The eSports scene has been discreetly lurking in the background of mainstream sports events for many years now, stretching back to the halcyon days of Starcraft’s Brood War expansion, which went on to become a widely-televised national sensation in South Korea. Players would become highly-regarded celebrities on the level of athletes from more traditional sports, sometimes training up to twelve hours a day to gain mastery over every aspect of the strategy game. As gaming has surged in popularity, so too have eSports. And with the meteoric rise of League of Legends as one of gaming’s premiere multiplayer competitive games, paired with the advent of Twitch, an online livestreaming service dedicated to gaming, it wasn’t long until the League of Legends Championship Series was the most popular eSport of all time, breaking online viewing figures and setting a record for the largest prize pool in online gaming history with one million dollars taken by the first-place team at the Season Two LCS, the Taipei Assassins.
Now, after months of gruelling battles on the lanes of Summoner’s Rift, two teams are poised to duke it out for the Summoner’s Cup at the Season Three World Championship Grand Finals in a sold-out Staples Centre. But how did they get there? Join us as we recap the journey of the Season Three LCS and the players who have brought us hours of exciting battles and tense showdowns.
The teams have been duking it out since February, at the LCS Spring Split. Curse took an early lead in the North American tournament, not dropping a single game until the fourth week of the ten-week series. Close behind them at this point were Dignitas, and the two teams looked set to take the first and second places in the league. However, Team SoloMid had been playing consistently and winning the vast majority of their games, while Curse and Dignitas grew sloppy, culminating in the tenth week of the tournament, a “super week” with twenty games instead of the usual ten, where Curse only won a single game out of the five they played, allowing SoloMid to sneak in and steal the first-place spot right out from under them. Meanwhile, in the European tournament, Fnatic and Gambit Gaming dominated the scene, resulting in a one-game difference by the end of the series, with Fnatic taking first place and Gambit taking second with 22 and 21 wins respectively, and SK Gaming and Evil Geniuses taking third and fourth with 17 and 15 wins.
After the spring split came the promotional tournament, which saw the teams who hadn’t secured their place in the next series fighting to maintain their spot in the league. In North America, we saw the introduction of Cloud 9 and Velocity and the exit of compLexity and Team MRN, while in Europe Dragonborns, Ozone Giants and Against All Authority bowed out while Lemondogs, Meet Your Makers and Team Alternate stepped up to the plate.
Between the promotional tournaments and the Summer Split, the 2013 All-Stars event happened in Shanghai. Here, fans voted for the best player from each position from each region, to comprise an all-star team to battle against other international all-star teams. The team chosen for North America was composed of Team SoloMid’s top-laner Dyrus, Curse’s jungler Saintvicious, Dignitas’ mid-laner Scarra (with a whopping 50% of the votes), with Counter Logic Gaming’s Doublelift playing AD carry and SoloMid’s Xpecial supporting him. Meanwhile, Europe’s All-Star team had Fnatic’s sOAZ on top lane, Gambit’s Diamond in the jungle, Alex Ich of Gambit in the mid lane and Yellowpete of Evil Geniuses ADC’ing while supported by Gambit’s EDward on bottom lane. Despite the strong choices of the fans, neither team ended up winning the tournament, which instead was dominated by Korea’s team. However, the purpose of the tournament was for more than just bragging rights – each team who placed would get an automatic by into the quarter-final of the World Championship for their region, for the winners of the Summer Split. As Europe lost the tournament outright without a single win, they were the only region who did not automatically get a place in the quarter-finals.
Moving onto the Summer Split, and the new teams are hungry for blood. CLG Doublelift, infamous for his loose tongue and acerbic jabs at other teams and players, says in an interview that Velocity is “the worst team in North America”. Rising to the challenge, Velocity win their game against CLG immediately after Doublelift’s remark. Sadly this ended up being one of their only wins of the tournament, as they finished with 5 wins to 23 losses. On the other side of the coin, Cloud 9, the other new team promoted into the Summer Split, proceeded to ruthlessly dominate the veterans of the scene, only losing a mere 3 games out of their 28 played. Vulcun managed to claim second place with twenty wins and SoloMid placed in third, with extraordinary three-way tie occurring for fourth place between Curse, Dignitas and CLG, with thirteen wins apiece. Over in Europe, the newly-promoted Lemondogs ended up securing their first place with eighteen wins, while an even more extraordinary four-way tie made for second place shared between Fnatic, Gambit, Evil Geniuses and Ninjas In Pyjamas (whose mid-laner, Bjergsen, actually had to miss the first fortnight of the tournament due to age restrictions since he was only sixteen. After turning seventeen and being allowed to play, he then scored a pentakill in his first week, an extremely rare achievement where one player manages to kill every member of the opposing team in a short space of time. Hell of a birthday present, that).
