One of the greatest pleasures in watching the League of Legends pro scene develop has been witnessing the rise and fall of the game’s elite players. Whether it be a trail-blazing rookie who defies expectations and upsets veterans or a past great struggling to stay relevant, these storylines add a richness to the game beyond the simple X beat Y. One of the most compelling narratives we see in esports is when a respected but somewhat stagnated player manages to shrug of past indignities and take their game, and their fame, to the next level. Here are four pros who over the course of season 5 installed themselves as true legends of League.
Bengi has always been a difficult player to characterize due to the distracting brilliance of his teammate, Faker. SKT’s style revolved around giving their star player every advantage possible, often at the expense of the other lanes. This was a strategy which initially allowed both Faker and Bengi to shine and together they pioneered a highly effective mid-lane warding strategy. This tactic met with such success that commentators were often calling them the best mid-jungle duo in the world.
When SKT T1 K fell apart during season 4 however, it seemed that many retroactively changed their view of Bengi’s success. He was nothing more than an enabler, they said. His mechanics were sub-par, his play inconsistent; how had we ever dared to place him above prodigies such as Dandy and Kakao? The question seemed fair, given the recent performances of the once-great SK Telecom. When season 4 ended in more failure for Faker and crew, many fans were dismayed to learn that Bengi would be one of the players retained by the prominent club.
The beginning of Season 5 saw the addition of jungle substitute Tom to the roster, a player who began to play more and more frequently for the team, with moderate success. In light of this precocious new talent, it seemed that Bengi would simply fade into obscurity, left to contemplate the brevity of his career. This prediction was all but confirmed when SKT chose to run Tom in SKT’s high pressure semi-final against CJ Entus.
But Bengi would not go quietly into that good night; faced with 0-2 game deficit and staring down the barrel of elimination, the SK Telecom coaches chose to bring their starting jungler back for a last ditch effort to save their season. Bengi, with a little help from long-time teammate Faker, (and who would have it any other way), managed to turn the series on its head and engineer a stunning 3-2 reverse sweep, proving that sometimes there is no substitute for experience. He was transformed overnight from dead weight to saviour, a shining knight who came to SK Telecom in their hour of need. From then on it was Tom who was relegated to the bench and Bengi who was orchestrating SK Telecom’s early-game successes. The summer season saw a much greater consistency in his play, culminating in the dismantling of opposing jungler Score in the OGN Summer split finals. Whilst Faker will always be the true hero of SK Telecom, it is now impossible to separate the success of the two players. After all, Batman needs his Robin, and with Bengi, Faker has a sidekick who has become a star in his own right.
It would be decidedly false to suggest that Yellowstar ever suffered anywhere near the criticism levelled at the other players on this list. Always a top contender in the European scene, his main problem was that he was playing on a team filled with star players and larger-than-life personalities. Though not overshadowed in the way Bengi was, Yellowstar was perceived as more a pristine cog than the heart of the machine.
When the rest of his teammates headed for the door, Yellowstar briefly considered following them. Retirement seems an almost logical choice when you have led a career as long as his, and witnessed your legendary team fall to pieces around you. Yellowstar chose to stay however, and to build the next generation of Fnatic from the ground up. His handpicked line-up was at first seen as somewhat bizarre, comprising of players either completely untested or those who had been tested and found wanting. The new Fnatic line-up proved one of the Season’s great surprises however, and managed to claim the spring split title to bring Yellowstar’s personal tally to four out of a possible five titles. His roster decisions were vindicated as the new-look Fnatic proved itself a veritable font of rookie talent.
Leadership is an interesting burden for a player to bear; for some it becomes a crushing weight that can prematurely end a career, for others, an uplifting challenge that seems to improve, rather than detract from the player’s individual skills. For Yellowstar it seems that the latter is true; under his guidance the team claimed both LCS splits and put up an admirable fight against Korean titans SK Telecom at MSI. An undefeated summer split put the exclamation mark on a season which elevates Yellowstar to become one of the most celebrated players in European history. His efforts were rewarded with an MVP award for his summer performance and a record fifth trip to the League of Legends World Championships.
No longer a mere component of Fnatic’s success, Season 5 brought Yellowstar to the fore of Europe’s most prolific team and allowed his leadership, his experience and his virtuous play to shine in a way we had never seen before.
