Diamondprox - The Jungle's Once and Future King
"Bring ideas in and entertain them royally, for one of them may be the king."
-Mark Van Doren
The central narrative of last weekend's IEM IX Cologne tournament evolved from being the hype surrounding ROCCAT to Doublelift's chance to win his first offline title and finally finished with the revival of Danil 'Diamondprox' Reshetnikov. The Russian jungle icon showed his trademark innovation and flair for aggressive play, helping lead a new Gambit Gaming line-up to the sixth IEM title of his career.
The field of competition in Cologne had been significantly weaker than those in his five previous successful IEM championship campaigns, but the man who had established himself as one of the only Westerners who could truly be considered the best in the world at his position and arguably the greatest of all time, had once more brought the spotlight back onto his play. A three time MVP of offline tournaments, Diamondprox had, at least for most of his career, redefined the role of the jungler and the rest of the world could only look on and hope to learn from his example.
Once more, the world was reminded of the legacy of Diamondprox: innovator, duelist, champion and jungle star.
The lynchpin of a new empire
When Moscow Five stormed the Western scene with their victories at IEM VI Kiev and the IEM VI World Championship, spanning a time period of less than two months, it was the aggressive and decisive approach of Jungler Diamondprox which caught the League of Legend world's attention. Synergising with unique Top laner Darien, Diamondprox's game was centered around invading the opponent's jungle, stealing away their camps or outright dueling them one-on-one.
TheOddOne had been known for counter-jungling the previous season, but the TSM jungler's approach was still one of playing the tanky champions and supporting his lanes. When Diamondprox invaded, he directly sought to engage the opposing jungler and either bully him out of the jungle or fight him straight up. This terrifying approach had M5 snowballing games and winning them at 20 minutes, even against some of the world's best and most famous teams.
Diamondprox received the MVP award for Kiev, but in truth his play in Hannover, at the IEM VI World Championship, was so above the level of any other jungler in the world that he made Moscow Five into the scariest team on the circuit and innovated an entirely new approach of jungling.
Aside from CLG's Saintvicious, the rest of the world's best known junglers (TheOddOne, Snoopeh and CloudTemplar) were focused on the playing tanky build champions like Maokai, Alistar and Amumu. They would then employ a supportive style, giving up camps to their Mid laner and attempting to generally support each lane.
"the strategy of M5 is darien push push push, he will die, he will go 0-5 [...] but it doesn't matter, because diamond will carry me and the bottom lane and we will win"
-The strategical approach of Moscow Five, as related to Araneae by Alex Ich (OnGamers, 2014)
The entire Moscow Five style was built around the jungle aggression of Diamondprox. The quirky Darien's constant Top lane aggression meant that he would inevitably draw pressure from the rest of the map, as the opposing jungler went up to shut him down. This opened up Diamondprox to get one of his other lanes rolling and ahead. Diamondprox would not even play the supportive champions of the day and so M5 would ban them out repeatedly, forcing the enemy jungler onto less comfortable picks and playing directly into Diamond's hands.
Most valuable jungler
Saintvicious in Season 1 had been able to display carry jungling, famously winning IEM V Cologne. In Season 3, inSec showed the world the power of Zed as a monster carry jungler and Meteos dominated his North America with a farm-first approach on champions like Nasus and Zac. In Season 4, it was KaKAO and DanDy who were the unstoppable stars of the jungle and against whom few other junglers could stand. Season 2 and much of Season 3 belonged to Diamondprox, though.
"Diamondprox's mentality was like 'I'm going to win this game, I'm going to carry this game, I'm going to destroy this jungler, I'm going to destroy this mid lane and I'm going to make them suffer and cry and just win the game on my own'."
-Araneae (Ongamers, 2014)
After the domination of the first two IEM events of 2012, Diamondprox was the MVP of the Season 2 European Regional Qualifier for Worlds. In early 2013, his Xin Zhao tore apart Azubu Frost and Blaze in three of the four straight victories Gambit scored against the elite level South Korean powerhouses. At the Season 3 World Championship, the Russian's play helped his team progress from a group filled with highly ranked junglers (Cyanide, Xmithie and DanDy). Finally, at the IEM VIII Cologne event, in November of 2013, Diamondprox took down his third MVP award, carrying his team to their fifth IEM title.
