On Top of the World, Pt. 1
Before the KT Arrows underdog victory over Samsung Blue in the OGN Finals, many were praising Blue as the greatest team in the world, and possibly the second best line-up ever. Ever after their defeat, many still considered Blue the better team. This got me thinking. How often was a line-up so dominant that they were considered the indisputable favorites? Here is a brief history of teams and their times on the throne.
Counter Logic Gaming:
There’s a reason why CLG is one of the most popular teams in the world. When they were first put together in pre-Season 1, they were as dominant as any other team. A common theme in EU are the “superteams” that come together after every season. These teams try to unite the best mechanical players and generally feature stars at every position. That was CLG when they first came together. With a lineup of HotshotGG, Kobe24, bigfatlp, Chauster, and Elementz, CLG overran all of their opposition with sheer mechanical skill.
At this time, most players didn’t necessarily have positions, and the thought of a farm-less support was generally considered off-meta. Rather, teams usually played a solo lane caster, an AD Carry mid, two bruisers bot lane, and a dedicated jungler. CLG members generally learned champions rather than a specific position: the only players who consistently played the same role were Kobe jungle and bigfatlp mid playing AD Carries.
The current CLG lineup came together during April 2010 and begun winning tournaments shortly after. In October 2010, they won the World Cyber Games (think about it as Worlds Season 0, but only with four teams.) CLG first defeated AnotherStory, a SEA lineup that featured Chawy and d4rkness of Singapore Sentinels fame. In the finals, Kobe secured a 2-1 victory for CLG with an epic 5-man Amumu ultimate.
Shortly after the WCG, they would bench Kobe for Saintvicious heading into the World Finals. Kobe's play was beginning to decline due to outside commitments and Saint's champ pool, particularly Nunu, was a perfect fit for the meta. In addition to his signature Nunu, Saint brought a farm-heavy and bruiser-oriented style in contrast to Kobe’s utility tank style. Eventually, Hotshot would become the team’s dedicated top laner. Saint’s carry jungler style synergized perfectly with Hotshot and bigfat’s dominant solo lane play. CLG would continue their dominant run through tournaments and they looked even stronger than ever heading into the World Championships.
During the World championship qualifications, TSM’s new lineup of TheRainMan, TheOddOne, Reginald, Chaox, and Xpecial would defeat CLG in the qualifiers. An Epik Gamer lineup featuring Dyrus, Dan Dinh, Salce, Westrice, and Doublelift also looked like very strong contenders. CLG could no longer claim to be the indisputable favorites heading into the world finals. Ironically, it was the European teams who would defeat the NA teams and claim the top crown during the World Finals.
The hidden gem of Season 1 LoL was the European teams. During Season 3, EU played a very assassin-heavy mid-jungle oriented style. Most teams around the world looked at this style with confusion, but it turned out to be the ideal way to play. During Season 1, EU played with an AD Carry and no farm support bot lane. Once again, this style seemed somewhat bizarre. Why would a player deliberately give up farm? In reality, this style completely outscaled NA’s preference for a double bruiser composition. The support was able to stave off the bruiser’s early aggression and focusing farm onto certain characters meant a quicker and stronger late game.
Season 1 was all about these innovations. The team that innovated the best could often overcome deficits in mechanical skill to take the win. Fnatic did exactly that. Their lineup consisted of XPeke top, Cyanide jungle, Shushei mid, LamiaZealot AD Carry, and Melisan support. XPeke and Cyanide had great synergy in a time when top/jungle were the most important roles to synergize. At the same time, Shushei played extremely innovative champs like AP Alistar and AP Gragas to great effect. Their high damage, tankiness, and disruption made them completely broken and in a time with only 2 bans for teams, there was little opponents could do.
After a shaky group stage, wherein they couldn’t use their star top laner XPeke, Fnatic recovered to run through the entire World tournament without dropping a single series. In the Grand Finals, Fnatic ran through an aAA team that contained French stars soAz and Yellowstar to take the world championship.
In the Grand Finals, they trampled aAa in a decisive Game 3 to take the championship.
Strangely, Europe’s good performance at the World finals did little to help their overall reputation. For a while, Europe looked like the best region in the world, but NA quickly adapted the European meta and overcame them with superior mechanics.
After a while, EU teams stopped winning tournaments, and the region would lay dormant until the rise of Moscow 5 and Counter Logic Gaming Europe.
But at the same time, no North American team could seize the crown for themselves. CLG and TSM both looked extremely strong. In particular, HotshotGG, Saintvicious, and Chauster on CLG and Reginald and Xpecial on TSM looked like the strongest players in the world for their respective roles.