Gambit’s Empire - The Lasting Impact of Moscow 5
Alex Ich’s failure to qualify for the 2016 NA LCS Summer Split with Team Dragon Knights marks the upcoming LCS split as the first to not feature any of the original Moscow Five (M5) members. While competitive League of Legends may currently lack the likes of Darien, Diamondprox, Alex Ich, Genja and Edward, the accomplishments of this famed lineup still echo among the hallowed halls of history. From taking maps off of the seemingly unstoppable Korean invasion in Season 2, to their resilient 2012-2013 run of 13 straight Top 4 finishes in premier tournaments, at their peak, these fives players made up perhaps the greatest Western League of Legends team of all-time.
Of course, every Empire falls. In many senses, Moscow Five, later known as Gambit Gaming, was a victim of the homogenization of competitive LoL. As the meta-game continued to shift patch to patch, contemporaries and apostles alike would copy the lineup’s most successful strategies and innovations, while ironing the rough edges out. Nowadays, teams try their best to divine the ideal metagame, changing their strategies from patch to patch and playing only the most optimal champions. As intuitive as the fabled Russian side was when discovering unique, but somehow viable, gameplay,, the unlikely dream team eventually succumbed to the collective brainpower of the countless LoL analysts, coaches, and professional players who have flooded the industry.
But despite this fall, each of Gambit’s members have contributed innovations to the playbook of competitive League of Legends that still stand today. And while Darien, DiamondProx, Alex Ich, Genja and Edward have all met unfavorable meta’s, the impact they left on the Rift maintain to this day.
Darien – “Feed to win”
Darien’s aggressive philosophy in the top lane has been immortalized by the community’s “feed to win” meme. But while memes are cute, it’s wrong to attribute Gambit’s success to some sort of talismanic power. Instead, a fitting champion pool and expert laning lead to the massive amount of pressure Darien brought to his team. His favorite champions, Shen, Renekton, Warwick, and Shyvana, were all resilient picks with high amounts of base damage. Such picks, bolstered by a skilled laning phase, allowed Darien to play incredibly forward in the lane, threatening multiple top towers if left to his own devices. The Moscow Five top laner’s play was so oppressive in Season 2 that, Kev1n, former SK Gaming top laner, decided tried role swapping to both Mid and AD so that he wouldn’t have to play against Darien anymore. This combination of prodigious skill with a slippery champion pool, forced teams to send multiple opponents to Darien’s lane, leaving his Russian teammates free to their own devices.
However, Darien’s playstyle became much less effective as the top lane became less of an island in later seasons. As Teleport replaced Ignite as the most popular top lane summoner spell, Darien’s ability to isolate and devastate his lane opponent became much less important. After a poor trade, enemy laners could simply Teleport back into lane. Teleport also made it much easier for teams to respond to Darien’s top lane pressure - nullifying his greatest strength. This inability to draw pressure was exacerbated as Darien became infamous for poor play around Teleport. Not only would he misused his own Teleport; but he would also neglect to time his opponent’s, as detailed by, his support, Edward on Summoning Insight.
Nonetheless, Darien’s aggressive baiting playstyle lives on, if in a changed form. Although most players will still attempt to pressure the map, only a few do so with the same recklessness and single-minded focus of Darien. Even during his career, other aggressive players would attempt to imitate his use of slippery champions to draw pressure away from their teammates, most notably Season 4 kT Bullets, top laner, inSec. In the modern day, Immortals’ top laner, Huni, is able to find unprecedented regular season success in both Europe and North America by aggressively attacking his lane opponents with highly mobile glass cannon champions – perhaps the natural evolution of Darien’s playstyle.
Diamondprox – “In reality, the whole idea of counter-jungling is mine”
Whereas Darien’s approach to LoL has only remained in a niche form, Diamondprox’s jungling tactics have pervaded modern League of Legends. Even during Gambit’s brief nadir in Season 3, after Edward left the team for Curse, Diamondprox was still regarded as one of the best junglers in the world. In interviews leading up to the Season 3 World Championships, DanDy, KaKAO, and inSec all listed Diamondprox as one of their top 3 junglers in the world, with the latter two citing him as a key inspiration. Even after the dissolution of the original Gambit lineup, there was continued excitement for Diamondprox’s Season 5 performance on Gambit and brief Season 6 stint on Unicorns of Love.
While Diamondprox is best known for counter-jungling, what made him special as a jungler was his complete mastery the position. His ability to consistently convert ganks in mid lane for Alex Ich deserved the lion’s share of the credit for the lineup’s success. This approach was later adapted as the primary tactic of both European and Korean sides in Season 3, climaxing in the “pressure jungler + assassin meta” of the World Championship. In addition to ganking, Diamondprox’s ability to counter-jungle his opponents provided Moscow Five with many skirmish opportunities. The curved terrain of the jungle was the perfect location for M5’s aggressive “pile-on” style. The team could either easily pick off a straggling opponents, or take advantage of the a forced enemy grouping to start one of their signature AoE teamfights. Many of these strategies remain central to modern jungle focused teams, like Cloud9.
It’s been said by many of the world’s top junglers, but it bares repeating. Diamondprox transformed the jungle position. What once was a passive, farming, support-oriented position lead way to a place for aggressive playmaking and early game control. Unlike other members of M5, Diamondprox wasn’t brought down by meta shifts, or fundamental changes in the game. It was instead visa issues which sent the kind of the jungle to the challenger scene. While Diamondprox may not be currently playing in the LCS, his playmaking style can still be seen in almost every game of competitive League of Legends.