The desire to duel
A unique and attractive quality of Diamondprox's personality, especially prior to his embracing more open interaction with fans, was the air of arrogance he gave off. The master Jungler would speak in what seemed almost quasi-religious pronouncements, telling the world that to be considered a great jungler one must have mastered Lee Sin or announcing that inSec had shown himself as the one player worthy to be considered his rival. Diamondprox was the king of the jungle and the aura of the right to rule permeated his demeanour and decrees.
In interviews, Junglers would frequently deflect questions contrasting them directly, on the basis of skill or style. Typically, the best Junglers would either fall back on accomplishments, citing those with the most titles as the defacto top at the position, or bring out the famed explanation that a Jungler can only be as good as the strength of his and team and thus a good Jungler on a bad team would look bad, while an inferior Jungler on a stronger team might look good. Diamondprox eschewed such a mentality and directly welcomed competition against the world's best junglers, often on their signature champions, no less.
"It's always [fun] to play against junglers [who are playing] with their best champions"
-Diamondprox (LoLKing, 2013)
In the early days, that meant defeating and destroying TheOddOne and Snoopeh's famed Maokai's. Then, with the rise of the carry Junglers and the Korean Jungle gods arriving, Diamondprox felt no intimidation in going up against such players on their best kits. At the MLG International Exhibition tournament in March of 2013, a month and a half after dismantling the Azubu teams in Katowice, Diamondprox got his chance to face the mighty inSec of KT Bullets.
The master of Lee Sin
inSec had been wowing the international audience with his hardcore approach to carry jungling, often reaching creep scores one might expect to see from a top laner and racking up items with which to destroy opposing teams. At IEM VII Cologne, at the end of 2012, inSec's Zed had crushed Snoopeh flat in the group stage. inSec was now known the world over for his play on Lee Sin, the champion Diamondprox had first made famous in the Jungle, a year prior, and 'the inSec kick' was a part of the everyday vernacular.
In the final of the MLG tournament, KT B played Gambit in an epic three game series. inSec's Zed racked up seven kills to win the first game for the Koreans. Diamondprox brought out his Udyr, a champion considered to be weak in Season 3, and delivered a 4/0/16 masterpiece to level the series. In the deciding game, inSec would get Lee Sin and Diamondprox would again select Udyr. In one of the most famous individual outplays in the history of competitive League of Legends, Diamondprox would display that not only was he not afraid of inSec's Lee Sin, but he knew the limits of both champions to a degree that would astonish spectators.
inSec's Lee Sin came in to engage Diamond's Udyr in the top lane, the Korean boasting a full health bar and Diamond on less than half health. The standard play would have been for the Udyr to spam his turtle and bear stances, shielding himself and running as fast as possible away, while trying to dodge Lee Sin's Qs. Instead, Diamondprox immediately turned onto inSec and began fighting.
The changing of stances neared perfection as Diamond went began in bear, to deliver the stun; switched to turtle to life-steal and then went into phoenix to deliver damage. Cycling through Udyr's abilities with impeccable timing, the Russian took his own health bar to the limit, but got the kill and scored one of the truly great one-on-one outplays in history. Diamondprox's point had been made: even the mechanical mastery of inSec could be overcome by the Russian's deep understanding of the champions and their kits.
Coming into the Season 3 World Championship, Samsung Galaxy Ozone's DanDy was feared as one of the strongest Junglers in the world, an OGN champion from that year. With inSec having moved on to the Top lane, DanDy was considered to be right at the top of the pecking order of Korean Junglers. Much as with inSec, DanDy was famed for his proficiency on Lee Sin, but DanDy used the champion less for sheer mechanical wizardy, as was inSec's chief strength, and more to facilitate his low economy, high pressure style. DanDy was the master of counter-ganking, always knowing where the opposing Jungler would be and how to tweak his own jungle pathing to allow him to neutralise or upset that player's plans.
