Article by James Chen
The first week of the League of Legends 2014 World Championship has come and gone , and like Typhoon Fung-wong's visit on the last day of the spectacle, rained its fair share of drama across the international field. Though the concluding results were largely within expectations, there were some close shaves—Taiwan's own ahq e-Sports Club, largely written off in the face of the threat posed by Samsung White and Edward Gaming, rallied in a show of strength and came within a tiebreaker game of advancing to the Busan, South Korean quarterfinals stage.
But the teams of Groups A and B are only half of the contenders for the world championship title—and the remainders are all the premier heavyweights of League of Legends competitive play. These are the names to know as the pan-Asian Worlds circuit reaches the city-state of Singapore.
Roster – Paul "sOAZ" Boyer, Lauri "Cyanide" Happonen, Enrique "xPeke" Cedeno Martinez, Martin "Rekkles" Larsson, Bora "Yellowstar" Kim
Fnatic's one of the best-known and most popular European teams in the circuit, and not entirely due to xPeke 's tendency to wander around taking shirtless selfies of himself. Despite the EU LCS teams' infamous parity, with 2013 featuring a four-way tiebreaker for second place at the end of the group stage, Fnatic has come out time and again as the king of the hill. They've won three of the four half-season playoffs in the last two years, making them the region's most consistent team when it matters most.
When it doesn't matter, they're at least dramatic. Xpeke's claimed his place in the scene's growing lexicon for his reckless antics, sneaking through the enemy's side of the map to enter their base while they're busy elsewhere, securing victory by single-handedly taking out the win condition. The "xPeke Backdoor" is symptomatic of the team's play style: they go for ambushes and unexpected plays, winning by virtue of obfuscation and surprise. Though they don't always have the cleanest victories, they've nonetheless managed to peak last year as a Worlds semifinalist—and with ace rookie Rekkles, considered one of Europe's best in his role, they're out for more.
Samsung Blue (South Korea)
Roster – Choi "Acorn" Cheon-ju, Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon, Bae "dade" Uh-jin, Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu, Lee "Heart" Gwan-hyung
Last year, mid-laner Dade came into Worlds expecting an easy conquest through his group – the distance between South Korean e-sports infrastructure and the rest of the world was and remains profound, and the savvy expectation was for any top-ranked Korean team to breeze through the competition. At the time, he was considered one of the scene's best individual players, having conquered the Korean circuit in the spring of 2013. But a half-year later, the game's changed on him, he was pushed out of his comfort zone, and his performance on the world stage was nothing short of a travesty in the mind of Korean fans.
To Dade's credit, he's come back stronger than ever, and to Blue's credit, they're well in position to take on the world at large. Yet again, Dade's team was the "king of spring," winning OGN Champions earlier this year, but the changes since have barely shaken them: they were within a single game of taking the title again in the summer, losing to KT Rolster Arrows in a dramatic full-fledged five-game set, and are considered co-dominant alongside sister team Samsung White. Just as White dominated their group, Blue is expected to lead Group C. And Dade will get his redemption.
Roster – Gao "Gogoing" Diping, Yin "Loveling" Le, Yu "Cool" Jiajun, Guo "San" Junliang, Fang "Dada777" Hongri
Between their ominous black shirts and Gogoing's formidable physical presence and play style, team OMG reigned over the Chinese scene as the "gangsters" of 2013. They dominated the region's LoL Pro League in aggressive fashion—their "freight train" strategy was the definitive establishment of the region's play style since, encouraging imitations of their in-your-face brawling tactics well into 2014. Notably, they were the only non-Korean team to take a game off Season 3 World Champions SKT T1 K, and commonly considered the second-strongest team that year—except that they ran into Royal Club in the playoffs, losing to the one team in the world that had their number.
OMG lost some of that prominence and glory as the seasons changed and team Edward Gaming took over the spotlight. The new "super team" of China seemed to have their crosshairs meticulously calibrated to take on the former number ones—and fractious internal changes have shaken an otherwise indomitable team: support player Dada7 is a new addition, and his unwieldy synergy with San has led to dropped games against teams OMG used to steamroll over. Their hopes lie in jungler Loveling's return to form, as the man once considered the single best player in the entire region struggles to keep his team relevant.
LMQ (North America)
Roster – Xiao "Ackerman" Wang, Zhou "NoName" Qilin, Yu "XiaoWeiXiao" Xian, Li "Vasilii" Weijun, Zhang "Mor" Hongwei
The beginning of the 2014 season brought along a storm of controversy. A combination of North America's poor showing at the Season 3 World Championship, yet comparatively superior e-sports support, drew in a surge of ambitious challengers eager for a path onto the world stage through a reputedly weak region. LMQ was among the many, but had a number of notable exceptions to their case—first, unlike the Korean Quantic Gaming, they paid their dues by spending months terrorizing by amateur-level North American Challenger Series. Second, unlike the European-led Evil Geniuses, they actually did succeed in breaking through to the very top of the region, holding first place in the NA LCS rankings for weeks at a time.
