Someday it will no longer be a story when a team from one of League of Legends’ more remote regions beats a team from one of the big four. Today showed that day may almost be here.
The CIS region hasn’t produced a world class competitor since Moscow Five emerged from Russia and shocked the League of Legends scene in 2012. But this year, the introduction of the LCL, the CIS region’s own version of the LCS, has given them a new launching pad to challenge on the international stage.
And so far, Albus NoX Luna, the CIS team that narrowly survived the wild card championship, looks like they not only deserve to be there, but that they might have a realistic shot at surviving the group.
Today they scored their first win of the event by taking down America’s Spring champions Counter Logic Gaming, giving the mix of Russian and Ukrainian players a 1-1 record tied with both CLG and Europe’s top contender G2 Esports.
“As soon as we’re representing our region, we expect the best for us,” support player Kirril “Likkrit” Malofeyev, who posted a strong 3/4/10 KDA with Tahm Kench, told the sideline reporter after the match. “The thing is this group is pretty interesting because CLG won G2, G2 won CLG. You know what this means. I expect that we can have a shot of getting to quarterfinals, so good luck to us.”
Albus NoX picked a heavy poke composition after CLG handed them deadly jungler Nidalee in exchange for their own Syndra, who has dominated mid lane matchups so far at Worlds. Mid laner Mykhailo “Kira” Harmash took Jayce into Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun’s Syndra, and despite pressure from CLG jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, Kira and Albux NoX managed to build a mid lane lead, exploiting one of CLG’s perceived weaknesses heading into Worlds.
Even so, the match remained close through 30 minutes until CLG moved for an ill-fated Baron where they couldn’t survive against Albus NoX’s poke, HuHi falling in a solo fight against NoX’s top laner before the rest of his team was wiped, giving the CIS region’s top competitor a window to push and end the game.
“We don’t care about slow game or if something is risky or not,” Likkrit said. “In Russia, we just play the game, because otherwise it is not interesting, not for us, not for viewers. So we just try to do our best and be as entertaining as possible.”
So far, so good. While wild card regions regularly score upsets against the big regions—North America, Europe, China, Korea, and Taiwan—they’re usually one-off wins, low probability events. Supermassive, for example, upset CLG at the Midseason Invitational, but that didn’t stop the Americans from reaching the finals. Right now, Albux NoX Luna only has that one token win wild card teams seem to score at every international event. But they look like a team that deserved the win, and may have the tools to score another one.
Yesterday it looked like CLG was in the driver’s seat after they blitzed G2 Esports and showed the world Europe might be suspect. Today, CLG is the team that looks like they may not belong.
Group A is now anyone’s game, thanks to solid play from the CIS region’s first international graduate from their new league.