In the first two meetings between Gambit and Ozone, DanDy's Jarvan IV proved rather lackluster and he was not a significant factor in aiding his team to victory. The group finished with Gambit and Ozone tied for the second spot, meaning they would have to play a tie-breaker to decide who would move on to the quarter-final. DanDy got his Lee Sin and Diamondprox went onto Evelynn, a champion he was known well known for.
It seemed as if the stage was set for a showdown similar to that of Diamond's battle with inSec from March. Instead, Diamondprox out-classed his Korean counterpart in emphatic fashion, finishing the game 1/3/17 against DanDy's 4/6/5 Lee Sin. Once more Diamondprox had shown up a world class Jungler on their best champion, reveling in the challenge and competition for the title of the world's best.
"I'm feeling really great, especially because I played against DanDy's Lee Sin and I won [against] him"
-Diamondprox, speaking after the S3 Worlds tie-breaker vs. ozone (LoLKing, 2013)
An education for Meteos
Cloud9's Meteos has garnered attention from around the world with his farm-intensive Jungle style in the LCS Summer split of Season 3. His team had run up a seemingly impossible 30:3 win record over the regular portion of the split and the play-offs, with Meteos considered the star player and granted the MVP title. Meteos' style had been to farm continuously on champions like Nasus and Zac, emerging into the mid-to-late-game team-fights as a monster with item advantages over the opponent and capable of either zoning off the entire fight, soaking up damage, or outright dominating and killing opponents himself.
Many, from a number of regions, had speculated that this style may run into problems on the international stage, with Korea and Europe favouring a low econ, high pressure style of Jungling instead. Cloud9's only games at Worlds would be a three game series against FNATIC in the quarter-finals, where the final game saw Meteos' Nocturne farm up for the whole game but unable to have any kind of impact on the game or turn around the ever-increasing snowball that FNATIC rode to the semi-finals.
In late November, Cloud9 flew over to Germany for IEM VIII Cologne. In the semi-final, they would face Gambit Gaming and Diamondprox. While Diamondprox had been gracious in bestowing praise upon Meteos prior to Worlds, now the Russian would play the part of the stern school master. Knowing that C9 preferred to put Meteos onto Nocturne, Gambit purposely banned to lure them into the pick. Later, Diamondprox would reveal this plan and admit that he had been practicing only four champions.
In the opening game, C9 left open Vi and "got raped for that", in his own words, as the Gambit man went 5/0/15. For the second game, Diamond would later admit that all of his champions had been banned or picked away, forcing him onto a Lee Sin he would be playing for only the second time in two months. Some degree of mastery apparently never leaves those truly adept at their craft, as Diamondprox recorded a 3/4/13 game to close out C9 and move on to the final.
Meteos had been given his champion of choice, played Diamond on a champion the Russian was no longer favouring and yet come out on the wrong end of a vicious beatdown. The American MVP Jungler finished the two games with a combined score-line of 5/7/12, even losing the majority of the smite-wars in the series.
FNATIC awaken the blood lust
In the final of IEM VIII Cologne, Gambit would face FNATIC. Their European rivals had won both LCS splits and reached the semi-final of Worlds, establishing them as the best Western team. While Gambit had been competing neck-and-neck with FNATIC earlier on in the year, the Russian team had lost their last six games against the LCS champions, albeit without Edward in their ranks. With the original Gambit line-up back in place, the final of IEM Cologne would see Gambit looking to snap their losing streak and begin evening up the rivalry again.
For Diamondprox, the final provided a chance to face Cyanide on his best champion. The Finnish Jungler had shown his strength on Aatrox across the Summer and Worlds and would get it in game two in Cologne. Diamondprox took his Evelynn and another classic set-up of famous Junglers on their mains seemed to be set in place. That match-up might have looked to have been derailed immediately, as an attempted level one invade by Gambit saw them chased out of FNATIC's jungle and Diamondprox killed to give up first blood. In fact, FNATIC had just awoken a rage within Diamondprox and opened a doorway of opportunity for their destruction.