They did so by being mindblowingly aggressive. Vasilii in particular might have named himself after the famous Soviet sniper, but plays more like a John Woo protagonist: a gun in each fist, and leaping straight into the action. Plays that would get anybody else sent packing into respawn somehow work out for LMQ, as if their enemies hesitate just long enough, in disbelief that anybody'd actually try their sort of stunts.
Roster – Mike "Wickd" Petersen, Ilyas "Shook" Hartsema, Henrik "Froggen" Hansen, Erik "Tabzz" Van Helvert, Patrick "Nyph" Funke
It's no secret that e-sports organizations Alliance and Evil Geniuses have a very close working relationship, and it superficially made sense that they would expand their operations across two continents by sending one brand to North America while keeping at least part of the team in Europe. What was surprising was their willingness to completely split the 2013 Evil Geniuses roster in half to do so—surprising, but also extremely promising.
Mid laner Froggen is one of the foremost players in the world, period. Even as the South Korean scene took over and competition everywhere matured, his name remains spoken of in the same breath as Faker, Dade and every other legend. Alliance, in many ways, is his personal project – a hand-picked roster by him and Wickd to produce a team that would dominate Europe and eventually take the entire world. That ambition suffered a rough start in the spring, but began to flower in a dominant summer run. It will take the international competition, and a highly anticipated showdown with NaJin White Shield, to show if their efforts will bear fruit.
Cloud 9 (North America)
Roster – An "Balls" Le, William "Meteos" Hartman, Hai Lam, Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi, Daerek "LemonNation" Hart
Before 2013, the players of North America's strongest overall team were almost totally unknown to the community at-large. Though the amateur circuit knew that the former Quantic roster had strong players, they were largely overshadowed by the scene veterans on Curse, Counter Logic Gaming, TSM and Dignitas, and their failures to qualify for the first split of Season 3 further obscured their talents.
Then they broke out in the following summer, and never looked back. Cloud 9 is a dominant force in North American gaming, and the organization's steady expansion through the fields of competitive play has its League of Legends team as its powerful mainspring. It's as hard in North America as anywhere else to remain a frontrunner, culminating with allied organization Team Solomid's 2014 summer playoffs triumph over them, but Cloud 9 is the last team anybody in the region will take lightly. Balls, in particular, is more than an awkward name for casters – Rumble's recent appearance in the Taiwanese group stage promises a return of one of his classic and most beloved champions.
KaBuM! E-Sports (Brazil)
Roster – Pedro "LEP" Luiz Marcari, Daniel "Danagorn" Drummond, Thago "TinOwns" Sartori, Gustavo "Minerva" Alves, Daniel "Dans" Dias
North America wasn't the only continent bedeviled by upstarts looking for an easier path to the world stage. Brazil, with access to the International Wildcard ticket, attracted a number of South Korean transfers too: Han "Lactea" Gihyun and Kim "Olleh" Joo-sung, in particular, found some level of success on PaiN Gaming, and even attracted the help of former NaJin Black Sword star Maknoon as an advisory overseas coach.
But it wasn't any of the international hybrid attempts that ultimately clinched the spot. The all-native KaBuM! Team struck back for the pride of their region's players, successfully coming back from a string of tournament losses to the hybrid teams to clinch what mattered most: a ride to Singapore, and a chance to prove Brazilian might before the world audience.
NaJin White Shield (South Korea)
Roster – Baek "Save" Young-jin, Cho "Watch" Jae-geol, Yu "Ggoong" Byeong-jin, Lee "Zefa" Jae-min, Kang "Gorilla" Beom-hyeon
White Shield's growth has been slow and steady – sister team Black Sword attracted all the attention with back-to-back NLB championships (the precursor stage before the prestigious OGN Champions circuit), while Shield's reputation was stuck as a competent but slow and defensive team through most of Season 3. As the seasons passed and their players grew in experience, however, the signs of a breakout team began to manifest: top laner Save grew into one of the most dominant players in a region with a reputation for world-class top laners, while Watch's transfer to the team brought the direction of a jungler who has now succeeded in attaining his third Worlds appearance in a row – the most of any Asian player.
But the difference between a well-respected team and a well-feared one is night and day, and there is now clear reason to fear Shield. Their advance through the South Korean regionals tournament was transcendental, plowing through OGN summer champions KT Rolster Arrows, KT Rolster Bullets, and even former world champions SKT T1 K in a streak that defied all expectations of the team.
Defensive? Passive? Not Shield. Not anymore. This Shield is the sort they use to bash in skulls and shatter swords.