After the Summer Split came the regionals, to determine which teams would progress to Worlds. Cloud 9 again dominated the playoffs, gaining an automatic placing in the quarter-finals of the world championships, while Team SoloMid and Vulcun gained their place in the group stages. Due to Europe’s loss at All-Stars, no team would gain a quarter-finals place, but the three teams who emerged victorious to enter the group stages were Lemondogs, Fnatic and Gambit.
Matched up against teams from China, Korea and Southeast Asia, the European and North American teams had an uphill struggle against some of the best players in the world to secure their places in the quarter finals. In Group A, the Chinese team OMG took an early lead and maintained it, shortly joined by the Korean team SK Telecom T1. After failing to secure a spot in the quarterfinals for their teams, the members of Team SoloMid and GamingGear.eu (the winners of the International Wildcard tournament, who hadn’t won a single game at worlds at this point) decided to have a silly, fun match where TSM’s mid-laner, Reginald, decided to finally lock in one of League’s most-loved and most-loathed champions: Teemo, the Swift Scout (it’s a running gag in the competitive scene to pretend to choose Teemo, who is considered poor at high-level play, to troll the crowd shortly before choosing a viable champion. The crowd always cheer for Teemo despite the fact that they know he’ll never be locked in, and the applause and cheers when Reginald selected Teemo for real had to be heard to be believed). Meanwhile, in Group B, things where a lot more tense, as despite Fnatic dominating the group thanks to consistently outstanding performances by xPeke, the mid-laner, Gambit ended up neck-and-neck with Vulcun by the end of the group stages, leading to a tiebreaker situation. Despite their best efforts and an excellent match, Vulcun lost and both European teams progressed to the quarter-finals.
The teams already placed in the quarter-finals – Korea’s NaJin Black Sword, China’s Royal Club, Southeast Asia’s Gamania Bears and America’s Cloud 9 – drew their quarter-final opponents randomly, who they would go on to face in a best-of-three series. Despite a valiant attempt, Gambit was knocked out of the tournament by the Korean champions NaJin Black Sword in a 2-1 defeat. Meanwhile, Fnatic faced off against Cloud 9 in a highly-anticipated showdown – the only remaining American team against the only remaining European team. Despite overwhelming odds, the powerhouse of Fnatic beat Cloud 9 in a 2-1 series and progressed to face off against Royal Club in the semi-finals. SKTT1 squared off against their opponent NaJin Black Sword in a Korea versus Korea showdown, culminating in a 3-2 win for SKTT1, securing their place in the grand final. Last Saturday, European eSports fans were on the edge of their seats as Fnatic faced Royal Club for their place in the final. Could Europe’s juggernaut of a team push aside the Chinese champions to challenge SKTT1 for the Summoner’s Cup?
Royal Club took an early lead in their series, going 2-0 up against Fnatic in a pair of tense games. With everything on the line, Fnatic pushed back and completely steamrolled Royal in the next game, managing to end up 24-1 in kills against Royal. Sadly, the Chinese team proved too much to handle for the European team, and Royal proceeded to take the next game, the series, and their place in the final. Despite the loss, every single game in the series was an exciting match, with some amazing plays and some of the best gaming skill I’ve ever seen in my life. The videos for each match are available on Youtube – if you’re into League at all then I highly recommend that you do not miss these matches.
With the stage set for the grand final, Korea’s SKTT1 and China’s Royal Club prepare to do battle for the Season Three Summoner’s Cup, and the grand prize of one million dollars. The best-of-five series will be broadcasted live from the sold-out Staples Centre at 4AM GMT on Saturday morning (of course, they had to choose an appropriate time both for a live event in America and for the Asian market to watch at – unfortunately Europe takes the timezone hit here). But no matter what time it’s on at, I’ll be tuning in to Twitch to watch with baited breath as these two expert teams clash in the arena of wits, reflexes, tactical thinking and teamwork – the lanes of Summoner’s Rift.
I’ll be watching. Will you?
[Words, Ross Brennan]
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!