Behind China’s thriving ‘League of Legends’ scene

In "First Blood," Ferguson Mitchell dissects the week that was in League of Legends, the most popular esport in the world

Photo via Riot Games

In “First Blood,” Ferguson Mitchell dissects the week that was in League of Legends, the most popular esport in the world.

Korea’s dominance in League of Legends is, at this point, indisputable. But elsewhere, teams are searching for ways to to close the gap.

The closest contender thus far is China, which fielded two teams to the World Championships. One of them, Royal Club, ended up taking the silver medal, just behind Korea’s SKT T1 K.

China’s premier League of Legends tournament, the League Pro League (LPL), started up late last month. It features some new teams, new players, and most importantly, a new drive to finally dethrone their neighborly rivals.

Here’s a quick rundown of the top teams competing in the other best league in the world.

Team WE

These guys are the Yankees of Chinese esports. They were the first esports club formed in China and have gained recognition in pretty much every strategy game known to man, including Warcraft 3StarCraft 2Dota, and now, League of Legends. They dominated at first, taking home first place after first place.

But in late 2013, they seemed to hit a road bump. After placing fourth in the LPL Spring Playoffs and third at LPL Summer, WE found itself without an invite to the prestigious League World Championships.

Then, disaster struck during the offseason, when former analyst Ji “Aaron” Xing left the team to form his own and took several players along with him. WE didn’t take it too hard; it calmly plugged the holes Xing left in his wake and have rebounded from their uncharacteristic 2013 season. Now, WE’s undefeated and on top of the LPL once again.

Oh My God (OMG)

OMG, the other undefeated team in LPL so far, have a much shorter legacy, but the team quickly becoming a powerhouse. After qualifying for the spring season, OMG went 21-7 and ended up taking first place in the playoffs. They took second place in the summer and went on to the World Championships, where they even took a game off SKT T1 K, the eventual winners.

OMG has youth on its side and will be looking for a repeat performance this year.

Royal Club

2013 was a Cinderella story for the Royal Club. After a fifth place finish in the spring, nobody expected greatness. But summer saw the team end up tied for second with two other teams with a shared 13-8 record. Because the first place team, OMG, already had a World Championships Qualifier invite, it fell on the next two teams, one of which was Royal Club.

A fire was lit under the team, especially veterans Pun-Wai “Wh1t3zZ” Lo and Pak-Kan “Tabe” Wong, who were close to retirement. They put together one of the most impressive runs in League history. After sweeping the Chinese qualifiers, Royal Club topped some of the best teams in the world, including rivals WE, to meet with the Korean team SKT T1 K in the Grand Finals.

They lost 3-0, but for Royal Club, it was enough. WE took home a $250,000 purse and shortly thereafter, Lo and Wong retired. Now, Royal Club seeks to re-establish its strength, and will be working out the kinks in the new roster as 2014 gets underway.

Invictus Gaming (iG)

Invictus has had its fair share of ups and downs since their formation in 2011. IG took first in the 2012 Regional Finals, fell to third in the spring of 2013, then fifth in the fall. The team started out 2014, however, with a first place finish at the Demacia Cup, a small invitational with the top Chinese teams, where it took wins over Royal Club and WE.

The team is headlined by mid laner Liu “PDD” Mou, who became known as China’s best player at that position after his performance in the 2013 All-Stars tournament. He’ll be instrumental towards solidifying this team’s inconsistent play. And iG’ll need it; the team’s only won one of its six regular season games so far.

Edward Gaming (EDG)

Despite the drama surrounding its formation, complete with a fake dead girlfriend scandal, EDG managed to compile one of the strongest rosters in Chinese progaming history. Marksman Zhu “NaMei” Jia-Wen led his former team, Positive Energy, to a first place finish in the LPL Summer Playoffs. Others, like jungler Ming “ClearLove” Kai have similarly strong experiences in their past. EDG has three wins and only one loss, and it looks to only get better as the roster continues to practice together.

The rest

Rounding out the rest of the league are LGD Gaming, Energy Pacemaker.HK, and Positive Energy. The former two are fairly new teams to the scene and will be spending the first few series just establishing themselves in the LPL.

Positive Energy, on the other hand, is coming off a first place finish at the last LPL season, with one major footnote—it lost almost all of its roster from 2013. New faces combine with old as Positive Energy seek to regain their footing. So far, things aren’t looking too bright for the rebuilt team. It currently sits in last place with six games lost, and zero wins.

Whichever team you are cheering for, one thing is clear about this season of the LPL: Chinese teams are stepping up their game as they seek to challenge their Korean rivals, and with many new teams looking to make a splash, competition will be as stiff as ever. You can check out all the action over at the LPL main site, or if you’re like me and don’t speak a lick of Chinese, the Reddit thread compiling all the matches and results.

Power rankings of things I like

1) The Copenhagen Wolves

4-0 over the last two weeks, these guys are still just tied for fourth in the European League Championship Series. But (and this is a huge but), consistency in the LCS is way, way more important than being supremely talented. And the Wolves are showing that they have the stamina and cohesion necessary to compete at their best even after two full months of competition. Several more wins could see them nearing the top of the rankings.