Diamondprox noticed that Rekkles' Ashe and xPeke's Ahri had burned their flash in securing the kill on him and the Russian master Jungler set himself to immediately exerting his will upon the game. His Evenlynn was everywhere on the map, initiating action and ganking, but it was particularly in the bottom lane, where the Ashe which had first-blooded Diamond resided. Diamondprox's mad bezerker rage took over the game and Gambit Gaming would secure the title off the back of an 11/1/10 performance from their MVP Jungler, the offending Ashe finishing 2/8/1. At the end of the game, the close-out of the tournament, Diamondprox had 11 kills and FNATIC had five between them.
The ingenious innovator
Diamondprox's innovations span all three Seasons of League of Legends he has been active at the competitive level. He first surprised the scene with his use of Lee Sin, a champion which was used in solo queue but not considered viable or powerful in competitive play. Diamondprox not only made the blind monk viable, he dominated with the champion to the extent it would soon become a target of bans against him.
"I had been playing premades since Season 1 and I'd never played against a single Lee Sin. Then [Diamondprox] just came and stomped everyone, cos it wasn't even funny for them at [IEM Kiev]. He just like dominated every single team with Lee Sin and he was playing Shyvanna jungle."
-Araneae (Ongamers, 2014)
When Season 3 began, Udyr was considered a relic of Season 2, but Diamondprox not only continued to play with the champion, he was even able to produce the marvel that was his outplay on inSec's Lee Sin. For Diamondprox, it was less the viability of a champion at all levels and as a general principle, than the champion's viability for his own style of play and what he wanted to accomplish with it.
To show his flair for experimentation, Diamondprox had been streaming after the S3 World Championship and a viewer had suggested he try out a blue pot start on Evelynn. Diamondprox not only obliged his fan, dominating a soloqueue game with it, but then took it immediately into competitive play and that was the build he began his famous Eve game against FNATIC with in the final of IEM Cologne, going from being first-blood'd to ripping FNATIC apart around the map.
Evenlynn proved to be a champion Diamondprox continually kept in mind, regardless of the different nerfs to her AP scaling and the jungle items. In early season four, the changes to her AP scaling meant that the general consensus was that she was no longer viable, as the typical build had been going into a deathfire grasp. Diamondprox introduced the world to hybrid Evelynn, featuring AD itemisation, and used her to defeat Alliance and FNATIC in week 3 of the Spring split of the EU LCS.
As Gambit's line-up was gradually dismantled over the Summer split of 2014, with Diamondprox himself being benched for a week, the king of the jungle seemed to be slipping from relevance and his position as a top Jungler was more and more under threat. Entirely forgotten about during the S4 World Championship, for which he was not close to qualifying, Diamondprox could but look on as DanDy put on an MVP calibre performance to lead Samsung Galaxy White to the title.
Last week, however, Diamondprox returned with some innovation of note. Bringing out a tanky Sejuani, Diamondprox went 2/3/13 against Crumbzz's Rengar and 4/1/11 against Thinkcard, sub of CLG, on Elise. These were not the best Jungler in the world on their best champions, but Diamondprox had again found unseen potential in a champion and the build to make it viable within professional competition.
An enduring legacy
Diamondprox still remains one of the most successful League of Legends players of all time, but it is his impact on his individual position of Jungler which still stands out as his enduring legacy, even beyond the championships. The Russian was the only player who, at least until the recent developments in the careers of DanDy and KaKAO, could truly be cited as the best player of all time at his role, surpassing even the best Asian players.
Without an elite level team surrounding him and with some of the lustre of the Gambit name dimished by the departure of some its most beloved players, Diamondprox faces a steep uphill challenge if he is to re-establish himself as one of the world's best Junglers and provide real competition to the elite Koreans. IEM Cologne provided a tantalising glimpse into the innovation and dominant game impact which made Diamondprox an all-time great.
"Playing versus [DanDy] reminded me of playing Diamondprox back in season 2: you feel weak, outmatched and outclassed, but analyzing his steps and thought processes allows you to exceed your boundaries and helps you push your limits."
-Amazing's post-Worlds blog (facebook, 2014)
Photo credit: ESL, Riot, lolesports, Gambit