The biggest upset in League of Legends history just happened at IEM
GE Tigers entered the tournament as massive favorites. It’s hard to understate how far ahead of the field they were entering the tournament. The team posted an undefeated 10-0 record in the world’s best league, the LCK in Korea, winning 20 maps against 2 map losses. The squad features unstoppable team fighting
Team WE came to Poland with the worst record of any in the competition, a ragged squad struggling to survive the LPL in China. Losing their first 10 games and ranking second to last in the standings, they were a team with little hope.
On paper, the matchup is a slaughter. Any reasonable evaluation would give the underdog a single-digit percentage chance of winning a full best-of-three series.
This weekend, Team WE decided to substitute in a new mid laner and new marksman, the top two players in Chinese solo queue, something that should tip the scales even more in the indomitable GE Tigers' favor. How could a team, playing together for the first time ever, win an event like this one?
Simple—crush ‘em in the early game.
World Elite dazzled even in the first game of the best-of-three series, a losing effort, by challenging early and gaining a few thousand gold lead. Mid laner Su “xiye” Han-Wei, the top player on Chinese solo queue, showed why with great play on LeBlanc. But GE Tigers played their unwavering style, controlling the mid and late game with their team fighting prowess. Even behind on gold, it looked like the Tigers were in the lead.
In game two, the GE Tigers win seemed like a foregone conclusion after 16 minutes. They held a small gold lead after trading a death for a tower, despite letting Team WE secure a couple dragons. That set up a fateful fight at Dragon, where GE Tigers needed to stop Team WE from taking their third in the game. It seemed like the perfect situation for the Koreans, forcing GE Tigers into a team fight situation where their Rumble, Nami, and Yasuo could combo their way to a win. But Lee “Kur0” Seo-haeng missed his chance to Yasuo ult. A triple kill by new marksman Jin “Mystic” Seong-jun on Ezreal lead to an ace and a commanding lead for Team WE. They never looked back.
The final match was a showcase for what could be the best jungler in the world. GE Tigers left Rek’Sai up for Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon, and he punished them for it, taking over the early game and preventing GE Tigers from mustering a peep. Xiye’s Ahri was unstoppable, pulling off an insane solo kill against kur0 in the mid game to put an exclamation point on a breakout performance. This game, the deciding match where both teams needed to play their best, wasn’t close. It was a slaughter, but GE Tigers was on the receiving end.
“Everyone underestimated us,” Spirit said after the match. “They said we were the last place in the LPL. They said we weren’t going to win. This proves that we’re a great team.”
The upset easily ranks as the most surprising one in the history of League of Legends. World Elite, a poorly ranked team bringing in new players who in theory should lack synergy with the current lineup, against the most dominant team of the season. In this best-of-three, World Elite won as many maps as GE Tigers has lost in the LCK this split.
It's redemption for Xiye, a mid laner with talent but who has struggled to find the right place to show it, failing to consistently hold a starting spot on Team WE Academy through 2013 and 2014.
The same goes for top laner Peng "Aluka" Zhen-Ming, much maligned as one of the worst at the position in China, but who acquitted himself well in this series on Sion and Hecarim, against the most feared top laner on the planet, Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho.
For Spirit, it's salvation. He moved from last year’s version of GE Tigers, Samsung Galaxy Blue, to China and has suffered through a season where he’s been consistently downtrodden by his team’s poor results, despite his own stellar effort.
Then there's Mystic, who's absolved after replacing the most recognizable Chinese player on Team WE's lineup, the fiery Qu "Styz" Ziliang, a former superstar, and outperformed him.
And, of course, it's redemption for Team WE itself, originally World Elite, one of China’s oldest and most storied franchises. Starting as a Warcraft 3 team hosting legendary players like Li "Sky" Xiaofeng, the team will turn 10 years old in April, and boasts the biggest fanbase of any in China—and likely the world. Their results in League of Legends this season are a train wreck by their lofty standards, but IEM is a sign of hope.
The victory sets up a historic final, the first between two teams outside Korea in a major international tournament with Korean teams in attendance in recent memory. It also pits two of esports most storied franchise against each other
Team WE will face the next most popular team on the planet in the IEM finals, Team SoloMid. Long one of their regions top squads, but one that’s failed time and time again on the international stage, the Americans finally look ready to change that. They’ve already beaten Team WE once at this tournament and looked primed to do it again. The team may still be all about Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, who has the skill to stand up to the Xiye we saw today, but they’ve also received top notch performance from Jason “WildTurtle” Tran. With two threats in their pocket and a better chance to prepare for what this new-look Team WE brings to the table than GE Tigers had, with only a handful of games to watch, Team SoloMid might be primed to win the tournament.
Or maybe not. Today’s victory over CJ Entus and the ensuing series win over GE Tigers might be the perfect storybook ending for their tournament, but the story does not end today.
Screengrab via esltv_lol/Twitch