Photo credit to lolesports
A self imposed exile. I still remember that day – the day that Gambit died. Falling 2-0 to Roccat, the Russians had to eke out one more best of three to secure their spot in the summer split of 2014; an unacceptable finish. The split would see the end of the original Moscow 5 lineup that just two years ago sat on top of the world; the same lineup that was now fighting for their spot in the LCS.
They go down 0-1.
Copenhagen Wolves stars Amazing and Forg1ven took Gambit to the cleaners. Alex played a solid game but the team needed more. They’d paid the ultimate price for their hubris in their series against Roccat and now the call of relegation haunts their every step. It was a match that threatened to tarnish Moscow’s 5 glowing reputation forever. The games were slow and uneventful; a soulless match between the bored and the dead. Out of ten players, only a couple showed signs of life in a series that for all intents and purposes should’ve been a high stakes do-or-die battle to the finsh.
It was a shaky start; going 1-2 in the groupstage of IEM VII Katowice, barely making the semifinals on a time-based tie breaker, the team, sluggish, confused and out of sorts, stumbled over the finish line by pure luck, and they knew it. It was a second wind, and the team seized at the opportunity with vigor.
Their opponents were world’s hopefuls: Azubu Frost. Frost came out of the gates strong, with an early kill on Edward, but Diamondprox would even the score. The Korean squad struck hard but Gambit would match them blow for blow. The Russians, against mounting odds, showed exceptional class and endured the brunt of Frost’s dominant early game play. Meanwhile, Frost, a team from a region renown for its technical, strategical play, slowly but surely found itself fighting a whole different kind of war under the influence of Gambit’s bravado – the very kind that the Russians excelled at. The Koreans wanted a boxing match; the Russians gave them a street fight.
They ground it out. Game 2 was a 50-minute long jab match with no real power punches landing until late into the game when the game’s respawn timer determined that the event had gone on far too long and should therefore conclude in a timely manner without further interruptions. It was a complete change of pace from the Gambit of yesteryear; instead of running over their enemies with swagger and style, they stood fast and weathered the storm. They became a team that counter punched; a look that felt all too familiar among dying teams. Drag it out. Scale. Our experience will carry us. Right?
Game 1 was a bloody, lengthy battle of attrition, but at the end of the day it was Gambit that emerged from the trenches victorious, bruised but energized. They took that energy into game two, brutalizing the team that just a few minutes ago put the Russians to the test. xPeke’s showmanship may have been the talk of the town, but it was Alex Ich and his merry band of mavericks that stole the hearts of thousands that day as they went on to sweep the series 2-0 with a dominating Game 2 finish.
Meek, uncertain claps announced the start of the 3rd and final match. Every kill snagged by the Wolves was met with reluctant approval, the voices of Joe Miller and Deman the only sounds of excitement in the silent studio, as the crowd watched, with sinking hearts, the excruciating demise of Gambit Gaming.
A mid-game teamfight seemed to turn the tides. A combination of Gambit’s wealth of experience and poor play from the enemy team allowed them to recover from the Wolves’ convincing early game wins. It was a small numerical edge, but a momentous victory for the team. It changed them. It moved them in a way no one expected.
They looked alive. But most of all they looked impatient, unwilling to go quietly to their graves. They allowed themselves finally to play; at last finding the energy and confidence to play with the same kind of reckless abandon and bravado that won them their repute and fame. Who dares, wins. And win they did, in that all too familiar way that they loved to do: by swallowing the Wolves whole.
Blaze was just the next name on the hit list. If the crowd wasn’t on fire after Gambit’s destructive performance against Frost in game 2, they were now, as Gambit again and again turn the tables on Blaze’s aggression, storming out the gates with an explosive double kill, diving between the turrets, a total of six flashes blown only just 5 minutes into the game.
It didn’t stop there. The same Blaze that made mincemeat out of Gambit in the group stage found themselves in an insurmountable deficit 20 minutes into the game as Alex, Darien and Diamond ran wild around the map. They hunted down every stray, forced them off every siege. In a street fight, you hit first, you hit hard, and you make it count. Blaze would surrender to the cheers and jeers of a roaring Gambit crowd.
Undeterred, and unconvinced, believing the first game to be a fluke, Blaze took a chance on a risky jungle invade in hopes of cutting off Alex’s right hand, but Gambit would have none of it. A quick, decisive collapse would snag Gambit an early lead. Blaze, seeing Gambit’s aggressive and relentless play, spent the next ten minutes carefully setting up traps to punish Gambit’s bloodthirsty commitments.
A common, well known League of Legends adage states that one ought not to chase kills, but take objectives, an ideology that the Korean teams clearly subscribed to, yet somewhere along the way, just like their sister team, Blaze found themselves embroiled in an all-out slugfest they couldn’t win, jabbing blindly at a beast they couldn’t comprehend.
No surrender vote this time. Gambit! they yelled as the towers came crashing down. Gambit! Gambit! Gambit! Gambit!…
Take out their legs and watch’em crumble. Don’t make them think twice; no, don’t give them time to think at all. The Wolves had no chance to breathe, for what was old was new again; they knew it, Gambit knew it, and the crowd knew it. The Russians were back with a vengeance. A catch on Genja 30 minutes in that should have deterred aggression instead provoked it, and Gambit, without a moment’s hesitation, launched an all-out offensive despite being a man down. Their recklessness was a statement; an utter defiance of all the doubts and frustrations that have brought them here to the brink of relegation; a complete refusal of the very idea that the Wolves were a team of their caliber, worthy of their time.
They crash the gates, plant their flag, and their reward is an adoring crowd, revived and boisterous. A smile finally breaks on Diamond’s face as he pats and hugs his teammates.
Alex ruffles his hair, and sighs in relief. He rubs his face. Exhaustion sinking in. He allows himself a brief smile, egged on by a jovial Diamond as they makes their way across the stage. Yet when the camera finally settles on his face once more, he wore on it no joy, no elation. His was a look of fatigue. His was a look of mourning.
The post-game interview was a somber funeral; strictly procedural, and empty. An autopsy and reflection on the death of Gambit Gaming. Sjokz keeps it light but the weight of defeat and wariness of the future were evident in the captain’s eyes.
It wasn’t impossible to guess, back then, that this would be the final series Alex Ich ever played with the other members of the legendary lineup; the heart just didn’t want to believe it could be possible.
On stage, as the confetti settles, Gambit takes their rightful place. It was just emotions, said Alex, translating the words of his Jungler; just the heat of the blood. They’d beaten a strong team; maybe the strongest. They stood tall and proud in front of a standing crowd, champions again, for the last time.
He left the team in the off season. Gambit would never again return to the top two despite occasional returns to form. Unbeknownst to Alex, a darker and more tumultuous time awaits him; a chapter of uncertainty, doubt, and defeat. But for the moment, he allows himself to delight.
Congratulations guys, says Sjokz, you’ve made it! Alex grins. A final warcry for the fans.
They were misfits, yes: an ex-champ in foreign waters, a washed up jungler, a mercenary without a home, and two rookies; one eager, one hesitant. It’s been a long road but the next chapter finally begins. Meet the Renegades.