There has never been a player who has attained as much tournament success as Clearlove. His illustrious career contains a staggering number of LAN victories; it would be fair to say that the veteran Chinese jungler has made a habit of accomplishment. Despite his incredible record and the succession of great teams he has been part of, Clearlove was still an afterthought for many Western fans, a mere footnote in the annals of Chinese LoL history.
In fact it was the great teams that were the problem; Clearlove’s success was explained away by the sheer level of talent that he has always managed to surround himself with. Weixiao, Misaya and then Namei all became caveats to his achievements, excuses used to dismiss his role in the success of Team WE and Edward Gaming. I would love to say that a close examination of his play would have dispelled this trope but unfortunately it did not. Clearlove’s professional jungling was never far above average, though his teamfighting skills were always excellent.
It came as quite a surprise then, when in the early days of Season 5 he began to dominate the LPL with the help of a new-look EDG roster. The early game weaknesses of old no longer seemed to plague him, in fact early pressure was now one of his greatest strengths. Champions that he had seemed mediocre on in the past were now well within the wheelhouse; his Lee Sin sported a nearly unbelievable 28 KDA over the spring split.
The fact that Clearlove was still playing with an elite AD carry in Deft is crucial to examining the nature of his transformation. It proves that his play has improved not through changing circumstances but through self-motivated and self-engineered change, which makes it all the more impressive. In some ways, EDG’s victory at MSI was the crowning moment of his career; simply because he was integral to the triumph in a way he had never been in past successes. We can no longer claim that Clearlove is simply along for the ride because in Season 5 he has been firmly behind the wheel.
Unlike the other names on this list, Doublelift has always been the star player on his team. His healthy ego and flashy plays commanded attention from the moment he burst onto the scene, a fresh-faced young kid with something to prove. Indeed there was something of a Cinderella story surrounding his entrance into competitive LoL. Doublelift left home at the tender age of eighteen after his dream to become a pro gamer led to estrangement from his parents. Homelessness did not stop him for long however, and after short bouts with teams Epik Gamer and Curse, he joined Counter Logic gaming as the starting AD Carry. Now on the most popular team in the region, it seemed inevitable that Doublelift’s dedication to the game would be vindicated by success. The star AD carry was dazzling fans with exceptional play, such that some began to believe he may be the best player in North America, perhaps even the world. This was to be the last time that an NA pro would ever be suggested for that honour, and for this he holds a special place in many fans’ hearts.
Doublelift’s domination of his role failed to translate into tournament wins however, and CLG began to fall in LANs with depressing consistency. As the losses piled up they were forced to watch as Team Solo Mid surpassed them both on the rift and off it; a disappointing trip to Korea only seemed to make matters worse. The LCS era was no kinder to CLG as they found themselves constantly exiting in the first round of the playoffs. Though his play still impressed commentators, Doublelift’s first offline victory continued to elude him, as did a World Championship berth in season 3 and 4. His team had become a laughing stock, ridiculed by fans for the constant choking in important matches.
A future which had once seemed so bright for Doublelift had turned sour as CLG continued to battle internal feuds, an inconsistent roster and a tendency to fade in the latter part of the season. How good could one player really be if he never manages to win anything? The fairytale of Doublelift’s humble begginings had transformed into a cynical warning about the harsh realities of life, a reminder that we can try our hardest and still fail to achieve. Retirement was on the cards for the star AD carry after his team once again exited the Spring Playoffs in straight sets.
And then, once CLG’s failure was almost past the point of humour, came the breakthrough. Finally, it had clicked for the much maligned roster, a consistency and mental strength developed where before there had been none. Counter Logic gaming swept the NA LCS Summer playoff’s in dominating fashion, granting Doublelift a long-awaited trophy and the first offline tournament win of his career. With the monkey of his back, he can now join the all-time greats of the game as a player that strived and strived and finally succeeded. There is a place for harsh realities and cynical judgements but we also need to be reminded that sometimes, fairy-tale endings do exist, and that now and again our heroes get the fate they truly deserve.
So there you have it, four players who have joined the ranks of the greatest over the course of the 2015 season. Each has been inspiring to watch over the past months, and their stories may yet have twists and turns still to tell. With the Season 5 World championship just around the corner, there are sure to be plenty more who step up to the plate and earn themselves a place in history. I for one, can’t wait.