Alex Ich – “See hero, kill hero”
“See hero, kill hero” became the motto for all of Gambit Gaming. However, the play of their star mid laner and captain, Alex Ich, particularly epitomized this mantra. If there was one defining characteristic to Alex Ich’s playstyle, it was his desire to lead his team by engaging or starting pick sequences from the mid lane, and his ability to identify champions perfectly suited for the tasks. Unlike his counterparts Froggen and xPeke, Alex was never known for a specific kind of champion. Rather, he was known for innovating meta breaking picks such as Galio, Evelynn, and Kha’Zix.
Although most of the champions that Alex pioneered during his prime were nerfed into the ground shortly after he played them, the core principle of his playstyle, picking off an enemy champion, and setting off a power play for his team, became the defining characteristic of the Season 3 metagame and remains a key part of competitive League to this day. Unfortunately, since diving into the challenger scene with the ill-fated 2014 Ninjas in Pyjamas lineup Alex’s overall gameplay level has not reached the consistency of his glory days. Fans have speculated that the burden of fatherhood or his ill-fated switch to the top lane in Season 4 were what knocked Alex off of his game, but it’s possible that it was simply impossible for Alex to stay ahead of the world forever. Alex has been unable to stay ahead of the meta by innovating new picks, as he did in his prime. This is likely because of the aforementioned influx of analysts and professional players into the scene. In addition, hungry young players such as Febiven and PowerofEvil have arisen to lead a new generation of European mid lane stars. As ingenious as one man can be, there’s not much he can do when the world is standing against him.
Genja – “Give Gambit a finger and they will take an arm”
Although Genja is best known for his innovative builds, his greatest contribution to Gambit was his safe gameplay and survivability. Due to Gambit’s forward nature, Genja was often led to fend for himself. Despite this, he was still expected to output the usual amount of AD Carry damage in teamfights in order for Gambit to win games. After a successful fight, because Genja was able to survive, his high AD allowed the team to easily take multiple towers. If Gambit lost the fight, Genja’s same high AD builds meant that he could successfully stave off the enemy push with wave clear. Although these builds were often mocked, they often made sense in the context of his role on Gambit.
One of the greatest fallacies of LoL discussion is to compare passive backline players to Genja. The majority of “clean-up” ADC players today are much more similar to players like Cop or Chaox than to Genja. Chaox and Cop still built conventional AD builds and focused on outputting DPS. Genja, for much of his career, preferred to focus on poke-centric builds, sometimes even standing a full screen away from the actual teamfight. Unlike the other Gambit members, it’s hard to argue that these innovations made a lasting impact on the game. Some of Genja’s famous “predictive” builds, such as Trinity Force Kog’Maw, only came into prominence after repeated changes to the meta. Other times, Genja’s innovations, such as Wriggle’s Lantern on ADC, were so broken that they were immediately changed. Near the end of his career, Genja’s build paths often hurt his team rather than helped, such as his use of Zephyr in place of Last Whisper. Genja’s downfall seemed to come in a different form than the other Gambit players. Near the end of his career, he still boasted top-tier mechanics, and was able to carry Gambit into a favorable relegation spot with a 4-0 close to his season. However, statements made by Genja, insinuated that Genja’s enjoyment for the game had declined due to a lack of opportunities to innovate, and the eccentric genius bowed out of competitive play.
Edward – “I am a support carry”
Much like Diamondprox, Edward’s innovations to the support role continue to pervade into the modern game. Although the majority of credit for support innovation in Season 2 is rightfully given to, Azubu Frost support, MadLife, several players have spoken on the impact Edward provided to competitive LoL. In his second Grilled interview with Thorin, CLG AD Carry Doublelift, an extremely dominant lane phase player in his own right, expressed his amazement at Edward’s aggressive laning phase. Pointing out how Edward eschewed Exhaust for Ignite and started with raw stats through Ruby Crystal rather than potions or wards, Doublelift claimed that Genja did nothing in the laning phase and that Edward had simply “2v1d” him and his bot lane partner, well-respected laning support Chauster. Edward’s preference of Ignite over Exhaust became his hallmark and has been adopted by many support players to this day. In addition, his ability to outright engage from the support position in spite of the position’s rock-bottom gold resources in Seasons 2 and 3 earned the respect of fellow European support Krepo. In the modern game, engage and pick plays from the support position is a staple of the game.
What seemed to bring down Edward was the gold changes to support in Season 5, turning the position into a much sturdier position. Never the greatest warder, Edward’s ability to repeatedly make plays on low gold income had nevertheless pushed him to the top of support players around the world. When Season 4 first began, Edward was able to completely dominant his opponents, even on seeming troll picks such as Amumu and Kennen. But when other supports began taking advantage of the increased gold generation, Edward’s greatest advantage went away and he was unable to properly use his position’s increased income to support his team with warding. In Seasons 5 and 6, Edward remained a serviceable support, capable of the occasional throwback game. But his game impact was severely diminished from his glory days in Seasons 2-4. Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that Edward’s aggressive insight transformed the support position.
Gambit played the game in a way that was far ahead of its time in Seasons 2 and 3, and their innovation is reflected in the widespread prevalence of their strategies in modern LoL. Diamondprox and Edward popularized aggressive forms of jungling and support play respectively. Alex Ich’s innovation and all-around play set an example for future mid laners to follow, and his desire to lead his team led to an early form of pick compositions. Although Darien and Genja’s unique playstyles have rarely been imitated, their use of map pressure and objective control are important for any team to succeed. However, a team built on individual innovation and an instinctive feel for the game wasn’t able to stay ahead of the analytical approach forever. When Alex Ich left Gambit, the team fell from their prestigious perch as a top team in Western LoL. With this former captain’s relegation by the hands of Apex, no Gambit members remain in the LCS. There will never be another Gambit; but there will also never be another team that doesn’t use the principles and strategies that Darien, Diamondprox, Alex Ich, Genja and Edward established.
Photo credits to The Daily Dot, Gambit Gaming, lolesports