Leaks In The Dam : Young Lions Shine At The KeSPA Cup
Against all odds, as you may know it, ESC EVER have captured the inaugural edition of the KeSPA Cup. A tournament that wasn't short of worthy contenders such as Worlds representatives SK Telecom, Tigers and KT Rolster, it was ESC EVER that eventually shocked the world. This new team's triumph was set up almost fittingly by the other new faces of the tournament. More specifically, the impressive performances of SBENU Sonicboom and Rebels Anarchy in their respective paths throughout the event were definitely the pacesetters for a "passing the torch" type of scenario. Indeed, the KeSPA Cup put on display that the younger organisations of Korea also have their say in the region's competitive setting.
The Rebels Cause Turmoil
Just like they did in the very first match of the LCK's summer split, Rebels Anarchy and Najin e-mFire clashed to start things off at the KeSPA Cup. Unfortunately for Najin, the result also repeated itself as superstar mid laner Mickey and his crew took down the veteran squad 2-1 in an upset that signaled the beginning of a string of surprises. Mickey played his usual assassins but especially shined in game 3 with his favorite champion Leblanc, concluding the best-of-3 with a score of 14-7-22 for a 5.14 KDA. Lira once again displayed his carry style jungling notably in his crushing performance on the newly established champion Kindred, finishing game 1 with a 10-4-10. Ikssu and Snowflower served as the main initiators while Sangyoon usually plays a supportive AD Carry.
Their adventure came to an abrupt conclusion when they faced eventual winners ESC EVER in a close 2-1 series. Anarchy had the non-LCK team on the ropes early on with a victory in game 1. However, Ares and his team showed their versatility and adaptability to start a 7-game winning streak that secured their gracing of the cup by banning out arguably Snowflower's best champion Thresh and, in turn, truly unleashing their own best support Bard. It was from that point on that the competition took notice of KeY's Bard as it sent Mickey and his team packing. In the end, after their upset over Najin, it seemed likely that Rebels Anarchy would be able to move on to the Top 4 but ESC EVER had other plans for them. To their credit, it is to be noted that throughout the whole tournament the Rebels were the only team that took one game off of the newly crowned KeSPA Cup champions.
What is there to say about SBENU Sonicboom? A team that finished dead last in the LCK's summer split. A team that managed to win only one best-of-3 during that very split against Jin Air Greenwings. A team that wracked up a 1-17 record of best-of-3 series which results in 8 wins and 35 losses in terms of individual matches.
Those nightmarish accolades are all part of the past now as it seems that SBENU have finally found their groove. The rejuvenated squad has been turning heads since the spring promotion tournament when they started 17 year-old jungler Flaw, now known as Flawless. The name change bodes well considering that his team has achieved new heights thanks to his stellar play, most notably his proficiency on Lee Sin (seriously look him up on Youtube). Seeing it all unfold, Flawless was the play maker SBENU desperately needed. In their first match of the KeSPA Cup, the rookie and his team already drew themselves a tall task as they had to take down the runner-ups of the World Championship, the Tigers. Jaws dropped as SBENU found success in their first trial with a 2-0 victory over Smeb and the rest of the charismatic Tigers. However, it was Nuclear that truly exceeded all expectations by posting a 20-2-9 on the scoreboard in game 1. This is a player that had a very ordinary KDA of 2.8 throughout the LCK's summer split. Yet, that was the best KDA among all 8 of SBENU's players this season (that at least played 2 games). Now with better surroundings and resulting coherence, the AD carry has shown glimpse of greatness. Assigning all credit where it's due, the awakening of Nuclear was definitely possible thanks to his trusty support, Secret, with his also impressive Alistar throughout the series, able to engage as well as peel for his carry.
The trials of Flawless and his squad weren't over. Indeed, an even greater challenge was awaiting them in their quarterfinals matchup. What's worse than the runner-ups of Worlds? The winners of Worlds of course. SBENU had their work cut out for them as they had to take down arguably the second best team in the world and then the best team in the world in two straight sets. Unfortunately, SK Telecom proved to be a wall too tall to climb for the young squad as the world champions bested the series 2-1. Both of SKT's victories were stomps that ended under the 28 minute mark. However, in game 2 where SBENU found a way to win, they used an odd poke composition where they essentially peeled for SaSin's Vel'Koz to melt MaRin and his troops once SKT was chunked from all the poke.
In fact, SBENU's mid laner has shown signs of drastic improvement since their series against Ever in the spring promotion tournament. In this specific series against SKT, although him and his team fell short, SaSin was able to hold his own in many phases of the series against the otherwordly Faker. On the other hand, their top laner, SoaR, was mistreated to say the least by MaRin. In their game 2 victory, SoaR finished with 160 CS short of his laning opponent. If there was a flaw to point out, it's easily the top lane for SBENU. However, they have settled with Soul as their starter for the future, a player that has displayed better form the last time we saw him which was against Ever. For now, we can settle on the fact that with Flawless, SBENU Sonicboom has ended the season on a high note.
