one team you cannot let a series go to blind pick against, but at the time Blaze were actually the reigning champions, even having taken the crown from Frost 3:0 in the final of the previous season.
Changes had been made in Frost, most notably with Locodoco's departure signalling Woong's transition from Top laner to AD Carry. Replacing Woong at the top of the map was the rookie Shy, who would later go to become perhaps the best player in the world, for a period of time spanning a few months, later in the year. On Blaze's side their Top lane position was filled by the godlike Reapered, both one of the strongest and most clutch players at his position and the shot-caller of the team.
Moving down from the Top lane, Blaze appeared to have advantages at other positions too. Ambition was a powerful mid laner, and while RapidStar had yet to fall from grace, this was hardly a match-up one could call as being definitely in his favour. The bottom lane advantage certainly seemed to side with Blaze, as CaptainJack was the insta-cleansing Sivir beast many still fondly remember him as, put opposite the inexperience of Woong's debut season at the position. MadLife had already begun his path to deification, but in S2 the power of the Support couldn't necessarily overcome the strength of a solid AD Carry.
Despite Frost going on to take the title, this was a match-up Blaze could reasonably have won. They didn't, letting it get to a blind pick scenario and the power of the Frost line-up's smarts taking over there, but one can entertain the possibility of a CLG.EU vs. Blaze match-up.
This match-up actually looks even sexier on paper than the one who ended up being played. Reapered would battle Wickd, at the time a powerful second carry for CLG.EU and still effective prior to champion nerfs which have since haunted his form. Down in the Mid lane lay a true fan's dream match-up, as the powerful consistency of Ambition would lock horns with the monsterous mechanics of Froggen in full form. At this point in time there were discussions over whether Froggen was in fact the best LoL player in the entire world, not just Europe or the West.
In the bottom lane Lustboy and Cpt Jack faced a CLG.EU botlane more than comfortable with facing more skilled opponents, as Krepo and yellowpete had made a living off being able to go even or stay close enough in the lane race to ensure the others could carry the game late.
Not only is this a sexier on-paper match-up, it's also one which could well have yielded that elusive major international championship for a CLG.EU side at the zenith of their style's potency. Blaze's powerful mid-top combo would have matched directly with CLG.EU's in a test of continental supremacy.
3. We meet again - GG vs. CJB (IEM VII World Championship)
Event: IEM VII World Championship
The final that was: CJ Entus Frost vs. CJ Entus Blaze
The final that could have been: Gambit Gaming vs. CJ Entus Blaze
Just the mention of IEM Katowice is enough to get most Western LoL fans alert and standing to attention. Asia has ruled the roust for long enough that it easy to forget that this very year a Western team not only stood toe-to-toe with Korea's finest, but beat them out-right. At IEM VII Katowice Gambit famously beat Frost 2:0 and then Blaze 2:0 to win the event and send the Koreans back home minus a trophy.
When the IEM VII World Championship rolled around, less than two months later, the mouth-watering prospect of a similar bracket awaited, with Gambit against drawn against Frost in the semi-final and with Blaze on course to reach the final. This time around Frost edged the series 2:1 and went on to face their sister team in the grand final. When Frost lost 1:3 to Blaze it signaled what was ultimately the beginning of Blaze's run of dominance, which would have ended with an OGN title, had MVP Ozone not upset the part in May.
The most impressive part of Gambit's run in Poland was that they had played Blaze the first day and lost, so in theory Blaze could have informed Frost on how to face-off against the Russians. Then, when Gambit swept Frost, the reigning OGN champions could, and likely did, give pointers to Blaze on what to do. That neither Korean team could make any significant use of such information, both falling without a single game win, helped elevate Gambit's run to the stuff of legend.
Had Gambit defeated Frost in the semi-final in Hanover, not only would the same scenario have been playing out, with a simple storyline everyone could have easily understood, but Blaze would have faced the ultimate test of the sister team relationship. Where the Katowice final was a Bo3, the World Championship final was Bo5. Gambit had never played a Bo5 to that point in time, while Blaze had a lot of experience playing in that format over in OGN. Would a Bo5 have been enough to allow Blaze to solve the Gambit puzzle? Would Gambit have broken under the unrelenting power of the neo-Blaze composition?
