The debate has raged on for years now. Should international wildcard teams be granted spots in the League of Legends World Championships? Over the years there’s been plenty of evidence against their inclusion: No wildcard team has ever made it further than the group stage. This year however, one team plans to change that.
PaiN Gaming, out of Brazil, are widely considered the best team in history to compete under the wildcard banner. It began with the group draw which favored the Brazilians. They were placed in Group A with only one Korean representative, KOO Tigers, alongside North America’s Counter Logic Gaming and Taiwan’s top team yoe Flash Wolves. For the first time ever, it didn’t seem completely out of the question that a wildcard team could challenge for a spot in the knockout stages. But the odds were still stacked against them.
Two losses in their opening matches set those hopes back immensely. But on the final day of the group stages, paiN Gaming started what they hope to be Cinderella story when they took down the Flash Wolves to end week one with a 1-2 scoreline, tied with Flash Wolves and merely one win behind CLG and KOO Tigers.
“We feel really good because finally we have this win,” paiN support player Hugo “Dioud” Padioleau said. “After these games verse KOO Tiger and CLG we had a feeling they aren’t that much better than us, it was just that we make more mistakes that give them the advantage to win the game.” Padioleau and his team certainly turned the tides when they faced Flash Wolves.
In some ways, they had an advantage: the roar of the crowd cheering the underdog. For Padioleau, a French player who moved to Brazil for the sake of his professional career, playing in front of an explosive home crowd boosted his “mentality” and “will to win.” The match against Flash Wolves was the first game his family had ever seen him play in person.
“The home crowd is not really having an impact in the game but it makes you want to succeed for them to maybe it makes you focus that little bit extra,” he explained.
The real key to paiN Gaming’s victory was simply executing their game plan.
“Against Flash Wolves, we made sure we made a good game plan and said that if we take the lead we’re not going to throw it away,” the support player said. “We made some mistakes but we are working on that and we can definitely say that every day we are improving as a team.”
PaiN Gaming will have to improve fast though. With only a three-day break between their last match and the final matches of Group A, there’s not much time to prepare. Padioleau thinks his team “will improve the most over the break.” They’ve made leaps and bounds at Worlds already, and perhaps have more to learn by playing against top level teams than squads from other regions who do that throughout the year.
“When I see the improvement of our team every day it makes me think how much we will achieve over a few more days in the break,” he said. He also expects American side CLG, who had a shaky win over Flash Wolves before an embarrassing loss to KOO Tigers, will make the most of the time off. “They are a very good team that makes a few mistakes but I think next week they will go 3-0.”
Of course, for all the praise paiN Gaming receives for their strength as a wildcard squad, a single upset win is nothing we haven’t seen before. Last year fellow Brazilian side Kabum famously took down European hopefuls Alliance in one of the most shocking upsets in League of Legends history, a match that eliminated the European champions. Padioleau thinks it’s different this time. “I do agree with people that say we are the best wildcard team to ever play at Worlds,” he said. “I think out of all the wildcards ever, we have the top player in every role, or at least top two.”
PaiN will find out if they can top the achievements of last year’s Kabum tomorrow. Group A will play to completion with the Brazilian squad getting a rematch against each other team in the group. If paiN pull off another win over a team like CLG or KOO Tigers, they could end up spoilers much like Kabum. Or they could even advance; the group is wide open with the teams so tightly packed. The 2015 World Championships has been unpredictable already, so there’s no saying what could happen when the teams meet on the rift for one more time. Padioleau and paiN are just focused on trying to secure as many wins as possible.
“I actually expected KOO tiger to be at the top of the group with 3-0. As it happens everyone has beaten everyone, so we have to make sure we’re part of this too by beating everyone,” he said. “CLG and KOO Tigers both have one win over us so we have to get revenge next week over them.”
Whatever happens it will surely be an exciting finish. Despite the odds being stacked against them, Padioleau believes “[Pain] and CLG will be the teams going through to London.” A bold statement indeed with KOO Tigers and Flash Wolves in the group. His confidence in his team will be put to the test tomorrow when the group draws to a close and two teams book tickets to the quarterfinals—and two go home.