Who Would Have EVER Thought
Personally, at first I thought that when ESC EVER beat Samsung Galaxy in their first encounter of the KeSPA Cup it was simply Samsung that didn't show up and their disappointing tendencies simply persisted yet again. In their quarterfinal battle against the previously featured Rebels Anarchy, Ares, just as the name implies, led his troops to war and kept at bay the rebellion that attempted to overthrow their hype train. I was honestly impressed. Convinced? Not yet.
Then came SK Telecom. The team that just won Worlds. The team that just derailed another hype train in SBENU right after their upset win over the Tigers, a team that actually took a game off of SKT in the world final. SKT against ESC EVER. Here it is, another sail to take the wind out of for MaRin and his team. Yet, that's exactly the moment when the team that had my curiosity completely captured my attention.
The semi-pro team shocked the esports universe when they won 2-0 against the reigning world champs. They didn't even need all 3 games in this best-of-3 to do so. They've won two consecutive games against this dynasty, a feat that seems unprecedented because of the sheer distance in time of its last occurence. In game 1, Ares and his team cruised by SKT with a 21-9 victory. Many spectators blamed it on Scout, SKT's second mid lane benchwarmer. Nerves could have been a factor for the up-and-coming talent but the group itself made mistakes across the board, most notably Wolf and Bengi. In the face of elimination, SKT put their world conquering lineup into play as they put Faker back in the mid lane. Game 2 was a different story as the LCK team proved to be too hard to handle for the semi-pro team, dictating the pace of the game for practically the whole duration. Nonetheless, the young squad held on for dear life and KeY found an absolutely beautiful and, more important, key Tempered Fate onto Faker and Bang. The rest of the team followed up beautifully and eradicated both isolated carries. Consequently crippled by a lack of wave clear and seemingly never-ending death timers, SKT were on the ropes and EVER went for the knockout. A final push to the finish destroyed the world champions' nexus and kept the dream alive for the semi-pro team with tears of joy leaking down their cheeks.
With Samsung Galaxy, Rebels Anarchy and SK Telecom in their rear view mirror, there was only one more step to climb to ultimately ascend to the throne. That step's name was CJ Entus, the so-called CLG of Korea. Although CLG finally broke the curse and won the NA LCS, they've forged themselves the same reputation as their North American counterpart for never winning anything. This was their best chance. With KT Rolster, Tigers, Jin Air, Najin, Rebels Anarchy, SBENU, Incredible Miracle, Samsung Galaxy and even SK Telecom out of the picture, many assumed that if there was ever a tournament where CJ Entus could finally win the whole thing it was this one. With every LCK team eliminated beforehand, the only thing standing in their way was a semi-pro, straight outta PC bang team. With the odds against them one more time, EVER proved everybody wrong once again in this tournament in a 3-0 sweep and, in the process, CJ Entus proved everybody right once again in failing another bid for a title.
In fact, sometimes 3-0 sweeps include games that are close which can easily form an erroneous perspective of the series itself. However, this 3-0 score was very telling as Ares and his group dismantled the veteran squad. Every member of EVER largely contributed to this victory. Throughout the series against CJ though, the main target for Ares' ganks was obviously Shy. Shy compiled a total of 3-17-5 on the scoreboard in 3 games, a disastrous encounter to say the least. Loken, the AD carry, as well as Athena, the mid laner, have been fantastic revelations throughout this tournament but the MVP title went to the player that was the most deserving : their support. KeY has been entitled as the greatest competitive Bard player already and, although preemptive, it is with good reason. After revealing its true potential against Rebels Anarchy, KeY forced bans on it and, in the series against CJ, it seemed to give them an edge in the picks and bans. You know a player is impactful when he throws a wrench in the enemy team's plans even before they head to the Rift. Thus, in light of the above, ESC EVER concluded the tournament with a 7-game win streak to grace their first title and will always be remembered as the first ever KeSPA Cup champions. A victory that left CJ Entus mystified. A victory that seemed to even surprise EVER themselves but a victory that's undoubtedly well deserved.
These were the three teams that really impressed me throughout this inaugural tournament. Many may speculate the success of these younger teams to hunger and preparation compared to the older teams who didn't have that much interest in the somewhat "measly" prize pool. More specifically, I do agree that KT Rolster, Tigers and SK Telecom were probably burned out from Worlds and this was a new and significantly different patch to adapt to. Without anything to prove really, complacency may have stricken the senior teams.
Nevertheless, I do feel the need to praise these younger parties who have refreshed the Korean competitive scene. It might not be as stale as many have imagined after all, a scene that many presumed would be ruled by SKT forever (or close to that). While many "excuses" linger around ESC EVER's crowning, they've booked themselves a spot in the Intel Extreme Masters - Cologne event this December. There, they will have their shot at legitimacy and at world domination with the likes of EDward Gaming booked for the event thus far. Soon enough, we will find out who will join them specifically as two fan voted European teams and two fan voted North American teams are to be decided. Whether they prove that the KeSPA Cup wasn't a fluke and an undermined accomplishment remain to be seen but, for now, the team straight outta net café can comfortably bask in their new found fame thanks to their Cinderella run.
My name is Christopher "Wave" Phakjarung and, as always, I'm truly grateful for the read.