The match-up certainly had its glittering match-ups: Ambition's consistency up agaisnt Alex Ich's famed aggression, teetering between chaos and control. The godly Flame put up faced with the unpredictable enigma that is Darien. This would have been a great East meets West Bo5 match-up that legitimately could have gone both ways and with so many different possible permutations possible.
2. One last time around the greatest European rivalry - M5 vs. CLG.EU (S2 Regional Finals EU)
Event: Season 2 Regional Finals Europe
The final that was: Moscow Five vs. SK Gaming
The final that could have been: Moscow Five vs. Counter Logic Gaming Europe
The article began with the possibility of a classic European rivalry being renewed, with fnatic facing SK Gaming, but pretty much everyone went into the Regional Finals for Europe expecting to see another chapter in the M5 vs. CLG.EU rivalry. At the time they were not only the two best European teams, but considered two of the top five teams in the entire world. Moscow Five had been masters of Europe and CLG.EU had reached the semi-final of OGN Champions Summer, the furthest any foreign team had gone in either of the competition's two season.
The two teams had a history that added up to a true rivalry, having each won significant tournaments against each other. CLG.EU had begun with the advantage, winning that epic group stage game at Dreamhack Summer and then the final 2:0 over the, then, undefeated Russian titans. At ECC Poland M5 fans might have been worried about more of the same, with another group stage loss to Froggen and company, but this time it was M5 sweeping the final, winning 2:0. In Cologne all eyes expected the third chapter in the trilogy, the rubber match if you will. Both teams at the peak of their powers, both teams battling to claim the top spot in the region.
What makes this final not happening so sad is that beyond this point the two teams would never meet again in a series while still at their peaks. They both had successes still to come, from top four finishes at the S2 World Championship to Gambit's Katowice win and CLG.EU's runner-up in OGN, but never again did they meet with both in form. In the third place decider of LCS Summer this year, the two renewed their acquaintance in a series, with Gambit beating out EG to take the final Worlds spot, but it was hardly the same.
1. The Kings of Season 2 fight for the crown - M5 vs. AZF (S2 World Championship)
Event: Season 2 World Championship
The final that was: Taipei Assassins vs. Azubu Frost
The final that could have been: Moscow Five vs. Azubu Frost
On first glance the Season 2 World Championship victory of Taipei Assassins seemed like a fluke. They had been far down the list of most observers' expected champions, behind names like Azubu Frost, Moscow Five, CLG.EU and TSM. Of all the big names in attendance, it was hard to make a case that TPA would be your S2 champions. Yet the very manner in which TPA won is what made their victory to convincing and added such a stamp of legitimacy to the venture.
In the quarter-finals they bested MaKNooN's NaJin Sword, winners of the Korean qualifier, 2:0. In the semi-finals they met the mighty Moscow Five, who had only lost one offline Bo3 in their career. Again TPA shined, this time pulling out of a tight three map series to reach the final. In the final they faced Frost, if M5 had not been able to stop TPA, then surely the best Korean team would finish them in a Bo5? As it turned out Frost were unable to win even two games, with TPA taking the title and the $1,000,000 in four games.
Back in that semi-final, where M5 had taken game one, a win for the Russians and a spot in the final was a very realistic outcome. M5 looked to be their dominant selves in that first game, but the second game showed TPA could deliver a beating of their own. The decider was much closer, with M5 keeping their deaths under control but unable to avoid giving up turrets. Had M5 have been able to pull out the series it would have set-up was might be the all-time dream final in LoL history: M5 vs. Frost in S2.
Moscow Five were the undisputed kings of Europe, even that brief Dreamhack unseating from CLG.EU had not changed that. Yet they had not ventured outside of the borders of the continent, leaving TSM to clean up the trophies and tournaments of their region. Frost had similarly remained in their region, reaching both OGN finals and winning the second. Now all the forum discussions over which of LoL's kings could be decided. Frost had slain TSM, which, along with Blaze's destruction of the North Americans at the MLG Summer Arena, had taken NA out of the equation for the time being. Now it would have been down to Europe's kings facing Korea's kings, with the ultimate title on the line.
Instead the team from Taiwan snuck in and stole out the title from under everyone's noses and the dream final was not to be.
Photo Credits: eslphotos, Riot Games, OnGameNet, dailyesports, Taipei Assassins