2) Curse Academy

This North American challenger team (read, semipro) is currently 8-1 in the independent North American Challenger League, which features the best of the non-LCS teams. It’s put together some really solid wins, and I hope it can make it in the LCS promotional tournament to vie for a spot in the premier league.

3) The people behind r/LoLeventVODs

These superfans document every pro game they can get their hands on, then link to them all for any visitor to enjoy. They even developed a surprisingly useful app that makes it easy for mobile esports viewers to access the games easily. They’ve won me over; definitely check them out if you’re interested.

4) Jamie “Sheep” Gallagher

The new support for XDG, whose woes I documented last week, seems to have already made a big impact to tvel-koz, the last place team in North America. The 4-12 team still has a long way to go, but Gallagher’s 13 assists and a kill against last year’s champs, Cloud 9, was a big reason that XDG pulled out a win last week. Keep up the good work.

5) Vel’Koz

The newest champion for League hit live servers this week, and man, is he a lot of fun to play with. He may not hit the pro scene immediately (mobility seems a major concern), but if the stars align, he can dish out some of the nastiest damage I’ve ever seen. Definitely something to keep a watch out for him.

6) SK Gaming

I’ll be the first to admit it: I had some serious doubts about this team going into the 2014 season. They lost four of the five people on the team but have somehow gone 9-7 this season, good enough for third place going into Week 8. Props to SK for keeping the ship afloat and finding a way to succeed in the face of extreme difficulty.

7) “Moobeat

The eccentrically named contributor over at fan website Surrender @ 20 (a reference to the 20-minute delay before anybody in a game can initiate a surrender vote), he’s been busy breaking new patch notes and public beta changes on a constant basis. If you want to know what’s changing within League, he’s the one to turn to. A great resource for myself, along with many others.

Social of the week

Jeffery Lin of Riot Games has been tweeting avidly this past week in preparation of the “Team Builder Live Beta.” This beta is testing out a new way for people to find their way into a game of League, one that Lin and his team hope will resolve a lot of conflicts between players when choosing which positions to play before each game.

The proposed changes would have players selecting which role they want to play before pressing “Play,” and would then match them with those who want to fill out the rest of the team. The current system, which matches players with no knowledge of who wants to play which position, can sometimes match together players who want to play the same position. This kind of conflict, while minor, can sometimes escalate and ruin the game for everyone. Another big thing to keep an eye out for, and I appreciate his efforts.

Have questions about Team Builder? We’re setting up some discussions on the forums talking about its design soon! #LeagueOfLegends

— Jeffrey Lin (@RiotLyte) March 3, 2014

Picture of the week

North American LCS team Cloud 9 was shooting a commercial this last week, but not without a stray tweet escaping of mid laner Hai Du Lam in the hot tub with an unknown actress. Nerds sipping booze with girls in hot tubs… somewhere, a Super Bowl ad agency is taking notes.

. @Hai_L9 doing his first hot tub acting scene for the @HyperX series video! @Cloud9gg

— Jenabella (@JenaBellaLoL) March 3, 2014

Best laid plans

I was originally going to have a little bit more League info here, but then this happened:

My wife’s car was parked on the street and got slammed into. No injuries, but we’re definitely going to have to get a new one; the Corolla, which she affectionately referred to as “Ducky,” is totalled.

It serves as a lesson, sometimes a little too harshly, about the best laid plans, and the small, uncontrollable details that can cast them aside at a whim.

My wife had been slacking a bit—plans to replace her brakes and change her oil had been put off more times than I could count (mostly due to work-related business and stress). She is starting a brand new job tomorrow, one that will allow her more time to think and to take care of the little things in life like car repair.

Now, she won’t have that chance.

In a way (a tiny way), it’s a blessing. We save about half a grand by not having to take her now-dead car to the dealership. Instead, we’re facing new challenges, like having to deal with insurance companies, grungy tow truck drivers, and the eventual car replacement.

It all comes down to preparedness. We’re down, but far from out, because we prepared for moments like this. We have insurance; we have a functional second car. A small ding I had a few weeks ago means I know exactly how to handle a collision—information that came in handy in this much more severe situation.

Being prepared is perhaps one of the most important qualities for a sporting team, as well. Take a look at the NFL—the Green Bay Packers, this year, lost their superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers for seven weeks with a broken collarbone.

The Packers had gone all-in with Rodgers, and without him, had to scramble with mediocre backups (Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien), until they eventually settled on Matt Flynn, whom had been dropped off the roster two seasons prior. The team finally stabilized under Flynn, but not without a 2-5-1 record. The Packers barely scraped into the postseason.

Similar situations can be said for esports. Counter Logic Gaming’s Marcel “Dexter” Feldkamp, who was turned around at the U.S. border, has proven integral to CLG’s plans this year. They’ve gone 7-1 since he joined up with the team in Week 4 of the League Championship Series. Without him? 4-4.

Learning how to deal with unfortunate scenarios is key in sports. A common phrase I like to use is: “A team is only as strong as they are right now.” You can point to wins, you can point to a legacy, but the truth is, you are only as good as your team is at game time, not under ideal situations. The Packers know that. CLG knows that. And now, unfortunately, so do my wife and I.

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